The 140mm-travel Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX has had a revamp for 2022, with a new frame promising better suspension kinematics, giving the bike better climbing performance and a fun-loving confidence on the way down. At the same time, geometry has been tweaked to bring it up to speed, earning the bike a place on the list for our 2022 Trail Bike of the Year award. Vitus is part of the Chain Reaction Cycles/Wiggle family, so its direct-sales model should mean good value for money too.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX frame and suspension
The threaded bottom bracket shell will please mechanics. Vitus uses a full T700 carbon frame on the Escarpe 29 CRX. The carbon front triangle has been designed to give the right blend of stiffness and compliance, with the tubes increasing in volume to improve on the stiffness of old, said to give the bike better tracking and stability on technical terrain. To protect the carbon, the down tube features a rubber bumper, while the chainstays have a soft rubber shroud to keep noise levels down. Cables are threaded through the frame, and mechanics will appreciate the threaded bottom bracket shell.
Cables are routed internally through the T700 carbon frame. Suspension comes in the form of a 4-bar linkage, doling out 140mm of travel at the rear, paired with a burly 150mm fork up front.] This version of the Escarpe gets a straighter leverage curve, boosting mid-stroke support for the shock and giving a poppy ride that can be easily pumped through terrain. At the same time, early-stroke sensitivity is said to be improved, which aids grip.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX geometry
Geometry has been considered carefully. The reach is long and the head tube angle slack. Vitus has clearly spent time thinking about geometry and how different-sized bikes need tweaks to optimise setup. As such, larger bikes get a steeper seat angle, to account for the longer distance between bottom bracket and saddle when fully extended – because the seat tube angle is slacker than the (effective) seat angle, this difference needs accounting for.
The geometry befits the attitude Vitus seems to be promoting for the bike. The reach figures are long, coming in at 478mm on a size large. Combined with a slack 65-degree head angle, there should be plenty of high-speed stability. This is in conjunction with a bottom bracket that drops 35mm below the axles – nice and low. Seat angles are set at between 77 and 78 degrees across the four sizes of bike. At my saddle height of 71cm, I measured my seat angle at 77.5 degrees on a large. Vitus provides a geometry chip with the bike. Figures quoted here are for the low setting, with the high setting adding 0.5 degrees to the head and seat angles and 6mm to the bottom-bracket height.
|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 CRX specifications
Suspension is provided by a 150mm Fox 36 Factory with GRIP2 damper up-front. Vitus has hit the value nail on the head with this bike, with an array of components from the higher reaches of its respective suppliers’ ranges. Suspension comes in the form of a 150mm Fox 36 Factory, with the top-spec GRIP2 damper and slippery Kashima coating on the stanchions. This is mirrored in the shock, a Factory-level Float DPS.
Wheels on my test bike come from Nukeproof, with a pair of Horizon alloy hoops. Vitus lists DT Swiss M1900 wheels, but note that specs can change with component availability. They’re wrapped in a pair of high-spec Maxxis tyres, an Assegai at the front and Dissector at the back, in 2.5in and 2.4in widths respectively.
Gearing comes courtesy of Shimano’s XT family. Gears and brakes come from Shimano’s XT line. Nukeproof and Brand-X finishing kit finds its way onto the build too.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX ride impressions
This bike was tested as part of our 2022 Trail Bike of the Year test. It was pitted against seven of the best trail bikes, with travel ranging from 120 to 140mm at the rear, and prices from £3,299 to £3,850. The bikes were tested all over the UK, from long, steep tracks in South Wales to my regular testing loops in the Forest of Dean, fast rocky tracks in the Tweed Valley and the fresh-cut loam and rocky outcrops of the Cairngorm National Park. Bikes were tested back to back, with short repeated loops ensuring differences were noticed easily. An extensive programme of workshop weighing, measuring and general poking about made sure that every little detail was explored.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX climbing performance
The Escarpe holds its own on the climbs. At 14.7kg, featuring a big fork and with a pair of fairly sturdy tyres, one might expect the Escarpe to be a bit of a bind on the climbs. However, while it might not have the zip of a taught 120mm downcountry bike, I didn’t feel left behind when I jumped on the bike on group rides. The suspension, even in its open mode, doesn’t bob as much as one might assume, and with the steep seat angle placing your hips nicely over the cranks, it’s possible to sit and spin, delivering your watts to the rear wheel, rather than using them to squish and squash the shock.
Rear suspension is taken care of by a Fox Float DPS Factory shock. The Dissector rear tyre manages to roll moderately efficiently on hardpacked trails too, so on those longer tarmac or fire-road drags, it doesn’t feel like you’re wading through treacle. Of course, more spirited climbs can induce some movement at the rear, but the Fox DPS’ compression switch is easily flicked from the saddle, into either the Medium or Firm settings. On rougher singletrack climbs, I occasionally switched to Medium to ensure traction was maintained, but more often I popped it into Firm on tarmac climbs.
When it comes to technical climbs, the Escarpe gives few excuses. The ample front-end length, even with the steep seat tube, means there’s room to move about over the bike, balancing traction and front-wheel accuracy. At the same time, the suspension, with its supple early stroke, adds to grip levels. The 30t chainring and 51t sprocket on the cassette means you’ve virtually no excuse to get off and push.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX descending performance
Downhill, the Escarpe is a confident performer. With a long reach and a burly Fox 36 sat behind the wide bars and stubby stem, and the aggressively treaded Assegai wrapped around the broad Nukeproof wheel, the Escarpe oozes confidence when you sit on the bike and point it towards a descent. At 65 degrees, the head angle might not be enduro-bike slack, but it certainly pushes the front wheel well ahead of the bars, and combines with the long reach and low BB to give ample stability and control on steep and loose surfaces.
The stiff fork and grippy Assegai combine here, giving you confidence to muscle control through the bars, with the knowledge that the fork isn’t going to twist and twang under you, or the tyre give up on grip in nearly every situation posed.
The wide Nukeproof Horizon bar and spot-on geometry contribute to smooth handling. Drop the bike into a steep, stepped catch berm and the rear end doesn’t fold in half, preventing you needing to struggle to control a wildly changing geometry. Instead, it dips progressively into its travel, delivering you to the exit calmly and confidently. When it comes to flatter, faster tracks, the Escarpe proves a bit of a mixed bag. Smooth trail-centre tracks can be dispatched with speed.
The Escarpe feels good tucking and twisting from corner to corner, and there’s enough support in the mid-stroke to push against when you want to generate pop over errant rocks. Small chatter is also dealt with well by the supple rear end. It’s not as peppy as the Trek Top Fuel, but you’d hardly expect it to be so.
An aggressively treaded Maxxis Assegai front tyre is coupled with a Nukeproof Horizon wheel. With its big tyres and fork, 140/150mm of travel and long geometry, you’d expect the bike to excel over fast and rough DH-style tracks. It’s smooth and composed, and with sorted geometry you’re encouraged to aim for the rougher lines and take a little less care over line choice compared to ‘smaller’ bikes. Over the roughest tracks, though, I found the rear wheel started to hang up a little over the harshest bumps.
The rear tyre is a Maxxis Dissector. While the suspension is more linear, perhaps a touch more progression at the rear would help give the back end that little extra oomph when really pushing it on the DH-style tracks that the rest of the bike encourages you to ride. I also found that the Fox 36 simply isn’t as smooth as the Lyrik on the Nukeproof Reactor 290 Alloy Pro. This led to increased arm pump and less comfort. Grip levels aren’t compromised, but if you’re looking for a super-supple ride, the current 36, in my experience, doesn’t deliver in the way the equivalent RockShox fork does.
Furthermore, Fox’s floating bolted axle, when combined with wobbly hub end caps on the Nukeproof hubs, is frustrating to live with, even if there’s theoretically less fork binding going on. On steep descents, I liked the power and bite afforded by the four-piston Shimano XT front brake. However, on longer Tweed Valley descents, I found the two-piston rear brake suffered from heat build-up, leading to brake fade and arm pump.
The rear Shimano XT brake was prone to heat build-up in testing. In terms of kit, the Shimano XT drivetrain leaves nothing to complain about. There’s snappy, accurate shifting under power and when caked in mud – it’s one of my favourite groupsets. I also liked the Nukeproof Horizon wheels on my test bike. They’re broad enough to give a good volume to the tyres, while hub pick-up is exceptionally fast. However, as noted above, the wobbly front hub end caps are a real-world frustration.
The EXO sidewall of the front tyre doesn’t quite do the fork or tread justice – while I had no problems in testing, a thicker carcass will offer a more durable ride. At the back, the EXO+ carcass is a fair choice, though the Escarpe does encourage you to push your limits on technical terrain, so while a DoubleDown carcass might slow performance uphill, it’d help on the descents.
How does the Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX compare to the Kona Process 134 DL and Nukeproof Reactor 290 Alloy Pro?
The Vitus tops its most direct rivals on longer days out. In the context of Trail Bike of the Year, the natural competitors are the Kona Process 134 and the Nukeproof Reactor, because all three give the air of being mini-enduro bikes, with supple suspension and burly components. The Vitus climbs better than both other bikes, with less pedal bob and faster rolling speeds. It sits a touch higher in its travel and lets you get away with more energetic pedalling before you end up reaching for the lockout. Of these three bikes, it’d be the one I’d choose for a longer day out in the hills.
However, it’s not quite as plush on the descents. Both the Kona and Nukeproof seem to deal with harsher hits a touch better, feeling more progressive towards the end of their stroke. You could, of course, add volume spacers to the shock to improve this on the Vitus. However, the Nukeproof’s piggyback Super Deluxe shock is almost always going to feel better than the smaller-volume Fox DPX shock, as well as remaining consistent for longer on prolonged, hot descents.
Vitus Escarpe 29 CRX bottom line
Vitus has delivered a versatile bike with stellar spec, that’s ready to be pushed hard. The Escarpe proved to be a good bike. The geometry is absolutely spot-on, and the sturdy fork and grippy Assegai up front, mounted on a broad rim, encourage you to find steep, technical descents. It climbs well, too, for a bike with enduro leanings. This meant I rarely found myself floundering midway up a hill, wishing I was on a lighter, faster bike.
However, if you’re looking for a trail bike that’ll tackle the odd enduro stage, in its stock form the rear end just loses out to the smoothness of the Reactor from Nukeproof. I also found the fork not as compliant as I’d like and the two-piston rear brake prone to heat build-up. Of course, lighter riders, or those not looking to hit the gnarliest tracks, will find the Escarpe more than up to the job, while providing an absolutely killer spec for the money.