The Zircon formula is simple: an aluminium chassis with 26in wheels and a 120mm-travel suspension fork. This doesn’t sound very 2011 but it’s all tried and tested. Combine that formula with a spec list containing only quality branded components and the Vitus’s exceptional value shines through.
The 2011 model tested here is no longer available as distributors Chain Reaction Cycles have already sold out – no wonder, considering they knocked 36 percent off the price, making it even more of a bargain – but we're assured that the 2012 Zircon will be more of an update than an all-new bike.
Ride & handling: Fun, lively ride that even a flexy fork can't spoil
While many bikes at this price still come with a traditional cross-country setup, Vitus are clearly aiming the Zircon at more progressive trail riders – hence the 2x10 gearing, short stem and 27in riser bar. The frame geometry – 70° head angle, 72.5° seat angle – manages to inspire confidence in nearly all situations and the Zircon only begins to feel out of its depth on the seriously steep and gnarly stuff.
This bike is great at changing direction quickly. Trail centre switchbacks are blitzed by the lively and stiff chassis, and the relatively short stem and wide bar provide excellent control. The Zircon feels more like a 140mm-travel play bike than a 120mm trail machine and that's probably why it’s so fun to ride. Its weight is respectable too – it tips the scales at just under 27lb (with tester's pedals).
The Zircon has been designed with versatility in mind and the ride really reflects this. Slide the seatpost up, flick the lockout switch on the fork and you have a bike that climbs superbly. Drop the post and remove the lockout and you can get down the hills in a way that you’d expect from a bike with a lot more suspension up front.
The only weak point of the bike is the RockShox fork. The quick-release-axle Recon RL has good damping control for the price and offers reasonable steering precision but during heavy front braking the fork on our bike flexed enough to create a pulsing effect through the front end of the bike. This vibration was offputting and left us longing for a front through-axle. It’s a shame the front end of the bike can’t match the stiff and accurate rear.
Frame & equipment: CRC's buying power ensures a top-value package
The Zircon's hydroformed, triple-butted alloy tubes give it a unique look, with a pronounced curve to the top and down tubes, and bulbous stays that have been manipulated to add a hint of comfort without any loss of stiffness. Our 20in test frame was a great fit for our lanky 6ft 3in tester, although aesthetically it lacked the elegance of the smaller sized frames. Good mud clearance, two bottle mount bosses and sensible cable routing make this an ideal wet-weather trail blaster.
Gearing is a 2x10 SRAM X9 setup and we found it to work flawlessly. The use of only two chainrings up front greatly reduces the incidence of dropping the chain while reducing chain slap,saving weight and improving ground clearance over a triple ring setup. The 12-36-tooth 10-speed cassette means you can still achieve a wide range of gear ratios; we doubt anyone would miss the third ring.
Braking is handled by Avid’s Elixir 5 discs, which provide impressive power and consistency. The WTB Speed Disc wheelset proved durable and stayed true and tight throughout the entire test period. The hoops are mated to WTB’s Prowler MX 2.1 tyres – a decent all-round choice, although wider treads would provide more cushioning.