As the in-house brand of internet giant Chain Reaction Cycles, Vitus is well placed to deliver good value bikes to the masses. The Escarpe is its 650b wheeled, 135mm (5.3in) travel trail offering, which shares much of its make-up with the longer-travel Sommet enduro bike. It’s well equipped for the price, but does that translate into real-world performance?
Frame and equipment: mostly strong setup – just make sure the sizing's right
Vitus’ V-Link suspension system looks like a regular four-bar design, complete with Horst Link-style chainstay pivots. But the lower shock mount is actually on the swingarm, not the frame, creating a ‘floating shock’ setup. This layout is designed to provide a supple suspension action that’s soft at the beginning of the stroke and ramps up slightly towards the end to resist bottoming out.
The Escarpe’s hydroformed alloy chassis won’t win any prizes for exceptional stiffness, but the high-direct front derailleur mount and ISCG-05 tabs allow for simple drivetrain swaps down the line, and bottle cage mounts are always handy too. Vitus claims the XL Escarpe will suit riders from 6ft 3in (190cm) to 6ft 7in (201cm), but our 6ft 3in tester needed the seatpost raised to the minimum insertion limit. The reach is on the shorter side too, so we’d recommend double-checking the fit if you’re thinking of buying.
The rear end kept pace without feeling undergunned despite its 15mm travel deficit compared with the fork
A Marzocchi 350 CR fork and simple RockShox Monarch RT shock are on damping duty, while Shimano SLX brakes and an SLX/XT 2x10 drivetrain deal with stopping and shifting in their usual flawless manner. A dropper post is a bonus at this price, but the KS eTen on the Escarpe only has 100mm (3.9in) of travel, which is a little limiting on steep descents and an odd choice for an XL bike.
With an internal width of 23mm, the WTB rims keep the tyres reasonably well supported and can be run tubeless if you add rim tape. The WTB Vigilante and Trail Boss treads roll fast and grip well in loose conditions, but the hard compound and thin casing mean you’ll want to replace them if you ride on rocks regularly.
Ride and handling: well-balanced for the price
Once we had slid the saddle forward on its rails to compensate for the layback seatpost and moved our body weight further over the middle of the bike, the Vitus became a well-mannered climber. The rear suspension is reasonably efficient in the big ring, and the shock can be locked out or firmed up for pedalling. In the granny ring, bob is kept in check by chain tension, so you can leave the shock open for max traction on technical ascents.
High weight (14.66kg/32.32lb) means the Escarpe isn’t the fastest climber, but the wide-range gearing will get you there. The fast-rolling Trail Boss out back keeps speed nice and high on the flat, while the Vigilante up front tears up traction from soft and muddy ground. The slippier rear rubber is also a lark when sliding sideways round the bends. Skinny sidewalls meant we punctured though, and the hard compound renders both tyres slippery on wet rocks.
On downhills the Vitus' suspension performance comes to the fore
Point the Vitus downhill and its suspension performance comes to the fore. The 150mm (5.9in) travel fork felt notchy out of the box, but soon bedded in to deliver really supple – if noisy – performance, hoovering up the terrain. The rear end kept pace without feeling undergunned despite its 15mm travel deficit.
The frame’s suspension kinematics flatter the simple but effective Monarch RT shock, with the rear end achieving full travel on bigger hits but ramping up just enough to avoid bottoming out harshly. Really aggressive riders may find the fork a little too linear and we did notice the shock fading slightly on long downhill runs, but for a bike of this price and calibre these are minor gripes.
The remote-operated dropper post helps keep the rhythm of the ride, but taller riders in particular will find the 100mm drop insufficient for full-bore blasting. We opted to stop and drop it manually for steep and rowdy downhills. The bike could do with a wider handlebar than the 740mm riser fitted too, to make the most of its suspension-fuelled capabilities, but our main gripe is with the fairly short frame reach.
Despite a 60mm stem – not so short by modern trail/enduro standards – the cockpit feels a touch cramped on long, steep climbs. The lack of reach is more of a problem on steep and technical descents though, where it makes the front end feel twitchy and nervous under load. This would be less of a problem for a shorter rider than our tester, but they’d struggle with the frame’s fairly lofty seat tube. All this makes it harder to be sure of the correct sizing when buying – not ideal when you can’t take one for a test ride.