Vitus Sentier 290 review£799.99

Big wheels, big attitude

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While it's a brand with a long and honourable history, the current incarnation of Vitus is owned by mail order giant Chain Reaction Cycles… which means that if you’re not actually in Northern Ireland then you’ll have to buy one of its bikes without trying it. That’s not as big a risk as it sounds, though, because the returns policy is pretty good. Your Vitus will arrive in a large box and will just need the bar straightening before being ready to ride.

Frame and equipment: more than meets the eye

Compared with some of its rivals, the Sentier frame looks a little unsophisticated at first glance, though some of that impression might come from the graphics. Features such as the box-section seatstays give it a chunky, industrial look, but peer past the finish and it’s pretty well thought out.

There’s a tapered head tube – not something you can take for granted at this price – which will make any future fork upgrade straightforward. Unusually for a mass-market 29er, the Sentier has ISCG chain guide tabs on its bottom bracket shell – a further clue as to its intentions, if the frame’s generally stout demeanour wasn’t clear enough.

Not only does the frame have a tapered head tube but the fork has a steerer to match – something you can’t take for granted:
Not only does the frame have a tapered head tube but the fork has a steerer to match – something you can’t take for granted:

Not only does the frame have a tapered head tube but the fork has a steerer to match – something you can’t take for granted

For a little extra clearance ahead of the rear wheel, the seat tube is very slightly curved. There’s just one set of bottle bosses on the down tube, with the lack of bosses on the seat tube meaning you can slam the seat down should you feel the need – at least until the bottom of the post reaches the curve.

Vitus bikes are always at the very least good value, and the Sentier continues the trend. Nearly all the moving parts are from Shimano, with the component giant’s excellent SLX group filling most of the slots. SLX is at least one step above what we’d expect for the money, so no complaints there. The Shadow Plus rear mech deserves a special mention because of its clutch mechanism, which keeps the chain taut and under control over bumpy ground. The M445 brakes are particularly good too, while the MT15 wheels are also from Shimano, and as you’d imagine for the price, they’re not the lightest but are sturdy and reliable.

The double crankset is a real bonus at this price, where triples are still the norm:
The double crankset is a real bonus at this price, where triples are still the norm:

The double crankset is a real bonus at this price, where triples are still the norm

FSA get a look-in in the crankset department, with a Comet double. All the noise is about twin and single-ring drivetrains these days, but at these low-to-middling price points triples still dominate, so it’s an unusual treat to find a double. The Comet’s 24/38t chainrings are a good match for the 11-36t cassette out back, though some riders might want a lower lowest gear for the hills.

If there’s a weak link in the spec, it’s the fork. The Suntour XCR is a stout enough pair of prongs and the air spring in this version is smooth and easily tunable, but there’s some spiking from the inevitably fairly basic damping. It does have a tapered steerer though, which isn’t something you can take for granted, even on bikes with tapered head tubes.

Ride and handling: playful yet planted

Vitus has kitted the Sentier out with a stumpy stem and generously wide, almost flat bar, and the result is the kind of playful ride not usually associated with 29ers.

Out on the trail, the sentier is more playful than you might expect:
Out on the trail, the sentier is more playful than you might expect:

Out on the trail, the Sentier is more playful than you might expect

The Sentier feels reassuringly planted at speed, though you start to bump up against the limits of the fork when things get hectic. At ground level, 2.2in Continental X-Kings are big old treads, and wrapped around big wheels the only limiting factor when it comes to grip is their rather hard rubber compound. It all adds up to a ride that’s simultaneously fun and confidence inspiring.

The downside is weight, 13.5kg (29.8lb) of it – big wheels shod in chunky rubber are always going to be hefty unless you’re spending serious money. It’s best to work on carrying speed rather than having to keep accelerating. Fortunately that’s pretty easy to do – it’s just a question of whether that’s your natural riding style or not.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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