Tom Nash takes the new Escarpe 29 VRX from Vitus Bikes out for a spin
After trying a Vitus briefly at a Chain Reaction Cycles demo day last year, I always wanted to get hold of one to properly test. When asked if I fancied putting the Escarpe 29 VRX through its paces I was more than keen, in fact a big grin emerged. A recent convert to (decent geometry) 29ers, I was interested to see how this one compared to others I have ridden, which includes the Whyte T-129 and the Santa Cruz Hightower that I own personally. The spec sheet and geometry figures on the Vitus certainly had it in a positive position out of the box but I was interested to see whether this would last on the trails…
I have had a couple of ‘bikes in a box’ but the Vitus really is ready for the most un-mechanically minded person. In the biggest Wiggle branded box I have ever seen (Wiggle merged with Chain Reaction Cycles last year), that my wee four year old immediately climbed in once the bike was out, was a completely built bike – all I had to do was straighten the handlebars, pinch up the stem bolts and I was out on the trail. Easy.
The geometry figures on the Large size frame are pretty standard for a trail bike; 67° head angle, 74.5° seat tube angle and 448mm reach. Nothing radical, and there are slacker/longer/lower bikes out there, but I wouldn’t say the Vitus is old school by any stretch of the imagination.
Sitting on the bike for the first time, I immediately felt well positioned and comfortable. I am 6’ exactly and Vitus recommend the large for 5’11” to 6’3” riders which should give confidence that they have the sizing sorted, important when buying mail order and unable to try before you buy.
Due to the bigger wheels and 150mm travel Rockshox Pike fork, I immediately shifted the stem stack around so that the stem was below the supplied spacers in an attempt to help get my weight over the front more for the steep climbs that adorn the Tweed Valley and stop the front from wandering.
There is absolutely no denying that the spec is nailed. For less than £3k you get a 2017 150mm Rockshox Pike RCT3 (original Charger damper not the new Charger II), Monarch RT3 shock, Nukeproof stem and handlebars, Mavic wheels, a Reverb stealth dropper seatpost and a full 1×11 Shimano XT groupset all onboard a hydroformed 6061-T6 alloy frame that is neatly built with an efficient suspension system. The own brand saddle and grips are comfy and subtle.
You have to like tangerine orange and highlighter yellow however as this bike is only available in this bright colour scheme and might not be to everyone’s liking. Vitus do offer the Escarpe in other colours but these are part of the 27.5in version, the VRX being the only 29in option. There were some discrepancies in what was sent; the Reverb was a 125mm drop rather than 150mm (125mm should be with the small frame only) and the Nukeproof bars were 780mm not 760mm as listed. Small things but actually that extra 25m of drop would have been useful and with 780mm wide bars the trees get pretty close!
Cable routing is tidy, with a bolt-on downtube protector also encapsulating the cables. There is also loads of space within the mainframe for a decent sized water bottle, a small feature that I actually really appreciated for quick evening blasts. The paint finish is vulnerable, the drive-side chainstay having suffered several chips to the paintwork.
On the trail the bike is very stable, and fast. The very first ride I clocked three PR’s (warning, not a scientific test!) on trails I had ridden the day prior with identical conditions and tyres just on a different 29er. Interesting. The stability comes from a gigantic 1209mm wheelbase courtesy of the long 450mm chainstays (a Santa Cruz Hightower has a 1187mm wheelbase and 435mm chainstays for comparison).
On trails that are long and straight this bike is crazily fast, but that wheelbase did require some thought to be applied when pushing it down the tighter more technical trails; to the point of almost having to come to a stop on some particularly sharp switchback corners in order to wrestle the whole bike around.
Fortunately, there was no experience of the variable bite point and fade that some Shimano brakes have suffered over the past 18 months, these were reliable and provided ample, consistent braking power throughout the test.
The Mavic wheelset I was not totally sold on. Vitus claim whether “Racing Enduro; taking on an epic all day adventure or just shredding your local trails; do it all and do it faster on the Escarpe 29 VRX. Now equipped with stronger, wider Boost wheels the new Escarpe 29 VRX will take the rough with the smooth in equal measure”. However, when I pushed the bike on the local enduro tracks of the Tweed Valley there was noticeable flex and pinging, especially from the rear wheel.
With only 24 bladed spokes laced in a 2 cross pattern they were not as strong as some wheels, especially when rigged to a 29in rim. Perhaps I was pushing them beyond their intended use, and it must be said I had no complaints when blasting around the trail centre trails or riding cross country epics in a slightly less aggressive manner. The WTB tyres are a good choice, pairing an aggressive Vigilante on the front with a faster rolling Trail Boss on the rear. I would like to see WTB to make a ‘high grip’ version of the 29in Vigilante however as the ‘fast rolling’ compound is quite hard for a front tyre and a little drifty.
Although not ground breaking, the four-bar suspension system provides a predictable and sure ride. The Rockshox Pike RCT3 is a great fork, easy to adjust and with external compression and rebound dials it can be fined tuned to your heart’s content. I ran it with three tokens which gave a supple start to the stroke but a supportive progression in the latter stages.
The rear shock needed a little more time to set up. The bike sits into the 135mm of rear travel nicely, though I did find it would run through its travel a little quickly when setup at 30% sag. To remedy this, I added pressure the shock until it sat at 25% sag, and that reduced bottoming significantly. However, that did lead to a firmer and less compliant ride. The addition of some Bottomless Rings inside the Monarch shock would allow greater bottom-out resistance improving the feel and performance of the shock and the suspension system as a whole, and it’s quite a cheap and easy process to undertake. Efficiency-wise, the Escarpe 29 VRX is good. Only when climbing out of the saddle did I feel the need to use the ‘Pedal’ compression setting to reduce pedal bob.
The Shimano XT groupset performed immaculately throughout, with the MRP chainguide keeping the chain firmly on the chainring, even when charging down chattery, rocky descents. Equipped with a 32t chaining and 11-42t cassette the gear ratio is great for flatter lands, but an 11-46 cassette (and/or 30t chainring) would have made some of the climbs a bit easier. With 1x drivetrains now ‘standard’ there is no golden solution for gearing ratios as it depends on where you live and how strong/fit you are but, where an average ride in the Tweed Valley can easily involve 1000m climbing, the cassette and/or chainring would be the first thing I changed as soon as the original wore out.
Three Things That Could Be Improved
- Flexy Mavic wheels are desperate for more than 24 spokes per wheel
- Shorter chainstays would improve the bike’s cornering prowess significantly
- A wider range 11-46t cassette would be ideal for proper mountain climbs
Three Things That We Loved
- The long wheelbase makes for a very stable ride at higher speeds
- Awesome parts spec for the money
- 29in wheels and smooth suspension keep the momentum high on rough stuff
For me the key question is would I buy this bike. Easy; yes. In fact, I’m a bit sad to see it go, as for much of UK riding this bike is killer value for money, well designed, is very fast and great fun. For places with big climbs (think Scotland, Peaks, Lakes) I would change the gear ratio and for hard-charge racing perhaps the wheels but, at currently less than £2500 (plus then British Cycling discount if you are a member), it’s a fun filled, fast, bright orange, bargain of a bike.
2017 Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX Specifications
- Frame // Hydroformed 6061-T6 Alloy, 135mm Travel
- Fork // RockShox Pike RCT3, 150mm Travel
- Shock // RockShox Monarch RT3 Debonair
- Hubs // Mavic XA Elite, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Mavic XA Elite, UST Tubeless
- Tyres // WTB Vigilante TCS Dual DNA 2.3in Front & Trail Boss TCS Dual DNA 2.3in Rear
- Chainset // Shimano Deore XT, 32t X-Sync Chainring
- Front Mech // N/A
- Rear Mech // Shimano Deore XT, 11-Speed
- Shifters // Shimano Deore XT, 11-Speed
- Cassette // Shimano Deore XT, 11-42t, 11-Speed
- Brakes // Shimano Deore XT, 180mm Front & Rear
- Stem // Nukeproof Zero, 50mm Long
- Bars // Nukeproof Warhead, 780mm Wide, 10mm Rise
- Grips // Vitus Lock-On
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth, 31.6mm, 125mm Travel (Small), 150mm Travel (Medium, Large, X-Large)
- Saddle // Vitus
- Size Tested // Large
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 13.4kg (29.48lbs)
|Product:||Escarpe 29 VRX|
|From:||Vitus Bikes, vitusbikes.com|
|Tested:||by Tom Nash for 1 month|