Vitus Escarpe VR 29 2018 Mountain Bike Review

Vitus Escarpe VR 29 2018

Reviews / Trail Bikes

Vitus 12,816

At A Glance

For 2018 the Vitus range gets an overhaul, with all the main bikes getting some updates. If the Sommet is the full enduro race machine, then the Escarpe is better described as a trail bike, but as I found out testing the previous version, it could easily play enduro if required.

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For this year the geometry gets a tweak, wheels are boosted, and shocks become metric. All this brings the bike up to date and compatible with all the new measurements and 'standards'.

The Escarpe comes in two wheel sizes, both with 140mm travel and each of those sizes have two different specs. The 29 VRX boasts 10mm more travel on the front and upgraded parts over the 29VR we have here. Notably, the VRX features a 150mm RockShox Lyric, where the VR runs a 140mm Revelation. Although a subtle change, I do wonder why the travel difference is needed, and the Lyric suggests that the bike is capable of some serious stuff.

What makes the VR special more than anything is the price. Hand over £1850 and you get a modern aluminium frame, excellent shocks, reliable gearing and braking from Shimano and even a dropper and proper tyres. This is a phenomenal build on paper, with the bike also arriving set up tubeless, it's fantastic. Wide 800mm bars and Nukeproof stem are perfect for the geometry, and although the bike is a little portly, it's ready to rumble with no complaints.

The rear 140mm is delivered through a Horst link and floating mount. It gives plenty of rearward axle path in the first part of the travel to avoid getting hung up, and I found on the previous model, it felt like far more than 140mm.

Apart from the weight, and a feeling that it warranted a stiffer and larger fork, it was good to go. Rarely am I so impressed all round straight out of the box, but then I do like long bikes, 29 wheels and small wallets.

On The Trail

With 140mm rear travel and a 140mm Revelation, the Escarpe likes to suggest it is a trail bike through and through, but I was to be surprised. Having made my trail bike assumptions, I set out to test it appropriately on moderate trails with plenty of pedal input.

First things first, the fit and sizing are pretty good for an XL. It's a little shy of 500mm in the reach, but at this size, it's a proper XL. The downside is the huge seat tube, which is a bit lofty and doesn't help the look. Thankfully the top tube is well scooped to give plenty of room for bendy knees on corners. The issue with the considerable seat tube is that at 190cm, I'm on the limit of a 150mm drop, and fitting a 170mm which I'm partial to, will be an issue. Currently, this bike will fit nearly a 40inch inside leg so I'd keep the reach length but cut the seat tube to 19inch. This could be an issue on smaller sizes too so watch out.

Spinning off in trail bike mode, I wasn't amazed by the acceleration, but neither did it have me concerned. This bike has proper tyres, by which I mean they have actual grip and won't explode at the first sign of gravel. The comfort is there, it feels like an all day bike, and once the big wheels are turning, it gallops along happily. Keep the speed high, and keep on trucking.

Despite my best efforts to ride the Escarpe like a trail bike, I struggled to get the pulse going on fast flowing singletrack. I felt it a little sluggish on the pedals to keep things quick as I would expect of a lighter weight trail bike. A lighter set of wheels and a quicker freehub would liven things up in this respect. The 140mm back end does provide a good platform for pedalling, and it all feels stiff and responsive, just lacking spark in acceleration.

The Escarpe felt planted and secure on moderate trails, so it felt only fair to take it up a notch. In a do-or-die approach I ended up at the top of the steepest, root-infested descent I could find and dropped in. Now, this is highly inappropriate terrain for a normal trail bike, but not only did we survive, but we also thrived. With the gradient turned up to 'improbable' the Escarpe just cracked on, stayed calm and took me through. The calm planted feel extended to the ludicrous terrain and the good reach length, proper tyres and the remarkably competent Revelations it all worked like a dream.

The findings from this trail experimenting leave me thinking that the Escarpe is more short travel Enduro bike, rather than trail bike. Steep gnarly trails were where I got the most out of it, regardless of what it might have been designed for. I can only imagine that the VRX model with 10mm more travel and a stiffer fork is an absolute beast.

Crucially, if you were looking for a speedy trail bike to cover ground fast and light, the Escarpe may not impress. If you are looking for a capable all-rounder with a penchant for dropping into sketchy steep trails, then this is it. At under two grand, it’s a bargain, and although a better set of wheels will probably crank things up a notch, it is truly ready to ride out of the box.

The Revelations need a mention as they have once again impressed. They may pay second fiddle to Pikes, but they are just as stiff and do a great job. The Brand X dropper is ok, and I've used enough of them to think they're pretty good, but this one struggled to return reliably to full height. The only other issue on components would be increasing the rotor size on the brakes, certainly on the XL size, as the 180 rotors on the front struggled. For the price though, it's hard to find fault in the spec.

Overall

It's rare a sub two grand bike can be so impressive straight out of the box. Modern geometry and all the right components add up to a comfortable, confident machine that likes to hit trails far above its pay grade. More enduro than trail bike, the Escarpe is likely to appeal to riders on a budget who want an all-round bike that won't sap all the fun out of a trail centre and will keep you safe on more serious terrain.

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This review was in Issue 52 of IMB.

For more information visit Vitus

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By Ewen Turner
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