With long travel enduro bikes hitting some sky high price points it's great to bring things down to a more affordable level. The Vitus Escarpe 29 is an addition to the Dirty Dozen list and has the cheapest price tag. How does it stack up?
Words: Sean White, Ieuan Williams Images: Ieuan Williams
The Escarpe was a hit in the 2016 Dirt 100 and with 135mm of rear wheel travel drive sat alongside the bigger hitting Sommet in the Vitus range. Both of these bikes used aluminium for the frame construction and rolled on 27.5"/650B wheels, giving options for trail riding through to enduro racing. Here was a range of well-designed bikes that brought up to date thinking and well thought through specifications at affordable price points.
For 2018 Vitus has revamped the frames on the Escarpe range and offer 27.5" and 29" wheels size options. With 140mm of rear travel and a 150mm fork this gives the Escarpe true versatility regardless of your taste in wheel diameters. We’ve had the top spec VRX 29 model in for review and have put it straight up against the best from our on going Dirty Dozen 29er test. At £2699, it looks to be an absolute bargain.
Using triple butted 6061 aluminium for the main frame and rear stays Vitus has now updated the Escarpe 29 to 148mm Boost hub spacing, giving plenty of mud clearance for up to 2.5" tyres as well as the benefits to wheel stiffness that (potentially) result from this standard.
All the models run a 1x single chainring set up although there is a removable front mech mount if needed. ISCG-05 chain guide mounts are standard (as is a quality MRP guide/bash on this VRX spec bike) along with neat cable and hose routing that is all external apart from the dropper post. A bolt on down tube protector adds protection from trail debris and rock strikes and does the job well but ideally would go further up the downtube - as on the new 2018 Canyon Spectral. In a world of added complications on modern mountain bikes there is an air of simplicity to Vitus that is refreshing to see and the threaded 73mm BSA bottom bracket shell is a reflection of this thinking.
With a reliable build to the aluminium frame and a specification list that suits riding of a harder hitting nature the Vitus is not a bike that's light. It weighs in at a shade over 33 pounds (around 15kg) with pedals. The robust DT Swiss E1700 wheels, 2.5"/2.3" Maxxis tyres with Double Down casing and a chain device all contribute to this heft but at the same time add purpose to this bike and make it feel up to the task in hand.
Vitus stick with the four-bar style 'V-Link' rear suspension design which uses a horizontal floating shock mount. The rear RockShox Monarch RT3 shock is a metric design with bearings on the upper trunnion mount and has three positions; open, pedal and lockout. The large 15mm main axle has a collet lock system for added security.
It’s a given to expect a bike of this nature to be given the ‘long, low and slack’ treatment but the foundations of the older 27.5" wheeled Escarpe were a good blueprint even back in 2015. The blend of crisp handling and surefooted stability was there from the start.
The 29er has come of time and the days of goofy geometry and questionable handling are in most cases long gone. Four frame sizes are available (S-XL), with a low-slung standover height and short enough seat tubes to allow a 150mm stroke dropper post on the M, L and XL frame sizes.
The Escarpe 29 is bang up to date with its vital stats reading well: A slack 66° head angle, middling 74.5° seat angle, 467mm reach, 483mm seat tube and 1238mm wheelbase on our size large test bike are promising figures. The seat stays measure 450mm across the size range and are 5mm longer than the Stage 5 – the 135mm travel 29er from Orange.
Vitus has based the geometry around a 150mm travel fork, with Boost 110mm hub spacing and a 51mm crown offset. Whyte has opted for a custom 42mm offset on its 2018 S-150 29er, another bike that we've featured in this Dirty Dozen test.
There's very little, if anything that needs changing here. The RockShox Lyrik fork is the better spec RCT3 model, the SRAM Guide RE brakes are a Dirt 100 pick and the Reverb dropper is a benchmark component. Add in the 1x12 GX Eagle transmission, a cockpit with sorted dimensions (and shape) and a solid wheel/tyre package and you have a bike which is ready to roll regardless of the terrain you show it.
Frame: Hydroformed Triple Butted 6061-T6 Aluminium V-Link rear 140mm travel
Fork: RockShox Lyrik RCT3, 150mm travel
Brakes: SRAM Guide RE Hydraulic Disc, 180mm rotors
Chainset: SRAM Descendant Carbon Eagle, 170mm, 32T, MRP chainguide
Transmission: SRAM GX Eagle 1x12
Handlebars: Nukeproof Horizon, aluminium 25mm rise; 780mm (S/M) 800mm (L/XL)
Stem: Nukeproof Neutron, 45mm/31.8mm
Seat Post: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 31.6mm x 150mm drop (125mm Drop on size S)
Wheelset: DT Swiss E1700 Spline 30, Tubeless Ready
Tyres: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5"WT DD (F), Minion DHR 2.3" DD (R)
opinion - IEUAN WILLIAMS
Vitus are firing into this Dirty Dozen mix with what is by far the cheapest bike on test. The Escarpe VRX 29 comes in at a groundbreaking £2,699, a clean £1100 cheaper than the aluminium NukeProof Mega 290. That’s a decent holiday. Don’t go thinking that this means poor quality mind. The killer specification of SRAM Eagle GX mated up with some Guide RE stoppers is the correct setup. Cheaper but smooth gearing with powerful reliable braking is a great combo. With some DT Swiss wheels on Maxxis rubber really gives the Vitus a solid feel.
Keeping on the componentry topic the dampers that are chosen are most definitely something that would be expected of a higher priced machine. The fully revised 2018 RockShox Lyrik fork really compliments the chassis too. At the rear the same design suspension system that can be found throughout the range of Vitus bikes is present. The four bar V-link design and trunnion bearing upper shock mounts allow for a supple damper feeling.
‘Cheapest bike here, bang on specification and silent as it gets’
Ride wise the Vitus is not a climb slayer. The extra weight being the short fall here weighing in as 14.5kg or 31.9lbs. It is still a bike that isn’t scared of some hills though, with the 12 speed gearing allowing for some winch like assistance when it gets tough.
Point that nose down the hill and this is where the Vitus comes to life. The Escarpe really is a silent bike. It is always a great feeling being able to hear the tyres on the trail when riding. Chassis wise there is a great feeling of rigidity, yet this is not a harsh frameset, giving some great feeling toward the fatigue side of a ride. Good smooth damping and a great shape and size also contribute to feeling a safe, planted speed with very little abuse being taken on. This is a great thing when you have to winch the old girl back up the hill.
Vitus really have come leaps and bounds in the past few years with one of the early carbon Escarpes being strongly liked here at Dirt. And with the Vitus Sommet being a past Dirt 100 bike this seems to be following suit.
Fast on the descents, clean looks and great build quality. Cheapest bike here, bang on specification and silent as it gets. The Vitus Escarpe has nailed it on the head. With a little diet this bike should climb more than adequately to. All this said is why I have chosen the Vitus Escarpe VRX 29 as the best value for money in the Dirty Dozen line up. Not just because it is the cheapest but because it is one of the best. Keep your eyes peeled for some more on this bike as the year goes on.