Cycling

First Impressions: Felt Dispatch 9/60, a 29″ XC Hardtail Mountain Bike

Few things have gotten me as excited recently as anticipating the arrival of my Felt Dispatch 9/60 mountain bike and I’m going to give you my first impressions of it. I have not owned a mountain bike in years. Life was good with just a beach cruiser, but the hills between my abode and the beach are much taller in California, and even in Florida peddling into a stiff coastal breeze meant hefty pumping with your legs.

My last mountain bike took me over and through the coastal trails along the hills and mountains south of San Francisco, as well as the Golden Gate Park, the Great Highway, and the mean streets of the city. That bike was purchased from a bike rental kiosk on the Embarcadero in SF that was owned by a buddy of my roommate at the time. The Franken-bike cost me $80 and was a beater from day one. But it was incredibly reliable. The gears always worked, since it wasn’t clickable, though eventually I couldn’t force it onto the biggest front cog. I didn’t want to go fast anyway.

But this time I wanted to do it right and get a really good bike that can handle as much adventure as I can throw at it. The Felt Dispatch 9 is an aluminum hardtail with 100mm of travel in the fork and 29” wheels. Technically, it’s an XC racing bike. But for me, it’s an adventure bike.

RockShox 30 Silver fork with Solo Air shock, 100mm travel. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.
RockShox 30 Silver fork with Solo Air shock and 100mm travel. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

The Dispatch is Felt’s aluminum-framed XC bike and the 9/60 is the top of that line. Frankly, I would have been nearly as happy with the bottom of the Dispatch line, the 9/90, but I’ll go over some of the differences that really make this bike stand out at the $1000 price point.

Besides the drivetrain, the main two upgrades the 9/60 has are Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and a RockShox 30 Silver Solo Air fork.

Shimano hydraulic disc brakes  with a 180mm disc up front and 160mm in back. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.
Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with a 180mm disc up front and 160mm in back. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

Drivetrains with a single front chainring have swept through mountain biking. There’s only one shifter to move up and down through a full range of gears. It make thinking about shifting so much easier, especially under high-pressure situations

It also means less gear to adjust and deal with, less chance for the chain to slip off, and less weight. Honestly, I never understood the shifting pattern with double and triple chainrings and I still remember a warning not to having the chain on the small gear up front and the small gear in back, that somehow that might over-torque and break the chain. That’s not an issue with a single 30-tooth sprocket on the crank. You just shift up or down and pedal.

Shimano single chainring drivetrain sporting a 10-speed 11- to 40-tooth cartridge.
Shimano single drivetrain sporting a 30-tooth chainring. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

The rear uses a 10-speed cassette with 11 to 40 teeth on the cogs, creating a nicely spaced set of gears favoring the low end. It tops out at about 20 MPH with my legs, which isn’t very fast, but it’s not a road bike.

It climbs. With no recent experience biking on anything but a beach cruiser, I had no problem pedaling up steep roads and trails on the Palos Verdes peninsula in the South Bay of Los Angeles.

I recall only one spot where the trail was too steep and the ground too soft for the bike to get going and I had to jump off and push. Another spot on that trip, an off-leash dog killed my momentum going up what seemed like a 45° angle (it was probably 30°) on a packed sandy trail. After the Boxer and its apologetic owner passed, I was able to remount and pedal back to speed.

Sure, it would climb even easier with 42 teeth on the big cog, but I’ll save that for future talks of upgrades and mods.

The Felt Dispatch 9 is an impressive aluminum XC bike with 29
The Felt Dispatch 9 is an impressive aluminum XC bike with 29″ wheels. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

OK, this is my first bike with any sort of suspension. I wanted to do it right and get quality gear, not a bike that just looks the part. Since biking was never my main hobby, the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a bike always seemed crazy, especially when something that looks almost the same costs less than $200 at Costco. But I do understand quality gear, so this time I wanted to find the sweet spot for my needs.

Moving to a full suspension bike nearly doubles the cost of a hardtail with a similar level of components, or triples it within the Felt line since they don’t seem to make a full suspension bike out of aluminum.

Upgrading to a carbon fiber frame would lose 5 lbs, but the price doubles just for a hardtail. For me, this is an adventure bike, not a racing bike, so weight is not a big deal. But the durability of aluminum is. I don’t want to worry about the frame getting banged up.

Best Watch for Mountain Biking on the Felt Dispatch 9/60:
Orange Orient Mako

Orient Mako

So, no full-suspension and no carbon fiber. Being an XC bike, rather than a downhill bike, it has a fairly steep head angle of 69°, which makes it rather nimble, which is good, considering the 29” tires are less nimble than smaller tires.

Like the single chainring, I went with a 29’er because they’re all the rage right now, but also for the reasons they’re all the rage. Those big tires inspire confidence and as someone just getting back into mountain biking again, without ever being all that into it anyway, that extra boost of confidence is huge. Plus, it makes it really fun to pedal up and over obstacles that previously would have seemed impossible.

Size Small with 29
Size Small with 29″ wheels. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

As I may have alluded to, I presently do not have a need for speed — we’ll see how long that lasts — as a result, my descents weren’t all that fast, though they were certainly exhilarating. I’m definitely looking forward to longer, faster downhill runs on my next trail adventure. I’m certain the bike can handle anything I can.

The bike felt completely solid. It shifted into gear easily and smoothly, though I did try to plan ahead and not force it into the lower gears under pressure. I found some jumps on that first ride, but was still too chicken-shit to get any real air off them. I’ve since watched way too many videos on YouTube and will likely damage myself next time at the jumps, but that’s OK.

I flipped over the the handlebars almost immediately once off-road, on the first steep descent into a canyon. It was a short, tight, sandy, turn to the left and I was moving way too slowly. So slowly the bike actually stopped, but I didn’t, due to gravity. My leg got stuck between the backwards handlebars and the frame and I’m not sure what actually scraped up my shin, whether it was the bike or the roots I landed on, which also happened to stop my tire.

But the bike was fine, and once on the dry creek bed a step or two later, I was back in the saddle and pedaling up the much longer other side of the canyon to the top of Malaga Dunes. I don’t think I was tossed again that ride and went on for another 10 miles or so, staying off road as much as possible as I made my way to the trails that hug the coast, and ultimately into Redondo Beach.

This Felt bike was made in China, but designed right down the road at Felt's Irvine, California headquarters. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.
This Felt bike was made in China, but designed right down the road at Felt’s Irvine, California headquarters. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

Which brings me to the first component that needs to be replaced: the saddle. After a few minutes of riding, I guess my ass went numb because it didn’t bother me for 13+ miles. But it sure did for the next week. The padded underwear I bought arrived after I left, but I don’t think they would have helped anyway. Don’t get these.

Right now, I’m considering a cheap, comfortable seat made by Outerdo. It’s more of a commuter saddle, I’d say, than a MTB saddle, but again, this is an adventure bike — and it must be comfortable for many hours of riding on any kind of terrain, or daddy won’t want to go adventuring.

But if it ends up being too dorky (or more likely, too tall) then I’ll try this allegedly comfortable actual mountain biking saddle. And if that’s no good, we’ll have a Twisted Bezel MTB saddle guide!

Oh, and I also got the classic all-purpose helmet, to look as cool as possible on my blaze orange sled. But that had not arrived yet either, so I borrowed my neighbor’s extra spare, and then bought from anyway because it has a lot more ventilation and is adjustable, so makes nice spare for me now.

Geared up for adventure with the original Topeak Alien tool and a now-broken pump.
Geared up for adventure with the original Topeak Alien tool and a now-broken pump. Photo by Chuck Baldwin.

As for the bike, I feel like the Felt Dispatch 9/60 gives me the best quality components in this price range of Felt bikes, with the next jump in quality doubling or tripling the price. I got the bike from Cyclopaths Bike Shop, a new shop located near the top of the Palos Verdes peninsula, in partial trade for work I’m doing for them.

They also sell Diamondback bikes, which make an aluminum full-suspension bike for $700, but it uses a 24-speed triple drivetrain, mechanical disc brakes, and a fork with coil spring shocks. It also weighs about 5 lbs more than my 29.5 lb Dispatch. My understanding is a decent rear shock should run about $600 itself. My beach cruiser is a Diamondback. I decided to go with a Felt mountain bike.

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