2021 Vitus ZX-1 Evo road bike review: Aero, affordable, and available
Vitus goes all-in for aero with the new ZX-1, featuring internal cable routing, huge tubing, deep wheels and integrated handlebars.
Vitus goes all-in for aero with the new ZX-1, featuring internal cable routing, huge tubing, deep wheels and integrated handlebars.
Vitus first announced the rebirth of the ZX-1 three years ago with a disc-only aero road frame featuring truncated tubing and partially internal cable routing. Vitus has now updated the ZX-1 with an all-new frame featuring even wider truncated tubing, dropped seatstays, and entirely internal cable routing, which, with the large seat tube/seatstay cluster, bears a remarkable resemblance to the original ZX-1 from 1992.
Vitus was reborn in 2012 when Chain Reaction Cycles acquired the brand name and unveiled a range of new bikes. CRC wasn’t long in bringing the Vitus name back to the international racing scene, sponsoring the Sean Kelly team from 2013 until the team’s demise in 2018.
The first year of that partnership overlapped with my last year as a full-time rider and gave me a taste of the Vitus range. That 2013 Vitus Vitesse was forgettable at best, and I am not unfair in saying it was the worst bike I ever raced. Fast forward eight years, and thankfully, my second taste of Vitus road bikes is much sweeter.
The Vitesse model has gone through several updates since then and now exists as the Vitesse Evo. However, it is the new 2021 ZX-1 Evo I had in for test over the past few months.
The ZX-1 is Vitus’ outright aero bike, which is obvious with one look at the new bike. With 60 mm deep wheels, integrated aero handlebars, truncated airfoil-shaped tubing all over, internal cable routing, and a down tube wide enough to hide a water bottle behind, all add up to a bike clearly designed with speed as the focus.
Vitus says that “the goal [was] to make this bike aerodynamically fast, feel fast, and look fast.” However, in a shift from the norm for aero bike marketing, Vitus has decided not to tell us how much faster the new bike is. Instead, Vitus says the new bike is “up to” 45% faster than the outgoing ZX-1 complete bike. Vitus also points to real-world influences, which render the usual seconds-gained-per-kilometre marketing gumpf less transferable when looked at on an individual rider level.
“We know there are plenty of other ‘real world’ factors that can’t be accounted for in a wind tunnel, like what height your socks are, what helmet you’re wearing, can you ‘super-tuck’, or are you not quite flexible enough to get ‘really low’,” Vitus says. “We will however tell you that we’ve tested this bike’s aerodynamics to validate our own design decisions. It exhibits up to 45% less drag than the previous ZX-1 when built as a full bike. Trust us when we say we’ve done our bit and this bike is fast … the rest is up to you.”
At risk of contradicting myself, I agree with Vitus: what is fast for one rider might not necessarily be fast for another. But part of me still wants to know how much faster the new bike is for a test rider in test conditions. On top of that, “up to 45% less drag”, has that marketing gumpf feel to it anyway. Perhaps an industry-wide standard test rider, clothing, conditions, power output, and cadence for aerodynamic testing could solve these claimed time-saving questions? One can dream.
Also immediately obvious is the high-level components Vitus has equipped its new bike with throughout the range. I was expecting to see sister brand Prime components supplying wheels, handlebars, and stems. Vitus has instead turned to Reynolds for its AR58/62 wheels, and Vision for its Metron 5D ACR integrated bar and stem. In fact, Prime handlebars appear on just three of the six new models, and its wheels only appear on one of those bikes.
Add to that SRAM Red, Force, and Rival AXS builds, plus Shimano Ultegra Di2, Ultegra R8000, and 105 R7000 options, and Vitus has a very well spec’d bike at a range of price points. This spec level extends all the way to the tyres, an area where some brands target to save a few dollars. Vitus has opted for Schwalbe ONE tubeless tyres throughout the range. Not Schwalbe’s fastest tyre, but a solid choice nonetheless.
So impressed was I with the spec level, I thought it might be interesting to check the total suggested retail price of just the components on the CRS Force Etap AXS model I had on review. While I understand the cost-saving buying a complete bike can offer versus buying the frame and components separately, I was still surprised to learn the sum of the components SRP was just £151 less than the £4,199.99 Vitus is offering the complete bike for. That £151 accounts for the frame, forks, seat post, saddle, bar tape, and tubeless accessories.
As the old saying goes, “affordable, light, stiff; pick two”. If we update this saying to “affordable, light, and fast”, Vitus has very clearly picked “affordable” and “fast”, as the new ZX-1 is certainly not light. I weighed the size large test model here at 8.3 kg with Elite Vico carbon bottle cages. Add your pedals of choice and the complete bike will be 8.5 kg+.
That weight is certainly underwhelming when you first lift the bike. It’s heavy and it feels it. However, hop on the bike, and that weight seems to fall off. The bike is agile and responsive under me and feels spritely on any gradient below 7-8%.
On these shallower gradients and climbing out of the saddle, where aero still has a significant impact, the bike seems to float below me, and it actually feels light when I flick the bars left to right under my hands.
While it is not light, the bike certainly feels fast. Really fast. The ZX-1 pairs that impressive agility on steady climbs with brute force on the flats. Get the ZX-1 into its natural habitat on flat and rolling roads, and it feels like a juggernaut refusing to slow down. The ZX-1’s willingness to hold speed on a flat road is impressive, and when the road points downward, I find myself challenging KOMs without even pedalling.
I took the ZX-1 to a 200 km Audax ride around the Dark Hedges (of Game of Thrones fame) recently, and it was on the long flat sections of this ride I really felt the bike come into its own. When up to speed on these flat roads, the bike seemed very willing to sit there and just tick off the kilometres. As expected, with 60 mm deep wheels and an aero frame, the fight against wind resistance seemed notably easier than it might have been.
Vitus engaged TotalSim in Silverstone to conduct CFD analysis on the frame during the design process, validating the designs created in house by Vitus in Belfast and translating them into an aerodynamically fast frame.
One area Vitus looked to gain some aero efficiency in is the cable routing. Vitus worked with FSA to integrate its ACR (Aerodynamic Cable Routing) system with a headset top cap specifically designed for the ZX-1.
Here at CyclingTips, we have voiced our concerns about fully internal cable routing through the upper headset bearing countless times now, so I won’t rehash those. The internal cable routing creates a noticeably clean front end and is faster than having brake hoses out in the wind.
The use of split spacers (which can be added or removed without removing the stem) and SRAM eTap (which means only the brake hoses route through the headset) will reduce the headache of changing headset or bar height a little. But when the time does come to replace that upper headset bearing, don’t be surprised with a bigger bill at the local bike shop.
I say this bike is affordable, but I fully appreciate this is entirely relative. With a price range between £2,799 for the 105-equipped bike, up to £5,399 for the Red AXS bike, we are still talking a lot of money here. But, compared to some other bikes with similar specs from more prominent brand names, the new ZX-1 does come in quite a bit cheaper across the range.
As mentioned above, the component spec is quite commendable. The saddle was the only component of the bike I reviewed that I wouldn’t happily include on one of my bikes. Vitus did rightly tell me that a saddle is one area of such personal preference, and it was happy to spec a cheaper option here to avoid effectively charging customers for a more expensive saddle they would likely swap out anyway.
While the saddle is interchangeable, the saddle clamp and seat post is not. Vitus has opted for a splined saddle clamp that limits angle adjustment to whichever degree these splines happen to set your saddle. The issue for me was that one notch down left the saddle too low at the front, and one notch up was way too high. Yes, I am a goldilocks of saddle positions.
This saddle tilt may or may not be an issue for others, but for me, it was huge and effectively meant I could never get my saddle angle just right, even when I tried several saddles.
The use of this splined clamp is doubly disappointing given Vitus has provided a vast range of easily adjusted fore and aft movement of the saddle with a slider-style clamp on top of the seat post. This fore-aft adjustment combined with the Vision aero bars, specifically designed for the Metron 5D bars, means the bike could quickly and easily be converted for mid-week time trials.
In keeping with the affordable theme are the Reynolds AR58/62 wheels on the new ZX-1. I have already mentioned that I was surprised not to see Prime wheels on the new Vitus and how such a deep wheelset should be faster on flatter terrain. In fact, I suspect the Reynolds wheels make a significant contribution to the overall performance of this new bike. They are bigger and heavier than one might choose for riding in hilly terrain, but much like the ZX-1 in general, they perform admirably.
The wheels also offer a taste of the latest trends at a more affordable pricepoint. Reynolds has matched the 58 and 62 mm front and rear rim depth differential with varying rim widths. The rear wheels get a fairly beefy 30 mm external width with a 21 mm internal, and the front wheel measures in at 28 mm external and 19 mm internal.
These rims are by no means the widest options available today, but they’re still wide enough to make the Schwalbe 25 mm tyres look decidedly narrow; perhaps too narrow. Josh Poertner of Silca preaches “the rule of 105”, which states a rim should measure 105% of the measured width of a tyre to enhance the reattachment of the air as it flows over the rim and, as such, improve aerodynamics.
The 25 mm Schwlabes and the Reynolds rims fall a little short of the magical 105% when I break out the verniers and measure this tyre and rim combination. In fact, the 25 mm Schwalbes on these 19 and 21 mm internal rims measure out at 26 mm and 27 mm, respectively.
That said, this is an easy fix when it comes time to change the tyres, and overall I quite liked the wheels. They felt fast, and the depth did not negatively impact the bike’s handling. I found these wheels stable in all bar the gustiest conditions, although I am well accustomed to riding with deep wheels.
Given how narrow the front hub is, I expected to experience some flex while riding out of the saddle, but again the AR58/62s performed admirably.
I was less than enamoured with Reynolds’ decision to include round spokes on this aero wheelset. Given the depth, shape, and width of the rims and the narrow front hub, the decision to use round spokes seems so out of tune with the rest of the wheelset.
Let’s drop the “fast” part of our updated saying for a moment and go back to thinking about stiffness. The ZX-1 is one stiff bike; quite the opposite of that original Vitesse I rode back in 2013. In fact, Vitus claims the new ZX-1 is 9.9% stiffer overall than the outgoing model, with a claimed 11% increase in stiffness at the bottom bracket, a 13.9% increase in the rear triangle, and a 13.8% stiffness increase in the fork.
The ZX-1’s stiffness is not surprising given the huge tube shapes and deep wheels, but it is quite notable just how stiff this bike is. This stiffness manifests itself through the saddle and even more noticeably at the hands through the hoods. I could feel every bump and groove on the road when riding on anything but the smoothest of surfaces.
I did alleviate this to a degree by dropping my tyre pressure from my usual mid-70s psi to the mid-60s, but it by no means solved it entirely. Again, wider tyres could help here and the ZX-1 has clearance for up to 32 mm, but it’s worth bearing in mind this is a bike designed to go fast, not offer a cushy armchair ride.
Vitus has created the ZX-1 with geometry very similar to that found on its new Vitesse Evo. The bike felt oddly familiar to me, most likely because the geometry is also very similar to that of my Tarmac SL6. The stack and reach are within a few millimetres on both frames, with the ZX-1 coming in ever so slightly longer and lower, as you would expect for an aero-focused bike.
This choice of geometry no doubt helps keep the bike feeling as nimble and light as it does despite what the scales say. It also means the bike handles and corners quite predictably for me. As mentioned earlier, the bike is undoubtedly stiff and almost punishing on rough surfaces at speed, but still, the bike held its line in corners quite commendably and gave me the confidence to let it drop on descents. The longer wheelbase on the Vitus certainly helps with this.
There is a road locally I take all bikes to as part of the review process. The descent on this road is steep and fast, but the surface is very rough, and there are several blind bends. Of my own fleet of bikes, only the SL6 gives me the confidence to take the descent full gas. I didn’t take it quite full gas with the ZX-1; I did brake ever so slightly before it quickly inspired me to come off the brakes and let the bike drop. Even with a dab of the brakes, the ZX-1 still gave me a PR for the descent on Strava.
Given the ZX-1’s focus on speed and therefore racing (or at least KOM-hunting), I’d like to see Vitus include a power meter as standard. I’d bet a pretty penny this omission is mostly down to pricing, especially on the SRAM-equipped bikes which could easily feature the Force and Red Quarq power meter cranks. Vitus’ pricing still leaves room to include this.
The ZX-1 is available now only at Chain Reaction Cycles or Wiggle. Vitus says availability is “good right across the range”. The brand did not go into any details on exactly how many bikes “good” might mean, but this may be one of the few bikes still available in any kind of quantity right now.
The bike on test is the ZX-1 EVO CRS Etap AXS and is priced at US$5,399 / £4,199 / AU$7,199 / €5,799. Vitus does plan to offer a frame-only option, but this will be next year at the earliest. Given the pricing of the complete bikes, it’s hard to see much demand for a frame-only option.