Wild card almost wins the day
Last year the Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX was our test-winning bike in the 29er category of this test, but it wasn’t perfect, which is why we only scored it 9/10.
It makes a return again this year but has Vitus made the changes we suggested or is it the same bike with a fresh lick of paint?
Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX review
We’ll cut straight to the chase, the 2019 Escarpe 9 VRX is identical to the bike we tested 12 months ago. It still has a 150mm suspension fork with 140mm travel out back, pretty much identical geometry and, at 14.44kg, is no different on the scales. It does however, get a couple of component upgrades. Vitus has opted for a Shimano XT rather than a SRAM Eagle drivetrain, Fox suspension instead of RockShox and a better-quality handlebars and stem.
With all of the upgrades, the price has increased by £300 but you still get a ton of bike for your money and there’s very little we’d change in the specification. Even the tyres were the same as our Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II control combo.
Vitus has switched from a RockShox Lyrik fork and Deluxe shock to Fox Factory suspension on the new bike. The Fox 36 has the same travel as the Lyrik it replaces but feels more supportive, which tends to keep the front up on steeper descents and mitigates some of the effect of the high bottom bracket. The trade off is that the Fox fork doesn’t isolate you from the high-speed chatter as well as the Lyrik.
The Escarpe 29’s V-Link suspension feels stable when pedalling hard on the climbs, so the rear shock’s compression lever was rarely called for. It’s not quite as progressive as the YT, which does feel like you have a bit more travel to play so you can ride this bike a lot harder.
The big change to the components on the 2019 Escarpe 29 VRX is Vitus has ditched the 12-speed SRAM Eagle in favour of 11-speed Shimano XT gearing. With a 30t chain ring running the 11-46T cassette, there’s less range than Eagle but we never felt under geared like on the YT. Shifting is smoother than the E-13 cassette too and the XT clutch just seems a little bit more effective at reducing chain noise.
Vitus has stuck with the SRAM Guide RE brakes, these are the cheapest in the Guide range but in our opinion also the best. It’s still rocking the top-end DT Swiss E1700 hoops though, and these came set up tubeless ready from the factory.
The in-house Nukeproof bar and stem have been upgraded to the Horizon level, and while the stem is much sleeker and lighter the alloy handlebar, still lacks upsweep, so if you roll it back too far it does start to dip down.
Even though last year’s Escarpe 29 VRX had a tall seat mast, MBR’s average height (5’10”) testers could still ride it comfortably, but this year we struggled to reach the pedals and ground with the post at full extension. This is due to a combination of the BB being 5mm higher than last year and the post having a taller collar, so more of it sticks out of the frame. We ran the post about 10mm below full extension when riding flat trails, but if you slam it up at the bottom of a descent, you end up on tip toes.
With the tall seat mast we also had to negotiate the saddle being in the way when descending because, even fully down, it’s an inch higher than any other bike on test.
Then there’s the BB height, it’s only 5mm higher than the Scott, but it’s 23mm higher than the Stumpy Evo. A high BB would normally be terminal, but it’s not that bad because the Escarpe 29 VRX is so long in the wheelbase and is extremely well balanced. It’s only on really steep descents and roll-ins that we felt a little perched over the front and when we tried to correct by pushing our weight back, the seat just got in the way.
Last year we awarded the Escarpe 29 VRX a 9 rating, this year it’s an 8. It’s dropped down the pecking order because it’s more expensive, there’s less sizes available (Vitus has ditched the XL) and things have moved on elsewhere in terms of geometry and handling. Also after last year’s test, Vitus said it would be making changes but it seems those tweaks have been hardware based rather than alterations to the frame. The Escarpe 29 VRX is still a great bike but if Vitus wants to regain its TBOTY crown it needs to trim some height off the frame.