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
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
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
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
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
Felt had the insight
to install simple, toe-clipless street shoe pedals
on the Urban-X allowing the use of any kind of shoe
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
Topping off the urban-X
is a Felt saddle that mimics the shape of the touring
Fizik saddles and is entirely serviceable when riding
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