Review: the Fearless Vulture is a stand-out debut

by Antony de Heveningham 2

  • Tested: Fearless Vulture
  • From: Fearless
  • Price: £499 inc. delivery (frame & forks)
  • Tested for: 3 months

Shiny new steel

Fearless is a fledgling bike company hailing from right-on Brighton. At present it offers one frame, and the Vulture is a fresh take on an evergreen classic: a no-nonsense steel frameset that can turn its hand to anything. It’s been three months since we got our grubby mitts on one to test, meaning that I got to ride it through one of the most epic British summers in recent memory, before putting it through its paces in a spot of autumn filth. As a steel-framed gravel bike that can also do a spot of touring or winter road riding, the Vulture enters a packed niche. Does it have what it takes to make an impression?

Steel and shiny

The bike

Fearless doesn’t offer complete bikes, so you’ll be building yours up as homely or as bling as you like. However it’s worth noting that the frame is designed around components with common standards, from the QR wheels to the 27.2 seatpost, with nothing that would have you frantically scouring the recesses of the internet to locate it.

Our Vulture arrived with an interesting build, including Hope wheels shod with impressive 45c WTB Riddler tyres, a home-brewed 1x drivetrain and Shimano cable discs. Even though it’s a small start-up brand, Fearless obviously believes in its products enough to deck them out with a bit of bling, including Ultegra shifters and Thomson and Hope finishing kit. The camo Cinelli bar tape seemed to be a hit with everyone who laid eyes on it, and although I’ve been spoiled by hydraulic brakes, the cable discs were fine once I’d remembered to periodically tweak the pads in. If it was my bike, the only parts I’d change would be the slightly narrow bars (I prefer wider drops with a bit of flare for riding off-road) and the non-clutch rear mech.

Woah-oh-oh-oh, camouflage…

The frame

The main tubes of the Vulture are double butted Reynolds 725. At the back end, the frame switches to regular 4130, with a couple of nods to old school mountain bikes in the cowled dropouts and bowed seat stays. The latter don’t just give the bike a dose of retro style, they also ensure that a rear rack will stay well clear of the disc brake calipers. The frameset has IS disc brake mounts rather than the latest flat mount standard, a decision which is explained on Fearless’s website, and while this may be annoying if you’ve got your eye on a particular groupset, this still leaves plenty of build options, plus you can run larger rotors for better modulation. There’s also a replaceable derailleur hanger, which might seem an odd choice for a steel frame, but I’ve also seen some that are too mangled to bend back.

Tyre clearance is enough for 45mm monstercross rubber (although you might want to go narrower if you’re trying to plough your way through sticky South Downs clay) and it’ll also run 650b road plus tyres if that’s your thing.

Swoopy stays and classic dropouts

Fearless’s own “404” CroMo forks are a thing of beauty, tapering to a nice graceful point. They also feature full rack and mudguard mounts. It’s worth noting that the Vulture is designed to be compatible with 396mm tapered steerer forks, so there’s potential to drop weight and add stiffness by going carbon at the front end.

Four-oh-forks?

The Vulture currently comes in two colours, black and ivory, with understated, classic style graphics under clear coat. The paint is powdercoat and plenty tough, only marring slightly where I used a top tube bag on a particularly wet, gritty ride. Other sensible details include an internal (not integrated) headset and a forward-facing seat clamp slot to minimise ingress of filth. Nice brass barrel adjusters for the downtube cables add a touch of class, and contribute to the timeless aesthetic.

Neat routing

The frame isn’t outrageously heavy for steel, at around 4.5 lbs for a medium, with a satisfyingly bright ping when you flick the tubing. Internally, it’s all ED coated, so it should resist rust for a good few years, even if you’re not in the habit of drying your bikes off before putting them away.

The ride

Let’s start with an obvious disclaimer: when you’re barrelling along on a bike, it can be very hard to tell which of its ride characteristics come from the bare bones of the frame. However the Vulture definitely seemed a touch more lively and responsive than some steel bikes I’ve ridden, without getting into twangy territory.

Name that obelisk

The medium size frame I tested featured a relatively modest 55 cm top tube. For me this was a huge part of what made the bike feel right. For drop bar riding over rough terrain, I find longer frames can put me in a position where I can’t relax enough to soak up the bumps, with the result that when things get lumpy, my back gets grumpy. I didn’t have any such problems on the Vulture, and bashy descents or long days out were much more comfortable as a result. For my money, a shorter bike that you can throw around and shift your weight on is also more fun to ride, and the Vulture really seemed to come to life on tight twisty trails or technical climbs. However, if you do prefer your bikes with a longer front end, Fearless also offer an M-L size which adds 10mm to the reach.

The Vulture is designed to take up to 45mm tyres, but it’ll also play nicely with narrow road chainsets

Having clearance for 45mm tyres (and quite possibly bigger if you go 650b) opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities for a drop bar bike, and I’d happily take the Vulture on trails I’d usually ride a mountain bike on. The WTB Riddlers had far more grip than appearances suggest, and were great on everything except the steepest, muddiest singletrack. When it comes to bigger tyres, there’s a wealth of choice out there these days, and one of the first things I’d look for in a frame is the ability to take advantage of that. A bit more mud clearance never hurts either – but you can apparently also run the frame with narrower road chainsets. So full marks to Fearless here.

Heading straight for the sunshine

The steel forks suit the aesthetics of the frame, and performed well too. There was some flutter under heavy braking, but only enough to remind you to ease off before the front tyre breaks away. At the end of the day, you’re still relying on two bits of straight metal tubing to soak up the bumps, and I’d be interested to try a Vulture with a carbon front end. In the meantime, letting a couple of extra PSI out of the front tyre was enough to tame even the lumpiest slabs of my local packhorse tracks.

Sucking up the slabs

The Vulture may be billed as an off-road tourer, but it seems to have a trace of mountain bike DNA that goes beyond the big tyres. The geometry will feel familiar to anyone with a steel-framed 1990s MTB in the the shed, and it has a similarly playful streak that the drop bars can’t mask. As an out-and-out speed machine, it might not be my first choice, but who really cares how fast you go, as long as you’re having fun?

Overall

You might be wary of taking a punt on the first bike from a new brand, but the Vulture is a pleasingly refined frameset, and it’s clear that a lot of thought and development went into it before Fearless took it to production. The detailing and quality are a cut above many of the steel frames you’d find on complete bikes, as is the weight and feel. However none of this would mean anything if it wasn’t fun to ride, and it is.

Ready to fly

For me, part of the enjoyment was having a gravel bike that felt more like a 1990s MTB than a road iron. However if you’re longer of limb or like to get stretched out, then Fearless’s generous range of sizing should have you covered. The price is very reasonable, and you could probably build one up from parts in your shed – but it’s really a bit too nice for that.

 

Comments (2)

  1. Studeley (sp?) Pike Monument!

  2. speaker2animals, yep, Stoodley Pike. I’ll give you half a point. 😉

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