by Ben Haworth
January 22, 2013
The Vee-1 is a bit master-of-none out of the box. But raid your parts bin and turn it into your new favourite bike.
The Vitus Vee-1 29 looks like a mountain biker’s ideal new N+1 bike. It’s cheap. It looks good. It looks like it can hack about on the roads and mess about a bit in the woods. So it can be turned to good use for the commute to work, doing the odd errand to the shops and you can take the fun way (aka off-road) on your way there and/or back. Does it live up to all this promise however?
Normally at this point in bike reviews it’s traditional to do a bit of a technical description of the bike in question. Bike reviewers take this opportunity to waffle on about things like hydroforming, proprietary tubesets, suspension systems, spring rates, pivots, new headset standards, lateral stiffness, vertical compliance, yadda yadda yadda.
With the Vee-1 29 there’s none of this. It’s a fully rigid 29er with an alloy frame, a steel fork and rim brakes. Done.
The first rides on the Vee-1 29 were something of a disappointment. It felt ponderous and slow-handling on the road compared to other urban hack bikes I’ve tried. The 39T chainring up front made it overgeared for anything more off-road than a canalpath. The brakes on the other hand were fine. I’d expected to really struggle with rim brakes after so many years of disc braking but they’re actually fine for what was asked of them.
So the bike wasn’t an instant smash. In fact, it was only ever dragged out for a ride when I remembered that I had it and was supposed to be testing it. It was all very chore-like. It wasn’t the go-where-I-like city/suburbs bike that I had assumed it was.
Then I decided to change some bits. Despite being a bike journo I don’t usually immediately change everything on a test bike to try to force it to be like the sort of bike that I like. Quite often I do change a couple of bits after a good number of rides if it feels like it will unleash something in the bike. With the Vitus Vee-1 29 I didn’t really have any inkling about what changes would improve the experience anyway. It felt fundamentally uninspiring.
I only wanted to change the stem (yes, that old hoary chestnut). The riser bars felt fine. But due to my 2012 test bike having a 25.4mm bar and stem standard I ended up having to change both the stem and bars because I couldn’t find any 25.4mm stems in my parts bin. I removed the lengthy and lofty stem and put on a dinky 50mm stem and modestly wide riser bars.
Thank the lord I bothered to have a gamble with a stem change. ‘Totally different bike’ alert! It rode like a totally different bike. All of a sudden it matched my handling style. The bike could now be whipped around and pumped and ‘worked’. It was playful. The head angle (especially with the short stem) made for fast twitchy steering up front until I got used to it and relit my long-since-dead BMX synapses. The Kenda Small Block Eight tyres reminded me of the first time I ever rode them; they’re fast, they can be leaned over, they can be asked an awful lot of and they respond amazingly.
It felt like a big BMX. I reminded me of riding my old BMX around the town where I grew up. The muted but pointy ride feel of the frame and fork is very BMX. In this new stem guise I was suddenly finding reasons to go out on the Vitus Vee-1 29. And when I was out on it, I was looking for places to play. I was exploring. Multi-surface messing about.
The gearing was still massive for off-road but now I was prepared to just deal with it. MTFU. It was hard work but there was rewarding nuggets of joy to be mined out there in the condom-strewn city woods.
So I changed a few more bits on the bike. And ruined it. At first I put wide flat bars on it seeing as low slung front end are all the rage these days. It lost its pop and hoon immediately. I changed the chainring up front to a slightly smaller one. I just made the (sub)urban hacking aspect too spinny and slow without adding enough to the off-road capability.
I’m not saying that my preferred setup (essentially just a really short stem) is the best thing for this bike for everyone. It won’t be. What I am saying it that out-of-the-box the bike will be a bit of a misfire for most experienced riders who buy it. But don’t get upset and fire up eBay. Have a dig around your parts bin and see if there’s anything there you can try out to get the bike to match your riding style.
I have a suspicion that the Vitus Vee-1 29 can be pushed into whatever part of the ‘hack bike’ spectrum that floats your boat. All it will take is one, two or maybe (if you’re really unlucky) three component changes. I pushed this Vee-1 29 into the ‘BMX’ zone. You may wish to push your into the chin-on-front-tyre fixie zone, for example.
The build kit of the Vitus Vee-1 29 has been impressively trouble free. All the bearings-ed parts are still fine (BB, hubs, headset). The wheels have stayed true and tensioned despite frequent harsh handling. The brakes are fine. As good as cheap V-brakes get. It feels like I don’t actually use the brakes that much really. The bike is so fun and confident to hurl around and see what you can get away with. Use the momentum. Use the terrain. Mmm… oddly BMX again.
Not the bike I thought it would be. Frustrating at first. Fun as feck by the finish. ‘My’ Vee-1 29 is a BMX for my adult self. I reckon you could build ‘your’ Vee-1 29 into something equally joyous to you.