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Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex review

Vitus offers latest vibration-slaying RockShox gravel tech at a more affordable £2,000 price tag

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £1,999.00 RRP | USD $2,800.00 | EUR €2,700.00 | AUD $3,800.00
Pack shot of the Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex gravel bike

Our review

A short-travel, smooth-riding gravel bike with a weight compromise
Pros: Vibration-damping from the Rudy fork; comfortable fit with decent reach; ergonomic flared bars; confidence-inspiring tyres
Cons: Heavy due to fork and dropper; entry-level drivetrain
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The Substance is Chain Reaction Cycles and Wiggle’s gravel offering from in-house brand Vitus.

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There’s a dazzling array of different builds on offer, including 1x or 2x, carbon or alloy frames, SRAM, Shimano or Microshift, and – new for 2022 – the option of rigid or ‘HT’ (hardtail), referring to the mountain bike style of suspension fork seen here.

With models ranging from just £749.99 up to £2,499.99, the VRS1 HT Apex sits towards the top of the range and is the priciest of the alloy builds.

Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex frame details

The Substance VRS-1 features a double-butted aluminium alloy frame complete with plentiful mounts, should you wish to add bottle cages, a rear rack or storage under the down tube. The top tube is sloped down towards the seat tube. The frame can accept either 650b wheels (as fitted), or 700c.

Up front, the RockShox Rudy XPLR suspension fork offers 30mm of travel, while the frame also features internal dropper post routing, utilised by the Brand-X Ascend CX seatpost, which offers 85mm drop.

A gorgeous glistening purple gloss paintjob is complemented by the Vitus logo in a pale blue with a topographic contour design.

Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex geometry

Vitus offers its bikes in a really good range of sizes, from XS (for riders measuring 155cm/5ft) up to XXL (up to 200cm/6ft 5in), with a size small on test to suit my 165cm build.

The head tube angle measures 71.3 degrees on this size small, with a 1,023mm wheelbase.

There’s a moderate level of tyre clearance, with the 47mm tyres fitted being the maximum for 650b wheels, or 42mm for 700c.

XSSMLXLXXL
Seat angle (degrees)74.27473.573.573.273.2
Head angle (degrees)70.671.371.571.571.571.5
Chainstay (mm)436436436436440440
Seat tube (mm)425445465485505525
Top tube (mm)522535550562578595
Head tube (mm)112127144154173184
Fork offset (mm)484848484848
Bottom bracket drop (mm)707070707070
Wheelbase (mm)1,0181,0231,0311,0441,0571,072
Stack (mm)534551568577595606
Reach (mm)371377382391398412
Crank length (mm)165170172.5172.5175175

Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex specifications

The Apex is SRAM’s entry-level offering.
Russell Burton / Our Media

SRAM Apex is used for shifting and braking, with a 40-tooth, 11-speed chainring paired to an 11-42 tooth SunRace cassette using the long-cage Apex derailleur. Apex braking is hydraulic, and while the right-hand lever actuates the shifting, the left-hand paddle can be used to lower and raise the dropper seatpost.

DT Swiss’ G1800 Spline gravel wheels are a 650b, tubeless-ready option with a generous 24mm-wide internal rim diameter for gravel tyres. The WTB Venture TCS Road Plus tyres are 47mm wide and set up with inner tubes.

The cockpit is rounded off using Vitus’ own-label alloy kit, including an 80mm stem, 40cm-wide handlebars and quality bar tape. A moderate 16-degree flare on the drops is a popular design, and the handlebars are slightly flattened across the tops. A unisex Vitus saddle is specced too.

Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex ride impressions

The suspension fork helps to iron out bumps.
Russell Burton / Our Media

Hopping aboard the Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT, the suitability of the sizing and fit was immediately clear. Unlike many other gravel bikes of a similar size, I found the reach to be really comfortable, rather than feeling too stretched-out over the bars. I was happy to see this isn’t even the smallest size Vitus offers.

With flattened tops for resting your hands on while climbing and a moderate degree of flare, the 40cm drop handlebars were the perfect width for my shoulders too, and the wider lower position gave confidence-boosting handling over rougher, steeper terrain.

Because this was my first experience with the new RockShox Rudy XPLR fork, I was intrigued by this ’short-travel gravel’ setup.

With 30mm of travel, it’s important to remember this design is more about vibration damping and smoothing out the trail rather than functioning as a mountain bike suspension fork to take the impact of bigger hits.

Starting out on the road, I aimed for broken tarmac and potholes to test the fork. Immediately, I was impressed by the smoothing effect, taking out any jarring feeling. Moving onto gravel fire roads and finer singletrack, the smooth feeling continued as I sped along, the Substance navigating nimbly around sweeping bends and tighter corners alike.

The wide 47mm tyres certainly played a role in this, providing plentiful grip and meaning you can really push into corners. I didn’t feel held back with anything too aggressive down the centre line of the tyre on more tame surfaces.

The combination of the wide tyres and suspension fork gave me the confidence to take the ride from blue-rated mountain bike trails, which I’m generally happy to ride with a gravel bike, to the more technical red-rated trails and some natural, rooty singletrack.

The fork is more for reducing the impact of small hits rather than enduro-style trail features, but I was hugely impressed by just how much fun this was over the rooty tech of Haldon Forest Park singletrack.

A flared bar aids stability as you go over tough terrain.
Russell Burton / Our Media

I was less impressed by the dropper post addition. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it, but it was challenging to set up because the cable was far too long, leading to bends inside the frame, which caused issues. I ended up getting a mechanic to help.

Generally, I’m happy descending more techy trails on a gravel bike with the dropper post extended at a normal height, so I had to keep reminding myself that it was there to use. This is something that would become a habit in time, I’m sure.

While the paddle setup is sleek and means you don’t need an extra lever on the bars, you really have to put the forethought into using the lever before you hit the steeper tracks, rather than during.

If you spend a lot of time on techy trails, you might find dropping the saddle height by 85mm comes in handy, but I think I’d forgo this bit of tech to reduce weight and the maintenance requirement.

The compromise for this fancy tech is the quality of the groupset and the total bike weight. While other brands at the £2,000 mark might use SRAM Rival (Shimano 105 equivalent) on a rigid build, SRAM Apex is used here (Shimano Tiagra equivalent) to counter the cost of the suspension fork and dropper post.

Unfortunately, on the first ride, the SRAM Apex rear derailleur broke, though these things do happen – components fail – and I sourced a replacement.

Regardless, you are paying £2,000 here for a bike with an entry-level groupset, and that’s the kickback when some of that money is spent on fancy gadgets such as the rut-busting suspension fork.

For an extra £500, you could upgrade to the Substance CRX-1 HT for a SRAM Rival-equipped build (and a carbon fibre frame), or for an additional £200 you could enjoy a full-carbon fibre Rival build with the Substance CRX-1 on a rigid frameset without a dropper.

Both of these options would help shed a little weight. At 11.1kg for the size small, this model isn’t the lightest on offer, which I noticed on the hills – there are plenty of them in Devon.

When climbing out of the saddle, although I could see the fork moving through its travel a little, the effect through the cockpit was barely noticeable, especially compared to the bounciness of the Specialized Future Shock suspension system tested on the Diverge when fully open, which I found quite off-putting.

Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex bottom line

The Substance caters well to smaller riders.
Russell Burton / Our Media

I had a real blast riding the Substance VRS-1 HT. If you enjoy more technical trails or feel you would benefit from the vibration-damping the Rudy fork offers, then the increased weight may just be worth the compromise.

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The lighter-weight, SRAM Rival-equipped £2,499 Substance CRX-1 HT could prove to be a wise upgrade if you’re set on a short-travel gravel setup, budget allowing.

How we tested 

Gravel bikes are designed to be just as capable on the road as they are off it. They should be reliable companions for the daily commute, as well as weekend adventuring and even in some cases longer bikepacking trips.

At the £2,000 mark, you’re likely to find bikes in the middle of the spectrum between aero gravel-racing machines and hardtail mountain bike-style steeds.

These versatile all-rounders should feature 10- or 11-speed drivetrains from Shimano or SRAM, hydraulic disc brakes, quality gravel tyres and often mounts for bikepacking bags. 

We put their versatility to the test by riding the bikes on a mixture of terrain in and around Dartmoor National Park in the South West of England. We evaluated how they rolled on country lanes, their capability on challenging singletrack, their handling on flowing fire roads and their speed on fine gravel cycleways. 

On test

Product Specifications

Product

Price AUD $3800.00EUR €2700.00GBP £1999.00USD $2800.00
Weight 11.1kg (S)
Brand Vitus

Features

Available sizes XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Headset ACROS Aix-Low R3
Tyres WTB Venture TCS Road Plus 650bx47mm
Stem Vitus 6061 Aluminium, 80mm
Shifter SRAM Apex
Seatpost Brand-X Ascend CX, 85mm travel
Saddle Vitus, Ti rail
Rear derailleur SRAM Apex
Handlebar Vitus 6061 Aluminium Wing, 16 degree flare, 40cm
Bottom bracket SRAM GXP, BSA threaded
Grips/Tape Vitus Super Grip
Frame 6061 T6 double butted aluminium
Fork RockShox Rudy XPLR, 30mm travel
Cranks SRAM Apex X-Sync 40
Chain SRAM PC1110
Cassette Sunrace MS8 11-speed 11-42
Brakes SRAM Apex hydraulic disc, 160mm rotors
Wheels DT Swiss G 1800 Spline 650b, 24h, 24mm inner width