All the bikes in the Escarpe range from Vitus (that's Chain Reaction's in-house brand) share the same frame. That's excellent news for this base model – but how does it fare in its standard build?
Frame and equipment: some thoughtful touches
The tapered head tube ensures good tracking stiffness and the back end uses double side joints onto the linkage and a 142x12mm rear axle to hold everything together. There are chainguide tabs on the bottom bracket shell and there’s a hole and clips for semi-internal Stealth dropper post routing. The 67-degree head angle is spot on for extra stability when you’re riding on the ragged edge and Vitus teams it with ‘just right’ 740mm bars and 60mm stem.
The Suntour fork uses its unique 15mm QLOC push-fit, cam-locking axle to boost stiffness and the metal rebound and compression adjusters are a nice touch for the money. Mavic rims are always a welcome sight in terms of durability and the Deore stop and go mix matches many hardtails at this price. Vitus even specs a clutch rear derailleur to keep the chain secure and as silent as possible in the rough.
The more hammer you give the Escarpe, the more pleasure it gives back
Ride and handling: go hard, or go home
Continental tyres are fat without being heavy and roll well. Yet again grip is pretty sketchy – particularly in the wet – so a changing the front one at least will be well worth it for winter riding.
Unfortunately the Suntour Epicon shock is very notchy and clunky right from the start of its stroke, and increasingly uncontrolled when faced with prolonged punishment sessions. Rebound needs to be set extremely carefully to find the knife-edge between pogo stick-style kick back and a very slow and stubborn compression character. The front fork is slightly more forthcoming with smoothness once you’ve got it moving, but it’s still nowhere near as good as the RockShox Sektor you can find on other similarly priced bikes.
What’s interesting is that the harder you push the Vitus through rock fields or steps, the better the bike feels. There’s certainly a lot of noise as the suspension starts to cough and splutter but the faster you ride the more the suspension limitations and clatter fade into the background and the more you appreciate the impressively well sorted handling.
The Continentals are efficient enough to get it rolling without risking a cardiac arrest too, so we never really noticed the weight until we had to lug it out of a car or over a gate. Descending not climbing is definitely where this bike shines and whether you upgrade this model or choose its much more sorted VR brother (currently discounted in the UK), the Escarpe is a ton of fun.
The Escarpe was discounted from £1,350 / US$2,308 / AU$2,484 / at time of going to press
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.