Best Hardtail of the Year under £500!
MBR Editor’s Choice 2019: Vitus Nucleus VR, £499.99
Let’s dispense with the introduction and cut straight to the chase. If you’ve got £500 to spend on a new mountain bike the Vitus Nucleus VR is the only bike you need to consider.
It’s been our Hardtail of the Year in the sub £500 category four years straight and the way it’s racked up that string of titles makes it a truly exceptional package. Not once was the test decided on points, instead the Nucleus VR always delivered a series of dramatic first-round knockouts.
Make no mistake though, the Nucleus isn’t just a showboating crowd pleaser. It’s the complete package that has systematically out-classed its rivals in every single department. With meaty WTB tyres, a sorted cockpit, powerful hydraulic brakes and a slick-shifting 2x drivetrain, all hanging from a finely sculpted alloy frame, that wouldn’t look out of place on a bike costing double the money, the Vitus really has no shortcomings.
It’s light and agile so you can effortlessly bob and weave around tightly spaced trees, but it also packs a mighty punch so it’s just as comfortable blasting down moorland bridleways at breakneck speed. It can roll with the punches too, because it’s the only bike at this price point to come with an air-sprung, hydraulic damped fork. The main advantage of the air-spring being that you can adjust the fork to accurately match the rider’s weight with nothing more than a shock pump.
It’s the bike you want in your corner not matter what challenges you face, because the Nucleus VR will always have your back.
What’s new for 2020?
Incremental progression is what keeps the Vitus Nucleus VR at the cutting edge of development. Last year it was a small change to wider rims to help support the higher volume tyres while offering better tubeless compatibility. This year, Vitus has raised the bar by 15mm; delivering an SR Suntour fork with bolt-thru lowers that simultaneously increase steering precision and wheel security in one fail swoop. Given that Vitus already had a best in class fork, it spells another deathblow to any brand set on challenging this undisputed £500 prize-fighter.
Vitus Nucleus 27 VR: sub £500 hardtail of the year
What can we say about the Vitus Nucleus 27 VR that’s not been said? As winner of this test four years in a row, its accolades say everything.
With modern geometry and the best build kit for the money, no other bike in the sub £500 category even comes close to rivalling it’s supremacy, the attitude and ride quality of the Vitus having more in common with the £1K bikes.
And just as other bands start to creep up, Vitus always seems to be one step ahead. Last year the Nucleus frame saw major revisions; like lightweight butted tubing, which, combined with updated geometry made this little ripper slacker, longer and even more capable than before. Vitus also added a much-needed size XL, so taller rides don’t need to settle for second best.
This year Vitus hasn’t messed with its winning formula, but it’s still inching ahead with wider profile WTB rims, offering improved tubeless performance, and better compatibility with the latest crop of wider tyres.
It’s the air-sprung, hydraulic damped Suntour XCR fork that really gives the Vitus an advantage over the other bikes here though. Not only is it a breeze to adjust for different rider weights, as you only need a shock pump, the fork also eats up chunder better while keeping the front wheel firmly clued to the ground for traction.
The ability to fine tune the rebound damping and air pressure mean you can transform the attitude of the Vitus in seconds: run the fork firmer for XC rides or slow it down for sending jumps.
Single-ring drivetrains like those on the £750 bikes haven’t trickled down to the £500 bikes, yet, but that hasn’t stopped Vitus chipping away at some of the clutter, opting for a lighter, more reliable twin-ring chainset.
And when a bike rides this good you need reliable stoppers to reel in your speed, and the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are just the ticket. Factor in the meaty WTB tyres and the Vitus Sentier ticks all the boxes and creates a few of its own.
As four-time winner of our sub £500 Hardtail of the Year award, the Nucleus 275 VR has singlehandedly changed our expectations of what’s possible at this price point. Nothing needs changing or upgrading straight out of the box, which is exactly how it arrives. But make no mistake, this isn’t just the best value bike here, it’s also by far the best performer. So much so, that in all of our back-to-back testing the Vitus always felt like it was in a class of its own. So to say that it’s simply standout, is something of an understatement.