Vitus has delivered plenty of quality bikes over the last few seasons and the Substance CRX doesn't let the side down. It's an absolute cracker off-road, offering a fun yet stiff ride, plus it rolls surprisingly well on the tarmac too. Ignore that weight as well – it rides like it's a couple of kilos lighter.
- Pros: Comfortable frame considering the stiffness; a true all-rounder
- Cons: Tyre sidewalls leak like a sieve; gearing is a little low if you ride unladen
Having wide, high-profile tyres fitted will make even the stiffest bike feel more palatable to ride, but even with the 47mm 650B rubber pumped up to 60psi for use on the road the Vitus still deals with every road imperfection without issue.
On road rides I'd dart off down a new track I hadn't seen before and yeah, it was a bit rattly over the really rough stuff, but you could pick out that the frame and fork were doing a damn fine job of absorbing a fair amount of the vibration.
If you are spending the majority of the ride off-road, knocking that pressure down a few psi will see the Substance CRX just float over the bumps and ripples. It's a very comfortable bike to ride.
It hasn't sacrificed stiffness, though, as under acceleration or hauling yourself up steep climbs there is no flex of note and the front end is spot on when it comes to heavy braking or hard cornering.
For the first few rides I try to avoid the road.cc extranet (the place where I see what things are on my test list, with deadlines and stuff, and product details) so that I don't see things like price and weight, so I can just get out on the bike and smash it about a bit without any preconceptions.
To say I was shocked to see that the Vitus weighs 9.15kg (20.17lb) would be an understatement, as it feels nothing like that. Against the similar 9.17kg Pinarello Grevil the Substance CRX feels nippier over multiple terrains and loads more flickable when the surface gets technical and really bumpy.
Thanks to its planted feel the Vitus also felt more controllable when out of control, if you see what I mean.
Over the test period the trails around here have changed a lot, so each ride brought something new. The recent hot weather and keen winds have seen everything get drier, but with the dust being blown out between the rocks you are left with the options of threading around and over sharp, gnarly stones or through the soft, sandy trail edge.
At speed on descents you can often be switching between the two, and the effects on the handling can be quite stark. The Substance, thanks to its long wheelbase, felt totally composed allowing you to tweak things with your body weight and pedalling action.
The slick tread of the tyres also make for interesting behaviour on loose gravel, but as long as you've got a bit of talent and understanding on how the bike is likely to behave when you hit the soft pockets of small aggregate then the Vitus is really easy to control. In fact you find yourself enjoying it when the bike starts to slide out beneath you.
The Vitus could easily be pressed into commuter use during the week, and it's a joy to cruise along the back lanes or even mixing it up with the traffic in urban areas.
It's quick off the mark, and while the handling isn't as direct as a dedicated road bike, you can easily scythe your way through a typically congested city centre with ease.
It's the same when descending. Tighter, technical downhills require a bit of smooth handling and reading the road ahead to get the best out of the Substance CRX, but if you get a little out of shape the bike never feels panicked – and after all, if it does all go tits up, with these tyres you stand a pretty decent chance when you end up on the grass bank. Trust me, I know!
Frame and fork
Considering its stiffness, the Substance CRX doesn't look massively over built; true, the down tube is quite a boxy design but not massively so.
The front end has a tapered head tube which adds a bit of girth and you do get a fairly chunky bottom bracket area, though Vitus has gone down the threaded route, which will please many.
The whole frame is made from Toray T700 carbon fibre and so is the fork, which includes a carbon steerer.
I quite like the paintjob; the stealthy grey and black with yellow highlights gives it a classy look while hiding all of the shapes and junctions between the tubes. It flows nicely I reckon.
Vitus has made sure that the Substance CRX is compatible with both 650B and 700C wheels and like many other manufacturers it has dropped the drive side chainstay to provide clearance between the wider tyres and the chainrings.
The clearance achieved is quite impressive, with the 47mm wide tyres fitted as standard leaving loads of room for full mudguards too.
There are loads of mounts too, mudguards as I've mentioned but also racks front and rear plus extra bottle mounts under the down tube.
This model is only available to buy in a 1x chainring setup but if you want to swap that out for a double ring combination the frame is drilled for a front mech and the adaptor is included.
Internal cable routing is also there, which is good to see.
When it comes to the geometry the Vitus is a little on the aggressive side for this type of bike, and taking the stack versus reach dimensions it actually mimics that of a road biased endurance bike. Things like the extended wheelbase and 50mm fork rake make it a little more subdued though, which is why it is such an adaptable bike.
I really liked the position; you can ride hard in the drops or just sit up and enjoy the scenery and it just feels right, very comfortable.
Vitus provides, like most brands, its own finishing kit with an alloy bar, stem, seatpost and saddle. It all does the job and if I bought this bike I don't think I'd feel hard done by. Should you feel the need, though, the frame is ripe for upgrades.
The Substance has a slightly shorter stem at 90mm for a bike of this size and that keeps the front end a little bit exciting, but the bar is also wider at 44cm so you have room to increase your stance for added control. The drops are flared too, which gives you a planted feel when travelling at speed.
I really like the shape of the saddle. It's quite minimalist for off-road but it has a fair amount of flex which helps the frame take the edge off.
The gearing is taken care of by SRAM's Apex 1x groupset, with a 40-tooth chainring paired to a 10-42 cassette.
If you are going to spend a lot of time riding the CRX unladen and on the road you might find the top gear a little low. I spent the majority of the time on the flat maxxing it out, but if seeking out routes in the back of beyond with a bag or two strapped to the frame is your thing, then it is about right I reckon.
The shifting gives a solid clunk as you move between sprockets so you always know you've made the shift you've asked for, and even under load the gear change is unhindered which I was quite impressed with considering the large jumps between the sprockets.
Braking is via SRAM's 160mm rotors front and rear and they work a treat. Compared to Shimano's offerings with their fins and filled in body, these look quite minimalist but they don't half do a good job.
Barely any bedding in process was needed, and they have loads of feel to them to make sure you stop quickly without locking up the rear.
Wheels and tyres
When it comes to the wheels, Vitus has gone for a WTB Frequency Race i23 TCS 650B rim paired to an Alex Bear Claw hub front and rear, and it is a solid build. They took the usual whack from the off-road terrain and came out unscathed.
Vitus has chosen WTB tyres too, its Horizon 47mm Road Plus model. It's a full slick so struggles for grip a little on steep climbs on loose surfaces, but its width allows it to float over the gravel when the going is fast. If you're tackling various terrains like a bit of singletrack or heading out in the wet, you'll definitely need something grippier.
My biggest issue, though, is that the sidewalls weep like a jilted bride! It's not the first time I've had this happen using tyres from WTB, either. It takes a good six or seven inflations to stop seeing the tubeless sealant dribbling through the porous tyre edges.
When it comes to pricing I'd say the Substance CRX does itself pretty proud. I've ridden a lot of gravel bikes this year and this is the one that I have found most balanced as an all-round package.
It's practically a kilo lighter (and feels more like 2-3kg) than the Specialized Men's Diverge which costs £2,100 with a full Shimano Tiagra groupset.
I liked the Diverge, but the Vitus delivers a more fun ride. It has a little more zip about it.
Canyon's Grail is one of the benchmarks for me out of the bikes I've ridden when it comes to fast gravel bikes and the Vitus shares a lot of its qualities. The way it handles on the loose stuff, its feedback that allows you to feel totally at one with the bike is all there.
If you want carbon in a Grail on a budget you are looking at the CF SL 7.0, which'll give you a Shimano 105 groupset and DT Swiss wheels for £1,999.99. It's a little lighter than the Vitus but you wouldn't notice it.
I think the Vitus is great. It probably isn't the best bike I've ridden on any single terrain but if you really want one bike to cover nearly all the possibilities it definitely needs to be on your list.
A really good all-rounder that works just as well on the commute as it does off the beaten track
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Vitus Substance CRX
Size tested: L/56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Carbon T700-HM UD
Forks UD Full carbon Tapered Steerer
Chainset SRAM APEX 1 Xsync 40T
Bottom Bracket SRAM
Shifters SRAM Apex 1X HRD
Front Derailleur n/a (braze on adapter supplied)
Rear Derailleur SRAM Apex 1X Long Cage
Cassette SRAM XG-1150 10-42T
Chain SRAM PC 1110
Rims WTB Frequency Race i23 TCS 650B Tubeless Ready
Front Hub Alex Bear Claw
Rear Hub Alex Bear Claw
Tyres WTB Horizon 650 x 47c Road Plus TCS
Front Brake SRAM Apex HRD Flat Mount 160mm Rotors
Rear Brake SRAM Apex HRD Flat Mount 160mm Rotors
Handlebars Vitus Adventure Flared
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?
According to Vitus, "Whether you're looking for high speed adventure, expanding your riding possibilities, or just want to take the most direct route to work, the Vitus Substance Carbon has you covered. The Substance Carbon is the bike that will go anywhere you point it, on whatever road surface you choose.
"With a dedicated lightweight carbon frame designed to take both 700c and 650b wheels & tyres, the possibilities are endless. The Substance offers you a new way to ride.
"With a Hi-Mod T700 Toray carbon frame, tapered headtube, and full carbon forks, the Substance is born tough and light. This bike can go as hard and fast as you want it to. 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 is fitted with 650b WTB Frequency wheels and big volume WTB Horizon 47c tyres. We believe 650b is the future of adventure cycling, the large outer diameter keeps your wheels rolling over bumps, whilst the added tyre volume allows you to adjust pressures depending on the terrain for grip, comfort and luggage weight. The Wheels are tubeless ready, so just install the supplied valves and add sealant if you want to run tubeless.
"The Substance CR is finished off with the versatile SRAM APEX 1 HRD groupset and Vitus finishing kit including our adventure specific flared drop bars. This gives you wide position stability for tackling off road terrain, and a comfortable road riding position you can maintain for long periods"
The Substance CRX is a quality all-rounder.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The CRX sits at the top of the Substance range. Other than that there is the standard Substance which has a 4130 chromoly steel frame and Sora equipment for £949.99 and a flat bar version with the same build for £849.99.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
A quality frame and fork throughout.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Vitus has used Toray T700 grade carbon fibre throughout.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is quite racy compared to some gravel/adventure bikes on the market with this L/56 model having a 72 degree head angle, 73 degree seat angle plus the head tube is only 170mm in length. A top tube of 560mm and chainstays of 435mm give a balanced 1031.8mm wheelbase, which makes it a confident handler off-road.
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 exactly where I'd expect them to be on a 56cm bike of this style.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, a combination of a decent frameset, large volume tyres and a flexible saddle make for a pleasant ride.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty of stiffness at the front end and around the bottom bracket area.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The CRX has impressive power transfer levels. Acceleration feels quick and it climbs well too.
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 without being dull.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Off-road the handling is spot on for adventure riding and long hours in the saddle, offering loads of feedback which lets you know what the tyres are doing.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle is a really nice shape.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
All of the components work well with the stiffness of the frameset.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
If you are doing a lot of road work or unladen riding, the gearing might be a little low when the speed increases.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
SRAM's Apex 1x groupset works well and I like the solid click of the gears up and down the cassette. The disc brakes offer great modulation too.
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?
Solid wheels that stand up to a lot 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?
Once the sidewalls seal they are good tyres for the majority of surfaces. If you spend time on loose gravel or mud you'll need something with more grip.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
I liked the use of a wide, flared bar which gives a great range of hand positions wherever you are riding.
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 is very well priced against bikes with a similar spec sheet and frame quality.
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!