If Vitus really wants to reverse its current ratings trend, it’s going to have to update the geometry on the Escarpe 29
Since we first gave the Vitus Escarpe 29 our Trail Bike of the Year award two years ago, it has slipped down the pecking order in subsequent tests.
The reasons for its gradual fall from grace? Other bikes got better and Vitus hasn’t corrected the two big issues we have with the Escarpe 29 frame – namely, the elevated ride height of the BB and the fact that you can’t get the dropper post low enough in the frame. The latter may sound a little odd, but if there’s insufficient insertion depth for the dropper post in the frame, you end up riding every descent with the saddle too high or you have to fit a shorter dropper.
Thankfully, Vitus has addressed the seatpost insertion issue for 2020, and we had no problem slamming the 150mm Brand X Ascend post into the frame. Unfortunately, Vitus hasn’t changed the geometry – so even though the 344mm BB height is almost 10mm lower than we measured last year, it still feels high when you’re riding.
Vitus has also dropped the price of the Escarpe 29 VRS this year by £200, which is great news. To hit this price though, it has downgraded the Fox 36 Float suspension fork from a Factory model to the cheaper Performance series. You still get 150mm travel and the same sturdy 36 chassis, but the basic Grip damper lacks the independent high and low-speed compression and rebound adjustment of the Grip2 unit. It still feels composed when hammering rocky tracks, it just lacks the support and adjustment the Factory fork provided.
Out back, the Fox Float DPS with the Evol air can pumps out 136mm of travel, so just 4mm shy of claimed. It has rebound adjustment and a three-position compression lever, but we never touched the compression adjuster as the Vitus climbs so well in the fully open setting.
Like the Radon Slide Trail 9.0, the Vitus has a 12-speed Shimano drivetrain, but it seems a little quieter when pedalling in the lower gears. Shifting is also incredibly smooth and works great under load too. Unfortunately, the freehub on the DT Swiss M1700 also fell off when removing the rear wheel, all of the internals rolling about on the floor of our workshop. And while it’s easy to put back together, if you lose a single part, your ride is over before it’s begun.
The Nukeproof Horizon handlebars delivers the full 800mm width, so you can cut it down if needed. Also, the matching grips have a bit of meat to them, so that they don’t take the skin off your hands. The 150mm Brand X Ascend dropper is one of the best-value on the market. It has a stiff action, but if you replace the cheap inner cable, it really frees up.
Vitus has ditched the excellent SRAM Guide RE brakes for two-piston Shimano SLX, which is not a good move. They don’t pull to the bar like the Shimano XT disc brakes we tested recently, but they’re less powerful than the Guide RE’s they replace and the Ice-Tech pads rattle in the calipers. Vitus doesn’t make the mistake of fitting quick-rolling, hard-wearing rubber though, opting instead for a Maxxis 3C Assegai/DHR II combo, so you get amazing grip, even in slippery conditions.
While there are a few tweaks to the tyres and suspension, the latest Escarpe 29 VRS rides just like the bike we tested 12 months ago. It’s quick, light and responsive, but the high BB seems to make a bigger difference on this bike than the Radon, possibly due to the longer chainstays. On really steep roll-ins and chutes we felt more perched on this bike and a bit more nervous. In every other situation the Escarpe 29 VRS raced along with the pack, with plenty of pop from the suspension. Slam it into rock gardens and the Vitus remains unfazed too. It’s not totally dialled though, so even with the seatpost lower in the frame, we still felt perched on top, rather than totally at one with the bike.
On paper, the Escarpe 29 VRS is every bit as good value as the three other bikes in the direct-sales category. It has an excellent Fox 36 fork and the grippiest tyres in the test. And even with the slower rubber, on flat, smooth trails the Escarpe 29 VRS feels rapid, efficient and responsive. Get the Vitus on steeper terrain, however, and you really start to notice the elevated ride height of the BB and how the longer chainstays push more of your weight over the front of the bike. So if Vitus really wants to reverse its current ratings trend, it’s going to have to update the geometry on the Escarpe 29 VRS.