The Vitus brand has recently been rebuilt from the ground up by online retail powerhouse Chain Reaction Cycles and, as the Zenium demonstrates, their 2012 line-up looks set to not only deliver exceptional value but really good ride quality as well.
Ride & handling: Performance ride with well balanced handling and easy speed
We thought that while the Vitus represented great kit value, the actual ride might be more ‘bargain bin’ in quality. That meant we got a very pleasant surprise as we rolled out onto the road for our first ride, and every subsequent session from then on justified our enthusiasm.
The chunky cut tubes and rear end, combined with the external bottom bracket and fixed axle crank, are very assured in the way they transmit every muscle twitch. This power transmission easily offsets the extra frame weight compared with more flexible powertrain setups.
The relatively low front end and long stem create a stretched-for-speed character that encourages effort rather than easy cruising. Unlike most wheels on bikes at this price, the Shimano hoops didn't jangle and ping from new, and their stiffness and relatively low weight underlines the fast and firm ride character of the Vitus really well.
We expected the heavy-duty Schwalbe Lugano tyres to take some zip out of the Zenium but they rolled, gripped and generally rode as well as most tyres we see on bikes twice the price. While the firm frame and saddle give a sports rather than spongy feel, we were impressed with how much sting the carbon fork took out of the ride.
You’ll still need to dodge bigger potholes but, if you accidentally run through a rough patch (or can’t avoid it due to traffic), your fingers and fillings won’t be rattling in their sockets. The bike’s solid handling stability means the Zenium wasn’t phased by leaf-strewn, muddy descents either, cornering with confident placement and assured accuracy at all speeds.
There’s no obvious lurch or lunge from side to side out of the saddle either, which can sometimes be an issue on longer-stemmed bikes. This meant we regularly stayed out longer on our rides than we needed to for training or testing purposes, and with the clip-ons keeping spray down to a minimum, the Vitus quickly became our go-to bike for wetter weather riding sessions.
Chassis: Relatively heavy frameset limits upgrade potential
Despite the revitalised Vitus brand only being a year old, the second-tier Zenium gets an all-new frame for 2012. The head tube isn’t tapered but it’s short in modern road bike terms, giving this bike a sporty feel from the off. The hourglass head tube neatly swallows the internal headset and there’s plenty of hydroformed shaping going on elsewhere.
The top tube uses a teardrop-to-flat-oval section in a sloping ‘compact geometry’ style. The down tube turns from truncated triangle to flattened oval down tube, for maximum contact with the head tube at one end and the bottom bracket at the other. A large diameter seat tube completes the mainframe with a particularly neat, crisp seat collar at the top. Relatively stout, twisted ellipse seatstays and ellipseto- round chainstays with similarly chunky cross braces create a powerfully torque resistant rear end.
However, we felt the frame weight was relatively high at just under 1.8kg. Bearing in mind the amount of engineering gone to other aspects of the bike we were expecting the frame to have been made lighter. Its purposeful rather than recreational focus is backed up by the fact that there are mudguard eyes on the rear end but no rack mounts. The straight tapered leg, full-carbon fork, a real find at this price, added extra vibration absorption to the front end.
Equipment: Excellent price for the mixed 20-speed Tiagra and full-carbon fork
The Zenium has a full Shimano Tiagra 20-speed setup cassette and chain – the FSA Gossamer Compact cassette is a close-ratio 11-25t unit that’ll appeal more to racers than recreational riders but there’s still plenty of steep-climb-friendly ratios. It comes complete with external bearing bottom bracket cups for extra stiffness and easier replacement when it does eventually wear out. Compact shallow drop bars make the lower positions much more useable more of the time too.
The firm, slimline saddle will be unforgiving of new-to-riding nether regions and nipping to the shops in your jeans won’t be all that comfortable. Despite that, however, it performed well on the longer runs and you won’t mind being on it for those long winter training rides. The short drop brakes mean that clip-on mudguards (like the SKS Raceblade that CRC added to our sample) are your only weather protection. While the shorter arms offer sharper braking response, they could still do with a cartridge pad upgrade to deliver maximum power potential.