Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike – review

Two bikes in one – the new disc-equipped sportive machine from Vitus manages to be supple and stiff

The Venon VR Disc is the Vitus’ latest disc-equipped endurance bike and it’s a machine which strikes an excellent balance between supple and stiff, with a very good spec to boot, save for a couple of quirks.

The Venon’s been through quite an evolution since it first appeared in the Vitus range. In 2011, it was a standard carbon-framed, round-tubed, do-it-all road bike. By 2015 it had turned into a comfort-focussed, gran fondo bike with a curvy and sinuous frame featuring an hourglass-shaped tapered head tube.

For 2016 the Venon’s been through its most dramatic reincarnation yet. It’s still made from carbon and it’s still designed to be comfortable over long distances but the swooping, elegant looks have given way to a muscular frame made up of straight lines and almost rectangular tubes. Oh, and it’s sprouted disc brakes and thru-axles, too.

Vitus Bikes have updated the Venon frame for 2016 and it now comes with disc brakes

At £1,799.99, the VR is the most expensive of the three models in the Venon range and, like all Vitus bikes, is sold direct to customers exclusively through ChainReactionCycles.com. Selling direct means there’s no network of middlemen importing, distributing and displaying them in shop windows. And without these go-betweens widening the profit margins, Vitus can keep its prices that little bit lower.

By way of comparison, a Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc will set you back a full two grand, as will a Mekk Poggio DS 2.6. And although you get hydraulic disc brakes with both of them, you’re also getting a Shimano 105 groupset in the case of the Mekk and a mixed bag of Ultegra, 105 and Praxis components with the Specialized. The Venon VR Disc, however, comes with a full 11-speed Shimano Ultegra groupset, Fulcrum Racing 5 DB wheels, TRP Spyre mechanical (cable-pull) disc brakes and Vitus’ own bars, stem, seatpost and saddle.

The view from above

It seems strange that a bike that’s so burly should actually be built for long-distance comfort but then the VR is a somewhat schizophrenic beast. It’s a bike of two halves with the dividing line running from the middle of the head tube back down to the rear axle. The tubes in the top half are slender, smaller and more supple, while, below the imaginary line, everything in the bottom half is big, boxy and beefed up for stiffness.

  • Specification

  • Price: £1,799.99
  • Weight: 8.49kg (size 54cm)
  • Size tested: 60cm
  • Sizes available: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60cm
  • Website: Vitus

Viewed from the side, the differences between the Jekyll and Hyde personas hidden in the VR’s frame are almost too subtle to spot. But looking down from the saddle the contrast immediately becomes clear. The view from above shows you just how much bigger the bottom half of the VR is compared to the top. From this vantage point it’s easy to see how the downtube swallows the toptube.

But of all the tubes in the top half of the bike, the seatstays are the tiniest – barely as big as a little finger. But they’re not the only thing that’s been slimmed down from the VR’s previous incarnations; the seatpost has been on a diet as well. It’s shrunk from the 31.6mm-diameter post specced on the 2015 bike to a 27.2mm post on this year’s VR.

And all those slender tubes make a noticeable difference. Stay in the saddle as you pass over patches of broken or sunken tarmac and you can feel the frame flexing underneath you. But the movement is contained within the area around the junction of the toptube, seattube and chainstays. Thanks to those beefed-up boxy tubes in the bottom half of the frame, the rest of the bike remains rock solid.

Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The rigidity in the bottom half of the frame is what makes the Venon VR Disc so much fun to ride

The rigidity in the bottom half of the frame is what makes the VR so much fun to ride. Yes, there’s enough give in the upper half to soften the ride but there’s still a sufficient amount of stiffness underneath it to keep the bike feeling sharp and responsive. It doesn’t have the uptight, nervousness of an uncompromising race bike but it also doesn’t suffer from the soggy, wallowy softness that characterises some sportive bikes – especially when they’re underneath bigger riders (80kg and over).

That’s helped by the geometry, which sits between sportive and race, being neither too lazy or aggressive, and the Venon VR manages to strike a balance between being easy-going and highly strung, and it makes for a satisfyingly nimble and lively ride. And one that doesn’t leave you feeling numb at the end of it.

 An undeserved reputation

The changes in the redesigned Venon frame may make for a more muscular-looking bike but they also result in a bike that’s a lot of fun to ride. Which is good news for anyone interested in any of the three bikes in the Venon range, because although they’re specced differently, they all share the same frame.

They also all share the same TRP Spyre disc brakes. And while that’s no bad thing, it does throw up a couple of issues that you don’t get with rim brakes. The first is the need to bed the disc brakes in – something you need to do when they’re new and whenever you change the pads.

The TRP Spyre brakes take some bedding in but once that’s done they provide powerful braking

How long the bedding-in process takes and what the best method for doing it is will vary depending on who you speak to, but the key thing to know is that the brakes will be spongy and vague the first few times you use them. After a few hard stops, the discs will have scoured the pads and some of the pad material will have been transferred to the discs, and you’ll start to have a predictable, reliable and powerful stopping capability. But until then you’re going to be riding around wondering how discs have managed to get a reputation for superior braking.

In fairness, the bedding in process doesn’t take long and rather than being an inconvenience, is really only a consideration you need to bear in mind from time to time. But the fact of the matter is that consideration isn’t a factor with rim brakes – you’re pretty much good to go the minute you fling in the new pads. You don’t have to alter the way you brake or the way you ride for as long as it takes them to settle in.

Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Vitus Venon VR Disc road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The other issue is that the disc brakes on the VR, and in general, seem to work best under heavy braking. Which is great if your riding is characterised by big, sudden stops, such as when you’re hurtling downhill towards a hairpin bend, for example. But if you’re just tootling along and need to scrub off a little speed to, say, negotiate a queue of traffic, they lack a degree of feel. Until you really drop anchor, the cable-pull TRP Spyre set-up on the Venon VR is missing some bite.

Granted, you don’t want to be dragging your brakes – whatever type they are. But at least with rim brakes you can ease your way into the slowing-down process, when necessary. With these discs the process is almost too abrupt to do that; you don’t get the smooth, highly modulated braking of hydraulic disc brakes it’s more of an all-or-nothing affair. As a result, you find yourself adopting a last-minute approach to your braking, which is fine when you’re belting around quiet, country B-roads but can make for some hairy moments when you’re just rolling through town.

Bang for your buck

Aside from those two quirks the TRP Spyre units deliver perfectly decent braking. And while a hydraulic set-up might be preferable on the whole, the one big advantage of cable disc brakes is that they don’t need a master cylinder crammed into the shifters. The shifters on the VR are the normal, elegant Shimano Ultegra shifters – not the elephantine-looking ones that hydraulic systems require.

The Venon VR Disc is a great package – it’s great value and offers a great ride

With a full spread of Shimano Ultegra shifting components (the compact 50-34t chainset and 11-28t cassette provides a climb-friendly spread of gears), the Venon VR Disc represents smart value. Ultegra gets almost all of the performance of the top-level Dura-Ace groupset at a much more friendly price, not least on a carbon-framed machine at £1,799.99 like this.

The top-level Venon VR Disc is well-specced with Shimano Ultegra components and the compact chainset provides a climb-friendly spread of gears

The rest of the bike is draped with equally nice parts. The Fulcrum Racing 5 DB wheels are shod with 25mm Continental Grandsport Race tyres and make for a fine pairing. And aside from the slightly odd swept-back bars, there’s nothing to complain about with regard to the Vitus finishing kit. You can also swap the rear dropouts to use either a thru-axle or a standard quick-release lever.

Conclusion

Overall, the Venon VR Disc is a great package – it’s great value and offers a great ride. The cable-pull disc brakes might not be everyone’s cup of tea but apart from a couple of minor quirks there’s nothing to complain about. The Venon may have been through a long evolution, but it remains a fine, do-it-all road bike.

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