Vitus has expanded its disc braked range for 2016 and with that comes a new, lighter, more comfortable frameset for the Zenium SL over the pretty damn good VR model I rode last year. Offering a Shimano 105 groupset, full-carbon fork, TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes and a Fulcrum Racing 5 wheelset, there is a lot to like for your £1,299.99 outlay.
When I reviewed the Zenium VR (which has dropped 50 quid for 2016) back in February 2015, I was impressed with its racy nature and responsive ride. It was quite harsh, though, which won't be for everyone, but this SL (super light) model has tamed that just a little bit.
The SL does still have a stiff ride, and I like it. It feels purposeful, a kind of 'this is what I am, deal with it' type of thing. With a lot of bikes these days trying to be a bit of an 'everything' option, it's good to get on board something that can just be smashed about a bit and ridden hard.
Don't get me wrong, the Zenium isn't uncompromising – you can ride 100 miles on it at a steady pace, ride a sportive, or a long club ride – but it responds to a bit of aggression, an out-of-the-saddle effort up that short, sharp climb, the sprint for the village sign, nailing that Strava segment, that sort of thing.
Frame and handling
The Zenium SL has an aluminium frame made from a 6066-T6 alloy, as opposed to the lower priced models in the range which use a 6061-T6 grade. The 6066-T6 offers a higher strength to weight ratio, which means Vitus can cut a bit of weight from the frame by using less material for the same stiffness. It also seems to be a little more forgiving, but we're talking tiny benefits here which are only noticeable if you've ridden the two side by side.
Each tube is triple butted which, if you haven't come across this before, means the wall thickness changes from the end to the middle in, as you've no doubt guessed, three stages. It's thicker at the end where stiffness is required, thinning out in the middle to allow a little give in the tube for comfort.
What all this means out on the road is that the Vitus has a kick; stamp on those pedals and it'll respond through the head tube and bottom bracket junctions, those places where you want stiffness and total efficiency.
Up front it has a tapered head tube, increasing the cross sectional area and allowing a larger diameter down tube to be used, as well as creating a larger weld area for stiffness. The bottom of the seat tube flares out for the same effect.
You notice the oversize head tube in the bends, as the steering is spot and direct. And you can feel that front end stiffness when you really haul on those anchors too, you don't get any chatter or diving from the full-carbon fork.
The Zenium's geometry is slightly more relaxed than Vitus's Vitesse Evo race bike but only slightly, with a 145mm head tube, 73-degree seat and head angles, and a 545mm effective top tube still making for a pretty sporty position.
What you get from this, and the stack of 552.2mm and reach of 376.2mm (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube), is a bike that's responsive to the more experienced rider really pushing it, but also surprisingly neutral for those who are new to the game.
The Zenium SL feels really positive under foot, very forgiving and a pleasure to ride, with the Continental Grand Sport Race tyres offering plenty of grip in the wet and dry to inspire confidence in the bends.
The fork is stiff and you certainly don't feel any understeer when really pushing on technical descents or under heavy braking. Vitus has gone for a 15mm thru-axle on the fork, and while it certainly doesn't hamper the braking, from a personal point of view I just don't think it's a setup needed on road bikes – I've yet to suffer from any issues with discs and a conventional quick release. Just putting it out there.
When the road starts to head upwards, you soon notice that despite the superlight SL monicker it isn't exactly the most svelte at 8.84kg. It certainly lays down the power, though, climbing well considering its weight, helped by the now pretty much standard Shimano setup of 50/34 front and 11-28 rear ratios giving a large spread of gears. It's a full Shimano 105 drivetrain, too, which is nice to see.
Wheels and finishing kit
When I first took a look through the kit list I couldn't see much of a difference between this and the VR model for the sake of the extra £300 on the RRP, but the SL shaves off nearly half a kilo by speccing slightly lighter wheels. That might not sound a lot, but in the real world it makes a massive difference – this being another of those times when you can't judge a bike by its paperwork.
The Fulcrum Racing 5 DBs here are much more responsive and more comfortable than the Fulcrum Sport DBs on the VR model. They have a wider rim profile over the standard rim braked versions, which makes fitting 25mm tyres easier and also spreads the tyre's profile a little, meaning the 25s actually measure nearer 27mm when fitted.
We're seeing ever more bikes with hydraulic disc brakes since Shimano brought in its 105-level models, but if you have to go mechanical then TRP's Spyres are what you want, as they use the same dual-pivot design as hydraulic systems, with both pads squeezed in at the same time rather than just one pushing against the other.
The set on the Vitus did take a bit of a bedding in to get the best out of them, and I don't think I quite achieved it as they still weren't giving off the performance I've come to know from other test bikes, but the test period was surprisingly dry – they normally need a good couple of wet rides and a bit of grit to sort the abrasion out.
The rest of the componentry is marked up Vitus, and while not being massively exciting it does a good job and to be honest you never feel the need for anything better.
The aluminium compact handlebar provides all the hand positions you need while also making it easy to drop into the bends without too much strain on your back, and the stem is plenty stiff enough.
The alloy seatpost could probably be changed for a carbon one to add a bit of comfort, and would probably be negligible in terms of value for money. Vitus's own saddle is a well proportioned mix of padding and stiffness, which helps to take the sting out.
Value for money is always a tough one, and on paper the Vitus looks quite expensive for what it is. But the ride you might expect when reading a spec list doesn't always transpire, and in reality the Zenium SL is quick and responsive. Yes, it's maybe a touch on the harsh side, but if you're the sort of rider who likes to go hard, as if you're racing without actually signing on, plus you want the all-round advantages of disc brakes, look no further.
The Zenium is a bike that can be smashed about a bit as you reach the end of that segment with your tongue hanging out and your vision going blurry. It's a proper race bike that isn't a race bike.
Very good semi-race bike that responds well to hard efforts
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Vitus Zenium SL Disc
Size tested: 54cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Hydroformed 6066-T6 Triple Butted Alloy
Forks High-modulus T700 HM-UD carbon
Chainset Shimano 105 5800
Bottom Bracket Shimano 105 5800
Shifters Shimano 105 5800
Front Derailleur Shimano 105 5800
Rear Derailleur Shimano 105 5800
Cassette Shimano 105 5800
Chain KMC X11
Rims Fulcrum Racing 5 Disc Brake
Front Hub Fulcrum Racing 5 Disc Brake
Rear Hub Fulcrum Racing 5 Disc Brake
Spokes Fulcrum Racing 5 Disc Brake
Tyres Continental Grand Sport Race
Front Brake TRP Spyre mechanical disc
Rear Brake TRP Spyre mechanical disc
Handlebars Vitus compact
Headset Token A83M-15
Seatclamp Vitus bolt
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Vitus says, "The Zenium SL features a custom designed superlight alloy disc brake specific frame which has an ultra durable and weight saving anodized finish, a full carbon disc brake specific fork with 15mm through axle; Shimano 105 11 speed gearing; TRP Spyre disc brakes; Fulcrum Racing 5 Disc Brake wheelset and Vitus finishing kit to complete the package.
"Our semi-sloping endurance geometry offers a balanced ride resulting in reduced rider fatigue and confidence inspiring handling.
"The T700 HM-UD disc brake specific full carbon fork features a tapered carbon steerer for increased steering precision with reduced road buzz from rough road surfaces. A 15mm through axle provides enhanced braking performance and improved handling to counteract the brake forces which are transmitted through one side of the fork.
"With tyre clearance up to 28mm wide tyres the new Zenium SL offers great all round, all road capabilities."
The new frame material and slightly tweaked geometry has made the new Zenium SL Disc slightly more comfortable and relaxed to ride than the previous VR version tested but thankfully still holds on to that racy edge.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Being anodised rather than painted means that the Vitus has a very hardwearing finish and I must admit the colour did grow on me.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The Vitus uses a 6066-T6 triple butted alloy frame with T700 HM-UD carbon fork. Triple butting means that along the length of each tube the depth of the walls has three different thicknesses. Thicker where stiffness is required and thinner when you can allow a small degree of flex.
A full-carbon, tapered fork steerer is good to see for a tight front end.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Slightly more relaxed than Vitus's full race bike models but only marginally, which allows the Zenium to keep its racer reactions.
Full details here - http://vitusbikes.com/products/zenium-sl-disc-2016/
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The Vitus has a slightly shorter head tube than a lot of 'endurance' bikes to give a sportier ride.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
In terms of comfort, the difference between this model and the Zenium VR I previously tested is quite marked, although the Zenium still heads the stiffness/performance route.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The one thing you can't knock the Zenium on is stiffness. It's a very tight frame.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
It's a bike you can ride hard and a firm stamp on the pedals results in impressive forward motion.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very easy to ride with a good balance of feedback and excitement. It's not as sharp as a race bike, but well within the limits of what I'd expect from this geometry.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle was comfortable and helped take the sting out of the frame. A change to a carbon seatpost could bring about a little extra comfort too.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
With its alloy components and stiff frame, the Zenium SL is one responsive frame and its comfort levels may not be for everyone.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The grippy Continental tyres mean you can keep the speed up through the corners.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The Shimano 105 drivetrain and TRP Spyre components offer a good package for this type of bike at this price.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?
The Fulcrum 5 Disc wheels are a good upgrade over the Fulcrum Sports found on the cheaper Zenium VR. They are slightly lighter and feel stiffer too.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so, what for?
Continental's Grand Sport Race tyres are good all-rounders with their rolling performance and cornering grip matching that of some much more expensive competitors.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The standard alloy components from Vitus give a coordinated look to the bike, and offer good value for money and performance. A shallow compact bar suits this style of bike, offering plenty of hand positions without going 'full racer'.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
While it may be only 430g lighter than the £300 cheaper VR model, the diferent frame material feels slightly more comfortable, taking a bit of the harshness away. You're also getting a decent set of wheels here for the extra money. Overall, the Zenium SL is a very good performer for those who want to ride fast, with the added benefits of disc brakes.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Mason Definition
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.