The latest Vitus Sentier is another example of the brand’s ability to combine quality parts and impressive value. Vitus has proved itself adept at knowing where to spend money to enhance the ride quality of its simple, yet sleek-looking, compliant Sentier frame. Although the Sentier’s build still leaves some room for improvement, Vitus has ensured this range of bikes has all levels of experience, riding style and rider height catered for. If you’re after a hardtail mountain bike on a £1,000 budget with decent geometry and future-proof upgrade potential, the Sentier 29 should be on your shortlist. That combination of positives saw it land a place in an eight-bike category for our 2023 Budget Mountain Bike of the Year award.
Vitus Sentier 29 frame and specification
A 130mm-travel Recon Silver RL fork provides traction and comfort at the front. The Sentier 29 uses a 6061 T6 double-butted aluminium tubeset and is built around a 130mm-travel RockShox Recon Silver RL fork with RC damper. The test bike sits at the bottom of the extensive Sentier model range and has just three sizing options, from medium to extra large. For riders of 160-170cm stature and those who prefer smaller 27.5in wheels, there’s the Vitus Sentier 27 (available in sizes S-XL). For a bit more cash, there’s the Sentier VR, VRS and VRX, ranging from £1,249.99 up to £1,899.99. Here, you can expect fancier components but all bolted to the same frame.
The externally routed cables sit beneath the top tube, and feature interrupted outer cables. As in previous years, the frame’s additional features include cable guides for a front derailleur and ISCG tabs around the bottom bracket to attach a chain guide (though with a clutch on the rear derailleur, you shouldn’t need one). There’s an entry port for a dropper post cable should you want to upgrade in the future. There is just one set of bottle bosses, on the down tube, with none on the seat tube, meaning you can drop the seatpost fully for descending.
The Magic Mary and Hans Dampf tyres make for a formidable combination. The wheelset consists of WTB i30 TCS 2.0 tubeless-ready rims on Vitus KT hubs, encased in a Schwalbe 2.4in Magic Mary tyre with Addix Soft compound up-front and a 2.3in Hans Dampf Performance Addix Speedgrip on the rear. Shimano supplies the Deore M5100 drivetrain with an 11-46T range 10-speed SunRace cassette, combined with 30T narrow-wide chainring. This ensures you have a decent range of gears on offer for everything from steep off-road climbs to fast bridleways.
A 10-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain is fitted. My medium-size test bike was fitted with Clar s M2 hydraulic brakes, with 180mm rotors front and rear, and finished with a 760mm-wide Nukeproof and Vitus handlebar. Vitus has wisely fitted its sizes L and XL frames with 780mm and 800mm-wide bars respectively, making the cockpit appropriately sized for taller riders. Finally, there’s a Vitus 50mm stem, 31.6mm seatpost and Nukeproof saddle.
Vitus Sentier 29 geometry
Vitus doesn’t offer a smaller Sentier 29 frame, but our size medium’s reach is 428mm, which is relatively compact.
|Seat angle (degrees)||73||73||73|
|Head angle (degrees)||66.5||66.5||66.5|
|Seat tube (mm)||432||483||520|
|Top tube (mm)||620||640||665|
|Head tube (mm)||110||120||130|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||61.5||61.5||61.5|
Vitus Sentier 29 performance
It had masses of traction in the turns. I tested the Sentier 29 across a variety of paths and trails. As the Vitus began to reveal itself as a thoroughly capable hardtail, I threw in some steeper, natural trails in Scotland’s Glentress Forest. The 30T chainring and 11-46t cassette provided a perfect range of gears for the climbs, enabling me to ride at an easy pace while maintaining optimum cadence, even on steeper sections.
The Sentier has a high 643mm stack that made it a little harder to get weight over the front wheel. The combination of a well-proportioned geometry, 50mm stem and 740mm bars (cut down from 760mm) proved a near-perfect setup for navigating switchbacks smoothly on the climbs. This gave the bike a noticeable advantage over those in our budget MTB Bike of the Year category fitted with either a long stem or narrower bars. The Clarks brakes were the most impressive in the group, with sharp responsive power that felt far greater than the Shimano MT200s and Tektro brakes on rival bikes. The levers, designed for one-finger braking, have enough space for two fingers, and are slim and comfortable to grip.
The slim, adjustable levers felt comfortable and had plenty of bite. Combined with that all-important adjustable reach, they gave me the confidence to ride more aggressively, knowing I could slow down quickly. They made me feel more confident riding at higher speeds just about everywhere. However, a significant downside that’s difficult to overlook is the exposed inner gear cable on the underside of the top tube. In previous generations of the bike, the rear derailleur cable was left exposed under the top tube and seatstays, leaving multiple points of entry for water and dirt. This could have a negative effect on shifting performance and require more regular maintenance.
Nukeproof and Vitus own-brand parts are fitted to offer optimum value for money. For the latest model, Vitus has improved upon this by running an outer down the seatstays. The section of inner gear cable is still left exposed under the top tube, though, which could pose a problem if riding regularly in muddy, wintry conditions. As expected, after the first wet, muddy ride, shifting performance deteriorated and became stiffer. Switching to a full-length gear cable outer will solve this, though you’ll likely have to cable tie this in place.
The Recon’s 32mm stanchions couldn’t hold a line as confidently as burlier forks, but comfort and traction was good. This year’s Sentier comes with a chainstay protector, which is a nice touch. However, it doesn’t eliminate chain-slap noise completely and you may find yourself fitting a more substantial alternative. Designed to be ready to tackle rough terrain while keeping up a playful, snappy hardtail nature, the medium size I tested has 439mm chainstays and a 1,161mm wheelbase. It makes it the longest bike in this Bike of the Year category.
Uphill, the Sentier was a blast. However, on the trail it felt comparable in size to the small Voodoo Bizango Pro, which also felt stable and controlled. When riding either of these bikes, I was able to up the ante by taking them down more technical, natural trails. This is where the Sentier 29 really shone. The confidence I had to ride the bike with a similar purpose as I do my enduro bike was in contrast to what I’d expected, given it’s on the large side for a rider of my height at 160cm.
The Sentier is a solid bike that’ll handle almost any terrain you can throw its way. The tyres feel a little draggy when tackling hardpack trail centres, but really cut into the dirt and provide much-needed traction. The brakes offer peace of mind in just about every scenario, too. While climbing had my upper body stretched out over the medium frame, standing up on the pedals felt spot-on. That meant rather than shy away from being as playful and whippy as the likes of the Marin Bobcat Trail 5 and Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29, the Sentier encouraged a similarly loose riding style. It felt eager to change direction or lines quickly, or pop off any feature in sight.
The grippy tyres improve uphill performance. Vitus has managed to bring together a lot of the right ingredients in the Sentier 29. This includes the smooth action of the RockShox Recon fork, impressive grip from the tyres and punchy brakes that boost confidence in just about every situation. The foundation of it all is the great geometry, and it all adds up to create one of the best hardtails you can buy.
Vitus Sentier 29 bottom line
Confidence-inspiring, balanced geometry makes hoofing about on the Sentier great fun. The Sentier presents impressive quality and component spec for the money. It is also a great platform upon which to make upgrades as your mountain biking skills progress because it’s the most trail-oriented hardtail in this Bike of the Year category. This is thanks to the progressive geometry and quality components. Stiff gear shifting after one wet ride is an annoying downside that will require your attention. However, that should be an easy fix and something I’d live with considering what’s on offer here.