The Escarpe from Vitus – Chain Reaction's bike brand – has been a big-fun bargain for several years in its 26in form. And now it has 650b wheels. So, the promise is of a properly capable, up-to-the-minute 140mm trail/enduro machine for under £1,500. Too good to be true?
- HIGHS: A superbly balanced and well controlled aggro trail bike at a great price.
- LOWS: It’s a hefty bike and it needs some trustworthy tyres.
- BUY IF… You’re looking for a genuine no-holds-barred bargain for technical trail riding.
Chain Reaction delivers bikes in roll-out rather than lift-out boxes. That’s a good job for your back considering the 14.6kg (32.2lb) weight of the Escarpe – without pedals. The short Vitus stem and wide bars make a great ﬁrst impression though, and a slack 67-degree head angle that shoves the axle far ahead of your weight promises a lot of technical conﬁdence.
While the Continental X-King tyres are a treacherous plastic compound that will happily deck you at the ﬁrst sign of damp, you do get a fat 2.4in front carcass adding extra plush to the already impressively controlled RockShox Sektor fork. Rear tyre clearance was sketchy here, but will be increased on the production models.
The seat tube is shortened and ported for a Stealth dropper post, while the top tube has been lengthened to work with short stems. Those stems can sit lower too, as the tapered head tube has been lowered to cope with the extra wheel height. A 142x12mm through-axle ties up an already surprisingly stiff rear end, while a clutch-equipped SLX rear mech and chainguide mounts are ready to keep the chain on the sprockets and slap free.
That’s a good job too, because regardless of price the Escarpe is an absolute bomber as soon as you get some gravity behind it. The geometry is spot on for handling a large amount of speed, debris and tracking distraction without even blinking.
The 650b wheels are no fashionable slot-’em-in afterthought either. They feel totally synced with the whole ride – despite the somewhat dodgy rubber it never puts a foot wrong when you’re ﬁguring out slides and pushing towards tricky lines. We found it a willing and conﬁdence-inspiring machine even on ﬂat-out, off-piste descents after dark.
The RockShox Sektor fork punches way above its weight – well, price – too, stubbornly refusing to lose composure unless we deliberately took the mickey or really sent the bike from a height to the ﬂat.
Vitus has got the rear end architecture and shock tune absolutely spot on. Leave the shock open and it swallows most things you’ll be brave enough to barrel into without a single burp. The linear stroke also lets you lift the front easily, but still resists slamming to bottom-out over big drops too easily. If you’re on ﬂatter trails, ﬂicking the Floodgate damping on lets you really carve through berms and does an impressive job of keeping the pedalling stable.
All this means it keeps a far healthier pace on climbs or singletrack charges than we were expecting, to the point where its actual weight was always a shock when we had to pick it up or push it.