Pete has spent the last few months putting the Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX through its paces both at home and abroad, with very good results.
Review by Pete Scullion, Photos by Innes Graham, Video by Miles Mallinson
Vitus might not be a name at the forefront of everyone’s minds, but this direct-to-customer brand is challenging the far more costly bikes both in terms of ride and certainly value. Pete gives his two pence on how the alloy 29er has fared.
- 29″ wheels
- 150mm front, 135mm rear travel
- Shimano XT drivetrain
- Rock Shox Monarch RT3 Debonair and Pike RCT3 Solo Air
- Nukeproof finishing kit
- S, M, L, XL sizes
- £2,699.99 RRP
- Available online only at VitusBikes.com
Steep, technical trails
While it would be easy enough to spot that the Escarpe 29 VRX is just a 29″-wheeled version of Vitus’ proven 135mm Horst Link-based platform, there if far more than meets the eye than just wheel and spec differences. 135mm travel and 29″ wheels combines to provide an eye-wateringly fast ride from the get-go.
I took delivery of the Escarpe in early April and from the very moment I slung a leg over it, it was goading me to go ever faster. Since then it’s had the usual Scottish fare of steep, technical trails in the woods at home, interspersed with the usual Munro (mountains over 914m/3000ft) antics.
It has been taken to my best ever race result of 14th overall at the No Fuss Events Macavalanche, proving it can take hammering of regular riding then up its game when I fling it down a mountain with 300 other people. I recently got back from a photo trip in the Alps and it was never short of composed speed then either.
Are big wheels just for big dudes?
I get asked this a lot. The answer is, simply, no. I’m 5ft3 and I’m not a tall human by any means. 29″ wheels rolled fast and gave me bags of confidence through rough, choppy, chattery trails and on challenging terrain both home and away.
The old ’29’ers are only for big dudes’ thing is a myth. Of course, if you’re a taller rider you’ll likely find a natural fit with a big that has larger proportions, wheels included. But, it’s the size and shape of the frame that makes the difference rather than the wheel size. The wheels are marginally harder to chuck about through very tight terrain but, in all of our experience here at Wideopen, play that off with excellent momentum through rough terrain.
For less experienced riders, younger riders, riders with less strength to chuck bikes around that can be a huge boost to their riding. But they’re not just for those guys. Fast, aggressive, experienced riders can thrive on big wheels. It’s down to bike geometry and riding style.
The Vitus Escarpe 29 is well proportioned. It’s low, has plenty of standover, has a not-too-long back end and fits me well.
My usual first outing on a test bike is a three hour blast from my house to Conic Hill and back to dial everything in and get the brake pads working. This ride takes in road, forest tracks, singletrack, and hill paths, so can easily point out anything wrong fairly quickly.
First impressions are of a bike that just wants to go faster and faster. The suspension system gives you 55mm of rearward axle path, which means it’s more likely to speed up in the rough, rather than slow down, the rear wheel really getting out of the way of those hits. The first few corners saw me entering with far more speed than I thought I’d have, with the usual effect of brakes on slowing down and on suspension, clearly not applying.
On the ups, the shock remained composed without wallowing, even if the shock rate is regressive to sit into its sag point at first. The ‘small’ (42t) top cog on the cassette does limit you to what you and your legs can take, but it wasn’t an issue really.
Wheels and tyres
Heavy hits to either wheel came with an unfamiliar and loud ‘twang’ at first, caused by the bladed spokes on the Mavic wheels. That was only a surprise the first time out though and aside from the noise, felt no different. Aside from one loose spoke, they’ve stayed true and had no trouble throughout.
The most apparent thing gleaned from this ride was that the tyres had to go. While the fork, like the shock, took no real dialling in once air pressure and rebound had been tweaked in the car park, the rear tyre especially was notable in its lack of grip, speed to roll or puncture resistance. In fact, within a handful of rides, I would have replaced the tube on every other ride.
Clearly the Escarpe 29 VRX is a sorted bicycle. Sizing on the small is roomy without being massive for a person of my stature (5′ 3″), in fact, I haven’t changed anything in the cockpit or moved the saddle on the rails since I got the bike. As I said above, larger pilots won’t find the bike lofty … and the 2018 bike’s extra 2cm in reach will most likely be a welcome update.
With the WTBs replaced for the tried and tested Continental Der Baron/Kaiser combo, the bike came to life. The bike now had the capability to slow down and turn as quickly as the bike will speed up.
As I got more comfortable on the bike I found myself getting to the limits of the 2-piston XT brakes on longer descents. Swapping these out for a set of 4 piston Shimano Zee stoppers meant I could push that little bit harder everywhere, knowing that the extra stopping power was there.
On the limiter
Once you have your eye in with this bike, the only real limit is you. I would go as far to say no bike has done more for my confidence and speed as this one. While it doesn’t feel as glued to the ground as the outgoing 2016 Ariel did, a bike I felt I could not even hold onto and I’d ride out clean, the Escarpe gets to the same place in a different way, just an awful lot faster.
Maintenance issues have been practically zero, other than replacing the inner tubes and a single spoke.
For £2,699.99 you are getting a bike that needs no significant changes in order to up your game.
The bad and the ugly…
There isn’t anything that isn’t easily remedied on the Escarpe, and in honesty, you’re only really going to need to change the tyres.
Most people will change tyres on a bike for their preferred black hoops anyway, so it’s not the end of the world that the supply rubber wasn’t up to the capability of the bike. That said, a pair of tyres that complimented the ride would go a long way to making this bike excellent rather than just very good out of the box. My advice to anyone exchanging their cash for one of these, make sure you replace the tyres from the off to really maximise your enjoyment of this bike.
Recently, I swapped the cassette out for a large 11-46t XT number to get the legs spinning on those longer climbs.
The Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX is a quality machine. High in speed and low in faff. You would be hard-pushed to find a faster, more stable ride for less money.
As time has passed, I can only get quicker in every direction on it. I will reiterate that no other bike has moved my riding in a more positive direction than this one.
As we hit ‘publish’ on this review the Vitus website is still showing the 2017 bikes. However, the 2018 bikes will appear any minute and will see a few updates.
The 2018 Escarpe 29 VRX will be 20mm longer and comes with a Trunnion mount metric rear shock. There will be two bikes in the range – one with SLX and one with GX Eagle. Both versions come with Maxxis Minion tires, which addresses one of our main gripes with the 2017 bike.
Whether your grab a 2017 bike now or wait for the 2018 bike, we’re sure you’ll have a blast on trails. Taller riders, and especially those that prefer a roomier bike, might like to wait for the 2018 bike.