If you’re looking for a world-class, UCI certified mid-life crisis road bike, read on! This is a review of my new Vitus Vitesse CRX EVO CRX bicycle fitted out with the top-tier SRAM RED eTap AXS groupset. I ordered it sight-unseen from Chain Reaction Cycles at the end of March 2022 and it arrived from the UK two weeks later. From mid-April to December this year, I’ve logged 4500km on it.
I’m 48. I ride to commute and for pleasure. My commuting bike, fitted with carrier and mudguards is a 2014 custom Marinoni Sportivo Ti. It’s still my winter and commuting bike. And I’m still doing a few kms on it: I don’t own a car. Sold my car in 2010 and never looked back. Best decision of my life. Whenever I need a car, I rent or borrow one. This is the way to go both in terms of finances (I think a car, once you factor in gas, insurance, repairs, and replacing it every decade or so, is really costing $600-$800 each month) and fitness / health. No need for a gym membership when you’re a bicycle commuter. It strikes me as so ironic the folks (and I know a few) who drive to the gym to do half an hour on the stationary bike.
I ride 7-8000 km per year, averaging 26kph on commutes and 31kph on club rides. My goal with the new bike is to average 33kph+ on club rides next year. Maybe. It’ll be hard but achievable. A little less pork chops and pie might help. I also enjoy kickboxing, weight training, and running. But the running knees are starting to give out. They are good up to 7km, but start tweaking over that. It’s a bummer. The Marinoni is an endurance bike, with a more relaxed geometry. Because I hate stretching, I am not the most flexible. So, I was worried I could ride an all-out road-race bike. It turns out that this is no problem. As you can see in the picture, the stem is slammed.
On the Vitus fitting chart, a 5’7″ rider (70kg) fits a size small or medium frame. I went with the small. Manoeuvrability is nice. I also like lighter and that feeling of sitting “big” on the bike–it’s hard to describe, but you probably know what I mean. My Marinoni is closer to a medium, and is plenty stable. But it also feels big sometimes. Having ridden the Vitus for awhile, I think I could have even went with XS, even though it is only recommended their XS for riders up to 5’5″. If anything, if you go for something a little undersize, you could always swap in a longer stem, easy. But since it was an online purchase, I didn’t want to take the risk. If I was buying locally, I probably would have went with the smaller XS frame.
Not My First Choice
Because I was worried about the racy geometry, my first choice was a Canyon Endurace. Similarly outfitted, it would have been about 15% more. But it has better brand recognition. But 2022 was one of the years of the global bike shortage. When I found one on the Canyon site in my size, I spent a little too long configuring the build. By the time I hit “buy,” someone else snagged it. The last one in the world. What luck. But the Vitus was still available. I actually like the look of the Vitus better, with the dropped seatstays and the clean look. And it was still in stock. All-in, with taxes, customs, and shipping, it came to $10,300 (before taxes, custom, and shipping, it was $7800). The bike is a great deal. A Specialized Aethos similarly outfitted would come to $17,000, all-in. The Specialized is a superior bicycle, but not $7000 better. And I doubt there would be any real-world benefits in performance for an enthusiast rider such as myself.
The shipping was surprising quick: two weeks. The big box came with a big hole punctured in the side. The FedEx guy told me to accept it and take a photo noting the damage. It looked like a forklift went through the box. Fortunately, the bike was undamaged. But the battery charger had fallen out. Chain Reaction Cycles was a pleasure to deal with. They responded right away: “Buy a battery charger locally, take a picture of the receipt, and we will reimburse you,” they said. Easy. Assembly was a piece of cake: install seat, seatpost, and tighten together the stem and handlebar. It took about half an hour, and could have been much faster if I wasn’t also drinking coffee and in awe of the bike. To me, this was an unjustifiable purchase. The Marinoni does everything that I need already. But I wanted a lightweight race bike with disc brake and that new electronic shifting everyone was talking about. The Marinoni is outfitted with rim brakes and a mechanical (and beautifully chromed) Campagnolo Athena groupset.
This is my first electronic groupset. It is pretty cool. Perfect shifts each time. It shifts perfectly under load. You know, if you shift too late on a hill with a mechanical derailleur, you get that awful “clunk clunk crap” sound. Well, with the electronic shifting, I can shift under load with full confidence. And it shifts quick. I love it. In the future, it is electronic for me all the way. Mind you, I have no problems with the Campagnolo mechanical shifting. On the higher gears, it takes a few seconds now to shift. It’s getting a little worn out from riding in the rain for eight years now. The CR2032 batteries in the handlebars seem to last forever. Haven’t changed them yet; they are supposed to last a couple of years(!). The rechargeable batteries in the front and rear derailleur I charge on the first of every month. And on the 15th of every month, I swap the front battery to the rear (the rear derailleur gets the lion’s share of shifts, especially with the SRAM design, which has a 48/35 in the front and a wide 10-33 in the rear cassette; the idea is to stay in the big front chainring as long as possible). The sound of electronic shifting is very satisfying.
One crappy thing was that on the SRAM RED AXS shifting was that the chain was dropping when going onto the small chainring in the front. This is very annoying, as the chain gets stuck between the ring and the frame, which not only scratches the frame, but is a pain to pull out. Adjusting the chain catcher helped, but not very much. My Marinoni doesn’t have a chain catcher, and the chain has NEVER fallen off shifting into the smaller ring in the front. It turns out that the front derailleur cage was either poorly assembled, or had shifted during shipping: it was installed a few millimetres higher than recommended. It took me a month to finally figure it out, mostly by watching YouTube videos. It was an easy five-minute fix loosening and retightening a few bolts. But while I didn’t know, it was quite unnerving, as I thought it would be like this forever! Since adjusting everything many months ago, no more dropouts. Whew! So that’s one thing to watch out for when ordering a bike by mail.
I’ve been following this disc brake debate. Some say they’re great. Some say rim is just as good. The only way to decide is to ride both. To me, disc is the way to go. Victoria, Canada is a place full of rolling hills. On the hill routes, my hands get tired just holding onto the brakes when riding rim brakes. With disc brakes, you have one-finger stopping power. This is rad. I love it. The crappy things they say about disc brakes are true too. When riding in the wet, they can get contaminated with oils on the road and then you have to clean them with isopropyl alcohol. I rode a few times in the wet with the new Vitus, but, for the most part, will ride it only when it’s dry(-ish). I’ll save the Marinoni for the weather days. Changing the disc brake pads is a pain as well. I can get them so that there’s no disc brake rub, but it takes me awhile. Maybe I’ll get better. But with rim brakes, changing the pads takes five minutes and you’re done: the clearances are MUCH more forgiving. But count me in as a disc brake convert.
Is the Vitus faster than the Marinoni, which is 1.1kg (2.2 pounds) heavier with a more relaxed geometry? Accelerating from a stop or out of a corner, yes, absolutely. The power transfer feels instantaneous. Going up long hills, yes, absolutely. It’s like night and day. Once up to cruising speed on flat or rolling terrain, I’m not so sure there’s a big difference. Definitely not a 1kph difference. Perhaps a difference in tenths of a kph. The new Vitus has given me new PBs on a lot of Strava segments. But not all. There are still a few where I’ve had the (fractionally) faster time on the Marinoni. So yes, because the Vitus is stiffer (carbon vs. ti), more aggressive (race vs. endurance geometry), and lighter (1.1kg), it is faster. But unless you’re doing a longer climb or laying the power down from a standstill or going around a corner to break away, the difference is marginal. I was hoping, for this much money, the bike would just shoot out like a rocket automatically. I was mistaken: to go fast, you still have to lay down the pain.
I swapped out the crappy seat that came with the bike with a nice Selle Italia SLR boost saddle. Also sold the stock Reynolds AR29 wheels that came with it and picked up an ultralight Hunt Aerodynamicist 32 wheelset (carbon spokes, 1200 grams!). This is my first experience with tubeless tires. So far, no flats. Every three months I top off the magic juice in the tires with Stans Sealant. Maybe I will get better with time, but it is a mess. Not entirely converted by the tubeless technology, but no real complaints either (besides having to top it up). Instead of a spare inner tube and pump, I carry when riding the Vitus tubeless plugs and a CO2 cartridge. Time will tell. The one nice thing about hookless (the Hunts are tubeless and hookless) is the nice flat profile between the tire and the rim. With hooked rims, the tire sits on the rim like a bulb: at the point of contact the tire flares out. With hookless, the transition between the rim and tire is flush. Aesthetically, it is quite pleasing. And yes, I am finding with tubeless I have to pump up tires more frequently, say once a week. With inner tube, I can get away with going two weeks–and sometimes three–between pumping up the tires.
I also tried out a Ritchie negative 25 degree stem (with the stem slammed). But that was too much. It hurt my back. So went back to the Prime stem (which is +6 degrees). All-in, the bike weights 7.38kg (16.3 lb). I could get it a little lower by getting a RED cassette and chain (even though marketed as a RED groupset, it ships with a FORCE cassette and chain, this is fairly common in the industry). Almost forgot, also swapped out the setback seatpost for an in-line seatpost. For aesthetic reasons: the inline seatpost just looks so much cleaner.
What I Really Like
It’s hard to see in the photo, but the Vitus Vitesse comes with an aero handlebar: the top of the handlebar is bladed. Where it connects to the stem, it is round, just enough room to put on the Garmin mount and a light. It is also ever so slightly “V” shaped, with the vertex of the “V” towards the rider. It looks badass. It’s also a short drop into the drops. At the ends of the drops, the handlebars flare out a touch (you can see it a bit in the photo), so you know where you are on the drops. This is the first bike where I actually prefer to be in the drops than the hoods. These are my favourite handlebars, ever. Both in terms of looks and feel.
I also love the brake adjustment on the brake levers. For people with small hands, the option to have the brake levers closer to the handlebar is a godsend. It’s safer. There’s no such adjustment on the Campy Athena brake levers; I wish there was. The option makes descending more fun.
The electronic shifting is fun too. You can set it up to automatically shift for you, so that when you switch between the big and small chainring in the front, it automatically moves a few gears on the rear cassette so that it’s a smoother jump. I played with turning on and off the sequential shifting, but now have it engaged. There are also different modes of sequential shifting available. Options. I like options. They are the closest thing to a free lunch.
Oh, did I mention the dropped seatstays, which are ever so lean, are gorgeous. A nice contrast to the massive, muscular downtube. Beautiful.
What I Don’t Like
The paint job isn’t the smoothest. There appear to be thinner parts and some overspray in other areas. You can feel it. You can really tell the difference when it’s up against one of those cost-is-no-object superbikes. The Specialized Aethos in black, for example, has some kind of sparkles in the paint that you can hardly see unless you’re looking right at it. But, from a distance, it really makes the bike sparkle.
One of the cables for the brakes also rubs against the bike when turning the handlebars. It also rubs away the paint. So I put a piece of black tape there.
No big issues, but just a few things to be aware of. At this price point, you can’t have it all.
It was a foolish decision to spend so much on a bike. Especially since I had another one. But it was worth every dollar. I’m finding that I’m loving riding this lean and mean machine. And that’s worth something. After purchasing it, I’m also finding there are advantages of getting what some would consider a “no-name” bike. Vitus is the house brand of Chain Reaction and Wiggle Cycles, one of the world’s largest cycling companies. They sell factory direct. So the savings. One big advantage of having a Vitus bike is that you can actually park it downtown and not have to worry about it being stolen: the Vitus name is unknown to (most) thieves. If I had bought one of those Pinarello or Specialized or Trek bikes, I’m not sure I could park it downtown. So the Vitus is sort of a stealth bike where you get 99% of the performance at 60 or 70% of the price. If you’re looking for performance on a budget, this one’s a contender. Shortly after I picked up the Vitus, another member of the club also took the plunge. That tells you something.
– – –
Don’t forget me. I’m Edwin Wong and I do Melpomene’s work.
sine memoria nihil
Edwin Wong has been dubbed “an Aristotle for the 21st century” (David Konstan, NYU) and “independent and provocative” (Robert C. Evans, AUM) for exploring the intersection between risk and theatre. He has published two books (The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy  and When Life Gives You Risk, Make Risk Theatre ) and over a dozen essays on this topic. In 2022, he was one of three international academics to receive the Ben Jonson Discoveries Award for his work on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 2018, he founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwriting Competition, the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy (risktheatre.com). Wong has talked at venues from the Kennedy Center and the University of Coimbra to conferences hosted by the National New Play Network, Canadian Association of Theatre Research, Society of Classical Studies, and Classical Association of the Middle West and South. He was educated at Brown University and is on Twitter @TheoryOfTragedy.