By Matt Kasprzyk
Tester: Matt Kasprzyk
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Weight: 26.2lbs. (w/o pedals)
Sizes Available: 15.5", 17.5", 19.5", 21.5" (tested)
Since 2001, the Felt partnership has had a fresh vision for the brand, which led them to branch out into a wider variety of bikes. No longer is this U.S. company just about high-end road and tri bikes—they offer cyclocross, mountain, BMX, cruisers and even urban fixies in addition to their better-known road products.
With an 80mm fork, low-rolling resistance tires, and a name like Nine Race, there’s little to question about the intended use of this aluminum hardtail. The 2010 Nine Race is a third-year 29er from a company that prides itself on meticulous design. The frame is constructed of double-butted 6061 aluminum tubes with a hydroformed top tube. From tip to tail, the components are all race-ready Shimano XT—hubs, rotors, shifters, brakes and levers, along with the full drivetrain. Felt’s own aluminum RXC stem, zero-rise handlebar, seatpost, saddle, grips and custom cable set round out the spec. The package is set up to appeal to entry-level racers and weekend warriors looking for a race-ready bike that will handle almost any course. Luckily so, because this Felt was broken in during our trip to Georgia, where varying conditions and rough trails thoroughly tested frame and components.
Maintaining the performance theme up front, the RockShox 80mm-travel Reba Race Dual Air 29 helps smooth the ride. The Reba isn’t the quickest fork on the market to set up, but is highly tunable, with positive and negative air chambers. After initial set-up, the 80mm fork worked almost unnoticed and seemed bottomless during several rocky descents and wide-open elevation losses. In technical rock gardens, the big wheels and Reba performed as I thought they would—smooth, until I needed more travel to make up for a poorly chosen line. I used almost every bit of the 80mm, but would not have noticed except for the O-ring on the stanchion. The fork never exhibited any lateral flex, and by the end of the southern adventure, it had instilled enough confidence to push the bike even more on flowy, loose rock-filled descents.
Throughout my time on the bike, the Shimano XT components provided reliable and consistent shifting and braking. The 180mm front rotor was a welcome feature on steep technical descents, providing extra stopping power. Shimano’s Shadow XT rear derailleur was on-point for shifting performance. Paired with the XT triggers, the system was predictable with a smooth click and shift. While ascending steep grades, dropping to the granny with the front derailleur was luckily not an issue. The drivetrain certainly contributed to how well the bike climbed.
The wheels are made up of Shimano XT centerlock hubs laced to WTB Lazer Disc Trail rims with 32 double-butted spokes and aluminum nipples. The WTB Vulpine tires were the sleeper pick on this bike, especially since they performed better than my expectations, and those of everyone else that saw the tires. They hooked up on every climb with amazing traction for fast-rolling treads, even in light snow and wet conditions. With weight over the rear tire and pedals turning, the Nine Race climbed for as long as I could. WTB has these tires listed as "semi-slick" on their website. Semi-slick? I was climbing snow-covered singletrack, up wet roots and rocks, on semi-slicks? Boy Howdy, I was.
I have to admit, the hardtail 6061 frame wasn’t as harsh as I feared. I put in a few days of nearly five-hour ride time on this bike through some gnarly terrain, and although sore, I could stand up straight the next day. I was surprised how comfortable (for a hardtail) the bike was on all-day epics. Not that I noticed any flexing, the ride just seemed smoother than I expected, almost like my steel hardtail. Felt designs each bike’s tubing specifically for the model. The rear triangle butting profiles of the Nine Race are engineered to be more comfortable than aluminum has a reputation for while maintaining stiffness. The Nine Race’s geometry felt natural as soon as I threw a leg over. The 72° head angle and 39mm offset fork gave neutral handling that wasn’t too quick. Although tight switchbacks weren’t a forte with my 21.5" frame and 29" wheels, the 43.8" wheelbase is slightly shorter than what I’m used to, and with a 25.2" top tube, the bike felt aggressive and begged to sprint.
The only negative I had with the Felt is the original equipment cable housing. While on a 21-mile ride at Stanley Creek Gap, the rear derailleur cable housing split just above the derailleur. I was left with a rigged 3×1 to get me back to the van. Although certainly not an expensive fix, the bike was not under unusual stress. It could have simply been poor quality housing, a manufacturing defect, or the housing could have been damaged in the van, resulting in the split. However, the cable pads near the head tube that prevent the cables from wearing away the paint are a nice touch.
Felt offers several bikes in the Nine series—all hardtails, from a singlespeed to a carbon team model. They also offer frames. My legs are the only excuse I can use for not going fast on this bike. The Nine Race felt like an entry-level race bike should: quick and responsive, with room for upgrades. Felt’s $2500 price tag isn’t cheap, and at 26.2lbs. there are definitely places weight weenies could find grams to drop.
This bike should be a consideration for an avid XC racer or weekend warrior looking for an efficient endurance whip who doesn’t mind hammering climbs. As it stands, the Felt Nine Race is spec’d, and should perform well, for a race enthusiast. Felt’s race pedigree delivers an option that 29er racers shouldn’t ignore. Felt offers a limited lifetime warranty.