Vitus’s Escarpe 29 VRX is a trail bike with a killer attitude when the terrain gets steep. Vitus uses the inherent rollover ability of the 29in wheels in conjunction with 140mm of travel for a bike that eats up big, rocky descents.
The Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2019. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women’s bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub page.
It’s rare that a £3,000 / $3,600 / $5,000 bike will get full Fox Factory dampers (including the latest generation GRIP2), as well as top-spec rubber, decent wheels and a finishing kit that, save for the Brand X dropper, could easily be found on bikes at almost twice this price.
However, Vitus has managed to squeeze all of this onto the Escarpe 29 VRX, its alloy trail bike.
Shimano cranks are stiff and lightDan Milner / Immediate Media
Vitus has an advantage over its competitors in this respect: it shares resources with Chain Reaction Cycles and its sister brand Nukeproof supplies some of the finishing kit. So, if bang for your buck is important, it’s a brand you can’t go too far wrong with.
As mentioned, the Escarpe 29 VRX is no one-trick-pony. The Fox Factory 36 with 150mm of travel, Factory level piggyback DPX2 shock and triple-compound 2.5in Wide Trail Maxxis Minion tyres join forces to offer one of the most composed bikes we’ve tested at this price point.
Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX ride impressions
Despite only having 140mm of travel, Vitus proves it’s quality, not quantity that counts. The stroke is smooth and responsive, managing small bumps and big hits equally well. When it comes to all-out descending performance, the Escarpe seems hard to beat.
The floating shock delivers a smooth rideDan Milner / Immediate Media
Rather than being anchored at one end to the front triangle, the shock on the Escarpe floats between two linkages. This delivers a classic bottomless feel, as well as making it incredibly supple at the start of the stroke.
On bigger hits, the control through the back end is fantastic, with plenty of restrained progression late in its stroke — none of our flat pedal testers ever felt like their feet were going to get blown off the pedals, and there was no unsightly bottom-out clunk as the shock reached full travel.
Punchy, powerful and great value, the SRAM Guide RE brakes demonstrate Vitus’s smart approach to components
That suppleness also vastly boosts traction and control over high-frequency, low-amplitude impacts. The GRIP2 damper in the fork only accentuates the bike’s smooth, composed feel on rough, choppy, steep and gnarly trails, and in Finale Ligure in Italy, the Vitus really impressed.
Maxxis Minion DHFs are a favourite among BikeRadar testers, so I was pleased to see the 2.5in Wide Trails on the front of the Escarpe. The tread is spaced enough to clear mud well, but still feels decent on hard-packed trails and over rocks. The side treads are well supported and the carcass is good too.
The down tube holds the cables in some neat external routingDan Milner / Immediate Media
At the back there’s a 2.4in Wide Trail Minion DHR II — again, a decent tyre for an aggressive trail bike, which provides predictable control when things start to drift and decent braking performance.
There is, of course, a downside to everything, and it’s on flatter, twistier trails that the Escarpe loses a bit of its shine. The supple early stroke combines with support that seems to come in later to give a fairly lazy, inefficient feel around the sag point, so pedalling doesn’t feel as punchy as more traditional trail bikes might.
While the back end is sitting deeper into its stroke, the forks tend to remain propped up, so the front of the bike rakes forwards, further accentuating this lazy feel. It starts to feel better the steeper the trail, when the fork is working as much as the back end.
Whatever the trail condition, the Escarpe never held us backDan Milner / Immediate Media
On climbs, there’s plenty of traction when it gets loose and tech, but I was often using the compression switch on the shock. If you’re into long rides over big hills or round trail centres, I’d look elsewhere, if only to save a few watts here and there.
I’ve touched on the Escarpe’s spec but honourable mention should go to its choice of SRAM Guide RE brakes. Punchy, powerful and great value, they demonstrate Vitus’s smart approach to components: fitting decent parts where it matters, without breaking the bank.
The Vitus Escarpe 29 is probably not the bike I’d choose for a 40km epic in the hills, but if you’re happy to flick the compression switch on the DPX2 shock and spin to the top of a climb, you’ll be rewarded with a smooth descent on pretty much any trail you dare to tackle.
Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX specifications
Despite 140mm of rear wheel travel, the Escarpe was one of the best all-out descenders on testDan Milner / Immediate Media
Sizes: S, M, L
Frame: Alloy 140mm 29in
Fork: Fox Factory 36 FIT Grip2 150mm
Shock: Fox Factory DPX2
Crankset: Shimano XT
Shifters: Shimano XT
Derailleur: Shimano XT
Cassette: Shimano SLX
Wheelset: DT Swiss M1700
Tyres: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5WT, Maxxis Minion DHR II 2.4WT