VITUS NUCLEUS 29 VR
£499.99 Proper hardcore hardtail at a killer price
Direct-sell brand Vitus use their ‘one step less’ sales advantage to give the Nucleus 29 VR an excellent trail-tough, upgradeready frame and decent spec for the money. Don’t expect a smooth ride though, even with 29in wheels.
Skipping the ‘selling from a shop’ stage of the cost chain gives Vitus more cash to spend than even the superstore brands here, and they’ve dumped most of that on the frame. The tapered head tube makes future fork upgrades easy, as well as adding stiffness. At 67 degrees, the head angle cuts a good balance between stability and not making the big wheels feel too barge-like on tighter trails. The reach and wheelbase aren’t radical but are long compared to the stunted ‘beginner bikes’ that mostly populate this price point. Again, they tread a reasonable line between ploughing through trouble and twitching round stuff. Seat tube reinforcement, cowled 3D dropouts and ISCG mounts underline the Vitus’s appetite for aggressive riding.
Internal routing for a dropper post means you can upgrade when you have the cash. In the meantime, there are no bottle bosses on the seat tube, so you can slam the stock rigid post. There’s clearance for a 2.4in rear tyre – a smart upgrade, given the punchy rather than comfy ride. The 29er bike isn’t available in small sizes, and the 650b version doesn’t come in XL.
The Nucleus is the only bike here with larger-diameter 29in wheels. These are slightly harder to spin up to speed but give an immediate rollover advantage on rough ground. Vitus have specced an aggressive WTB Vigilante front tyre, and the ‘TCS’ rims are tubeless compatible, which is a rough-riding bonus. The Suntour fork only has 100mm of travel, but its air spring and adjustable rebound make it easy to tune for rider weight/ style. A 180mm front rotor boosts the power of the Tektro Auriga brakes.
The 2x9 gearing isn’t as simple or quiet as a single-chainring and clutch mech set-up but is less prone to chain slap and overlapping ratios than 3x9, and Vitus have fitted a neoprene chainstay protector. It’s good to see a 50mm stem and lock-on grips. Being picky, we’d like a bar wider than 740mm on a bike designed to be a proper trail tamer.
Straight away, the Vitus shows that it means business. Even though the Suntour fork has a quick-release (QR) rather than screw-through axle, its tapered steerer and 32mm legs make for enough accuracy to take
aggressive lines. While it’s certainly not plush, its adjustability means more riders will be more in control, more of the time, than on a fixed-rate coil spring. You’ll also get the full claimed stroke. While the fork has less travel than the others here, the Nucleus’s bigger wheels and tyres hit objects at a shallower angle than smaller wheels, shrinking them, in terms of how much momentum they knock out of the bike. It doesn’t take long for the Nucleus to pull ahead on toothy descents or technical terrain.
The chunky front tyre on its 29mm-wide rim can be pushed a lot harder than the others here before it loses grip. Buy some tubeless valves and tape up the rims, and you’ll be able to drop the pressure lower to increase traction even more, reducing the chance of impact punctures at the same time. Critically, that lower pressure will also take some of the wallop out of what’s an unmistakably stiff frame that can batter you through the feet and hands on rougher trails.
Vitus have done their best to calm the 2x9 transmission, and the brakes are consistently reliable and adequately communicative, although you can expect arm pump to kick in on longer, rowdier descents. The fact that you’ll be pushing that hard down proper trails without even thinking about it is probably the clearest character assessment of the Nucleus VR though. This is a proper trail hardtail that’s ready to get stuck into serious riding at a price where most bikes are just pretending.
Well-balanced and easily-upgradable tough trail bargain, if you want to go hard