The two 140mm Escarpe models are the longest travel bikes Vitus currently have for sale. This version, the Escarpe 2, is the cheapest of the pair.
Recently, Vitus Bikes have been blessed with the outstanding consumer success of their parent company, Chain Reaction Cycles. As a result, these bikes often offer value that's extremely hard to match, and the Escarpe 2 doesn't buck the trend.
For the £1,300 retail price you get quality RockShox suspension at each end, Avid hydraulic discs, a mix of SRAM and Shimano transmission kit and sturdy-if-not-special Mavic hoops. Paintwork aside, the frame is identical to the one used on the £1,750 Escarpe 1. The styling is particularly inoffensive – we liked the lines but can’t help but feel this frame deserves a less boring paint scheme.
The 2012 model tested here is no longer available, as the distributors have already sold out of it. This is no surprise to us though, after we spotted it for sale earlier this year at a discounted £879.99. However, the Escarpe will return for 2013, with full details of the range being released later this week.
Ride & handling: Predictable, with a passion for progress
If ever there was a bike that would be ideal as a first full-susser, this is it. 'Safe' and 'sensible' are definitely two words we’d use to summarise things. Nothing here is radical or particularly out of the ordinary – instead the overall ride feel is one of balance and stability.
A 67.5-degree head angle ensures steep trail territory isn’t out of bounds but is also a good compromise when it comes to steering response at lower speeds. Suspension is well matched front and rear, with both air units provided by RockShox.
The Sektor R fork never gave us any issues but its Solo Air cartridge required the usual shock pump fettling to get it to our tastes. The Sektor’s chassis also uses a Maxle Lite axle. Paired with the Escarpe’s 12mm bolt-thru rear end, this meant stiffness was never an issue.
The Truvativ Stylo cockpit on the Vitus Escarpe 2
The four-bar rear suspension setup allows for good traction and decent control, but the damping from the RockShox Monarch RT shock lacks a bit of small bump sensitivity. This slightly unforgiving characteristic can get tiring on longer rides but what the Escarpe’s suspension lacks in outright plushness it makes up for in feel and feedback.
A nice touch is the sag indicator, which is permanently marked to the shock shaft, making setup a quick and ruler-free exercise. We found the floodgate control works well to counteract pedalling influences, but even with it dialled all the way out it never felt particularly plush.
Tipping the scales at a respectable 13.6kg (30lb), our 20in bike was an ideal fit for its 6ft 3in tester. The Truvativ Stylo bar and stem combo did a great job of looking more expensive than it is, the 680mm handlebar in particular allowing for decent control without having to be wary of trees.
Frame & equipment: Not flash, but functional and superb value
The Escarpe 2 misses out on the excellent 2x10 gearing that the 1 wears. Instead, the SRAM X7/X5/Shimano SLX gearset and Truvativ Firex crank is a more clattery and loose affair. But aside from the occasional dropped chain it worked well.
UK-friendly mud clearance means the Escarpe isn’t afraid to get mucky, and the four-bar suspension design allows for an uninterrupted seat tube with plenty of room for extension. Another practical feature of the frame is a bottle mount on the upper face of the down tube.
The Escarpe also leads with a tapered head tube, although the OE fork doesn’t have a tapered steerer. This leaves the door open for a potential upgrade.
Mavic XM319 rims are wrapped in Schwalbe’s versatile Nobby Nic 2.25in rubber, while Formula hubs keep things rolling smoothly. This classic combination of wheel and tyre worked well, and the hoops were still true and tight despite our best efforts to push them to the limit.
Schwalbe’s versatile Nobby Nic 2.25in rubber meets Mavic's workhorse XM319 rims
A weak point for us was the Avid Elixir 1 brakes. The factory bleed left a lot to be desired, the feel was ruined by excessive lever travel and overall power was safe but not inspiring. This does tend to be the case with entry level hydraulic stoppers, though.
We also found the standard saddle unforgiving, and came to the conclusion it would be best off replaced. This is always a personal issue, though, and only a small part of an otherwise accomplished trail tamer.
If you can live with the understated looks and step away from brand snobbery, the Escarpe is one of the best value trail bikes out there.