Vitus bikes have been off the radar for a few years but Irish racing legend Sean Kelly, who rode for the brand in their Eighties heyday, today helped launch their 2011 range, as well as unveiling his own limited edition signature road bike.
There'll be a full run-down of the 2011 road and mountain bikes to follow, but let's start with a look at the Sean Kelly Special Edition. The frame is essentially an updated version of the current Dark Plasma VR – a one-piece carbon fibre monocoque with a tapered head tube to stiffen things up at the front.
Exact details of the production bike have yet to be finalised, with designer Brant Richards – a name normally associated with mountain bike brands Ragley and Nukeproof – still undecided over whether to spec a BB30 oversize bottom bracket shell (apparently there's lots of testing going on on "gritty, wet roads"). However, he assures us it'll be "lighter, stiffer and stronger" than the Dark Plasma VR.
Claimed weight of the pre-production sample seen today is around 15.5lb. The production bike will be kitted out with a full Shimano Dura-Ace groupset and is expected to cost around £3,500. Richards says there'll be a limited edition run of 25 bikes.
But don't worry if you like the look of the bike and don't manage to snap up one of the Kelly signature editions – it's rumoured that the same frame will be used on the 2012 Dark Plasma VR. This will be available in the autumn with various builds consisting of a mix of Shimano parts (Tiagra upwards) and FSA cranks, brakes and finishing kit. Vitus (pronounced "vee-tuus") bikes are available exclusively through Chain Reaction Cycles.
Kelly laid eyes on the bike for the first time today and seemed impressed. After a quick ride round the car park he came back with a big smile on his face. "It's nice," he said. "But I need to go out a bit longer and a bit faster, through a few corners, to get the feel of it." "It's hard to test with these shoes!" he added, looking at his slip-ons.
Explaining the decision to get Kelly on board with the revitalised brand, Richards said: "We wanted to pay some respect to the history of Vitus and there's only one name that's associated with that, and with Sean only [living] down the road... We've been talking about it for a good few months now."
"With me and Vitus there's a bit of history there," said Kelly. "When they [Chain Reaction] came to me, I was excited. All the major races I won, 80 percent of them were with Vitus. It's nice to go forward and be involved with this bike. It's good to get involved with a company like Chain Reaction because I know they're in it for the long haul. I think we'll work well together."
Kelly has had input into the design of the new bike and has also been tasked with picking the equipment spec, including a classic drop bar, a 130mm stem and double chainset. Explaining his decision not to add Shimano's Dura-Ace Di2 electronic groupset, he said: "If you have a bike that's perfectly tuned and adjusted, I can't see the advantage."
"We've done a lot of work with carbon layup and stuff like that... with Sean," said Richards. "The geometry is a classic 54cm frame with a 55cm top tube. We've got the angles bang-on." "Doing some testing and seeing how it'll handle... that'll be the next step," said Kelly. And after that? Don't rule out the possibility of seeing Vitus bikes under a ProTeam squad in the near future.