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Genesis Vapour Carbon CX 20 review

1 Dec 2017
Verdict:

A match for aspiring racers, the cheaper version is where we’d spend our money

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£2300
For 
Ready to get stuck in; Fast and light
Against 
Somewhat old school; Lacks a little versatility

British brand Genesis has a range of adventure and gravel-touring bikes. As such it doesn't need to soft pedal the Vapour. While other brands are hedging the design of their bikes towards these sectors, the Vapour remains an out-and-out cyclocross racer.

Rolling over from this year and into 2018, does the Genesis Vapour Carbon CX 20 remain at the sharp end of the pack, or will developments in cyclocross bike design see it overtaken?

Frame and fork

A short head tube and low stack headset lend a purposeful appearance to the Genesis. Running back from the prow, the top tube and down tube are both shaped to resist twisting from stresses applied via the bars.

Towards the back, the broad and uninterrupted seatstays leave no place for mud to accumulate, a facet enhanced by the scalloped back of the asymmetric bottom bracket assembly.

Large amounts of reinforcement in this area, combined with broad chainstays, keep the frame unyielding when put under pressure from the pedals.

The cutback dropouts neatly enclose the flat mount brake calliper and very robust rear derailleur hanger. Employing Shimano’s excellent 12mm bolt-thru axles in both the frame and fork, these further help steady the chassis and are quick to remove and easy to adjust.

The choice of robust, moderate modulus carbon fibre should also help the frame survive many seasons in the knockabout world of cyclocross racing.

The front and back gear cables and rear brake hose tuck neatly into a port to the side of the head tube, meaning cable management is very orderly.

The same applies to the front brake hose, which pierces through the fork crown. All the cables make their way through the frame and fork to emerge exactly where they’re needed.

Hidden from mud and grime, this is both nice to look at and helps keep everything running smoothly.

To ride the frame is stiff without being excessively harsh. Despite the geometry looking relatively steady, with a mid-height bottom bracket, longish wheelbase, and fairly standard 72° head angle the Genesis Vapour Carbon CX 20 still whips around.

This is particularly noticeable in how tight it lets you cut the corners. I can only put this down to the fairly tight 45mm fork rake.

More of a skiff than a supertanker, the Genesis is fast, light, and easily forgiving enough to smash about for an hour’s racing.

Still, although its angles definitely incline it towards competition, with clearance for tyres up to 40c wide it could easily be turned to purposes other than racing.

Something furthered by the twin water bottle mounts. After all, no one ever failed to finish a ride because their bottom bracket was a millimetre too high, or their head tube a degree too steep.

Groupset

The Shimano 105 groupset works well. The brakes in particular are excellent. Compared to its rivals the shifting action is also very light, although I missed the added security of a clutch on the rear derailleur when rattling over bumpy sections.

While I love the simplicity of single chainring designs, there’s been a few times recently when I’ve found myself caught between ratios and forced to spin or grind my way along in a sub-optimal gear.

With an 11-speed, 11-28t cassette and a traditional 46-36t chainset there’s no chance of that happening aboard the Genesis.

While its racy credentials mean the easiest gear is still relatively tall, the gaps between it and the last, finishing line sprint gear are tiny.

Efficient when everything works, when caked in mud front derailleurs are prone to playing up, and when your brain is fried on the last lap it’s easily possible to make progress-haltingly bad gear selections when confronted with multiple options.

Then there’s servicing, and the increased possibility of mechanicals. All in I’m coming down on the side of ditching the front derailleur, certainly when the weather is foul, which it tends to be during ‘cross season.

Still, this is really the territory of personal preference.

More likely to be universally unpopular are the looks of the shifters. Containing the fluid reservoirs for the brakes, the bulbous hoods of the Shimano STIs resemble one of those sex-changing Kobudai fish off Blue Planet.

Although they fit well in the hand, my god they’re ugly. Shimano looks likely to refresh the entire 105 groupset in the new year, although it can still hold its own, it’s probably about time, if only on aesthetic grounds.

Wheels

Rolling on Fulcrum Racing Sport wheels, these hit the spot by being both light and stiff. Their moderately deep profile is resistant to mud, being shaped to prevent it stacking up on the top of the rim.

What they can’t do, without serious modification, is be run tubeless. They’re also a little narrow. If you stick to a traditional 33c width tyre this isn’t a problem, but if you want to size up you’ll likely find your tyres sit less happily on the rim and are more prone to pinch punctures.

As it is, the Challenge Grifo plus series tyres are excellent. Perfect all-rounders, they work well in both muddy and loose conditions, while feeling far more supple than their 60 TPI thread count would suggest.

Components

The saddle is comfy and its neutral shape is unlikely to upset the horses. The twin-bolt seatpost is tough, but too stiff to impart any extra comfort.

The stem is a stem, it holds the bars and is a sensible length. The bars, like the rest of the bike are traditional.

The same width as you’d find on an equivalent road bike, they lack the adventure biking inspired flare increasingly popular with other brands.

Combined with the short head tube, their medium drop means you’ll need to be flexible if you want to continuously ride low and cover the brakes.

Conclusion and where to spend your cash

Taken as it comes the Genesis is a good choice for the aspiring privateer racer. Roll up to the line and it’ll happily mix it with the best of the fast machines.

However, a single season has proved a long time in the world of cyclocross bike design. The Vapour’s dual chainrings seem a little old fashioned, and the lack of tubeless compatibility will annoy some riders.

The geometry, which would have been bang on-trend until recently, is now in danger of being called ‘traditional’. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this - it’s still what the vast majority of professional races are won on.

It just slightly tilts towards racing rather than mucking about. It’ll flatter more confident riders and suit less aggressive courses.

As is often the case with middle children, the Genesis Vapour 20 feels a little overshadowed by its junior and senior siblings.

If you’ve got cash, another £500 of it will get you the top-end Vapour 30 with slightly better wheels and Shimano’s excellent, and pretty looking, Ultegra groupset.

However, with all three bikes using the same frame and componentry, the entry-level Vapour 10 at £2,100 is where I'd spend my money.

Instead of the slightly long in the tooth 105 groupset it sports Shimano’s recently gussied up Tiagra parts.

Although these only provide 10 gears rather than 11, and are slightly heavier, they still take nearly all the best technology from 105, and look better too.