The VRS heads up Vitus’s four-bike Sentier trail hardtail range, which encompasses 650b and 29in wheel sizes and a range of specs to suit riders on a budget. It combines Manitou’s underrated Minute Expert fork in 140mm (5.5in) travel trim with a Shimano Deore, SLX and XT based component package. Aimed, according to Vitus, at “fast paced, action packed epics”, does it strike the right balance?
Frame and equipment: svelte chassis and no-nonsense kit selection
Big-travel hardtails have often tended towards big tube profiles and overt attempts at ‘overbuilding’. Not so the Sentier, which boasts the kind of tube profiles that wouldn’t look out of place on a contemporary cross-country (XC) race machine. Triple butting shaves weight where it’s not needed and leaves metal where strength or stiffness could be an issue, while mechanical forming – a process that creates complex tube profiles – gives the top and down tubes their distinctive silhouettes.
Vitus’s designers have clearly given plenty of thought to both comfort and strength. Up front a massive tapered head tube joins a flattened top tube and gently curved down tube, providing a torsionally stiff and strong anchor point for the rest of the frame. The chainstays become thinner on their journey from dropout to seat tube, hinting at a rear end that’s intended to be efficient without being harsh. The detailing includes ISCG chain guide mounts but – curiously for a bike boasting a 140mm fork – no provision for dropper seatpost cable routing.
WTB treads grip very well even in dicey conditions:
WTB treads grip very well even in dicey conditions
The Manitou Minute Expert fork, with its distinctive sloping crown and rearward-facing brace, offers 140mm of airsprung travel and a refreshing change from the usual RockShox and Fox offerings. Manitou’s proprietary Hexlock quick-release 15mm axle is a huge improvement over earlier Minute forks’ Allen bolt set-ups, though it’s still not as intuitive or quick to use as the big name competitors’ systems.
Own-brand finishing kit provides all the rider contact points, which means no spec sheet bragging rights but a well finished, functional setup that should stand up to plenty of hard use. Big-flange Formula hubs laced to tubeless ready WTB rims make for a light, fast-accelerating wheel package and the WTB tyres provide great gobs of grip even in wet, slimy riding conditions. As for the stop-and-go kit, we’ve no complaints with the mix-and-match selection of Shimano Deore, SLX and XT parts that adorns the VRS. The clutch-equipped rear derailleur provides clean, snappy shifts even under power, while the 2×10 transmission simplifies gear selection and improves ground clearance below the bottom bracket.
Ride and handling: enjoyable trail companion, but slightly inferior fork
Keen riders comparing the Vitus with its competition are bound to spot the most obvious difference – that Manitou Minute Expert fork. It’s not a common choice, although both Manitou and the Minute have a long and distinguished history in mountain biking. It’s an easy fork to live with, offering straightforward setup and a surprisingly plush, well-damped feel throughout its travel.
The steering is accurate enough to see most rock gardens and roots swallowed up and spat out without drama, though there’s more flex and flutter under hard braking than you might expect with a RockShox Revelation. Combined with the Sentier VRS’s relatively low weight, relaxed geometry and grippy but floaty treads, this makes for an agile and speedy trail companion.
Manitou’s minute fork is improved but can’t quite match a rockshox revelation: Steve Behr
Manitou’s Minute fork is improved but can’t match a RockShox Revelation
Long forks can make a hardtail feel wallowy and sluggish, but those aren’t adjectives you could easily apply to the VRS. It responds instantly to pedal input, while those comparatively slender stays work well with the big-volume rear tyre to produce a floaty, grippy back end that positively revels in being pushed hard. Vitus claims the bottom bracket is deliberately low “to improve handling” but we found it high enough to allow for some aggressive riding through choppy trail sections without any risk of grounding a pedal.
So far, so inspirational. We love the idea of a bike that combines XC speed with genuine big hit ability, and the Sentier VRS delivers. Almost. Our only reservation is that, in situations we know a Revelation-equipped bike will just blast through, the Vitus’s Manitou fork is marginally less confidence inspiring. It’s not a huge difference and if you don’t ride aggressively when the going gets tough it’s far from a deal breaker. But still, we can’t help feeling that Manitou’s big-travel trail fork still lags a tiny bit behind the best.