VeloClub is CyclingTips’ membership program which brings us closer to our members, and connects likeminded cycling enthusiasts.
by Matt Wikstrom
September 11, 2017
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Vitus is a name that some road cyclists will be familiar with. The once-French brand was blessed with the devotion of a star rider and cursed by a flawed construction strategy. Those days have long passed and after more than a decade of inactivity, Vitus was reborn in 2012. Now the brand’s bikes are keeping pace with modern expectations and tempting online shoppers with attractive prices.
In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom puts Vitus’ flagship road bike, the Vitesse EVO, to the test and compares the influence of rim and disc brakes on the performance of this race-oriented chassis.
Any cyclist with an interest in the history of the sport will no doubt be aware of the strong connection that Sean Kelly had with Vitus. The highly decorated rider achieved the bulk of his victories aboard a Vitus throughout much of the ‘80s, with a few more victories in the early ‘90s, including Milan-San Remo in 1992.
The genesis of the brand can be traced back to 1931 when a French company by the name of Ateliers de la Rive started manufacturing steel tubing. In time, the company would develop a strong reputation for the quality of its tubesets, finding favour among local French craftsmen as well as some major manufacturers like Peugeot. In spite of this, the company never enjoyed the same success, or longevity, as its rivals, Reynolds and Columbus.
The name Vitus was originally used by Arteliers de la Rive to brand a series of chrome-moly tubesets, but when the company started developing a new alloy frameset in the late-‘70s, the same moniker was applied to it.
The project marked a transition for Arteliers de la Rive from a tubing manufacturer to a framebuilder. The company’s Duralinox tubing — made from aluminium-magnesium alloy — was at the heart of the new frameset, bonded to cast alloy lugs and fittings supplied by another French company, Angenieux CLB (which was well known for its brake callipers).
Vitus was not the first company to create a bonded alloy frame but it remained dedicated to the strategy until the ‘90s. By then, Vitus framesets had a reputation for excessive flex and a risk of coming apart at the bonded joints, but riders like Kelly were willing to overlook such shortcomings because the bikes were significantly lighter than steel and comfortable on harsh terrain.
As flawed as Vitus’ creations were, they are still sought after by collectors today, so it’s not hard to find some stunning examples. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that bonded alloy framesets are a thing of the past.
Vitus itself did not survive the close of the ‘90s, and might have been lost to history altogether were it not for Chain Reaction Cycles. The Irish online retailing giant acquired the Vitus name in 2011 and set about reinventing and reinvigorating the brand for the modern era. Carbon composites were embraced for the upper end of its road catalogue, and while alloy frames continued to serve its more affordable road bikes, they were welded rather than bonded.
There are four road models in Vitus’ current road catalogue, starting with the entry-level Razor that has an alloy frame; followed by the Zenium, another alloy bike with a higher level components and an option for disc brakes; the Venon serves as the brand’s entry-level carbon bike with rim brakes only; while the Vitesse EVO sits at the top of the collection and offers buyers a choice between rim- and disc-brakes.
All of these bikes are available to online shoppers via Chain Reaction Cycles, and following the recent merger, are also part of Wiggle’s online catalogue. With both retailers offering worldwide delivery and very competitive pricing, there is little obstacle to obtaining a modern Vitus, so what can buyers expect from the brand?
I recently spent a few weeks riding the Vitesse EVO, the brand’s flagship road bike, and it proved to be a very sound performer. I was able to directly compare the performance of the rim- and disc-brake versions, and while there wasn’t much that separated them, they offered distinct riding experiences.
The Vitesse EVO was conceived as a race bike and has been serving the An Post Chain Reaction Continental squad since 2014. In that time, the bike has been used on all manner of terrain including cobbled races in Belgium. According to Vitus, the frame has been “optimised to deliver the perfect balance of power transfer and comfort.”
For power transfer, there is a BB386EVO bottom bracket and oversized chainstays to keep the lower half of the bike from moving around too much under load. The upper half of the bike has been slimmed down, especially the seatstays, to help the comfort of the bike. A compact frame maximises the effective length of the 27.2mm seatpost for additional compliance.
The all-carbon fork has a tapered steerer (1.125inch upper bearing; 1.5inch lower bearing) that increases rigidity about the crown to improve the quality of steering. Another modern touch is internal cable routing for the derailleur cables and brake cables/hoses that promises to cut down on a little bit of aerodynamic drag and add time and effort to all future cable replacements.
The frame and forks are constructed from Toray T700 unidirectional fibres. The rim-brake version is equipped with standard quick-release dropouts and centre-mount rim callipers while the disc-brake version features flat mounts for 140mm rotors and 12mm thru-axles for the wheels.
The Vitesse EVO is available in seven frame sizes, as shown in the table below:
The geometry of the rim and disc brake frames is identical except for the length of the chainstays, which is 405-8mm for the former (increasing with frame size), and a uniform 415mm for the latter. The head tube is reasonably short for each frame size, which is consistent with the race-oriented intentions of the Vitesse EVO, while the bottom bracket drop ranges 67-72mm (increasing with frame size).
The Vitesse EVO looks a lot like a race bike, too, thanks largely to the compact frame design that provides an aggressive stance to the bike. The purposeful lines of the bike only enforce its competitive intentions. Each model in the Vitesse EVO range gets its own finish: a stealthy black finish is reserved for Vitesse EVO Team model while the disc model is gloss silver with red highlights. Both options look very conservative next to the bright fluoro green chosen for the base rim brake model.
The two bikes sent for review were equipped with largely the same range of parts, starting with Shimano’s outgoing Ultegra 6800 mechanical groupset (50/34T chainrings). FSA supplies the same headset, stem and bars for each bike along with a set of reducers for mating Shimano’s cranks to the BB386EVO bottom bracket. Both bikes also share the same Vitus-branded saddle and seatpost.
The wheels are the only major difference between the two bikes. The rim brake bike is supplied with a pair of Mavic’s Ksyrium wheels and Yksion Elite tyres (25C) while the disc brake bike is fitted with Vision’s Team 30 wheelset and Michelin Pro 4 (25C) tyres.
The size 54cm Vitesse EVO (with rim brakes) reviewed here weighed 7.84kg without pedals or cages compared to 8.63kg for the Vitesse EVO Disc. The extra weight associated with disc brakes is something I’ve previously noted for other brands, where a lot of the extra weight is associated with the wheels and rotors. In this instance, the Vision wheelset (with rotors, tyres and cassette) weighed an extra 0.46kg over the Ksyriums, though it’s not exactly a fair comparison, since the Vision rims were not only taller, but also wider than Mavic’s rims.
The list price for the Vitesse EVO (rim brakes) is AUD$2,900/£1,800 however at the time of writing, it was selling for AUD$2,479. That price does not include GST or import duty, which will add ~15% for Australian shoppers. In addition, delivery costs AUD$178 making for a total of ~AUD$3,000-$3,500, depending on the discount. As for the Vitesse EVO Disc, the list price is AUD$3,200/£2,000 discounted to AUD$2,736, making for a total, including delivery and taxes, of ~AUD$3,300-$3,800.
As mentioned above, Wiggle offers worldwide delivery for these bikes, and with the help of local service points, also offer a free first service. However, this after-sales service doesn’t apply to all countries or regions.
To this end, it’s worth noting that while the bikes are fully assembled and test-ridden prior to dispatch, some assembly will be required after delivery. The handlebars and seatpost will need to be attached, and the wheels and pedals installed.
The Vitesse EVO is backed by a five-year warranty for the frameset. That’s quite generous compared to some brands that ask a lot more for their carbon framesets, though it doesn’t rival the lifetime backing of other brands.
For more information about the Vitesse EVO, visit Vitus and Wiggle.
Almost all of the bikes that are sent to me for review arrive in a box delivered by a courier. Some bikes require complete assembly while others, like each Vitesse EVO, are pre-assembled. As a result, I only needed a few minutes to get each bike ready for its first ride.
While every effort is made to ensure that the bikes are protected in transit, it’s not unusual for the rear derailleur hanger to come out of alignment. After all, replaceable hangers are purposefully pliable so as to preserve the frame and the derailleur, so it doesn’t take much of a knock before the derailleur is misaligned.
The same thing often happens when road bikes are loaded into and out of a car, so I routinely check the alignment of replaceable hangers. In this instance, both hangers needed a tweak; the misalignment wasn’t so great as to send the rear derailleur into the spokes, but once attended to, the quality of shifting was as sharp and precise as it should be for a new bike.
From that point on, there wasn’t any need to fuss with the bikes and I was able to get on with the review.
I adopted the same approach to comparing the two bikes as I have on other occasions (Scott’s Addict, Trek’s Émonda, and Cannodale’s road disc bikes) by alternating between each bike and riding the same routes. I challenged the bikes to a wide variety of terrain from smooth suburban roads to unpaved tracks, and easy coastal cruises to long rides in the hills.
In general terms, the two bikes behaved very similarly: reasonably responsive with a muted ride quality; stable steering and predictable handling, even at high speeds; and ample stiffness, even though it was largely disguised by the ride quality of the bike. All told, the Vitesse EVO was a robust bike that I was free to use as I pleased without it undermining my confidence.
For those most interested in race performance, I’d recommend the rim-brake version of the Vitesse EVO because it was more agile and energetic than the disc-brake-equipped bike. Some of that difference can be attributed to the difference in the wheels and the weight of each bike, but the shorter chainstays of the rim-brake-equipped bike probably added to this sense as well.
The calmer, more restrained performance of the Vitesse EVO Disc should suit those riders looking for a bike that will elevate their confidence. There’s no denying the extra confidence that disc brakes can provide, especially in wet conditions, and thanks to the difference in wheels, there was a wider contact patch for the tyres (the Pro 4s measured 27mm wide on the Vision wheelset compared to 25mm for the Yksions on the Mavic wheelset) for extra grip and sure-footedness. The extra tyre width also added a little to the comfort of the Vitesse EVO Disc.
Swapping out the Mavic Ksyriums for wider rims had much of the same effect on the rim brake version of the Vitesse EVO. It also gave me a chance to test the tyre clearance, and I was able to fit 28C tyres without any issues. As expected, wider tyres cushioned the bike a little more with the result that almost all vibration and road shock was lost from the bike.
The muted ride quality of the Vitesse EVO should appeal to those riders that would rather live without feedback from the road. Needless to say, this is an entirely personal matter and is likely to vary depending upon the size and weight of the rider as well as their chosen terrain. Nevertheless, for those that prefer some feedback and/or depend upon it to read the road conditions, the Vitesse EVO is likely to disappoint, or at the very least, underwhelm.
The Vitesse EVO was a sturdy bike in either guise, and while there wasn’t much feedback to judge its stiffness, there was never any sense of wasted effort. That sturdiness did start to take its toll on long rides, though, and I ended up feeling a little saddle sore after 4-5 hours on the bike. Larger tyres (28C) helped a little in this regard but I’d hesitate to recommend this bike to enthusiasts looking to tackle long rides.
I’ve already mentioned that both bikes were stable and predictable at high speeds. To this I would also add I found it reasonably easy to change direction but there was a mild tendency for each bike to run wide out of corners. For those riders that like to attack technical descents and/or enjoy racing criteriums, the Vitesse EVO won’t be a perfect match, but it won’t be much of a handicap, either.
As always, Shimano’s Ultegra groupset proved to be a reliable performer in both of its rim- and disc-brake guises. There’s no need to reiterate that disc brakes have a lot to offer in terms of perceived power and braking confidence, but it is worth noting that they lack the same adjustability and user-friendliness as cable-operated rim brakes.
The pricing of the Vitesse EVO and Vitesse EVO Disc is very attractive. There’s a lot on offer for the asking price, and while Vitus hasn’t managed to trump the rest of the market by a significant margin, there are some savings on offer. Nevertheless, deciding between this brand and others will be difficult, at least in terms of logic and economics, because there is nothing but nuance that separates any of the bikes at this pricepoint.
There was a time, not so long ago, when buying a bike was a purely personal experience. That changed with the rise of online retailing, and while many buyers still prefer to personally shop for a new bike, the allure of a big discount and access to brands not available locally can be difficult to resist. As a result, bike companies like Canyon have enjoyed enormous growth in recent years despite the “handicap” of a virtual shopfront.
Clearly, Chain Reaction Cycles and Wiggle are hoping to tap into this potential, but the Vitesse EVO won’t be a bike for all shoppers. Some would rather a test ride first, while others will baulk at the vague final price for international buyers. Yet another obstacle may be the lack of tangible after-sales service.
Be that as it may, Vitus has done a fine job with the Vitesse EVO, giving shoppers a race-oriented road bike with a choice of rim or disc brakes at an attractive price. Whether that is enough to outweigh any of the potential downsides of buying a bike online will be a matter for the individual to decide.