The Escarpe is Vitus’ do-it-all trial bike, with the brand claiming it’s ready to kick up dust on fast summer rides, while encouraging you on when you hit wet, rocky technical descents. With the rear wheel enjoying 140mm of travel, and the front getting 150, this carbon machine certainly looks the part. Vitus’ engineers say they’ve built the bike to be predictable and consistent in order to deal with the dynamic nature of mountain biking, while efficiency is also key on a bike designed to be ridden all day. The CRS model is the third tier of four Escarpe models, and the brand offers the bike in both 29in and 27.5in versions.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS frame and suspension
A true 4-bar suspension layout does its job of separating brake and suspension forces. Vitus uses a T800-level carbon in the Escarpe for both front and rear ends. This might not be the highest-modulus carbon commonly found (T1000 is used on some higher-end bikes). However, it contributes towards keeping the weight to 14.6kg – not light in itself, but considering the build supplied, not heavy either. The frame uses a standard 4-bar (Horst) linkage, whereby there’s a pivot on the chainstay, near the rear axle, to help Vitus manipulate the suspension’s kinematics. Vitus has designed the bike to be efficient under pedalling, while also improving small-bump sensitivity. This, it says, contributes towards lower fatigue levels.
There’s limited mud clearance with the chunky rubber fitted. The Escarpe has a moderately low-slung top tube, boosting standover clearance. Inside the front triangle, there’s space for a single water bottle, with the shock sitting vertically by the kinked seat tube. It’s kinked in order to provide the pivot point location for the rocker link. The shock sits on a spar above the BB area, linking the seat tube and down tube. Frame protection extends along the chainstays and up into the inside edge of the seatstays, while around half the down tube receives this rubberised protection, too. Cables run inside the down tube, and exit under the belly of the bike, before running inside the chainstays. The threaded BB shell will appeal to many.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS geometry
The CRS is the third-tier Escarpe bike. Headline figures suggest a bike that’s well-suited to the rigours of chunky trail riding. The head angle sits at 64.7 degrees (measured), which is moderately slack, while the reach ranges from 437 to 505mm across the four sizes – relatively long for such a bike. This, in turn, gives a fairly long front end, a boost to the bike’s stability. The effective seat angle steepens with larger-sized frames, ranging from 77 to 78 degrees over the four offered sizes. This is designed to bring your hips nicely over the cranks for an effective seated pedalling position, and ensures taller riders’ weight isn’t too far behind the bottom bracket when the seat is raised. At my saddle height of 750mm, I measured my seat angle (size large) at 77.1 degrees. Chainstays are consistent, at 440mm, across all sizes. Vitus has fitted the bike with a geometry-adjusting chip, at the base of the shock. Bikes are designed around the ‘Low’ setting, though the ‘High’ setting steepens angles by 0.5 degrees and raises the BB by 6mm. Because Vitus has designed the bike around the Low setting, I kept it largely in this setting and the review reflects the bike’s performance in this mode.
|Seat angle (degrees)||77||77||77.5||78|
|Head angle (degrees)||65||65||65||65|
|Seat tube (mm)||380||410||440||480|
|Top tube (mm)||566||595||619||643|
|Head tube (mm)||100||110||120||130|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||35||35||35||35|
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS specifications
140mm of travel is controlled by a RockShox Deluxe Select+ shock. There’s no doubting that Vitus has focused on two areas when speccing the bike. First up is performance on rough, technical terrain – seen in the inclusion of some fairly burly parts. The second is value – at £3,199.99, this is one of the cheaper bikes in the Trail Bike of the Year category, and yet the spec list does not reflect this. Suspension comes from RockShox. There’s a Deluxe Select+ shock, with a lockout switch and rebound control, and a Lyrik fork, with 150mm travel.
There’s no doubting the RockShox Lyrik’s descending capabilities. This is the Select model with the more basic Charger RC damper, though on the trail you’d be hard-pressed to realise, especially if you’re not back-to-back testing the different dampers. There’s a full Shimano SLX drivetrain, including chain and cassette – something other brands ‘hide’ cost savings in. This is matched with a pair of SLX brakes – a four-piston caliper up front and two-piston at the rear.
Nukeproof’s Neuron wheels are broad and offer a quick pick-up. Vitus has gone to sibling brand Nukeproof for its wheelset, grabbing a set of the wide-rimmed Neutron V2 wheels. These are wrapped in Maxxis tyres – a 2.5in WT Assegai at the front and a 2.4in WT Dissector at the rear. The Assegai gets the EXO casing, while the Dissector gets the more puncture-proof EXO+ casing – a nice addition. Nukeproof provides the bulk of the finishing kit, though Brand-X accounts for the Ascend dropper, with 125mm (Small), 150mm (Medium) or 170mm drop (Large and XL).
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS ride impressions
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS climbing performance
Climbs are the Escarpe’s Achilles heel – so sit, spin and enjoy the views. To get the best out of the Escarpe up a hill, you’ve got to sit and spin. During testing, I tried the bike with sag ranging from 25 to 30 per cent, and found, overall, that I preferred the bike when it sat deeper into its travel – mostly because its descending capabilities just got better and better. However, this meant the Escarpe’s climbing performance was compromised. Sat pedalling, the suspension is static enough to not cause any particular issues, but if you start to pedal more enthusiastically, it bobs, robbing power and leading to a slightly sluggish feeling. When you’re stood up, the suspension does wallow, even with less sag. On steeper pitches, there’s a hint of increased suspension sag as your weight moves rearward, but fortunately the fairly steep 77-degree seat angle prevents the bike from feeling too lazy.
A full Shimano SLX drivetrain provides reliable shifting. All this isn’t to say it’s akin to hauling a super enduro bike uphill, but if a trail bike is about all-round versatility, the Escarpe might not be the best example. Still, that willingness for the rear suspension to move does mean traction levels are high, with the rear Maxxis Dissector able to claw its way up any ascent, and the suspension’s freedom enabling the wheel to track the ground well. Fortunately, while you might not get many KOMs, the Escarpe is a comfortable place to sit and spin, with a steep seat angle and roomy front end that doesn’t feel cramped. Vitus’ engineers have also given larger bikes a steeper seat angle to maintain an effective position over the cranks. If you really want to eke out every ounce of climbing performance, you can pop it into its steeper geometry position to sharpen the angles and raise the BB a touch. It’s also friendlier with 25 per cent sag – the suspension is firmer and less prone to bob under regular pedalling efforts. However, it’s still no match for the most efficient mountain bikes out there, and I found this compromised descending performance.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS descending performance
The Escarpe loves to be muscled down steep terrain. Downhill is where the Escarpe shines. With 25 per cent sag, I found the rear wheel didn’t track the ground quite so well, and there was a disparity in feel between the excellent Lyrik fork and the relatively basic-feeling Deluxe Select shock. Reducing the air pressure may have impacted on climbing performance, and to some extent the reactivity of the bike on traverses to pedalling inputs, too. However, there was a marked improvement on overall bike feel. The suspension is incredibly supple, soaking up anything the trail wants to throw at you. High-frequency chatter disappears under the broad tyres, mounted to the wide Nukeproof rims, reducing buzz that fatigues, and helping you maintain speed along the trail.
The Assegai is one of the best aggressive dry-weather tyres out there. Repeated medium-sized hits are controlled well by mid-stroke support that comes a little deeper in its travel than some other bikes. On descents, this mid-stroke area is critical to a bike’s performance, because it’s where it spends a lot of time. The shock helps the bike recover well over multiple hits, and the kinematic’s support prevents the bike from bogging down and losing its controlled feel. When you do get the bike right to the end of its travel, it recovers well, and the chassis never feels as though it squirms under pressure. This helps the Escarpe feel as if it has more than its 140mm of travel, further enforcing the feeling this is a bike built to descend.
Nukeproof’s cockpit is a nice spec choice. At the front, the 150mm Lyrik Select proved itself, and catapulted the Escarpe into our Trail Bike of the Year top three while rattling through BikePark Wales’ rocky test tracks. It feels unshakeable, while the chassis’ steadfast nature refuses to make the bushings bind. This makes the front end reassuringly accurate, without any harshness that might work its way to the bars. Its stroke is smooth, and it remains fairly well propped up in its travel, maintaining the bike’s impressive dynamic geometry. Drop the Escarpe into steep terrain and it’s all good, too. The four-piston SLX front brake is powerful, the fork supportive and the rear suspension active, enabling the two-piston rear brake to do its job.
While the front brake gets four pistons, the rear only gets two. The two-piston rear brake would be improved by having another two pistons. On long, steep tracks, the vented pads, as seen on the Merida One-Forty 700, may help manage heat better. Braking traction is good, thanks to the four-bar suspension design, enabling the Dissector to cut into the dirt as best it can. Through corners, the Escarpe is well at home. The reach, combined with the moderately slack head angle and 45mm stem, work together to provide stable handling on flat corners and through berms. On rolling flowy terrain, it perhaps doesn’t pump and generate speed quite as well as some, with that higher sag figure. However, if you’re on smoother trails, adding a bit of pressure helps give the Escarpe a little more zip. There are areas that could be improved, though. The bike was more rattly than others, which some may find distracting. Rear mud clearance could be improved – the tyres are wide, and in claggy conditions, the rear end can clog up.
How does the Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS compare to the YT Jeffsy Core 3?
The Jeffsy is YT’s do-it-all bike. Both the Vitus Escarpe CRS and the YT Jeffsy Core 3 feature carbon front and rear triangles, as well as offering excellent value for money. The Jeffsy has a more poppy, playful manner than the Escarpe, which loves to plough through terrain at warp speed. With more air in the shock, the Vitus is playful too, but the quality of the Fox Float X shock on the YT enables the bike to exploit its full descending capability while operating with a bit more air-sprung support. The Vitus is, though, better overall down a hill, with a more aggressive shape and a super-smooth bottomless feel that holds speed well and deals deftly with technical terrain. The upright seating position makes climbing perfectly comfortable, so long as you pedal in circles.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRS bottom line
With super-smooth suspension, the Escarpe is flat-out fast down hills. While I’ve picked holes in the Vitus’ climbing performance, I feel strongly it’s a great trail bike, especially if you’re a descent-focused rider. Set up for the terrain, it’s smooth, composed and confident across a broad range of trail types, from fast rocky straights to steep loamy tracks in the woods.