Felt may not be the biggest name when it comes to full-suspension trail bikes. But some innovative suspension designs have certainly piqued our interest.
Like a few other bikes to be released lately, such as Orbea’s Occam or Cannondale’s Habit, the 150mm travel Felt Decree uses a flexible seatstay to facilitate the suspension’s movement, rather than a rear pivot. This saves the weight and servicing faff inherent with run-of-the-mill bearings, but adds a spring force as the seatstays flex.
Felt has moulded the carbon seatstays to rest in the sag position. This means they act to compress the shock when it’s at less than 30% travel, softening the initial stroke, yet they work with the shock beyond 30% travel, firming up the midstroke.
If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because RockShox’ DebonAir shocks use an oversized negative air chamber to achieve a similar effect. Felt has doubled up on the supple beginning-stroke goodness by speccing the DebonAir version of the RockShox Monarch Plus shock. You can’t have too much of a good thing, right?
Turn of speed
Jumping aboard the Decree, its turn of speed is striking. On flat ground, the fast rolling Schwalbe Nobby Nic treads and low weight (12.6kg in XL) allow it to really bowl along. It’s comfy too thanks to the genuinely supple suspension, which tracks chattery ground with sublime sensitivity.
This allows the 650b wheels to rip along rough and rutty terrain, even if you haven’t the will or the traction available to get out of the saddle. A 31.8mm carbon bar and ESI foam grips boost comfort, rendering the Felt Decree a great mile-muncher.
Two-by groupsets still come in handy on steep climbs, even if they're out of fashion
When the trail gets steep things get more complicated. The suspension does a great job of keeping traction and comfort high, without wallowing or bobbing too much, though the slack 73 degree seat angle makes it hard to attack the steepest inclines, and we found ourselves straining at the bar to keep the front end from lifting. Out of the saddle, the frame felt really taut and stiff under power; wrenching on the bars on steep pedal-punching efforts, power was delivered with minimal flex and rapid acceleration.
When it comes to getting back down, it’s a mixed bag again. Suspension wise, it’s very encouraging. Felt’s vertically flexy stays, combined with that Debonair shock and a gradually progressive leverage curve, mean really supple small-bump performance, delivering comfortable and traction-rich sensitivity at the beginning of the stroke, before ramping up smoothly to resist wallow when pushing hard into corners or take-offs.
We don’t want to make the Pike blush, but it’s a great fork
Up front, the 150mm Pike RC is superb as ever. We added three RockShox’ Bottomless Tokens to get the front matching the rear in terms of progressiveness. This is roughly how we would choose to set up a Pike fork, so the fact that it matches the feel of the rear says a lot about how the frame’s suspension ramps up. Spot on.
While the frame’s progressive suspension and stiffness impressed, its geometry isn’t particularly inspiring. The slack seat angle is the main issue, but it’s also a little tall and short. While a 465mm reach figure may look about average for an XL frame, the long 550mm seat tube means you have to be really tall to fit on it. For me, at 6ft 3in / 190cm, the front end felt slightly twitchy and cramped.
The 66.5 degree head angle and 340mm BB height are reasonable rather than radical. Adjustable geometry gives you the option to make it steeper and higher for better climbing, but this sacrifices descending stability. It’s a drum we like to bang a lot, but we’d prefer the bike was longer, lower, slacker and had a steeper seat angle at the same time – the adjustable geometry only allows one or the other.
The shock’s piggyback reservoir keeps the shock cool and consistent on prolonged descents, suggesting an aggressive enduro edge to the bike’s intentions. However, the 750mm bars and long-ish (75mm) stem really limit the Decree’s aggro descending capabilities (we soon swapped to a 50mm stem, which helped with downhill confidence immeasurably).
While the tyres are both light and fast rolling, Schwalbe’s Pacestar compound is slippery when wet and the Snakeskin casings are squirmy and vague when pushed hard. This is at odds with the hugely capable Monarch Plus shock – we’d rather the RT3 climbing switch option instead to maximise the (already respectable) pedalling efficiency, and to keep the rear from slouching back on steep climbs. This would suit the bike’s character more than the Monarch’s piggyback, which only makes a difference on prolonged descents.
The Decree’s turn of speed and all day comfort make it a pleasure to ride over long distances
While front derailleurs look set to go the way of the dodo, Shimano’s latest side-swing units are quite possibly the best examples off the breed that ever were or will be: offering consistent, precise shifting and plenty of range. We would have been happy with a single ring though.
Out back, the XT 11-speed shifting was crisp and clear, arguably more so than SRAM’s equivalent 11-speed groups. It didn’t miss a beat.
Relatively speaking, Shimano’s Deore brakes may look like a spec shortfall, but in our experience these budget stoppers can be more consistent and reliable than the brand’s more expensive brakes. Decked out with heat-shedding finned pads, they’re actually top performers.
The RockShox Reverb seatpost is always a welcome sight. DT Swiss M1900 wheels are solid and fairly stiff, but at 22.5mm internal rim width, they could do with being wider to give the tyres more support. The foam ESI grips won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but they’re light and comfy over chattery ground.
The Decree’s impressive turn of speed and all day comfort make it a joy to ride over long distances, and the innovative suspension design is really impressive too. We just wish the geometry was a little more innovative to match.
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This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.