Wild card wins the day
2018 Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX features a raft of improvements, including upgraded suspension, an extra 5mm of rear wheel travel and a revamped specification.
Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX review
The last time we tested a Vitus Escarpe was back in 2015 and it was the 290 Pro model. We rated it 10 out of 10. For 2018 the geometry has been brought up-to-date too with a 20mm increase in the reach measurement on all four frame sizes.
One of the main changes to the Escarpe 29’s V-Link suspension is the rear shock mounting. Instead of connecting to the top of the shock, the linkage now bolts to the side of the shock body via a Trunnion mount. This creates more clearance above the shock allowing Vitus to drop the top tube and increase stand-over clearance. Vitus also tweaked the kinematics to improve the small-bump sensitivity and create more consist progression through the 140mm travel.
The Escapre 290 Pro we tested three years ago came with a 150mm RockShox Pike but Vitus has upgraded this to a Lyrik. Sure the Lyrik is 200g heavier, but it’s more sensitive and the damping feels more composed when you’re charging down rough sections of trail. The only annoying thing about this is the Maxle Stealth axle, which requires an Allen key tool to get the front wheel out.
For £2,600 the Escarpe 29 VRX has an absolutely blinding specification. It has most of a SRAM GX Eagle groupset, the only thing not GX is the crank, which is actually a better Descendant carbon model! Vitus also fits an MRP chain device for a belt and braces approach to chain retention.
SRAM also provides the Guide RE brakes and the Escarpe was the only bike on test with a 200mm front rotor. Both levers felt a little spongy when we got this bike but that was because there was no braking surface left on the pads – seems the previous magazine testers didn’t want to give it up. Fitting new pads restored the positive lever feel we’ve come to love on the RE brake.
One area where bike manufacturers can, and do, save money is with the tyres; fitting in-house or cheaper rubber. Vitus has done no such thing, the Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR tyres combo featuring the top-end 3C rubber, where the front the 2.5inch WT (wide trail) option for extra cushioning and grip.
With such quality rubber you’d think Vitus would save money on the wheelset but again these top-end DT Swiss E1700 hoops are first rate, and come setup tubeless ready from the factory. The only iffy component is the Nukeproof alloy handlebar, it lacks upsweep, so you can’t really roll it back without the ends dipping down.
Like a lot of manufacturers, Vitus has upgraded the dropper post this year to a 150mm unit, but unfortunately it hasn’t chopped anything off the seat tube to accommodate the additional length of the post. This means at full extension the saddle was around 15mm too high for MBR’s average (5’10”) testers, and it’s going to be much more if you’re upsizing from a medium frame. Vitus did say it will be correcting this on 2019 bikes but a quick fix now is to either swap the 150mm Reverb for a 125mm, or buy a 150mm X-Fusion Manic dropper post, which is about 20mm shorter overall than the Reverb.
The bottom bracket on the Vitus is also a tad too high. It not that noticeable because the Escarpe 29 is so long but on steep roll-ins we did feel a little pitched forward over the front. Normally you can make little corrections to the BB height with off-set bushings but with the Trunnion mount you can only fit one in the lower eyelet.
The rest of the geometry figures are spot on. The wheelbase is the longest here and the head angle is reasonably slack, so when charging the Escarpe feels incredibly stable. It’s not quite as solid as the Whyte in turns but the RockShox Lyrik fork is way more controlled when barrelling down rocky trails.
The Vitus Escarpe 29 VRX has a real urgency about it and when you combine that with the stunning build, it’s a shoo in for 29inch Trail Bike of the Year. However, this comes with a caveat. We haven’t given the Vitus Escarpe 29 a perfect 10 because it’s bit too tall in the seat tube, the BB is a touch too high and it’s the heaviest bike on test, mostly due to the Double Down??? reinforced casing tyres. It is however, the cheapest bike on test by almost £150, which means you do have a bit of money to play with those corrective components and some lighter parts.