Vitus as a brand have been around for many years. Back when Sean Kelly was at his peak, the majority of his victories were aboard a Vitus. The brand then went to ground for a while until Chain Reaction Cycles brought it back to life a few years ago. With Kellys’ input and feedback from The An Post Chain Reaction Cycles team riders, the quality of the brand has been steadily making its way back towards the higher echelons of the bike industry.
Simon Cordner, the Vitus brand manager, was kind enough to send me down one of the first 2015 Vitus Venon VR’s to test ride and offer my opinions upon.
The day it arrived it was raining. I was 50/50 about going out but all it took was a new out of the box bike to tip the balance.
When testing a bike, I have a number of local routes that I like to use in order to compare like with like.
I tend to rank comfort very highly, and the rough surface of the back road to Carrick on Suir is a great place to test out just how comfortable a bike is. It’s no coincidence that Kelly had no problems on Belgian cobbles having spent much of his training time on this road.
Aesthetically the Venon has a few nods towards comfort. The narrow curved seat stays, the slight curve on the top tube, 25 mm tyres all point towards a possibility of comfort, but it is not until you actually get out there on a good, rough , torn apart road surface that you really know.
So, how did the Venon fair on the ‘Back road to Carrick’ test? It actually passed with flying colours. It absorbed almost as much vibration as any other bike that I have taken on that road. The Vitus own brand saddle which has the same basic shape as a Fizik Aliante but is slightly softer, worked well and I have never felt like changing it, which is unusual. The Vitus own brand bars are OK but I have used better.
In Carrick I just HAD to follow in Kellys tyre tracks and headed for Seskin Hill. My first time on a Vitus and here I was on the hill made famous by Kelly and his cohorts in the Nissan Classic whilst he too was on a Vitus. Once again there was no drama, the bike just made its way up the climb whilst giving the comforting sensation that every ounce of effort being pushed through the pedals was being transformed into pushing the bike onwards and upwards.
Looking at the bike I thought that it looked well, and this has been confirmed by the amount of admiring remarks that I have received from other cyclists. Not alone were cyclists admiring the bike, but on one of the many trips that I have taken the bike on, Father Ted’s lovely horse tried to get a bit too close to the bike through a gate.
The full Shimano Ultegra 11 speed 6800 groupset is excellent as can be expected. I sometimes wonder if new Dura Ace groupsets are a testing ground for the new Ultrega groupset that normally follow on a year or so after.
Mechanically this bike is a dream. External gear cables may not look as sleek as internals but try changing a cable in under 5 minutes and see which you prefer. The same goes for the external threaded bottom bracket. It is a very easy bike for even a novice mechanic to maintain.
The Fulcrum Racing 5 wheelset have long been a favourite of mine. They are strong, lively enough and very rarely break spokes. I managed to really test them and the entire bike on one particular excursion.
Miles from home in an unfamiliar part of the country I was following my Garmin. A road that looked fine on a map began to narrow. Eventually I reached a point where I stopped and considered turning back. There were craters on the road only a four wheel drive tractor could drive through. It was wet and muddy and even though I didn’t want to admit it, I was lost. The option to double back was there, but then where to from there. I decided to push on and found myself in the middle of a bog (Sorry Simon). Sometimes, I watch way too many youtube videos of cobbled classics and find myself planting the bike in a big gear, sitting off the back of the saddle, loosely gripping the tops of the bars and putting the pedal to the metal on surfaces so bad they can only be described as no surface at all. I drove on and thought that if ever there was a road to test the strength and resilience of a bike this was it. Eventually I reached a point where some farmer had tied a rope across the road and knew that I was near civilisation.
Moments later I was out on a small road once more and a car stopped to ask me for directions. I suggested that it would be a case of the blind leading the blind and we headed in opposite ways. I hope they made it out OK.
The bike and the wheels withstood everything that was presented and came through with flying colours.
Hills are another area where the bike can make a difference. Tickincor is my testing ground for how well a bike climbs and the Vitus Venon VR was the first bike to accompany me on my first effort of ‘Carrauntoohiling’ up Tickincor, and Powers the Pot.
With a 34 x 28 to get my 85kg over the steepest sections the bike did everything that I asked. On long climbs in the saddle, the riding position is upright enough to stave off lower back pain and still offers a bit of grunt when you want to stand on the pedals for a little extra power.
So it climbed well, but what about descending. Again Tickincor is my favourite descent. I managed my fastest Strava time on the descent on a damp morning aboard the Venon VR. It felt planted and secure at all times and took fast corners with zero drama. The 1 1/8 to 1.5 head tube and tapered fork steerer obviously have much to do with this solid stiffness up front. It would not really be a crit racers type of machine but is a really predictable endurance bike with a bit of life when needed. Here is what the descent of Tickincor looked like from onboard the Venon VR.
As someone who spends a lot of time in the saddle I always found the Venon VR to be good company. It never created any drama with unpredictable handling but neither was it dull or lifeless. It’s like a good friend on a motorway journey who chats away just enough to pass the time without shouting or screaming or getting too excited.