As much as I like my Orbea Rallon, and have no problem doing a big trail ride on it, when I signed up for 65km of the Exmoor round of the MTB Marathon…knowing from past experience how big the climbs are, I dropped a message to Dave at Velo-Smith in Plymouth to see if he had anything in his demo fleet a bit more appropriate for 5 hours of steep climbs and fast descents around some of the highest hills in the south west.
Fortunately for me as the time came closer, Velo-Smith had just taken delivery of a Felt Decree 4 140mm travel carbon-framed trail bike and offered it for the ride. Oh…and being masters of high end bike builds, they were pimping it up to the max with a selection of high end goods.
Yup, that’ll do nicely I FELT (sorry, shit joke).
The Decree sits in the Felt range as a do it all trail bike with ‘4’ being the lower spec model of Felt’s four Decree models. The Decree 3 and 4 are constructed using Felt’s UHC ‘Performance’ carbon fibre construction whereas the top level Decree 1 and 2 are built using their ‘advanced’ UHC construction. There’s a range topping ‘FRD’ model using ‘Ultimate’ construction and all the bells and whistles around. In my personal opinion, the ‘4’ is the best colour!
So Felt is not a brand I’m overly familiar with to be honest but they are well regarded on the XC MTB and road scene. The stock build on the £2999 Decree 4 consists of a selection of mid-end components and officially comes in at 28.3 lbs. Velo-Smith decided however that this lovely looking carbon frame deserved a few choice upgrades so went to work on it big time. Out went the Alex Rims wheels and in came carbon rims laced to Hope Pro 4 hubs with Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres set up tubless. Gone was the 2x Shimano SLX crankset and replaced with Hope cranks with a 32 tooth Hope oval chainring. The own-brand bars and stem were replaced with an Easton Haven bar and Hope xxmm stem and the Shimano Deore M615 brakes were ‘binned’ for a beautiful set of Hope E4 4 pot disc brakes with Hope floating rotors. All in all, an amazing spec and I was looking forward to seeing how it all worked as one package out on the trails.
The Decree 4 is full carbon with the front triangle, rear triangle and linkage with a nice gloss cyan blue finish. The suspension system is a link activated single pivot design but unlike many designs, doesn’t have a pivot at the rear axle and instead uses flexible seatstays. This helps to reduce the frame weight and and in practical terms is one less pair of pivot bearings to replace down the line. The advantage of this type of suspension layout is that there is room for a water bottle cage in the front triangle and keeps the shock out of harm’s way particularly from crap thrown off the rear wheel.
The Decree has adjustable geometry via a flip chip where the seat stays join the rocker link which slackens things out from 67 degrees head angle/74 degrees seat angle to 66.5 degrees head angle/ 73.5 degrees seat angle.
Cables are internally routed and enter the frame from the controls via a tidy port at the headtube area which looks big enough to renew cables fairly easily in the future (unlike Orange bikes!). They exit the downtube via another port just above the bottom bracket before entering the chainstays on either side for the rear mech and rear brake. There is internal routing for an external dropper seat post along the top tube but I wasn’t 100% sure if internally routed dropper posts were compatible. On the rear of the seat post tube down low are bolts for a direct mount front mech so those running 2x or 3x cranksets can still run an obscene amount of gears – 3×11? Go nuts!
The bottom bracket area is massive and provides a stiff area for transferring power to the cranks and the BB itself is external which is good to see so future changes are easy and operationally, creak-free. Around it are ISCG mounts for a chain guide or bash guard if needed. The headset is internal up top and external down low and a 12×142 Syntace bolt-through rear axle keeps the rear wheel in nice and securely.
Finally, there is a metal chainsuck plate on the driveside chainstay to protect that lovely carbonara from the nasties of chainsuck however there is no downtube protector to protect from rock strikes off the front wheel.
With a very busy weekend on the cards, I was limited to setting up the bike the evening before the big ride. I set the 140mm Pike RC up with 25% sag and the Monarch RT3 Debonair with 30% and took a punt on rebound and compression settings. It wasn’t going to be optimal for tomorrow’s ride but I hoped for a decent balance.
The next day was ride day with what ultimately became a 39 mile XC ride with over 6,000 feet of climbing and descending on some dry and dusty trails around Exmoor, so a good chance to see what the bike was capable off.
We started with a reasonably mellow switchback climb to quickly gain height and straight away I realised that acceleration was pretty instant. With the lightweight carbon frame, Velo-Smith built carbon rims and the 44 tooth engagement of the Hope hub, there was little energy wasted when I put the power down and the climb felt quite effortless. It was even more noticeable when the trail levelled out or started to drop…a couple of pedal strokes and the bike accelerated like a rat up a drainpipe. It was quite a surprise for me coming from the bigger Rallon.
With head angles getting slacker these days, a steeper seat tube angle helps keep the ride position central when seated and stops the front end from wandering on steep climbs. The seat angle on the Decree is relatively slack at 73/74 degrees and on steeper ups and combined with the short stem, I did feel the front end getting light so had shift my body weight more over the front to keep things balanced. It wasn’t too bad but a steeper seat tube angle would be very welcome.
That slacker seat post angle keeps the ride position quite central when pedalling and felt good for me when sat down however as I pedal slightly knees-in, my calves would rub occasionally on the wide shock linkage. It wasn’t enough to worry about but for ‘innies’ out there who wear knee pads, it might be more noticeable. The shock worked well reducing pedal bob – a quick bit of research after showed that Felt designed the suspension including those flexible seatstays to be neutral at the sag point to reduce unwanted movement, so it seems to work well.
Into the first descent and it became apparent that the shortish 581mm top tube length and 417mm reach on this medium frame and steeper head angle (67⁰), meant I felt a little too weighted over the front end to begin with so I had to consciously get more over the back. Once I got used to it though, I found the bike descended very well and felt composed. Although shorter and steeper than what I’m used to, I felt confident hooning down some of Exmoor’s finest descents with the rear shock performing well and not blowing through it’s travel on harder hits.
So what about those components?
As mentioned, setting up the suspension was a bit of a rush affair the night before and in retrospect, was set up way too firm. For the smoother descents, the Pike felt good but on the rocky descent of Dunkery Beacon, by ¾ of the way down, my arms and hands were hurting and I was feeling battered! Now we all know the Pike is an excellent fork so this was purely down to poor set up on my part but it just goes to show how important taking your time to set suspension up is to make sure you and the bike are riding optimally and not just hanging on for dear life! The shock, however worked really well and apart from the road climbs where I’d stick pedal mode on, I left it in open the whole time and it rode nicely.
The Hope E4 brakes, like most of Hope’s products, is a piece of milled aluminium engineering beauty and in terms of how they operate and feel, seem to be either something you love or don’t. They have good modulation, especially considering these are 4 Pot callipers, but for me they weren’t quite my cup of tea. When I brake, my personal preference is to have all the power at once on tap – like a digital device, either on or off. The Hope’s feed the power in gradually and whilst powerful enough, for me, the vaguer feeling left me waiting for it to kick in as I pulled on the lever. Like I said though, many people prefer that kind of feeling and if you like good modulation, then these are up there.
The KS LEV Integra dropper seat post is cable operated and had a very nice smooth operation up and down with a very quick return. I’ve only ever used Rockshox Reverb posts with their hydraulic action and the less force required at the lever to drop the post with this cable operation, was nice to use. With a 32” inseam, the 100mm drop was fine on the day for descending for me and didn’t get in the way but a larger drop post is always welcome.
The 1×10 Shimano SLX/Hope transmission worked well and I found the 32 tooth chainring and 42 tooth bottom gear fine for grinding out those Exmoor climbs, even when winching up the 25% Porlock road climb, and the narrow-wide ring didn’t drop the chain once.
Ok so this is a custom spec so not quite representative of the stock ‘off the shelf’ bike but showcases the kind of custom build you can get, particularly from the guys at Velo-Smith.
Focusing on the frame, its light, looks great and is well made with some nice touches such as the cable routing and adjustable geometry. The angles are more conservative compared to similar trail bikes around at present, however it rides very well both up, down and in between.
As a package, the bike moved forward rapidly and with little effort required and proved to be a very capable bike. With many bikes favouring descending ability over climbing these days, this one is a decent all-rounder, ideal for anyone who likes their climbs as much as their descents and in the market for a mid-level, mid-travel but full carbon full susser.
Of course, this is just my opinion. This custom Felt Decree 4 is available to demo yourself from Velo-Smith in Plymouth so if you fancy making up your own mind then get in touch with the shop and book it out for a test. With Plym Valley trail centre nearby and Dartmoor a short drive away, there’s plenty of trails to make your own mind up on.