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The X-Files
By Tom Demerly.

Read This About Our Reviews First

A purpose built bike for the urban lifestyle: Felt's Urban-X.

The iPod, the laptop, the Grande Americano, the “txt” message, the body piercing: They are icons of the modern urban lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle born partly out of a functional aesthetic and innovation; partly out of adaptation and necessity. Other realities are pollution, gridlock, gas prices and global warming. In addition to the wireless techno-icons and the heavily caffeinated, vowel-truncated communiqués sent on the fly another symbol of the modern urban citizen is the bicycle.

Bicycles have risen in the wake of the dot-com fall and the gas price hike. Some look to a “revolution” in the way people travel with a shift away from passenger cars toward bicycles and scooters. Bicycles are a commuting tool from Amsterdam to Beijing. Around the world, more people ride bikes to work than drive cars. Whereas the car-owning commuter family was the aspiration of the previous five decades the reality of the next ten may lay with the bicycle.

As society has de-evolved so has its everyday bicycle: simple, rugged, easy to use and easy to own. Subcultures in urban hot beds have created a new category of bikes that were born from the ruins of high end bikes and trash day cast-offs. The gears were removed, the wheels ruggedized, the color schemes muted and obscured in mockery of conspicuous ownership and poseur-ism. From Seattle to New York counter-yuppies ride junker bikes with $5000 laptops in their messenger bags on the way to and from earning six and seven figures salaries. And a movement was born: The urban assault bike.

As with any trend there are many interpretations but the core of the movement is function without flash. It is a regression of the “form follows function” ethos that pervades all of urban design. Few manufacturers have understood the movement and interpreted it better than Felt bicycles with their Urban-X.

The Felt Urban-X is a bike that has no real category name. It is not a hybrid, it is not a cruiser, and it is not a flat bar road bike. It is what happens when the components of several categories are adapted to a specific task: Riding a bike in the city and suburbs in all weather. Felt pulled the Urban X together after years of their own employees building concept bikes from the cast-offs of other categories. These were the bikes riders rode when not riding. They were the transportation bikes, the coffee shop bikes, the around town bikes and the book store bikes. In short, the bike that did all the hard work but got none of the love.

Felt places the Urban-X in a rapidly growing category referred to on its website as “Urban”. The category includes two rather odd bikes and then the understated Urban-X.

The features that make the Urban X unique are its rigid, ultra-durable aluminum fork, urban specific geometry, hydroformed aluminum frame, bombproof 36 hole double-wall wheels, bolt-on, theft resistant hubs, a single chainring, a weatherproof galvanized chain and the centerpiece of the bike’s versatility: The completely sealed, maintenance free, Shimano Nexus SG8R25 8-speed internal transmission controlled by the Shimano SL-8S20 Revo shifter. Add to these features an anti glare, low visual signature matt black paint scheme and you have a bike more at home in Gotham City than Batman.

I own mostly racing bikes: road bikes and triathlon bikes. They are my passion, what I aspire to. Triathlons and road riding are what I do. When I have a bike conversation it is centered on seat tube angles and aerodynamics. The Urban-X and I were an unlikely pairing. I don’t have body piercings, I don’t have tattoos, I don’t text message and I don’t own a laptop. Since I only live a half mile from work I did park my car at $3.50 per gallon and sold it at $4.00 per gallon. I don’t own a car anymore. I ride a bike.

I was riding a 29’er mountain bike back and forth to work. I didn’t like the bike. It was heavy and had a mushy suspension fork intended for riding trails and bombing downhills. It was a bike from a category that is becoming extinct. The tires feel blubbery and roll hard on low pressure. The handle is wet noodle like. Since it was little more than a tool I didn’t particularly enjoy using I didn’t maintain it, and mountain bikes require quite a bit of maintenance like any off road vehicle. It protested by running crappy, and I protested by performing less maintenance. The downward spiral.

A friend noticed my lack of reverence for the 29’er and recommended an Urban-X. He told me it was “The perfect bike for what I am doing”. A week later we were building one in our store. Two hours later I was riding it to Starbuck’s.

The first thing I noticed about the Felt Urban-X is the tire choice. The bike rolls more like a road bike than a mountain bike. It is smooth and silent on pavement and handles a sharp curb or a chuck hole hit with smooth grace. The Wilderness Trail Pathways Comp tires take 80 psi and roll on presta valve inner tubes. This is a 700c sized wheel and the tires are 38 mm wide. The unique tread pattern is actually a registered design of Wilderness Trail Bikes and exclusive to them. It is a direction tire that performs perfectly on everything from pavement to gravel to hard packed dirt- every surface you are likely to encounter during a commute. The tires are heavy at nearly 600 grams each, with a flat-resistant belt. I initially questioned the choice of presta valve tubes, citing schrader valves as a more common alternative since they can be inflated from an air compressor at a gas station and are available at a Wal-Mart. I was brought back to reality when a product manager reminded me there are almost no gas stations in expensive down-town urban areas but there are small boutique bike shops that stock presta valve tubes.

The wheels on the Urban-X are armored with 36 straight gauge spokes built on a durable double walled rim. A double wall rim has two full layers of aluminum wall forming a box-girder construction that is more durable than a conventional rim by a more than double. It’s what you need in the city. Another inspired feature is the “theft resistant” non quick release hubs. You have to have a wrench to take the wheels off. Only the boldest of thieves would spend the time unthreading long axle bolts to steal a wheel.

The fork is a heavy duty, alloy, rigid fork with responsive steering geometry. You can bunny-hop, track stand and elevator-drop high curbs with confidence. The steering on the urban-X is another key feature, especially compared to my old mountain bike. My 29’er was built with bombing down fire roads in mind. It had long wheel-base, high stability handling. The Urban-X acknowledges that drivers are going to be swinging their car doors open in front of you. People are going to turn right in front of at traffic lights. The Urban-X has nimble, real world steering for a crowded environment.

On top of the fork is the unique, Felt Designed “Albert” bend handlebar. This unusual handlebar bend is ugly. I swore when I pulled the bike out of the box I was going to put a standard MTB handlebar on it simply because I didn’t like the look of the Albert bar. After riding the Alberts for a week I relented. The Albert bar is a wide moustache style handlebar reminiscent of those weird Bridgestone handlebars for over decade ago that never really did catch on except for college professors and dorks. There are three reasons the Albert bar works: The 30 degree rearward bend is anatomically neutral- your arms and hands feel comfortable on them. The grips are large and cushy making one hand position all you need for good hand comfort. Lastly, the handlebars put the Revo twist shifter in a perfect position for easy shifts. It did take some getting used to the Alberts, but they are the right bar for this bike and I am keeping them.

Felt went with a very simple cable actuated V-brake on the Urban-X, a good choice since they have wide tire clearance, hold their adjustment well and require absolutely zero maintenance. The brakes and their attendant levers are ultra-snappy, also owing to the machined brake track on the rims. Braking is very, very fast and powerful.

The frame on the Urban-X is unique to this new category. It isn’t a re-badged hybrid or MTB frame. It is a genuine “commuter” bike design with all the attendant braze-ons for racks, fenders and even disk brakes. This frame has been so successful it is the basis for two new “Urban” category bikes for Felt in the 2009 model year bringing the category up from only one bike to three Urban X bikes at different price points in 2009. The frame is a fully butted, hydroformed aluminum 6061 (not 7005) alloy with functional accoutrements like an integrated kickstand mount, a Basta Lock Compatable feature and the integrated “A-Stay” rear end. There are two bottle mounts on the frame and an eccentric, oversized bottom bracket shell for making chain tension adjustment with the single speed configuration. This is an advanced design hidden in a simple look, and it accomplishes things no trash-picked, restored grunge bike can. Ride quality and fit of the frame are excellent. I am on the 52cm at 5’9” tall. Reach is good with the saddle in the center of the rails and the tock stem.

Felt had the insight to install simple, toe-clipless street shoe pedals on the Urban-X allowing the use of any kind of shoe while riding.

Anothe thoughtful feature is the chain guard integrated onto the outside of the chainring. this protects your pants leg from grease and from getting caught in the chain.

The centerpiece of the bike is the internal Nexus 8 speed hub. The big, fat barrel shaped hub has an internal transmission that requires no service and is adjustable via cable tension the same way you’d adjust a regular derailleur. It is an absurdly simple system and provides enough gears for even San Francisco type topography.

Topping off the urban-X is a Felt saddle that mimics the shape of the touring Fizik saddles and is entirely serviceable when riding in Levi’s.

The result of this component spec and frame design is a bike that lives and breaths in the real world. It is fast and thrilling to riding. Zipping through traffic toward the coffee shop is so fun it feels like a misdemeanor. Using it to go back and forth to work instead of your car could net you an extra $8000 in disposable income a year compared to using a car and costs you only about $800 MSRP up front- a one time cost since there is no gas, no insurance and no parking tickets.

The Felt Urban-X is more than just a bike; it joins other “Urban” bikes in spearheading a category that is an icon of an emerging generation and a new reality. It is a pleasure to ride and proves that there is plenty of fun to be had even as we move toward the post-petroleum apocalypse.

Fully butted, hydroformed 6061T-6 aluminum frame with naked welds.

WTB's exclusive pavement friendly tread pattern for city riding.

The Shimano Revo 8 speed twist-shifter with gear indicator window.

Felt's unique "Albert" handlebar is a throw-back to the old "moustache" handlebar.

Weird and wide, the Albert bar is ideal for the urban environment.

Heavy duty, theft-deterrent bolt on front hub.

The centerpiece of the bike is the Shimano Nexus 8 internal rear hub.

A single chainring with corrosion proof galvanized chain and pants-guard.

Street-shoe friendly pedals work with any kind of shoe.

The Fizik inspired saddle is adequate for medium length commutes while wearing street clothes.

Nimble handling make the Urban-X at home in the mean streets.

A bike built for the way we use bikes every day in the modern world.

Felt's 2008 Urban-X has spawned a new category of three "Urban" bikes for the 2009 model year.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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