Felt's featherweight trail machine is let down by unpredictable suspension and a cramped cockpit
Need to know
- Lightweight carbon trail bike with dream build
- 140mm travel FAST carbon flex-stay suspension
- Five bike range starting at £2,250 for Decree 30
- All models get 150mm RockShox Pike and the same shock tune
There’s definitely a trend for flex stays replacing pivots on longer-travel suspension bikes, but no one can accuse Felt of jumping on the leaf-spring bandwagon with its new range of Decree trail bikes.
Sporting 140mm of travel and borrowing Felt’s Active Stay Technology (FAST), first developed for its short-travel Edict XC race bikes, the company has been taking advantage of carbon’s ability to flex without fatigue for several years now.
The Decree also shares the Edict’s simplified suspension design. Gone is the more complicated Equilink layout, replaced instead by a single-pivot set-up — the key advantages being reduced weight and improved reliability. It’s too early to know if Felt has delivered on its promise of improved reliability, but it has certainly delivered on the scales. At 11.17kg for a size medium bike, the top-end Decree FRD is super-light; the frame and shock alone weigh a mere 2.1kg.
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All of that weight saving hasn’t been at the expense of features either. As you’d expect, it has internal cable-routing, and a really nice touch is the removable front mech hanger, which helps maintain the clean flowing lines of the sleek carbon frame when running a 1x drivetrain. It’s also Di2-compatible; the battery can be tucked up into the underside of the down tube, just above the bottom bracket.
Felt Active Stay Technology, or FAST for short, does away with the need for seatstay pivots and bearings and the carbon stays have zero preload in the sag position, rather than at full extension. This means that the spring force in the carbon is very low at 30 per cent travel to retain good small-bump sensitivity — beyond this, the spring force in the stays ramps with the shock to help prevent bottoming.
It also means that the stays act like a super-strong negative spring in the first 30 per cent of the suspension’s travel. Felt claims that this helps improve pedalling efficiency, but the effect is so pronounced that it actually reduces the usable travel from 140mm to 135mm.
The build kit on the FRD is every bit about shaving weight. From the foam grips to the carbon Envy wheels, sporting Guide Ultimate brakes with alloy rotor carriers, Felt has trimmed off all the excess fat. Not all of Felt’s low-calorie substitutions were to my taste, however. Sure, the Easton Haven handlebar has a great profile, but at 720mm it’s too narrow by today’s standards. The 70mm stems on the L and XL frame sizes are a little past their best before dates too.
The proof is in the pudding, though, and on the trails that flank Lake Garda the Felt was perfectly at home one minute, out of its depth the next. On the more flowing sections of singletrack that linked the short, steep technical chutes, the bike felt reactive, stiff and poised, and once I’d swapped the 70mm stem for a 55mm, I had no reservations about riding off the brakes and letting gravity work its magic. Give the Decree more to think about, however, and that sense of security vanished in a heartbeat.
Having had limited time on the bike, I couldn’t pinpoint what was unsettling it. There is ample length in the frame, and the head angle is also ballpark for a 140mm trail bike, so it isn’t the geometry or sizing that was amiss. Maybe it was the way the FAST suspension always wanted to return to the sag position, rather than fully extend, but surely this would make the bike feel more stable on steep descents?
The rear suspension was also sluggish, even though the shock had a light rebound tune. It turns out that a pre-production bearing spacer on the upper link was causing unwanted friction in the suspension. I also think the lack of support in the Dual Position Air Pike fork was really unsettling the balance of the bike. RockShox now offers Bottomless Tokens for the Dual Position Air spring, so that should have been relatively easy to remedy. Unfortunately, no one told Felt about the new Tokens, so I’ll have to wait until we get a Decree on home soil to find out if the fork really was to blame.