Currently discounted by 25 per cent, the Vitus Escarpe is a great Gallic prospect
Need to know
- Shimano XT brakes with 180mm rotors front and rear offer unmatched stopping power and reliability
- A knobby WTB Vigilante up front provides great cornering traction, while the low-profile Trail Boss rear tyre keeps the rolling tempo high
- Armour on the underside of the down tube protects the alloy frame and more importantly your rear brake hose from getting damaged
- Rubberised chain and seatstay protectors silence chainslap and protect the anti-radar frame finish
When we first set eyes on the new range of 29er Escarpes, we were instantly struck by the bespoke frame design and the gaping hole in the pricing of the three available models.
With only £200 separating the entry-level Escarpe (£1,499.99) from the VR version, there was a massive jump of almost £2,000 to the top-of-the-range Escarpe 290 Pro tested here. Vitus was sorely missing a £2.5k bike to compete with the likes of the Specialized, Canyon and Cube.
Twelve months on, that model is now available, thanks to a generous 25 per cent end-of-season discount. And what a blinding 29er it is. The frame delivers 135mm of travel, thanks to the new V-Link, four-bar suspension design.
It’s got a floating shock too, where the lower eyelet is mounted to an extension of the chainstay yoke and moves forward as the suspension compresses. It’s very similar to Trek’s Full Floater design, and allows for an extra degree of fine-tuning over progressivity.
Frame stiffness has also been a priority for Vitus. The BB and main pivot housing are forged from a single chunk of aluminium, and the frame is top and tailed by a tapered head tube and 142x12mm rear dropouts.
With a 150mm travel Pike leading the charge, the Escarpe was taking no prisoners on the descents. It’s the top-end RCT3 version, too, so you’ve got all of the damping adjustments you need at your fingertips.
We slammed an extra Bottomless Token in the fork to get the Solo Air spring to ramp up faster and prevent diving under braking or on the steepest descents. This also helped the balance and better maintained the dynamic geometry.
On the rear, we ran exactly 30 per cent sag, as per the markings on the Monarch RT3 rear shock, with the rider seated and the bike felt spot on. The 135mm travel never felt overly soft, and we were able to ride the Vitus with the shock in the open setting even on the steepest climbs.
You get the best of both worlds in terms of spec: SRAM’s wide-range 1×11 drivetrain and Shimano’s ultra-reliable XT brakes. Mavic’s new Crossmax XL 29er wheels are also a big step up in terms of stiffness, but it’s their lightning fast acceleration and resistance-free hubs that really set them apart.
Yes, the 23mm internal rim width isn’t on trend, but given the amount of grip that’s available on a 29er, we never felt the need for bigger tyres or wider rims. You do need to keep
on top of wheel tension though, as Mavic’s fat alloy spokes have a tendency to unwind.
And it’s not just the eye candy that Vitus has focused on. You also get a right-hand Reverb remote flipped neatly under the handlebar on the left, and an E13 chain guide to prevent your chain coming off in the heat of the moment.
Even though the Escarpe isn’t pumping out massive amounts of travel on the rear, it’s certainly geared more towards aggressive riding. That’s not to say it doesn’t pedal efficiently, or cover ground effortlessly, it just feels more like a 29er enduro bike than most big wheelers with similar amounts of travel.
Solid, fast and incredibly capable, we think the Vitus Escarpe is exactly how a good 29er should be. If you’re not attacking steep, nasty descents on a regular basis, however, the riser bar will feel a little high, even with the 45mm slammed directly on the headset. For this reason alone, we’d probably fit a flat bar, then raise the stem if needed.
With 170mm crankarms, you won’t have any pedal clearance issues on steep rock climbs either. And much as we like being able to smuggle pedal turns in whereever we can, Vitus could definitely get away with running the BB slightly lower on the Escarpe 290 Pro, although one offset shock mount should be all that’s needed to rectify this yourself.
If the devil truly is in the detail, then the matt black Vitus Escarpe 290 Pro was forged in the furnace of hell. The new alloy frame is up there with the best brands, and there isn’t a single component that needs changing straightaway. Just hop on board and commence trailblazing. At the original RRP, Vitus was too ambitious with its pricing, pitching it more in line with regular bricks and mortar brands rather than its direct sales rivals; with 25 per cent off, however, given the level of performance and kit on offer, it’s an absolute steal.