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Vitus says its Substance CRS-2 adventure road bike will go wherever you point it, on whatever surface you choose – and it does exactly that. Its massive tyres let you float over pretty much any terrain you choose while helping on the comfort front, and the geometry keeps everything under control even when that surface is moving about beneath you. It doesn't stop there either, the CRS-2 also has a great frameset and impressive finishing kit for the cash.
I've got a favourite off-road testing loop for gravel bikes, and when time is on my side I'll try to ride the 33-mile route at least a couple of times a week.
It's got a bit of everything, with various sizes of gravel trails from huge tracks designed for transporting military vehicles to narrow little byways. There are grass fields, some chalk sections, and even a bit of woodland singletrack thrown in for good measure. There's even a small amount of tarmac too.
The Substance took it all in its stride. It didn't suit any one surface better than it did another, the whole time it just felt very composed.
A fair bit of this comes down to the tyres, as they'll cope with anything – in the dry at least – thanks to their predominantly smooth tread.
Even on the smaller gravel, when the CRS-2 is skipping about on the loose stuff, it's just so easy to control.
Up front, the head tube is slackish at 71.5 degrees, but not overly so for an adventure bike, and gives a balanced feel to the handling. Not so quick for it to feel twitchy, but still direct enough that you can get involved with what the front wheel is doing thanks to great feedback levels from the frame and fork.
I wouldn't put the Substance in the same sort of racy category as the Specialized Diverge Expert Carbon that I was testing at the same time.
On the same route the Spesh felt a little more urgent, a nimbler and more flickable machine, whereas the Vitus takes a slightly different approach. It just calms things down a notch, but without being subdued or even – when looking at the numbers – any less efficient. This is a big bonus if you want to load the bike up with camping kit.
The Vitus is still a quick bike when unladen, and never feels anything like its 9.5kg weight on the scales.
It's no slouch on the hills or on the fast sections through the woods, where it is responsive to little changes in direction between the trees while bunnyhopping and skipping over the tree roots.
Stiffness in the carbon fibre frame and fork is exactly how you want it to be, which helps when you're putting the power down.
On sections of my test route there are a few borderline get-off-and-push kind of gradients, so if I'm fresh enough and stay on the bike I'm really cranking the force through the, er, cranks, and the CRS-2 just delivers that power to the rear wheel.
Comfort is great thanks in part to the wide volume tyres, but even when I had them pumped up hard for road use and darted off down a new track I hadn't seen before, the frame shows its ability to absorb the vibration and low-level chatter.
It is, in fact, quite a capable road machine too. Another loop I have has Stonehenge at the mid-point, which I arrive at via 25 miles of gravel tracks and a few on the road. After that it's a bit more of that chalky, grassy, gravel mixture before about 20 miles on the tarmac back through the Wylye Valley.
It takes me about four hours, and even if my energy levels are flagging the Substance never feels stodgy or laborious on the road thanks to a combination of the low front end, quick-rolling tyres and double chainset gearing.
Like a lot of the gravel bikes I've been reviewing lately, the Vitus has a bit of a mix and match groupset when it comes to the Shimano GRX components.
That's not a criticism. I've ridden all GRX series components, and they all deliver great performance and ergonomics. Something backed up by Mike's review of the GRX 600 group.
The CRS-2 uses the mid-range GRX 600 shifters, chainset and brake callipers alongside GRX 800 front and rear derailleurs.
I found the gearing – a 46/30T chainset and 11-34T HG700 cassette – great for all kinds of terrain, with plenty of low and top end options.
The shifting quality is great, even when covered in mud or dust, and the braking – Vitus has specced RT56 160mm rotors front and rear – is impressively powerful so you can just use one finger on the flat section of the lever to control your speed.
As far as the controls and contact points go, it's Vitus branded throughout. It's all aluminium alloy stuff, which gives you plenty of confidence when bashing over rocky terrain mile after mile, and when the inevitable crash rears its head.
The aluminium Wing handlebar comes with a 3-degree flare at the drops. It worked fine, but the majority of gravel bars I've ridden have 12 degrees, and after many miles on my own gravel bike using the Easton EA70 AX bar, I've grown accustomed to the wider 16-degree flare. It just gives a lot more control in the drops at speed.
Saddle-wise, the Vitus model looks quite svelte for something designed for off-road terrain, but it works well. As long as you have a decent pair of shorts on there is enough padding, and I found the narrow nose ideal for getting into the drops and putting the power out.
The CRS-2 comes with WTB Speedterra i23 650B wheels and I had no issues with them whatsoever. Loads of stiffness, and even after all of the abuse I gave them they didn't miss a beat.
The hubs have run smoothly throughout the test period. Engagement at the freehub is quick, and I really can't think of a reason of why I'd upgrade unless I wanted something lighter.
WTB also supplies the tyres, the ByWay TCS Road Plus in a 47mm width. Ours came set up tubeless with sealant inside, but they needed a bit more adding; once done, with a quick ride to fling it around the inside the tyre, everything was fine.
I mentioned earlier that they'll cope well with dry conditions and that is down to the minimal tread pattern. If you are going to use the CRS-2 through the winter you're going to need something with a bit more tread. It's summer at the moment, though, so let's go with it.
I found them to be fast rolling on the road, and likewise on the gravel. Off-road, I'd say their width brings more to the game than their tread pattern or compound, but they just work.
Puncture proofing seems to be good, and the knobbly bits on the shoulders do bite into slightly soft terrain.
Heading out after rain would see them slip about a bit in the mud, but thanks to the bike's controllable handling, it all becomes part of the fun.
The Substance CRS-2 uses a frame and fork constructed from uni-directional carbon fibre, which includes a tapered head tube/fork steerer and a threaded bottom bracket shell.
It's a good looking frame in my eyes, and shining a torch inside (I'm saving up for the x-ray machine) it looks to be well made with a smooth finish.
It's the usual thing: chunky at the front and bottom half of the frame for resisting the forces, while going much more slender at the top for comfort.
I must admit I do like the way the top tube flows into the chainstays for a smooth look.
The drive-side chainstay is dropped for clearance and all of the cables are routed internally for a clean and smooth look.
When it comes to mounts, you get the usual twin bottle cage points, and an additional set added to the underside of the down tube.
You also get mounts on the fork legs for storage.
There are mudguard mounts in the regular places, and rear rack mounts if you don't fancy going the bikepacking bags route.
The Substance is available in five sizes, from XS to XL, to suit riders between 163cm and 200cm (5ft 5in to 6ft 5in).
We have the medium, which Vitus says is suitable for riders between 178cm and 185cm. I'm 180cm and found it to be a perfect fit.
You get an effective top tube length of 545mm, 150mm head tube and 540mm seat tube.
Alongside the 71.5-degree head angle, the seat tube is at 73 degrees, good for getting you in a decent forward position when you want to get the power down.
This leads to stack and reach figures of 568mm and 371mm respectively.
When it comes to the length of the bike, the wheelbase is 1,025mm with 435mm chainstays. That's much longer than a road bike, but well within the parameters of a nippy gravel bike.
This model of the Substance offers good value for money.
Compare it with the Fuji Jari Carbon 1.3 I tested about two months ago, for example.
The Fuji gave a great ride, and shares a lot of the Vitus's characteristics. It's a tad heavier and has a mix of GRX kit too – the same GRX 600 levers as the Substance, but dropping down to RX400 for the callipers.
It does come with a GRX 812 rear mech, though, as it is a 1x groupset. That mech has a clutch fitted to stop chain slap.
And it'll cost you £2,799.99.
I mentioned the Diverge earlier, too. The closest in price is the Diverge Comp E5, a bike I rode back in 2020. For 2021 it's £2,200 and comes with a similar build to the Fuji: GRX 400 brakes, 600 shifters and an 812 rear mech.
Boardman does offer a competitive package for the ADV 9.0 Carbon at £1,800. I tested the 8.9 ADV alloy version recently and was very impressed. It's a similar build to the Vitus, but with 700C wheels and comes with GRX 400 callipers.
The Vitus Substance CRS-2 is a smooth-rolling gravel and adventure bike that works well as both an unladen speed machine and a fully loaded workhorse. With a great frameset, sorted geometry and well-specced components, it also offers great value for money.
Wide tyres and sorted gear ratios finish off a very comfortable and capable gravel adventure bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Vitus Substance CRS-2 2021
Size tested: L, 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
CHAINSET: Shimano GRX 600, FC-RX600 46/30T, XS:165mm S:170mm M:172.5mm L:172.5mm XL:175mm
TYRES: WTB Byway TCS Road Plus, 650b x 47, Tubeless Ready, Dual DNA Compound, UST Aramid Bead
BOTTOM BRACKET: Shimano BB-R60, BSA Threaded English, 68mm,
FRONT DERAILLEUR: Shimano GRX 800, FD-RX810, Braze-On
BRAKES: Shimano GRX 600, ST-RX600, Hydraulic Disc, Flat Mount
REAR DERAILLEUR: Shimano GRX 800, RD-RX810, 11 Speed, Shadow Plus
BRAKE ROTORS: Shimano RT56, Front:160mm, Rear:160mm
SHIFTERS: Shimano GRX 600, ST-RX600
HANDLEBAR: VITUS 6061 Aluminium Wing, 77mm Reach, 128mm Drop, 3 Degree Flare, XS:400mm S:400mm M:420mm L:420mm XL:440mm
STEM: VITUS 6061 Aluminium, 3D Forged, Bar Bore 31.8mm, +/- 7 degrees, XS:80mm S:90mm M:90mm L:100mm XL:100mm
CASSETTE: Shimano HG700, 11-34T
HEADSET: ACROS Aix 322 R3, Sealed Bearings, OD48, 1 1/8 – 1 1/2in, 41.8 / 28.6 – 52 / 40
CHAIN: KMC X11, 11 Speed
BAR TAPE: VITUS Super Grip, Anti Slip, Shock Proof
SADDLE: Vitus, Crn-Ti Rail
RIMS: WTB Speedterra, 650b
SEATPOST: VITUS 6061 Aluminium, 27.2mm x 350mm, 15mm Offset
HUBS: WTB 12mm Thru-axle, Centre Lock
SEATCLAMP: Vitus Aluminium, 31.8mm
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 Substance is the bike that will go anywhere you point it; on whatever surface you choose.
With a UD carbon frame, tapered headtube, and full carbon forks, the Substance carbon is born tough and light. This bike can go as hard and fast as you want it to or be a lightweight friend for long distance relaxed epic. With the addition of mounts for luggage, mud guards and multiple bottles it's also capable of the biggest bike packing or touring adventures.
The Substance CRS-2 is fitted with Shimano's excellent GRX 600 groupset – the world's first dedicated gravel groupset. Paired with the GRX 810 rear mech, this 11 speed 2X groupset delivers a smooth and quiet drivetrain, specifically tuned for gravel / adventure riding."
It is a bike that works very well on a multitude of terrain, and can be pressed into bikepacking duty comfortably, or for just razzing around the local gravel trails.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There are 10 models in the Substance range, with this CRS-2 sitting below the CRS-2 eTap which looks to be a great price at £2,499.99 with SRAM's latest Rival wireless groupset. Next is the CRX-1 which uses a SRAM 1x Force mechanical groupset. The only other carbon framed model sits below the CRS-2, which is the CR-1 (£1,799.99) coming with GRX 600/400 and Prime alloy wheels.
All the rest of the models have aluminium alloy frames, with prices starting at £899.99.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's well made, and I'm a fan of the green paint.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Both the frame and fork use UD carbon fibre in their construction.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Typically gravel: a slackish head angle to calm the steering down off-road, and a reasonably aggressive seat angle that allows you to get the power down. I'm glad the head tube isn't that tall, as it allows for a compact position if you want to get a move on.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The stack and reach figures are fairly typical for a gravel bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, the ride quality of the frame is good, but the majority of the comfort comes from the large volume tyres, even when they are pumped up for road use.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Both the frame and fork show plenty of stiffness even when riding hard out of the saddle.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer is good thanks to the stiffness in the frame and low gear ratios.
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?
The steering tracks nicely and it is well balanced, fast enough to take on speedy technical sections without alienating those who want a much more relaxed ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Definitely the tyres, as their large volume deals with a lot of vibration from the surface beneath.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
No changes; I'd say the stiffness and comfort are well balanced.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The gear ratios of the 46/30T chainset paired to the 11-34T cassette give a good range that covers the slower speeds and sometimes steeper hills off-road without capping the top end on the road too much.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I really like the shape of the GRX levers for off-road riding, and the gear shifting and braking capabilities are top notch.
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?
No issues with the wheels at all. They stayed true and the hubs were still running smoothly at the end of the test period.
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?
Great tyres on a range of surfaces as long as it's dry. For the wet or winter you'll need to swap to something else.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Decent quality kit at this price point. The only thing I'd change eventually is to a handlebar with wider flare.
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?
It's much cheaper than something like the Fuji mentioned in the review, while sitting in the middle of the competitive offerings from Specialized and Boardman.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The CRS-2 scores very well across all departments like comfort, handling and weight, and it's good value for money too. That's a clear 8/very good.
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,
As part of the Tech Hub here at F-At Digital, our senior product reviewer Stu uses the knowledge gained from putting well over a 1,000 products through their paces (including hundreds of bikes) to write in-depth reviews of a huge range of kit. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 160,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. Although, as he spends a fair bit of his time reviewing ebikes these days he's becoming an expert in letting the motor take the strain. He's also waiting for 23mm race tyres to make a comeback!