With brand new carbon-framed 140mm-travel and revised geometry, can the new 2021 Vitus Escarpe CRX eclipse its illustrious forebears?
This is the new Vitus Escarpe CRX which is the fourth iteration of this award-winning trail bike. It’s been a frequent competitor in our Trail Bike of the Year tests and has even won on one occasion.
Vitus Escarpe CRX need to know
- Brand new carbon-framed 140mm-travel trail bike available in both 27.5in and 29in wheel sizes.
- Rejigged geometry and a new XL frame size that’s genuinely large.
- Increased dropper post compatibility and size specific – small/ 125mm, medium/ 150mm, large and XL/170mm.
- There are also two aluminium models (CR and CRS) to choose from.
In this year’s test, however, the Escarpe VRX showed its age and slipped down the pecking order, but for 2021 Vitus has a raft of updates which address all of the niggles and then some. The Escarpe VRX wasn’t a heavy bike to begin with but to cut some weight Vitus has updated the main frame to carbon, hence the new CRX tag. It’s also oversized the tubing profiles to add a bit of stiffness and flared the mid-section of the seat tube to increase dropper post insertion depth. This means longer dropper posts across all frame sizes – our size large test bike featured a 170mm post that can be fully slammed, so you get a greater range of adjustment without the saddle being too high when pedalling.
Vitus has also made some tweaks to the geometry. The head angle is now a degree slacker, the bottom bracket is 15mm lower and the effective seat angle is much steeper, updates that are mirrored across all four frame sizes. The Escarpe CRX also comes with a new flip-chip integrated into the lower shock-mount – the bikes ship in the low/slack setting, but if you require 6mm more pedal clearance you can flip it to the high position, which also steepens the head angle a touch. Another change that makes a big difference to the weight distribution and subsequently the handling, is that the chainstay length is now 12mm shorter.
Since the bike is a lot lower to the ground, it feels a lot more con dent, especially when rolling into steep terrain. We had a bit of an issue with the previous bike feeling a bit perched but Vitus has also tweaked the suspension in the first portion of the travel to prevent the bike from pitching forward on steeper trails. It’s also ditched the floating shock design, favouring a more traditional four-bar suspension layout. The new suspension design is also more progressive, which means it’s more sensitive on small bumps but you still get good support in the mid-stroke for smashing turns. In this regard, the new Escarpe CRX feels like a totally different bike to the old version; it’s much more lively, has a ton of grip and you can run it softer without it bottoming too often. And because the handlebar is the same height but the seat and bottom bracket are much lower, it really does feel more confident on those steep chutes.
One of the best things about the Escarpe bikes we’ve tested in the past was the top-drawer specification and value for money and that’s no different here. For £3.5k this Escarpe CRX is incredibly well attired. It gets a stiffer Fox 36 Factory fork with the new floating axle and bleeders on the lowers to release pressure build-up. The Nukeproof Horizon bar, stem, WTB saddle and Brand-X dropper are top drawer too and Vitus has upgraded from an 11-speed to a 12-speed Shimano XT drivetrain. This is a little noisy in the lowest gears but the shifting has an incredibly light action. Interestingly, the rear derailleur is actually fitted to SRAM’s new universal derailleur hanger (UDH) rather than the Shimano’s Direct Mount. The carbon front triangle also comes with a plastic protective film, similar to Invisiframe, pre-installed to protect the sparkly glitter finish, so it will stay brighter for longer.
Vitus has a reputation for fitting top-quality Maxxis rubber and the Escarpe CRX does not disappoint. With a 2.5in Maxxis Assegai up front with a lighter EXO casing and a slightly narrower, faster- rolling 2.4in Dissector at the rear with the extra reinforced EXO+ casing, the tyre choice is what we’d choose to run ourselves.
One small detail that could easily be overlooked is the different Shimano XT disc brakes – Vitus actually fits a four-piston brake on the front and a two-piston on the rear, imitating what Magura was doing with its MT Trail Sport range – the more powerful four-piston is on the front to do most of the stopping but with a two-piston on the rear to save weight and to improve brake feel. We tend to cook rear brakes though – maybe both brands have it ass backwards?
I’m pretty sure I’ve tested every version of the Escarpe 29 over the years so I can say with confidence that the 2021 Escarpe CRX is the best one yet. Every single issue we had with the 2020 bike has been resolved – it rides better than ever and it still won’t be beaten on price. Which means right now this is a real contender for our 2021 Trail Bike of the Year award. It really is that good.