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Vitus Energie Carbon CR SRAM Rival cyclocross bike review

28 Feb 2018
Verdict:

Top value cyclocross bike that won’t sell you short whether you race it, rag it, or ride it to work

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1600
For 
Excellent value. Top parts spec with no weak points. Light frame
Against 
Slightly twitchier geometry than its multi-use billing would suggest

From niche to mainstream - cyclocross bikes have outgrown the muddy off-season races they were originally designed for. With a couple of tweaks these strange beasts, part road bike, part mountain bike, can tackle a range of pursuits, from touring, to adventure racing, and even regular road work and commuting.

Plenty of manufacturers have cottoned on to this, and it’s now rare to find the sort of purist-pleasing ‘cross bike likely to set Belgian hearts fluttering.

Consequently the revamped Vitus Energie cyclocross bike range has plenty of nods towards the multi-use market, like broad tyres, tubeless wheels, and a gnarly looking fork.

But these modern accoutrements are hung off a carbon frame with pretty race-like geometry. So how will this mixed equation resolve itself?

The ride

In deference to the UCI’s 33c limit on tyres in elite competition most brands fit narrow treads on their cyclocross bikes. The chunkier 35c WTB CrossBoss models on the Vitus Energie Carbon CR SRAM Rival cyclocross bike are still competition legal at local level and impart a much surer ride.

Their larger volume provides better dampening for smooth progress over bumpy terrain, along with improved grip and lower risk of punctures.

All of which encourages the sort of silly behaviour that makes riding off-road so much fun. Mindful of the fact that the Energie is likely to be ridden year round  althe tyres are also geared towards multi-condition use.

Lots of low profile knobbles mean they’re better on hardpack, loam or gravel that gloopy winter mud. Very pretty with their tan coloured sidewalls, they’re tubeless ready, as are the rims.

Buy the Vitus Energie Carbon CR from Wiggle

Also made by WTB, these spin on top quality Novatec hubs. Extremely fast to engage and connected to rims notably low in mass, the wheelset is in large part responsible for the bike’s low weight and unrestrained acceleration.

With plenty of easy to service spokes they and the tyres are a squirt of sealant away from being the perfect adventure combo. Combining with the frame to give an overall weight of just 9.3kg the Vitus Energie Carbon CR SRAM Rival cyclocross bike is easy to get rolling and happy to climb.

Frame and fork

The frame has a distinct future-retro vibe. At the back its mono-stay design is fairly slinky, before things get stockier towards the front, culminating in a squat headtube and staunch looking fork.

Broad from the side, yet skinny from the front, the bottom bracket area is massively oversized in one plane, yet comparatively narrow in the other.

This allows it to accommodate a standard external bottom bracket. Housed in a fixed aluminum insert, this is either a genius design move, or a quirk of the factory catalogue from which the frame has been ordered.

Regardless it means the mud-loving Vitus benefits from the simplest and most durable bottom bracket standard.

Equally British-condition ready is the cable routing. With the front brake line piercing downwards through the fork crown, the rear brake and derailleur cabling enters the downtube with a minimum of fuss before exiting atop the back on the chainstays.

There’s also a routing option and fixing point for a direct mount front derailleur should you want to add one later.

I doubt you'd squeeze much more than a 38c tyre in at the back at the best of times. With the bigger-than-average tyres fitted there’s not massive clearance at the back, meaning by the end of a claggy late-season ‘cross race the bottom bracket junction had accumulated enough gunk to start dragging.

Narrower mud tyres would likely sort this, while up front the fork is broad enough to make any stoppages unlikely whatever width rubber you employ.

With both frame and fork using 12mm through axles (Shimano E-Thru standard) there’s just a smidgen of flex noticeable at the back if you really try to seek it out, but the front is pretty resolute.

Buy the Vitus Energie Carbon CR from Wiggle

The Energie’s 71.5° head angle is standard modern cyclocross middleground, rather than rad adventure-touring slack. Given its all-rounder billing the front end is also quite low.

Propped up slightly by the tall fork, it’s good for racing, but requires either a flexible rider or lots of stem spacers to be comfortable for the long haul.

The bottom bracket is also a little on the high side, meaning cornering and navigating rough sections isn’t quite as assured as it could be. That said in use the tyres and brakes largely mitigate this.

Dotted surreptitiously about the Vitus are the tabs necessary to fit a rack and mudguards. With some brands leary of adding practical touches to performance orientated bikes they’re a welcome sight, as I’m of the opinion that it’s better to have and not use than be caught without.

Allowing conversion into tough tourer, or bougie commuter, they help bolster the Vitus’s adaptable credentials.

Groupset

Being the house brand of internet retailer Wiggle/Chain Reaction Vitus pushes the specification of the Energie hard given its low cost.

There are no weak links. Until its competitor gets an update I’d take SRAM’s mid-range Rival groupset over the Shimano equivalent every time.

With a simple single-chainring design, good looking shifters, and increasingly essential feeling clutch mechanism derailleur to keep the chain onboard, it’s great to see it included here.

Its 40t chainring and 11-speed 11-32t cassette serves up a big range of gears with small jumps in between. I’ve even almost made peace with SRAM’s weird DoubleTap shifting which uses the same lever to shift both up and down.

I say almost because whenever I try and shift into an imaginary last gear when suffering uphill I get dumped down a cog. It’s possible this is because I’m an idiot, but so are most people towards the end of a cyclocross race. Still this is only a small grumble.

Erring slightly on the side of speed, there were some occasions I wished for a slightly easier lowest ratio, meaning adventure riders, or those hauling panniers might want to gear down slightly by swapping in a smaller chainring.

Stopping the Energie the matching 160mm rotors provide all the power you’d possibly want on a bike of this type, and work faultlessly in all conditions.

Parts

Parts wise the Vitus Energie Carbon CR SRAM Rival cyclocross bike employs a standard 44cm shallow-drop road bar. Still found on most cyclocross bikes, a pair with a slight outwards flare would have made it easier to bunnyhop or heave the bike about from the drops.

They’d also suit the adventure bike market by making covering the brakes for long periods easier and provide greater room for bar mounted bags.

The unfussy stem, seatpost, and saddle all do their jobs, with nothing in particular being worth remarking upon.

For more, see: vitusbikes.com

Conclusion

With a very good carbon frame, great wheels, and top groupset the Vitus Energie Carbon CR SRAM Rival cyclocross bike nails all the main criteria when choosing a bike.

Its chunkier-than-average tyres also help set it ahead of pack in the fun stakes too. My one slight concern is that the geometry isn’t quite as modern as the componentry.

The main upshot of this is that it requires decent amount of flexibility to keep a hold of. Assuming you’ve got that, it’s an amazing package at a great price. And definitely ready to get loose.

Weight: 9.3kg (Size M-54cm)