By Gary J. Boulanger
Long before the larger bike companies took notice of carbon fiber 29er hardtails, the Irvine, California-based Felt Bicycles offered a small stable of models, and after a slow evolution of design and several international race victories, has poured heavy resources into revamping its flagship Nine line for 2013.
According to Felt research and development director Jeff Soucek, above, the new carbon Nine frame design – twin stay setup with a more bulbous joint – essentially allows the seat tube to "float" in the seat cluster, providing more comfort. A vertical rib running inside the aft section of the top tube provides more full-frame torsional stiffness than last year’s version, which Soucek says provides better handling and an overall snappier feel.
Concurrent with the overall for performance comes: a slimmer 27.2mm seatpost for a more complient ride; a tapered head tube for responsive handling and light weight; new InForce woven carbon lay-ups to protect chainstays (from chain slap), top tube (from swinging handlebars) and down tube (from bouncing rocks) without resorting to adhesive-backed plastic guards; guided and fully lined internal cable routing for both derailleurs; and hollow carbon dropouts engineered for Shimano’s new Direct Mount derailleur.
Although Soucek and his team were focusing on a 900g weight target for a medium Felt Nine FRD frame, they still chose a threaded aluminum bottom bracket insert versus using the popular press fit shell for better bearing alignment and less creaking. Aluminum is also used in the headtube bearing races and brake caliper mounts for added durability.
Felt partnered with Swedish carbon fiber maker oXeon, which develops, produces, and markets patented Spread Tow carbon reinforcements for achieving superior surface smoothness, significant weight savings, improved mechanical properties and new design possibilities. TeXtreme is used by manufacturers of advanced aerospace, racing (Formula 1), sports (hockey), automotive and industrial products, all having extreme demands on material performance. According to oXeon, Spreading Tows (yarns, essentially) into very thin tapes enables reinforcements in woven structure as well as unidirectional tapes with mechanical performance and possibilities for weight savings that are unique compared to conventional reinforcements.
According to Felt mountain bike product manager Andy Holmes, Felt also made several tweaks to the Nine line to accommodate the trend toward longer travel forks, including shorter headtube lengths, shorter chainstays, and slightly slackened head tube angles (now at 71 degrees). This takes care of keeping an aggressive performance position, especially with a 100mm fork.
Other changes include the addition of 14- and 22-inch sizes, giving the vertically challenged and vertically blessed among us entry into the high-performance 29er carbon hardtail world.
Not ready to fork over $2,850 for a Felt Nine FRD frame? Felt offers a C version for $1,549 with less bells and whistles, weighing just 100g more. The relationship with oXeon is new for Felt, and in time the development costs will be absorbed and production will be increased.