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by Matt Wikstrom
June 19, 2018
Photography by Matt Wikstrom and Vive le Vélo!
The ZX-1 is Vitus’s new flagship race bike built around an aero road disc chassis. Like the brand’s other models, it is only available through online retail giants Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles, and at this stage, there is a choice of three distinct builds and pricepoints.
The ZX-1 CR1 sits in the middle of this collection with a build that features Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 groupset and Prime’s RP-50 carbon road disc wheelset. It’s clearly a race-oriented offering and in this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a closer look at what the new bike has to offer riders.
Vitus, for those that are unfamiliar with the brand, has a rich history in professional cycling. The brand was launched in the late ‘70s to sell bonded alloy frames, which viewed as something of a technological breakthrough at the time. Vitus used high-strength epoxy to bond alloy tubes to cast alloy lugs and fittings, and while the construction strategy was really no different from a lugged steel frame, the materials offered significant weight savings and a fresh aesthetic for road bikes.
Vitus started working with carbon fibre in the early ‘80s, replacing the alloy tubes that made up the front triangle of its frames with composite versions. With the promise of even greater weight savings, the company went on to create carbon fibre tubes for the entire frame, culminating with the Carbone 9, which was unveiled in 1987, and weighed just over 1,300g.
Vitus’s bonded frames were embraced by professional racers, most notably Sean Kelly, who would ride the company’s frames to a multitude of victories. Those frames developed an unfortunate reputation for too much flex, and the bonded joints were also prone to failing. Vitus stumbled through the ‘90s until it faded from sight by the end of the decade, but before that happened, the company managed to develop and sell a monocoque carbon frame.
The original ZX-1 was unveiled in 1992 and was available until 1996. Photo courtesy Vive le Vélo!
The ZX-1 was not the first widely available monocoque carbon fibre frame on the market — that honour goes to Kestrel’s 4000 — but it still pre-dates a lot of brands. Photo courtesy Vive le Vélo!
No foils or Kamm tails here, just swooping lines. Photo courtesy Vive le Vélo!
Our understanding of bicycle aerodynamics has come a long way since the early ’90s, but it was built upon the ideas first tested by bikes like the ZX-1. Photo courtesy Vive le Vélo!
Launched in 1991, the ZX-1 was amongst the first wave of carbon monocoque frames on the market. The frame was designed for road riders and time-triallists, and had some aerodynamic features, such as a fairing for the rear wheel. According to collectors, less than 1,000 ZX-1 frames were ever made, and only a few hundred have survived unscathed to this day.
Needless to say, carbon fibre construction and aero road frame design have come a long way since the ZX-1. And while Vitus disappeared from the sport for over a decade, it was resurrected in 2012 when Chain Reaction Cycles acquired the rights to the name. That was followed by a return to the professional peloton in 2014 under Sean Kelly’s An Post team, so when the born-again brand started work on a new aero road bike, ZX-1 seemed like the perfect name for the project.
Creating the new ZX-1 was a major undertaking and Vitus devoted three years to the process. It was designed wholly in-house with Vitus undertaking CFD analysis to refine the aerodynamic profile of the frameset. And while a rim-brake version was part of the design process, Vitus decided to commit to disc brakes when it was time to move the ZX-1 into production.
At face value, the ZX-1 is not an obviously aerodynamic frame like the Scott Foil, Trek Madone, Canyon Aeroad, Merida Reacto, or Giant Propel. Rather, it is a road aero frame in the same vein as Scott’s original Foil and Chapter2’s Tere with subtle Kamm tail profiles, a semi-integrated fork crown, and a minimum amount of component integration.
For those riders looking to minimise their aerodynamic drag, it might be tempting to dismiss Vitus for failing to keep pace with the market, but according to the company, the conservative frame design provides a better blend of stiffness and compliance for the rider. At the same time, Vitus wanted to make sure that the bike wouldn’t be affected by crosswinds, so the designers were prepared to give up some marginal gains in order to provide a bike that was well mannered in all conditions.
With that said, I have no data on the real-world performance of the ZX-1, or how it compares with other brands, so buyers can only guess at the aerodynamic performance of the bike. What is clear, though, is that the modest aerodynamic profile of the ZX-1 does not include any integration of components like the stem or seatpost clamp. As a result, there are no special considerations (or complications) when it comes to adjusting the stem or saddle height.
The specifications for the ZX-1 reflect those for the Vitesse EVO, which was once the flagship of Vitus’s road collection. Thus, the frame has a BB386 bottom bracket shell, tapered head tube, internal cable routing, and interchangeable fittings for mechanical and electronic groupsets. The ZX-1 shares the same flat mounts for the brakes and 12mm-diameter thru-axles as the Vitesse EVO Disc, however the new bike can accommodate 140mm and 160mm rotors, front and rear.
The ZX-1 is available in six frame sizes, as detailed in the table below:
Overall, the geometry for the ZX-1 is quite similar to the Vitesse EVO Disc, albeit with less stack for the larger frame sizes, a little more reach, and shorter chainstays. Bottom bracket drop ranges 72-67mm, decreasing as the size of the frame increases, but a 43mm fork rake and 410mm-long chainstays are used throughout the range.
That shared fork rake is a little disappointing, since the smallest frame size really deserves a fork with more rake to provide a more immediate steering response in line with the other frame sizes. This is a common oversight for mass-manufactured frames, which use slacker head tube angles to reduce the amount of toe overlap for small frame sizes.
There are three ZX-1 models in Vitus’s 2018 catalogue, and all feature the same frameset, Shimano groupsets, and mid-to-high-profile wheelsets. The entry-level build features Shimano’s current 105 11-speed mechanical groupset and Mavic Cosmic Elite wheels; the Ultegra build reviewed here has the new R8070 Di2 groupset along with Prime RP-50 carbon clinchers; and the flagship Team build combines Shimano’s mechanical Dura-Ace R9100 groupset with DT Swiss ARC 1100 DiCut carbon clinchers.
Looking more closely at the Ultegra build, the new Di2 groupset includes a semi-compact 52/36T crankset, 11-28T cassette, and a three-port junction box mounted under the stem. The alloy cockpit comprises Ritchey’s WCS 4-Axis stem and Streem II handlebars; for seating, a Fizik Antares saddle is mounted on a proprietary carbon seatpost; and the wheels are fitted with Schwalbe’s Pro One tyres (25c), which are tubeless-ready but fitted with inner tubes from the factory. A stealthy black-on-black finish completes the bike, which looks like a sophisticated and race-ready package.
Total weight for the 54cm bike sent for review was 8.09kg/17.83lb without pedals or bottle cages, which is probably more than what most buyers would hope for a mid-level bike, but it is consistent with other road disc bikes around the same price, such as Giant’s Propel Advanced Pro Disc.
All of Vitus’s bikes are available for online purchase at Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles with worldwide delivery. The ZX-1 CR1 Aero Disc sells for AU$5,984/US$4,752/£3,200, however that price does not include delivery, and may not include local tax/duty. For buyers in Australia, GST is included in the current retail price and according to Wiggle, the company with pay duty, so the only extra charge will be delivery, which is currently AU$95, making for a total of a little less than AU$6,100.
When that price is compared to bikes with similar builds, such as Giant’s Propel Advanced Pro Disc (AU$6,599), Scott’s Foil 10 Disc (AU$6,300), and Merida’s Reacto Disc 8000-E (AU$6,999), then the ZX-1 is currently a little cheaper than its big-brand competition for Australian buyers. By contrast, the ZX-1 is considerably cheaper than the Propel Advanced Pro Disc and the Foil 10 Disc in the UK, plus buyers get free delivery and a 30-day test ride as well.
As with any bike that is boxed for delivery, some assembly of the ZX-1 will be required before it can be ridden. This will normally involve fitting the handlebars to the stem, seatpost to the frame, and the pedals to the cranks. After-sales service from Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles is largely limited to returns and refunds, and while some countries have service points, this is not a widespread feature, so buyers will generally need to find a mechanic and pay for any tune-ups and adjustments required once the bike has been delivered.
More information on the ZX-1 can be found on the Vitus web site, while Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles can provide information on the options for purchase and delivery.
Carbon fibre construction, Kamm tail tubing, electronic shifting, 50mm carbon rims, disc brakes, and a stealthy finish: if there was ever a recipe for an aggressive race bike, then Vitus has assembled all of the right ingredients with the ZX-1 CR1. And, as it turns out, the final mix makes for a pretty potent race bike that excels in undulating terrain.
The ZX-1 was an easy bike to get to know, and within a couple of rides, I was at home on it. There was plenty of stiffness where it was needed, and overall, it was a stout and robust bike. Every time I put in an effort, out of the saddle or seated, the bike responded nicely, and with a pleasing amount of feedback from the road, I found it a thrill to ride.
The steering of the bike was quite quick, perfect for a race-oriented bike and for attacking sharp turns. I didn’t have any problems with the handling of the bike, either, which was stable at high speeds, yet willing to turn at low speeds. There was some toe overlap, but that was easy to forgive since it was only noticeable during track stands while waiting for traffic lights to change.
The ride quality of the ZX-1 was pretty forgiving — for a race bike. Slamming into a crack or hole at high speeds always produced some noticeable shock, but I wouldn’t describe the bike as harsh. When I tackled a few unpaved tracks and rough chipseal on the ZX-1, the bike was able to soak up a lot of buzz and vibration, but there was a clear threshold where the ZX-1 could be overwhelmed.
To put the ride quality of the ZX-1 into perspective, it falls somewhere in between each generation of Scott’s Foil. The first-generation Foil was exceptionally stiff and exciting to ride, while the second-generation Foil was much more compliant and a better choice for rough roads. Thus, as a bike that is noticeably stiff (and exhilarating to ride) yet still able to tame rough stretches of road, I expect a lot of racers (or aggressive riders) will appreciate (and perhaps savour) what the ZX-1 has to offer.
In this regard, it’s worth noting that I used a tyre pressure of 60psi for most of the review period, which worked well for the 25c Schwalbe Pro One tyres supplied with the bike. I spent a couple of rides using the tyres with inner tubes (as supplied) before swapping them out for tubeless valves (also supplied with the bike) and sealant. It was worth the effort because the tyres went from dull to lively, though the overall impact on the bike was really a matter of nuance.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been on a number of road disc bikes, and each instance, they never felt quite as agile or responsive as a rim-brake-equipped bike. This was especially noticeable when comparing the rim- and disc-brake versions of Vitus’s Vitesse EVO, where at least some of the difference could be attributed to markedly heavier wheels.
In the case of the ZX-1, this effect wasn’t nearly as noticeable, but it still wasn’t as agile and zippy as a lighter bike with rim brakes. The difference was yet another nuance, to be sure, but it did blunt the performance of the bike, and for some racers, at least, it might feel like an unnecessary handicap.
On the flip side, the quality of braking was superb, near effortless, and confidence-inspiring. The ergonomics of Shimano’s new R8070 Di2 hydraulic levers are much improved and a welcome replacement for the R785 lever. With no obvious bulges in the width or shape of the hoods, they are virtually indistinguishable from a Di2 rim-brake lever. It may have taken a few years, but Shimano has finally managed to seamlessly integrate disc brakes into its Ultegra Di2 groupset.
Heading into the hills, the ZX-1 was a capable performer, but it wasn’t a potent climbing rig. Instead, it was at its best in undulating terrain where the stout chassis was a clear asset when driving the bike over small rises. The ZX-1 always seemed to gather speed quickly on descents; likewise, the bike was reasonably easy to keep going at high speeds on flat roads. On paper, this is where 50mm rims and Kamm tails promise to add an edge to a bike, and if that was the case, then I’m glad I had both at my disposal.
At the same time, the ZX-1 had another edge to offer, which was far more personal: the bike was a very good fit (although I had to remove the headset cover to get the handlebars low enough for my needs) and my weight distribution was nearly perfect. As a result, I was able to achieve an ease with the ZX-1 that I don’t often find, which may have helped my speed; if not, then it certainly elevated my experience and added to my enjoyment of the bike.
Vitus has done a fantastic job of resurrecting and updating the ZX-1 for the new millennium. The bike looks like an aggressive race bike, and that is exactly how it performs. The ZX-1 stiff and robust with a firm, but forgiving, ride quality that should satisfy any racer. The steering and handling is spot-on, and while the disc-brake hardware adds some weight to the bike, it won’t be much of a handicap on flat courses and undulating terrain where the bike is at its best.
Shoppers within the UK might be particularly tempted with what the ZX-1 has to offer, given the attractive price, easy availability, and even the option for a 30-day test-ride. Outside of the UK, though, delivery and local taxes/duties may add to the price of the bike, and buyers must contend with the daunting proposition of spending thousands on a bike that they can’t ride beforehand (or return with ease). As a result, I expect a lot of shoppers will find it easy to overlook Vitus and the ZX-1 CR1. Nevertheless, it remains a great package that might end up looking quite exotic in a bunch dominated by more recognisable brands.
Shimano’s new R8070 hydraulic brake lever/Di2 shifter is superb.
The ZX-1 is race legal with disc brakes, no less.
Press-fit detractors won’t be happy with the BB386 shell on the Vitus ZX-1, but at least the format places the cartridge bearings far out on the Shimano Hollowtech II spindle.
The external Di2 junction box and hydraulic hose connectors are untidy but it’s difficult to see them when sitting on the bike.
Prime is another in-house brand for Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles so it’s not surprising to see these wheels on the Vitus ZX-1 CR1.
The new Ultegra disc-brake groupset features RT800 rotors with Freeza cooling blades to help dissipate heat.
The hydraulic brake hose adds a little to the width of the R8070 Di2 lever but it’s difficult to notice when holding on to the levers.
The 25c Schwalbe Pro One tyres supplied with the bike are an easy fit in the fork…
… and in the frame. According to Vitus, the ZX-1 will accommodate 28c tyres, but nothing larger.