Bike Test: The Felt Virtue Two

It has been over two years since a Felt Virtue rolled through our test fleet, and when the Felt Virtue Two finally showed up, we had to wonder if we got the right bike. This Virtue is so different in so many ways from the 2008 model; maybe Felt should have named it the Felt Version Two Virtue Two.

The Virtue Two is a trailbike, and while its 5.1 inches of travel might tempt you to add “long-travel” in front of the trailbike moniker, that would be misleading. The Virtue Two is a new generation of trailbike that pushes the boundaries of conventional travel wisdom. Think of it as a four-inch-travel trailbike with bonus travel. It is one of three models between the lighter $4299 Virtue One and more affordable $1700 Virtue Three.

The Virtue Two has an all-new-for-2010 aluminum front triangle with a gussetless, hydroformed top tube, an integrated head tube, and a strut between the sloped top tube and seat tube junction to add strength and rigidity. The one-piece, high-modulus, carbon fiber, rear sub frame is also totally redesigned.

The rear suspension is Felt’s proprietary Equilink technology. At a quick glance, this system looks like a conventional four-bar linkage (a la the Trek Fuel), but the blue link behind the seat tube is the giveaway. This Equilink is claimed to counteract rider weight transfer, allowing the drivetrain to remain unfazed by rider input. The rear suspension does not use any bearing or bushing pivots at the rear-wheel end of the sub frame. Instead, the carbon fiber stays are engineered to flex enough to give the rear suspension the movement the Equilink technology requires. The 2010 pivot point locations have been fine-tuned with the goal of improved responsiveness throughout the travel.

Felt seems bent on world domination. Except for a few Shimano, SRAM and Mavic components and RockShox suspension, the Virtue Two uses all Felt components, including grips, handlebar, stem, saddle, seatpost, tires and grips. Most impressive, however, is how everything is put together. The old Virtues looked utilitarian. This one looks sexy. The graphics work with, not against, the flowy lines of hydroformed tubing, and even the suspension’s rocker gets graphic treatment that melds it into the seat tube. Gone is the red dogbone of the Equilink suspension. In its place is a color-coded bar that allows it to blend into the bike rather than stick out. Even the spoke nipples are color-coordinated. We never realized how stodgy the old Virtue was until we laid eyes on this striking 2010 version.

Ergonomics: The Virtue Two feels way more like a cross-country trailbike than a five-inch travel bike, and we mean that in a good way. It is slim and compact, and while the cockpit is not overly stretched out, the rider’s weight is biased toward the rear. With all that travel, you expect the bike to feel tall, but it doesn’t. It feels as hunkered down as a three- or four-inch-travel bike. The cables are intelligently routed, and the saddle and grips fall on the cross-country racing side of the equation?firm.

Pedaling: The Virtue gets more than a cosmetic facelift. The same absence of pedaling-induced suspension bob we raved about on the older Virtue is still there, but the new rear-end design adds more small-bump compliance. The shock offers pedaling platform adjustment, but you really don’t need it. The Equilink does its job of offering a firm platform while still responding to the contour of the trail surface.
Cornering: While we have been touting the cross-country feel of the Virtue’s pedaling, it is all trailbike in the corners. The front end feels slack enough to slow steering input, eliminating any handling jitters or nervousness. Still, the rider needs to pay attention to avoid oversteering. We found ourselves weighting the front end in fast, hardpack corners to stick the intended line.

Climbing: The Virtue does a great job of hiding its weight and excels on tough, short technical climbs or silky, smooth, fire road death marches with the correct rider input. Concentrate on remaining in the saddle while keeping your weight forward as the trail turns steep, or the front end will wander and wheelie.
Descending: Five inches of rear wheel travel makes the Virtue look like a long-travel trailbike (on paper), but it has an unmistakable cross-country bike personality, both climbing and descending. It loves flying down singletrack trails and offers a larger range of forgiveness than a three- or four-inch-travel cross-country bike. Still, it doesn’t inspire the bravado that a beefier bike with similar travel would. The seven-inch front brake rotor offers a lot of bite and needs to be treated with respect and a light touch.

The Virtue Two’s suspension is easy to set up and balance by sticking to Felt’s and RockShox’s recommended settings. Going a little softer is a better idea than going stiffer.

The grips and saddle that we complained about on our last Virtue test bike have been jettisoned and replaced by new items, but we still don’t like them. Don’t wait for the grips to wear out (because they never will). Do your hands a favor and find a softer-compound grip. The saddle is okay for racer types, but trail riders will want more comfort. 

Not all five-inch-travel bikes need to be gusset-laden, heavy monsters. Think of the Felt Virtue Two as a racy trailbike with an extra inch of travel. It is light for this much travel, and it doesn’t waste any of your pedaling input while delivering a level of forgiveness a short-travel cross-country bike just can’t provide.

If you want climbing performance, small and big bump absorption, and drop-the-hammer speed that will shock your riding partners, the Virtue delivers it all.