Vitus offers the latest vibration-slaying RockShox gravel technology at a more affordable £2,000 price point
A pack shot of the Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex gravel bike
A short-travel, smooth-riding gravel bike with a weight compromise
The material is Chain Reaction Cycles and gravel from Wiggle’s in-house brand Vitus.
An astonishing array of different builds is on offer, including 1x or 2x, carbon or alloy frames, SRAM, Shimano or Microshift, and – new for 2022 – a choice of rigid or ‘HT’ (hardtail) to refer to mountain bike style. The suspension fork seen here.
With models ranging from just £749.99 to £2,499.99, the VRS1 HT is at the top of the Apex range and the most expensive of the alloy builds.
The Substance VRS-1 features a two-piece aluminium alloy frame complete with plenty of mounts, including a rear rack or storage under the down tube if you want to add bottle cages. The pinnacle tube slopes toward the seat tube. The frame can accept 650b wheels (as fitted) or 700c.
Up front, the RockShox Rudy XPLR suspension fork offers 30mm of travel, while the frame also features internal dropper post routing, used by the Brand-X Ascend CX seatpost, which offers 85mm of drop.
A beautiful shiny purple gloss paint job with a topographic outline design is complemented by the Vitus logo in pale blue.
Vitus Material VRS-1 HT Apex Geometry
Vitus offers its bikes in a really good range of sizes from XS (for riders measuring 155cm/5ft) to XXL (up to 200cm/6ft 5in), with the smallest on test fitting my 165cm build.
The head tube angle is a short 71.3 degrees in this size, with a 1,023mm wheelbase.
There is a moderate level of tire clearance, with 47mm tires fitted to the 650B wheels maximum or 42mm for the 700C.
Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Specificationsl
Apex is SRAM’s entry-level offering.
SRAM Apex is used for shifting and braking, a 40-tooth, 11-speed chainring mated to an 11-42 tooth SunRace cassette, using a long-cage Apex derailleur. Apex braking is hydraulic, and while the right-hand lever enables shifting, the left-hand paddle can be used to lower and raise the dropper seatpost.
DT Swiss’ G1800 Spline gravel wheels are a 650b, tubeless-equipped alternative with a beneficiant 24mm-extensive inner rim diameter for gravel tires. WTB Venture TCS Road Plus tires are 47mm wide and fitted with inner tubes.
The cockpit is completed using Vitus’ own-label alloy kit, including an 80mm stem, 40cm-wide handlebars and quality bar tape. A medium 16-degree flare on the drops is a popular design, and the handlebars are slightly flatter at the top. A unisex Vitus saddle is also specialised.
Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT Apex Ride Impressions
A suspension fork helps iron out bumps.
Jumping on board the Vitus Substance VRS-1 HT, the suitability of the size and fit was immediately apparent. Unlike other gravel bikes of a similar size, I found the reach to be really comfortable rather than feeling too stretched out on the bars. I’m glad to see that this isn’t the smallest size Vitus offers.
With flat tops and mid-level flare to rest your hands while climbing, the 40cm drop handlebars were the perfect width for my shoulders too, and the wide lower position offered confidence-boosting handling over rough, steep terrain.
As this was my first experience with the new RockShox Rudy XPLR fork, I was intrigued by this ‘short-travel gravel’ setup.
With 30mm of travel, it’s important to remember that this design is more about vibration damping and trail smoothing than acting like a mountain bike suspension fork to take the impact of big hits.
Starting out at the road, I aimed for damaged tarmac and potholes to check the fork. Immediately, I was impressed with the smoothing effect, taking out any jarring feeling. Moving onto gravel fire roads and nice singletrack, the smooth feel continued as I sped along, the thing nimbly navigating turns and tight corners alike.
The wide 47mm tires certainly played a part in this, providing plenty of grip and something you can really push into corners. I didn’t hold back anything too aggressive below the tire’s centre line on more tame surfaces.
The combination of the wide tires and suspension fork gave me the confidence to ride from blue-rated mountain bike trails, which I’m usually happy to ride with a gravel bike, to more technical red-rated trails and some natural, rooty singletrack.
The fork is more about reducing the impact of small hits than enduro-style trail features, but I was most impressed by how much fun it had on the rooty tech of Haldon Forest Park singletrack.p
A flared bar helps with stability when you’re going over rough terrain.
I’m less impressed with the dropper post addition. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it was a challenge to set up because the cable was so long, it flexed within the frame, which caused problems. I got a mechanic to help.
Normally, I’m happy to descend more techy trails on a gravel bike with the dropper post extended at normal height, so I had to remember to use it. It’s something that gets used to over time, I’m sure.
Although the paddle setup is smooth and means you don’t need extra levers on the bars, you should be cautious about using the lever before hitting really steep tracks.
If you spend a lot of time on techy trails, you may find that lowering the saddle height to 85mm comes in handy, but I think I’d ditch this technology to reduce weight and handling requirements.
The compromise for this fancy tech is the quality of the groupset and total bike weight. While other brands around the £2,000 mark may use a SRAM competitor (Shimano 105 equivalent) in rigid construction, SRAM Apex is used here to counter the price of a suspension fork and dropper post (Shimano Tiagra equivalent).
Unfortunately, on the first ride, the SRAM Apex rear derailleur broke, although these things happen – components fail – and I got a replacement.
Regardless, you’re paying £2,000 here for a bike with an entry-level groupset, and that’s a kickback when that money is spent on fancy gadgets like a rut-busting suspension fork.
For an extra £500, you can upgrade to the Substance CRX-1 HT for a SRAM Rival-equipped build (and carbon fibre frame), or for an extra £200 you can enjoy a full-carbon fibre Rival build with Substance. CRX-1 on rigid frameset without dropper.
Both of these options will help you lose some weight. At 11.1kg for a small size, this model isn’t the lightest on offer, which I noticed on the hills – of which there are plenty in Devon.
While out of the saddle, I could see the fork moving a bit through its travel, through the cockpit the effect was barely noticeable, especially compared to the buoyancy of the exclusive Future Shock suspension system tested on the Diverge, when it was fully open. I find it quite unusual.
Price GBP £1999.00
Weight 11.1kg (S)
Available sizes XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Headset ACROS Aix-Low R3
Tires WTB Venture TCS Road Plus 650bx47mm
Stem Vitus 6061 aluminium, 80mm
Shifter SRAM Apex
Seatpost Brand-X Ascend CX, 85mm travel
Saddle Vitus, Ti rail
Rear derailleur SRAM Apex
Handlebar Vitus 6061 Aluminium Wing, 16 Degree Flare, 40cm
Bottom bracket SRAM GXP, BSA thread
Grips/Tape Vitus Super Grip
Frame 6061 T6 double butted aluminium
Fork RockShox Rudy XPLR, 30mm travel
Cranks SRAM Apex X-Sync 40
Chain SRAM PC1110
Cassette Sunrace MS8 11-speed 11-42
Brakes SRAM Apex hydraulic disc, 160mm rotors
Wheels DT Swiss M1800 Spline 650b, 24h, 24mm Inner WidthMorSpecialisedOur Statement
Gravel bikes are designed to be as capable as possible on the road. They should be reliable companions for daily commutes, as well as weekend adventures and, in some cases, long bikepacking trips.
At the £2,000 mark, you are probable to locate motorcycles withinside the center of the spectrum among aero gravel-racing machines and hardtail mountain bike-fashion steeds.
These versatile all-rounders must have 10- or 11-speed drivetrains from Shimano or SRAM, hydraulic disc brakes, quality gravel tires, and often mounts for bikepacking bags.
We put their versatility to the test by riding the bikes on a mix of terrain in and around Dartmoor National Park in southwest England. We evaluated how they rolled on country lanes, their ability to challenge singletrack, their handling on flowing fire roads and their speed on good gravel cycleways.
In the exam
Cannondale Topstone Alloy 2
Ribble Gravel AL Enthusiast SRAM Rival 1x
Vitus Material VRS-1 HT Apex
Pros and Cons
Pros: Vibration-damping from Rudy fork; Comfortable fit with decent coverage; Ergonomic flared bars; Confidence-inspiring tires
Cons: Heavy due to fork and dropper; Entry level drivetrain
Vitus Material VRS-1 HT Apex Definition
This material caters well to smaller riders.
I had a real blast riding the Substance VRS-1 HT. If you enjoy more technical trails or think you’ll benefit from the vibration-damping a Rudy fork offers, the increased weight may be worth the compromise.
The light-weight, SRAM Rival-equipped £2,499 Substance CRX-1 HT could prove a wise upgrade if you’re set on a short-travel gravel setup, budget permitting.
Our rating : 5 star rating 4.0 out of 4.0