The Vitus Zenium has seen many little changes over the years. In 2015 it was pretty good, 2016 it was good, 2017 very good and for 2018... well, this new SL VRX Disc model has been tweaked to near-perfection when you consider the price tag. The great handling and excellent geometry has been maintained, while those new seatstays have bolstered the comfort.
I first rode the Zenium back in 2015 and I was pretty impressed. The only real criticism I had was that it had quite a harsh ride, but the updated SL model in 2016 had tamed that with a new frame which I, and John in 2017 found much more comfortable.
For 2018 Vitus has made a few more changes, which have turned the VRX into a very comfortable ride indeed. It's used hydroforming – where you use pressurised liquid to form the tubes in a mould – and created a slimmer top tube and very narrow seatstays to create some flex without taking away the stiffness and performance from the business end of the frame.
What difference does this make out on the road?
Well, it's a minimal advantage but the Zenium is now even more comfortable and easier to ride for 100 miles or so and will challenge a lot of carbon fibre frames at this price point. It's not the most comfortable aluminium alloy frame I've ever ridden but it's getting there.
The good thing is that Vitus hasn't touched the geometry from the previous model, which delivered an exciting bike to ride fast but was never a handful when the pace dropped and you just felt like cruising along. It sits bang on between a race bike and something aimed more at endurance, ideal for something like a sportive in a far-flung county or even country. A bike that is comfortable to ride for a decent distance, but when fatigue starts to kick in it isn't too twitchy in the bends.
Tap out the rhythm on the flat and you can easily cover a decent distance quickly, and even when you get to the climbs you'll realise that at sub-9kg the VRX is pretty competent when it comes to ascending.
Then you come to that unfamiliar descent: do I go for it or rein it in a bit?
Go for it!
The Zenium might not be quite as razor sharp in the twisty stuff as a full-on race bike but it can definitely hold its own.
The steering is quick yet still has quite a neutral feel to it, and thanks to the excellent feedback from the fork and frame you can let things go a little bit. If you are about to overstep the mark you'll know soon enough, and thankfully the Zenium is very responsive to your input to get you out of trouble.
Plus, you've got the backup of the excellent Ultegra hydraulic brakes, which come in handy.
There are four models in the Zenium range, with the top two getting the SL moniker for 'super light'; these get 6066-T6 triple-butted tubing as opposed to the 6061-T6 grade of the cheaper models.
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.
If you haven't come across triple butting before, it 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.
For 2018, as I mentioned earlier, Vitus has used hydroforming to shape some of the tubes, the most noticeable being the seatstays. It's not a new thing – many carbon fibre frames have been using similar for a long time – but many metal frames, whether alloy, titanium or steel, have gone down the curved route to promote flex rather than going super-thin.
The rear end of the Zenium does seem to cancel out the high-frequency buzz from rough road surfaces over earlier models.
Apart from slimming down the top tube, the majority of the frame is pretty much the same and I, for one, am very glad of that. The Zenium is a stiff bike and responds well to being ridden hard whether out on your own or working hard at the sharp end of the chain gang.
The down tube is still a chunky affair, as are the chainstays, to make sure that all of the power is delivered to the road. Plus the head tube is tapered from 1 1/8 to 1 1/2in top to bottom, which provides plenty of tightness for the steering and really resists the braking forces from the hydraulic setup.
A lot of riders will be glad to see a threaded bottom bracket has been specced too.
For the cabling, Vitus has kept the gears external but run the hydraulic hose for the rear brake internally down to the bottom bracket. It looks neat and tidy, to the point that I never noticed it wasn't all internal until I really looked.
In fact the whole frame is like that: with its really thick paintjob and tidy welds, until I got really close I honestly thought it was carbon fibre.
When it comes to mounts, the Zenium has plenty: two bottle positions plus mounts for mudguards, although they are slightly oddly positioned. The fronts are situated at the rear of what would be the dropouts (the Vitus uses 12mm thru-axles front and rear) while the rear mounts are situated in the normal position at the bottom of the seatstays. The issue comes because the Zenium doesn't have a traditional brake bridge, so the mounts are positioned under each seatstay which makes you wonder, how are you going to fettle a set of SKS guards to fit front and rear? It's an unnecessary faff; just put the mounts in the right place!
Tyre clearance could be an issue for some too. The previous model had a claimed tolerance of 30mm while this model has 28mm. For me that's fine – I'd happily run a bike of this style with 25mm tyres anyway.
I've ridden metal bikes costing two grand with mechanical disc brakes and a Shimano 105 groupset, so to see a full Ultegra R8000 hydraulic setup here is very impressive indeed.
Vitus has, in a nod to the VRX's performance nature, specced an 11-30T cassette with a 52/36T chainset so it's a decent spread of low and high gears for the type of riding the Zenium is aimed at.
It does come with a GS model rear mech – long cage, if you like – which has a capacity up to 39 teeth, so you could swap the cassette out for an 11-34 option if you wanted without having to change anything.
The shifting from the latest Ultegra groupset is absolutely spot on with a really light feel to it, but without losing its snappy click so you definitely know the gear has changed even under load.
When it comes to braking it can't be faulted either. The levers have been tweaked to pretty much resemble the shape of the cable-operated rim brake offerings, including the hydraulic reservoir, so they are comfortable to hold plus the modulation is very good. I really like Shimano's brakes for this, as you can control the pressure you need almost infinitely.
For this kind of money a lot of brands go for in-house kit, but for the front end Vitus has specced a Ritchey handlebar and stem and it really adds to the value. Ritchey's components are very good, offering excellent stiffness for the weight.
The handlebar, while stiff, matches the frame in not feeling overly harsh at all and the same goes for the stem.
Vitus specs its own seatpost, though – a carbon fibre offering – and while the spec lists an own-brand saddle, our test bike had a Fizik Antares. I found it all comfortable enough for all the riding I did.
DT Swiss wheels are a strong plus point on any specification list as they are solid performers, durable and a decent weight. The VRX comes with the ER 1600 Spline 23 wheelset which, with a claimed weight of just 1,638g, is good to see at this price.
They are a solid set of hoops that'll take plenty of abuse but don't hamper you on the climbs. A real all-rounder set of wheels that strike a good balance of lightness and durability.
In a mix of riding smooth A-roads and pot-holed country lanes they performed brilliantly, and finished the test period in the same condition that they started it.
The hubs look cool too.
For the tyres Vitus has gone for Continental's 28mm Ultra Sport IIs and they are decent performers. They aren't the fastest or the grippiest but they sit very well somewhere in the middle. Unless ultimate performance is a priority I wouldn't change them out straight away, but when they do wear I might go for something like GP4000S IIs as an upgrade.
At £1,699 the VRX offers very good value for money. You are getting a great frameset, top notch finishing kit and a very impressive ride. If you aren't a racer but like to ride quickly in comfort and want the option to run wider tyres, the Zenium really fits the bill.
It's a fun bike to ride and I'd pitch it ever so slightly above one of its main competitors, the Canyon Endurace AL Disc 8.0, in those stakes, which comes in at similar money. The Canyon comes in at 50 quid cheaper, but that's before the delivery charge is added. Wiggle and CRC deliver for free and at the moment the Zenium SL VRX Disc is £1,299.99.
Another option would be the Rose Pro SL Disc Ultegra, which'll set you back £1,632.72 at the current exchange rates. You'll need to add on £27.20 for delivery.
At this price most brands have switched to carbon frames rather than aluminium so there isn't a huge amount of competition. It's good to see that these brands are offering great frames with decent spec lists for the money.
The Zenium SL VRX Disc is a great race bike for the non-racer. It's fast, it's fun and for 2018 has upped the comfort stakes.
Plenty of speed and performance married to neutral handling, a bike that anyone can ride fast
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Vitus Zenium SL VRX Disc
Size tested: 58cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame AL6061 alloy
Chainset Shimano Ultegra R8000
Bottom Bracket Shimano
Shifters Shimano Ultegra R8020
Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra R8000
Rear Derailleur Shimano Ultegra R8000
Cassette Shimano R8000 Ultegra
Chain KMC X11L
Wheels DT Swiss ER1600
Tyres Continental Ultra sport II
Front Brake Shimano Ultegra R8020
Rear Brake Shimano Ultegra R8070
Handlebars Ritchey Comp
Stem Ritchey Comp 4 Axis
Headset Token - Intergrated Ahead tapered
Seatpost Vitus carbon
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, "Ready for speedy sportives, capable commuting, or your go-to winter workhorse. The lightweight aluminium Vitus Zenium disc is a road bike that's designed for those long haul rides, a perfect blend of comfort and performance that offers a great all round riding experience whatever your biking demands.
"The 2018 Zenium's have been created around all new alloy frame platforms, featuring slender hydroformed top tubes and skinny seat stays. This increases road compliance, adding comfort and a balanced ride, the result being reduced rider fatigue and while providing confidence inspiring handling.
"The top two SL models are engineered with super light (SL) triple butted tubing, optimised for power transfer and vertical compliance to combine the best of both worlds. Oversized hydroformed down tubes and a tapered head tube culminate in razor sharp handling.
"All models use a full carbon fork, made from premium high modulus weave carbon fibre, featuring a tapered steerer tube for increased steering precision, with reduced road buzz from rough road surfaces.
"All new Zenium models feature the latest flat mount disc brakes, providing consistent and controllable breaking in all conditions, with bolt through axles resulting in assured handling no matter how tight the turn, or how bad the road surface.
"With tyre clearance up to 28mm wide tyres the Zenium offers great all round, all road capabilities.
"The Zenium workhorse credentials are supported with hidden tabs for mudguard fitment, allowing more comfort for winter training or just keeping drier for commuters."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There are four models in the Zenium range, with this SL VRX Disc sitting at the top. Below you get the SL VR Disc which gets the same 6066-T6 triple butted frame, a hydraulic Shimano 105 setup and DT Swiss E1800 wheelset, which looks to be good value for money at £1,299.
The other two models, Zenium VR Disc (£1,099) and Zenium Disc (£899), use the slightly heavier 6061-T6 frame and come with a 105 hydraulic groupset and Tiagra respectively. The latter gets TRP Spyre mechanical brakes though they both have the same Shimano WH RS-170 wheels.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
A tough paintjob makes for a smart-looking machine. The welding is neat and tidy, if nothing spectacular for the money.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
This is one of two SL models in the Zenium range, which gets the lighter 6066-T6, triple butted aluminium alloy tubing. The fork is full carbon fibre with a tapered steerer.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry sits somewhere between a race bike and that of an endurance machine. It's 160mm head tube is quite tall but you can still get low enough for a bit of an aggressive ride.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
In this size the stack is 564mm with a reach of 387mm giving a ratio of 1.45. Exactly where I'd expect to find a bike of this design.
Full details can be found here - http://vitusbikes.com/products/zenium-sl-vrx-disc-2018/
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, comfort was pretty good. It's not as plush as some of the top alloy frames out there but it's very close indeed.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, stiffness is plenty good enough for this style of bike.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, it's a good all-round package of weight and stiffness.
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? The exciting side of neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling isn't as razor sharp as that of a race bike but it is very competent and surefooted through the bends.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I got on well with the Vitus saddle.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The Ritchey handlebar and stem offer plenty of stiffness, as do the DT Swiss wheels.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
It's a good all-round package, delivering a bike with a responsive frame and fork and reasonably lightweight kit.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The latest Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset delivers awesome shifting and hydraulic braking power.
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 DT Swiss ER 1600 wheelset is a good quality setup to get as standard. The weight is pretty good and they stand up to plenty of abuse.
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 Ultra Sport tyres are decent performers. Not the quickest or the most grippy, but solid performers when you want a balance of speed versus reliability.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Ritchey stem and handlebar add a little bit of class to the Vitus and they perform very well. Vitus has specced its own carbon seatpost and saddle and they both work fine; I'd be in no hurry to change either of them.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
One of its main competitors is the Canyon Endurace AL Disc 8.0 which is a very similar machine, although it has no mounts for mudguards (I tested the AL Disc 7.0 in July). The 8.0 uses the same great frame as the 7.0 and the ride style is much the same as the Vitus, as is the spec list, and though the Canyon comes in at 50 quid cheaper, that's before the delivery charge is added. Wiggle delivers for free and at the moment the Zenium SL VRX Disc is £1,299.99...
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Zenium SL VRX Disc is a great bike performance-wise if you want a quick ride without having to deal with the twitchy handling of a race bike. It's a good build for the money too, with a full Ultegra hydraulic groupset, though the mudguard mounts are poor.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 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,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!