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EVOlution: Introducing the Vitus Vitesse EVO

10 Sep 2020

Building on half a century of dedication to top-level road racing, Vitus’s latest Vitesse EVO promises to be the perfect weapon for its pro riders and possibly a way back to the iconic status the brand commanded in the 1970s and ‘80s

There are few brands with as rich a heritage in pro racing as Vitus. The French brand began life as a tubing manufacturer in the 1930s but by the 70s it was a marque synonymous with great champions of our sport and its frames, produced from its factory in Saint-Étienne, were unquestionably pioneering.

A case in point was Vitus’s now iconic (and very collectable) 979 and its slender aluminium frame with bonded lugs, considered cutting edge at the time due to its exceptionally low weight. Pro riders such as Phil Anderson, Allan Peiper, Stephen Roche and Luis Herrera all tasted international success on a Vitus 979.

But it was arguably the supremacy of Irish Classics legend Sean Kelly in the early-to-mid 1980s that really cemented the 979’s lofty status.

Vitus was producing carbon frames as early as 1982 and in 1991 created its first monocoque carbon design, named the ZX-1, marking the beginning of the end for its legendary lugged designs. Strong opposition over the years that followed saw Vitus gradually fade into the shadows of bigger mainstream brands – for a time at least.

But with renewed investment and a relaunching of the brand in 2009, with as much passion as ever for racing - especially through sponsoring the Vitus Pro Cycling team - this historic brand is enjoying something of a renaissance. 

The 2021 Vitesse EVO is the culmination of two years of R&D with input from Classics supremo Kelly himself, as well as its current sponsored pros, for whom this new flagship, lightweight disc brake race bike will now be the weapon of choice.

Not just for pros

‘The EVO project really started off the back of sponsoring a pro race team and the evolution of a bike to meet the demands of racers, including ex-World Tour pro Scott Thwaites and Olympic Gold medallist Ed Clancy. But that’s not to say we’ve ignored the needs of our customers,’ explains Vitus road product manager, Jodie Shann.

‘We appreciate that 99% of people riding bikes aren’t pro racers and as a consumer-driven brand we have focussed on aspects like the comfort and handling such that everyone can enjoy riding this new bike.

‘The feedback we initially got from our pro riders was actually a bit more critical than we were expecting, but overall that turned out to be a good thing as it really made us knuckle down and focus on the key areas to improve and make the necessary changes,’ says Shann.

Among the targets in the honing of the new frame frame were a slightly longer reach, increased stiffness for both enhanced handling and improved power transfer, as well as to add a few aero benefits and shed some weight, without forgetting about some good old-fashioned comfort. No small task, then, for lead road design engineer, Ben Marvin.  

‘We really worked hard on the geometry to balance what the team wants with what consumers need,’ Marvin explains. ‘We based the geometry around having clearance for up to 32mm tyres, which is relatively easy on the larger sizes but with the smaller sizes was a little trickier. We really wanted all six frame sizes to offer the same riding characteristics, so we spent a long time ironing all that out.

‘We worked a lot on tube shapes for this latest EVO as that’s the way to get the stiffness and ride feel we were after while also being able to hit the frame weight we were chasing,’ Marvin continues.

‘What stands us apart from many of our competitors is we use a full one-piece mould for our frames. That means not having extra material to lay up around joints, reducing weight, but also facilitating more control to balance lateral stiffness with vertical compliance in certain elements of the design.

‘The head tube and bottom bracket areas are critical to the way the bike reacts to rider inputs for handling traits and power transfer and as such we have achieved an 11% increase in the stiffness of the head tube and over 50% more rigidity at the bottom bracket compared to the previous version.

The stiff BB translates through the chainstays, which we have also kept as short as possible, to help brace the rear triangle and make it 9% stiffer, plus the new fork is a massive 69.5% stiffer up front,’ Marvin concludes.

Vitus suggests that the new Vitesse EVO is around 35% stiffer overall than its predecessor, a step up that will inevitably pay dividends in terms of performance out on the road, especially when you consider this has been achieved alongside a 10% drop in frame weight. A painted size medium frame is now a claimed 910g.

Out with the old

The previous Vitesse EVO had a very classic looking silhouette, but the latest frame shape has very much met the modern era head on with features such as dropped seatstays and an integrated seat clamp.

Vitus is keen to stress, however, these aren’t just changes for the sake of following the latest trends. ‘There are proven performance benefits,’ says Shann. ‘The compliance at the rear is dramatically improved by having the dropped stays.’ 

Two modern trends Vitus has decided to eschew, however, are the move to a one-piece aero cockpit and fully internal cabling. But this is with good reason, suggests Shann. ‘We have thought a lot about the mechanical practicality of the bike and arrived at a solution using just a single cable entry point (on the left side of the down tube),’ he says.

‘This, we felt, was a good compromise, minimising the amount of visible cabling whilst also being as practical as possible. It’s also lighter this way, even with a full length outer cable end to end, which we have included to reduce the chance of cables dragging against surfaces internally, ensuring a crisp, light shifting action for mechanical gearing.’

Prices for the latest Vitesse EVO range from £1,999.99 (Shimano 105) up to £4,799 for the range-topping Sram Red eTap AXS-equipped EVO CRX. The Vitus EVO range is a category of high-performance race bikes that includes not just the Vitesse, but also the Energie cyclocross bike, and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of probability that we’ll also see its aero race bike; the ZX1, getting the EVO treatment soon. Watch this space.

Bike shown: Vitesse EVO CRS eTap AXS £3,749.99

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