Best Hardtail of the Year under £1,000!
MBR Editor’s Choice 2019: Vitus Sentier 275 VR, £1,099.99
The £1k class of our annual hardtail bonanza is always hotly contested, but 2019 was one of the closest tests yet. Six bikes were quickly whittled down to three; the Nukeproof Scout and Ragley Marley duking it out with the Vitus Sentier to establish pole position.
From the very first ride we felt right at home on the Sentier. And even after repeated back-to-back tests with the Ragley and Nukeproof, the Vitus never released that initial grip it had over us. Its playful character really made us want to rip, and whether pumping or pedalling it always rewarded us generously for our effort.
One key reason for the best in class ride quality is the top quality frame. The other reason is that by cutting out the middleman, Vitus is able to pump up the specification on the Sentier without raising the price.
As such, it had the best fork in test. A massive advantage on any bike but often defining on a hardtail. The bigger negative chamber of the Debonair spring increasing small-bump sensitivity and traction, while simultaneously adding mid-stroke support to the 140mm RockShox Sector RL fork.
There were no shortcomings in the rest for build kit either. The 2.6in Schwalbe tyres offer predictable traction in a verity of conditions, the two-finger Shimano brakes increasing control further without any of the bite-point migration problems that plague the more expensive Shimano units.
In fact, the only minor complaint with the specification on the Vitus, and it’s one that’s common to most bikes in this category – is that the disc brake rotors are only compatible with organic pads, not the harder wearing sintered metal verity.
What’s new for 2020?
The most obvious change to the Sentier 275 VR is that move to a bright red Marzocchi Bomber Z2 fork. It also gets a dropper post fitted as standard and the drivetrain switches from Shimano 11-speed to SRAM Eagle extending the gear range to include a 50t cog for winching up the steepest gradients. Unfortunately the price has creep up too, and with the latest Vitus Sentier 275 VR now costing £1,099.99, sadly it won’t be returning to defend its sub £1k Hardtail of the Year title in 2020.
Vitus Sentier 27 VR review
Successfully defending its 2018 title, the handsome Vitus Sentier 27 VR defies its sub £1,000 price point with the best spec, geometry and overall finish.
Heavily revised in 2018, the bike formerly known as the VR+ gets a few tweaks for 2019, including new tubeless-ready wheels shod with 2.6in Schwalbe tyres – a switch from a SRAM to a (largely) Shimano drivetrain and, most importantly, a suspension fork upgrade.
One of only two bikes in the sub £1,000 hardtail category to benefit from RockShox’s lighter, Debonair-equipped Sektor RL fork, the increased small bump sensitivity and feel over its rivals is instantly tangible.
Test conditions were tough for hardtails, with the dry, loose ground, but sending the Sentier never felt anything but assured with the 140mm travel fork giving plenty of control on the loose dirt and recovering well from repeated hits and braking bumps. The extra feel and suppleness afforded by the Sektor’s bigger negative air chamber makes it a big improvement over last year’s Recon-kitted winner.
With comfortable lock-on grips, the 780mm Nukeproof handlebars and 50mm stem makes for a near-perfect cockpit. Vitus has switched from running the class-leading Maxxis EXO 3C rubber to Schwalbe for 2019 but with a soft compound Magic Mary up front and a fast-rolling Nobby Nic out back, we had the confidence to hit downhill turns hard with no penalty on the climbs, helped by a wide range cassette that includes a 46t get-out-of-jail-free cog.
The Shimano Deore two-finger levers give solid single-digit braking and tend to be more reliable than the more expensive models further up the range. We were a little disappointed that Vitus had fitted cheap resin pad-only rotors though — if you want to run sintered pads in winter you’ll need to spend around £35 to upgrade the rotors.
The Vitus is one of those bikes you can just jump on and feel at home right away. The proportions feel spot-on and the confidence to stay off the brakes soon saw us hucking gung-ho into rocky chutes and charging into turns thanks to the poise and assured feel from the fork and tyres.
All-day rides won’t be a chore either. The Sentier has plenty of pace on the flat and won’t wear you out on the climbs thanks to excellent low-speed control that lets you focus on your cadence, not your balance.
You can only buy this bike direct from Chain Reaction Cycles or Wiggle. This means a massive cost saving for the suppliers and it's evident in build kit. The only downside is you can’t try before you buy at your local bike shop — so you’ll just have to trust us when we say that you’ll love it. It’s a playful bike that really wants to rip; it makes you want to stoppie into turns and pull wheelies on the way out. It’s a whole load of fun. Just upgrade those rotors for the winter and you’ve got a do-it-all bike that will do it all year long.