The Vitus brand is owned by mail order giants Chain Reaction Cycles, and the range – which covers mountain and road bikes – is available exclusively from them.
The buying process is therefore straightforward – go to the website, choose a bike, add it to your basket, pay, then wait a day or two until a huge box arrives on your doorstep. Bikes come mostly assembled – you just need to straighten the bars.
Frame and equipment: cracking parts for the money and a good overall weight
The Vitus looks a tiny bit industrial, especially around the rear end – although the replaceable bolt-on dropouts on both sides are a nice touch. It definitely looks like there’s been some deployment of the big Far Eastern frame part catalogue here, but it’s not as if using the same head tube or chainstay pivot as some other bike detracts from the performance in any way.
Money saved by not designing from scratch things that already exist is money that can be spent on parts. The important thing is that everything works and it’s all in the right place.
One notable cost-saver is that the Escarpe only comes in three sizes. It’s a pragmatic decision on Vitus’s part – the sizes on offer will fit the needs of at least 90 per cent of the population – and actually makes choosing a size easier, which is useful when you’re buying online. You’d probably want the help of a shop to decide whether you’re best with a 17.5in or 18.5in Trek, for example, but most people would be able to narrow themselves down to small, medium or large. Of course, with significant gaps between sizes you’re more likely to have to compromise your riding position compared to bikes that come in five or six sizes, and you may find yourself doing a bit of swapping around of stems.
On the subject of stems, the Vitus comes with a pretty short one. At 65mm on a size large bike, the Escarpe’s front end is distinctly handy, especially with the 740mm bars. The steering components are a good fit with the Escarpe’s long, low, relaxed frame.
The Escarpe has a 2x10 transmission – the 24/38t chainrings and 11-36t cassette give a decent range of gears, with less chain flapping about than a triple. A Shimano XT Shadow+ clutch rear mech keeps what chain there is in check, and there are ISCG tabs on the frame if you need even more security.
Most bikes come with the same size tyres front and rear, but the Escarpe has a big 2.2in Continental X-King out back and an even bigger 2.4in X-King up front. Given the shape of the Vitus, a set-up that gives scope for more grip at the front is a sound choice.
Ride and handling: put the effort in and it'll pay you back in spades
While the Vitus doesn’t have the design flair or construction refinement of the big-brand competition, it doesn’t seem to matter all that much out on the trail. The Escarpe pretty much demands a committed riding style – with a long front centre (the distance between the bottom bracket and front wheel axle) and short stem, you need to haul yourself forward to keep the front wheel biting, but the relatively low front end and wide bar make it easy.
Even if that’s not your natural riding style, it’s well worth trying to get into it. The shape of the Vitus makes it poised and confidence-inspiring on the hairy stuff, and it’ll still hustle its way through tight singletrack if you’re prepared to put the effort in.
About the only place where the geometry falls short is when you’re winching up steep climbs – you really need to get your weight forward and low to keep the front end tracking straight rather than wandering off line. Only you will know if that’s an issue for you – for us it’s a price worth paying for the Escarpe’s ‘pocket downhill bike’ descending abilities.
The RockShox suspension is well up to the task too. RockShox rear shocks have come on massively in recent years. Once largely the preserve of entry-level bikes, they’re now being specced on increasingly spendy tackle.
The Escarpe’s Monarch is every bit as good as the Performance Series Fox Float that it’s up against at this price point, and in some ways better – many riders (us included) like the lively feel that the Monarch delivers. You don’t get any multi-position compression damping cleverness, but if you’re of the “set it and forget it” persuasion then the RockShox shock’s easy-to-use rebound clicker and simple lockout lever will be just the ticket.