A previous Hardtail of the Year award winner, the Vitus Sentier still packs a lot of performance into a budget price.
In the last Hardtail of the Year test, where we review all the best hardtails on the market under £1,000, the Vitus Sentier threw shade on big names like Nukeproof and Ragley to win the Blue Riband £1,000 category. In the intervening three years much has shifted, and neither of those brands field a bike in that price range anymore.
Meanwhile, the Sentier on test here is £50 cheaper than the version that won in 2019. So what gives?
Well, actually all the Sentier bikes have gone up in price too, making the VR too expensive for this test, but such is Vitus’s competitive advantage through owners Chain Reaction Cycles/Wiggle, we were able to drop down a level to the cheapest model and sneak in under the £1k limit.
And choice is a theme that runs through the whole of the Vitus range. The Sentier is offered in two different wheel sizes, where the 27.5in bike comes in four frame sizes (from S-XL) and the 29er in three (M-XL). There are also four different spec levels and a women-specific version, with prices going from £949.99 up to £1,899.99.
So there really is a Sentier to suit everyone, but however deep your pockets, they all use the same quality double butted 6061 alloy frame, so there’s no need to compromise where the heart of the bike is concerned.
As such it gets a threaded bottom bracket which is reliable and easy to service, up-to-date Boost hub spacing front and rear with stiff bolt-through axles and a tapered head tube. All the cable routing is external, which also makes it easy for the DIY mechanic, but it’s a bit messy and some of the plastic housing could do with being trimmed.
Upgrading to a dropper post is easy thanks to a hole in the seat tube for routing the cable – just drop a 31.6mm Brand-X Ascend post into your basket at the same time you buy the bike at CRC or Wiggle and (at time of writing) it will only add £90 to the price.
Don’t be misled by the black upper tubes on the RockShox Recon SL fork. They’re heavy steel rather than alloy, something that became obvious when the magnet on our angle finder snapped into place while measuring the geometry.
There was also a rattle at the front of the Sentier, which we first thought was a loose headset, but actually turned out to be play in the fork bushings. This helps the fork move freely, but it also makes the front end feel sloppy. We didn’t detect excessive flex from the smaller diameter 32mm stanchions, but the front end definitely didn’t feel as solid and secure as the Voodoo Bizango Pro.
Conversely, it was very easy to get all the travel on the Vitus. Too easy in fact. To increase support and help maintain the bike’s geometry on steeper, rougher sections of trail we increased the air pressure to 110psi, then dropped the stem to keep the bars in the right place. This was the best compromise, and delivered a smooth ride and more stable geometry, but no amount of tweaking would get rid of the rattle.
The standout components on the Vitus are definitely the wheels and tyres. Broad WTB i30 rims help spread the footprint of the blocky Schwalbe Magic Mary and fast-rolling Hans Dampf tyres to the point you wouldn’t believe there was only a couple of millimetres difference in advertised width compared to the rubber on the Voodoo. Set-up tubeless, they give the Sentier huge amounts of cornering grip, excellent traction when climbing and braking, and play a huge role in isolating you from bumps.
It’s hard to overstate the advantage that this brings, but it also shows how a relatively cheap upgrade can transform the performance of any hardtail.
It’s great to see Vitus fit quality Shimano two-piece cranks to the Sentier, but while the rear mech and shifter are from the Japanese stable, corners are cut with the 10-speed Sunrace cassette and KMC chain. Not only does it have fewer ratios, but the lowest gear is a 46t sprocket, so we had to grind up the climbs rather than spin.
The shifting isn’t as positive as the Voodoo’s Shimano drivetrain, either, even if the freehub has slightly better engagement when getting on the gas.
Decent diameter rotors are fitted front and rear to the Sentier, but the Clarks brake levers were lazy to return and not that comfortable against our fingers. In wet conditions the pads seemed to take a moment to clean the braking surface before biting, which was slightly disconcerting.
The days of moaning about long stems and narrow bars are thankfully behind us, so it feels churlish to complain about the shape of the 780mm Nukeproof bar, but it did need to be rolled forward to stop the ends drooping down. And no amount of repositioning could make the own brand Vitus saddle match the comfort of the WTB on the Voodoo.
Once we’d achieved a decent fork set-up and sorted out the bar height, the Vitus was a lot of fun to ride. With a short 444mm reach and compact wheelbase the Sentier was easy to throw around, giving a playful handling experience that was encouraged by the smooth ride and copious grip of the Schwalbe tyres.
Even on faster trails, where the lack of length should have caused the most issues, the Vitus glided away from the Voodoo with little effort. With better tyres, the Bizango would undoubtedly close that gap, however.
The more upright riding position and slacker seat angle made it slightly harder to control traction on steep climbs compared to the Voodoo Bizango Pro, and it didn’t carry speed as efficiently on smooth ground. And you can’t easily upsize to a bigger frame because the seat tube is excessively long.
In fact, the geometry is starting to feel out of date, and Vitus really needs to increase the standover room, drop the BB height and slacken the head angle to leverage that chuckable hardtail vibe.
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Ultimately we want a bike to put a smile on our face every time we ride it, and the Vitus passes this test with flying colours. The frame is excellent quality and the ride quality is infectious, but much of the credit for the Sentier’s trail manners can be attributed to the tyres rather than the geometry or the suspension. While the rest of the package is effective in isolation, there are some big compromises in terms of the gears, brakes and fork compared to the Bizango Pro. The Sentier is still a brilliant bike that gives the Voodoo a good run for its money, but the new Bizango Pro takes sub £1k hardtails to another level. Which means it’s time for the Sentier to relinquish its crown.