A previous MBR Hardtail of the Year award winner, the Vitus Sentier 29 still packs a lot of performance into a budget price.
There are a ton of parallels between the Vitus Sentier 29 and the cheaper Nucleus 29 VR in the sub £700 category. Both are the entry-level models in their respective range and both are offered in two different wheel sizes, where the 27.5in bikes come in four frame sizes (from S-XL) and the 29ers in three (M-XL).
Zoom in closer and you’ll notice that both also have tapered head tubes, threaded BB shells for improved durability and internal routing for dropper seatposts. That’s not to say the frames are identical however; the Nucleus uses plain gauge tubing, while the Sentier gets double butted tubing profiles to save weight and enhance the ride feel.
The most obvious difference then when stepping up to the Sentier is that the frame has bolt-thru rear dropouts with Boost 148mm hub spacing, which improves both wheel strength and security. You also get ISCG tabs on the BB shell for fitting a chain device.
The bikes also have slightly different geometry. The Sentier gets a slacker head angle and seat angle and also a fractionally lower BB height. Taken together these subtle changes instantly make the Sentier feel more composed and capable.
Having a 130mm travel RockShox Recon Silver fork also makes the Sentier much better able to handle the hits than the cheaper Vitus Nucleus. The fork is still no match for the RockShox 35 on the Voodoo Bizango Pro though as it lacks the same leave of support.
The range of rebound damping adjustment is impressive, running the full gamut from bullet fast to paint-drying slow. As such there are only a couple of clicks that are genuinely usable. The compression/lock out dial is also very binary, so you either run the fork open or closed. Also don’t be fooled by the black upper tubes on Recon SL fork, they look cool but they’re heavy steel rather than hard anodised alloy.
Since we last tested the Sentier 29 there have been some subtle updates to the specification. The 10 speed SunRace 11-46t cassette has been replaced by a Shimano Deore, but the gear ratios are identical so you still have to grind up climbs rather than spin. Also with 10 gears rather than 12, the jumps between some of the cogs are more pronounced than the 12-speed Shimano drivetrain on the Voodoo or SRAM SX on the On One Scandal.
Clarks also seem to have sorted the brake levers, because when we last tested them they were lazy to return and uncomfortable when pulling hard. Now the lever action feels light and fast, and with the lever reach wound in a little, the Clarks brakes also offered good modulation.
The tyre specification has also changed slightly. You still get the blocky Schwalbe Magic Mary up front for railing turns, but the Hans Dampf rear has been replaced by a Nobby Nic. Set-up tubeless, the wide WTB i30 rims increase the contact patch of both tyres to improve traction and control. As such, the Vitus gives a more comfortable ride than the Voodoo, but still pales in comparison to the Calibre.
With higher gearing, a slacker seat angle and a more upright riding position, due to the shorter reach, the Vitus struggles to keep up with the Voodoo on steeper climbs. It also drags its heels a bit on flatter, smooth trails. Point the Vitus down anything steep, or rough, however, and it instantly starts to roll away. And that’s almost entirely down to the top quality Schwalbe rubber giving you the confidence to release your grip on the brakes and let gravity work its magic. It helps too that the Sentier frame feels more compact, and more forgiving, so it’s easier to chuck the Vitus around, change lines at a moments notice, or simply snap out of a tight berm.
It’s not perfect though. The tall seat tube and front derailleur guides make the bike instantly feel dated and when brands like Calibre and Voodoo are putting together such competitively priced bikes, Vitus really needs to step it up if it wants to retain its stranglehold on the entry-level hardtail market.
One year on and the Vitus Sentier 29 still managed to put a smile on our face every time we rode it. It’s got poised handling so you can instantly shred on it, the top quality Schwalbe tyres really elevating the ride quality to the next level. It’s not without compromise however. The gear range is limited and the fork could offer more support. Also with bikes like the On One Scandal SX and Calibre Line-T3 now in the mix and both rocking dropper posts, the Vitus starts to lose some of its appeal, even if it still feels like a really good quality bike overall.