If I’d laid eyes on it 5 years ago, Felt’s latest model – the 9 Race – would have been an absolute jaw-dropper. With its big 29-inch wheels and all white colour scheme the 9 Race would have produced envy in any lycra-clad roadie worth his weight. However, by today’s standards this sleek albino speedster is typical to say the least. So much so that as it was being unloaded onto my driveway I could barely remember which brand I’d been asked to review. Aesthetically, this bike is a dime-a-dozen. That is until you get a little closer – close enough to see the tube, and the seat post, and the seat tube – All emblazoned with the flag ‘Race’! Its short forks and sharp angles seemed to reinforce what the bike so desperately wanted me to believe, so I set out to see what this beast was capable of.
Following a couple or minor tweaks we began climbing a road which lead to a technical, but beautifully scenic downhill track. It wasn’t long before I stopped to flip the stem. Because of their wider radius the 29-inch wheels increase the bike’s front end by about 60mm compared to the standard 26-inchers. Felt compensates for this increase with a shortened head tube, a smaller travel fork and a low-stack integrated headset. Strangely, these efforts are then undone by fitting a relatively tall riser bar. Flipping the stem to a ‘negative rise’ provides a quick and easy fix, but if it were my bike, I’d be asking the shop if they could swap the riser bar for a flat bar of similar width. With the bars lowered I was able to climb through the rough and technical trail… and did it climb!
Once on the single track, the first thing I notice is the traction on offer from the WTB Prowler SL tyres. Slick, wet sand-stone interspersed with damp loamy soil was barely noticed as the big 2.1 tyres took charge of the trail. Rolling resistance was surprisingly good too, as the low angled knobs rolled smoothly and quickly on hard packed dirt and rock. WTB have traditionally made tyres that seem rather large for their designated size and I was surprised to see 2.1 marked on the sidewall – most brands would call this a 2.25. This is most likely explained by their Global Measurement System or GMS, which is a ‘nod to accuracy’ for tyre measurements. GMS offers two measurements taken in millimetres; one refers to the casing while the other includes the tread width. This format offers a much better indication of the bag size and tyre shape. The Prowler SLs were marked 52/52, which is about 2.1 inches, and very close to what I measured later on. I am a huge fan of big bag tyres on 29ers. The need for suspension is already reduced by the better angle of attack offered by the bigger wheels, and the addition of a fat tyre further bolsters confidence and comfort. As I cleared the first rocky downhill, I thanked the MTB gods for the big bag tyres.
Coming into the first steep decent I was glad that I hadn’t raised the saddle to full XC racing height. With a steep 72 degree head angle, the Felt 9 race has a distinct forward weight bias, so you need to keep your wits about you and get your weight right back when the trail really points down. It didn’t help that the Hayes Stroker brakes were still bedding in, and I was completely white-knuckled as I bounced my way through this steep technical section with the saddle in front of my navel. At the bottom I breathed a sigh of relief and resolved to experiment with the travel on the Rock Shox Reba that’s fitted up front.
The Reba is a great fork and a good spec to find on a bike of this price. Being the RL model it has a compression lock dial on top of the right leg and a rebound adjust underneath. One feature that I really appreciated on this fork was the ‘gate’. The gat adjusts the point at which the compression lock gives way and its adjustable using a 2.5mm hex key once the gold cap is removed. You’ll find a 2.5mm hex on the rebound knob, which will save you digging out the multi-tool. After a little fiddling, I found a relatively light threshold setting on the gate that negated most pedal-influenced bob while still allowing the fork to soak up the bumps. This setup allowed the compression dial to remain in the ‘locked’ position for efficient climbing, while still coping admirably with rough terrain.
In many ways the name ‘Race’ is a misnomer for the Felt. Sure, it looks racy as all hell with its albino colour scheme and ‘fast’ decals, but when you start to look closer it simply doesn’t fit. The wheels and tyres are totally over built for a ‘race’ bike and the tall handlebar position is way too high for trail riding, let alone racing. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend the Felt 9 Race. In fact as a trail bike i would have no hesitation. With the fork adjusted out to 100mm and the riser bar swapped for a flat one, the handling is confidence inspiring, fun and comfortable – the Felt 9 Race is ironically a fantastic trail bike.
Jane Goodall is a mountain biking enthusiast and bicycle insurance saleswoman. When Jane isn’t selling bike insurance you can find her speeding down the mountain side on her Cervelo R5ca.