Last year's £1000 hardtail winner comes back for more. Can it deliver two years in a row? Tested by Danny Milner
Last year, the Vitus Sentier 275 VR won the £1,000 category, blowing us away with its solid specification, playful geometry and lust for fun. Near as dammit perfect, the only improvements we recommended were a change of tyres and a wider range of sizes.
For 2015, Vitus has got rid of the hard compound Continental X-King tyres and fitted an aggressive, big volume WTB Vigilante/Trail Boss combo. It’s a big step forward in terms of grip, and the fat front carcass gives some extra cush and greater confidence on rowdy terrain. But the changes don’t stop there, and there’s one big one that, in combination with the tyres, has a major impact on the Vitus Sentier VRS’s handling…
That change is the fork. In place of last year’s 120mm travel Suntour Raidon, the new Sentier gets a Manitou Minute Expert. With the brace mounted on the back of the lower legs, it certainly breaks the mould aesthetically. But the performance is very good; not as supple as the RockShox offerings elsewhere in this test, but far stiffer — thanks to the fiddly Hex-Lock thru-axle and tapered steerer — and much more progressive, keeping the geometry stable when braking into steep switchbacks. It’s a tall fork, though — 10mm longer than an equivalent RockShox Pike — and for some reason Vitus has decided to fit the 140mm travel version. These two factors, combined with the bulbous front tyre, has jacked up the front end considerably, slackening the head angle by 2° and raising the bottom bracket by nearly 20mm.
It’s hard to fault the components on the Sentier. OK, so the handlebar has too much backsweep, but it’s a full 760mm width and it’s combined with a 60mm stem and file tread lock-on grips to create an excellent helm. Shimano supplies the hassle-free Deore brakes — which is a good thing, since it’s easy to get carried away on the Sentier — and the snappy-shifting 2×10 drivetrain with its chain-slap-restraining clutch derailleur.
You may be wondering what slashing 2° off the head angle and adding 20mm onto the bottom bracket height means in real terms. Well, the positive effect of the slacker head angle is more confidence, whether at speed or when descending steep, technical trails. The downside is a floppier steering feel, particularly at slow speeds. By raising the bottom bracket, the Sentier has definitely lost some of its cornering prowess; it’s harder to initiate a turn, and then it tends to fall into the corner more. Given the choice, we’d have the old geometry with the steeper head angle and the lower BB. What’s really annoying is that, although the fork travel can be reduced using spacers, you can’t actually buy the parts to do it aftermarket.
One step forward, two steps back, then, for the Sentier. If Vitus had resisted the temptation to increase travel, or simply adjusted the geometry to suit the new fork, you’d be looking at a 10/10 bike now — even taking into account the fact that there’s still no XL size, restricting its market to six-footers and under. But, the frame is light, responsive, and has a soft edge that takes the sting out of the tail. As it stands, the Sentier is still the most capable, confidence-inspiring, bike here, and remains a hell of a lot of fun to ride.