This article was produced in association with Vitus
You might remember the Vitus Venon from the last decade. But only the name. The bike, like a two-wheeled Orlando, has changed designation and time travelled forward to the 2020s to meet the latest cycling trend – gravel – while remaining capable of shapeshifting back to more traditional road riding. “This is our view of the future,” says Jodie Shann, senior product manager at Vitus and the man responsible for the Venon’s metamorphosis.
Around five years ago, a typical bike brand’s road range consisted of three bikes: the aero road bike, the lightweight all-rounder and the endurance bike. The original Venon occupied that third space. But then the cycling landscape started changing, quite literally.
“We discontinued that Venon in 2018 and didn’t immediately set about redesigning it because we saw what was happening with gravel,” explains Shann. “But gravel was pretty undefined in the UK and Europe. In the States you had pure gravel racing on those pristine gravel roads, thousands of miles of them that no one else in the world has. Then at the other end of the spectrum was the adventure scene where anything goes. Luggage carrying, mountain bike drivetrains, steel, aluminium, carbon, people wearing baggy shorts, denim shorts...”
Shann continues: “So we held off for a little bit just to figure out what the future was going to look like and we settled on this iteration of the Vitus Venon. Race bikes, aero race and lightweight race would still be things, but the whole endurance road bike category we could see merging with performance gravel. Riders were looking for very similar things – more tyre clearance, more capability from the bike – stability and handling, but still feeling like a race bike.
“No one else was doing it,” he remembers. “Everybody had a gravel bike in their lineup but a lot of them had 650b wheels and it was all about getting as big a tyre in as possible and carrying luggage. The whole performance gravel thing wasn’t really there – people were predominantly racing on road or cyclo-cross bikes.”
So Shann and his team worked up the new Venon’s design brief, cherry-picking the elements of other models that fitted it and started on the R&D. “It’s a mashup of our existing bikes,” he says. “It’s got the ZX-1’s front end and we use the same FSA ACR internal cable routing system. We’ve taken some of the aero learnings. too. The bike has been CFD aero tested; we’ve optimised it as much as we can without that being the number one priority, so it’s between the ZX-1 and the Vitesse in aero performance.
“At the back end you’ve got a bit of the Vitesse and the [cyclo-cross specific] Energie for lighter weight and more comfort.” It’s not quite the cut-and-shut job that it sounds like. Shann explains that the biggest technical difficulty was in marrying a road frame with its sporty, snappy feel, responsive steering and quick acceleration with the requirements of a gravel bike, which needs more stability, a longer wheelbase and chainstays and more predictable steering.
“Tyre clearance has implications in frame design: longer chainstays have an impact on how the bike feels and handles. At 420mm the Venon’s chainstays are short enough to make the bike feel fun but long enough so that it doesn’t feel twitchy on the gravel – and it can take a 45mm tyre.”
Vitus avoided what Shann calls the “big swoopy dropped driveside chainstay” deployed by earlier gravel bikes and inspired by XC mountain bikes. “We extended the down tube through the bottom bracket to maintain a straight chainstay, which gives the look of a performance road bike. Visually, having it look right was important.”
The Venon EVO is made in a one-piece mould as a full monocoque, which Shann says is fairly unusual. “We’ve done that for all of our EVO bikes and that allows us to reduce weight, because you’re not having to bulk up areas where you’re joining two pieces. It allows you to control the stiffness characteristics better because you’re not adding a second layer of carbon. Meanwhile, the frame has a 386 EVO bottom bracket shell to enable stiffness under pedalling and efficient power transfer while rider comfort is maintained via dropped seat stays and sloping top tube that results in longer length of unsupported seatpost that can flex.
“Frame weight is good, it’s got aero capability, big tyre clearance, mudguard fitments... it’s got everything.”
What of the terminology? If the new Vitus Venon EVO is no longer an endurance bike, what is it? “We’re coming at it from the ‘all-road’ point of view. It’s a performance road bike that you can ride on different surfaces, but not singletrack. It’s to ride at a good speed, not up and down over tree roots – that’s probably the only caveat.
“Plain endurance road bike just doesn’t cut it any more. I think you’ll see over the next 18 months most brands going down this all-road route.”
Road and gravel guises
Vitus is offering the Venon EVO in various setups to suit its dual purposes. It’s denoted ‘RS’ for road and ‘GR’ for gravel builds, but the frameset itself remains the same. There are four road RS builds, all electronic, consisting of two Sram (Force and Rival AXS) and two Shimano (Ultegra Di2 and 105 Di2). Meanwhile there are three GR gravel builds, two electronic and one mechanical – Sram Force AXS, Sram Rival AXS and Sram Rival.
Shann says: “For the gravel builds we switch out a few components. The Sram drivetrains are the wide XPLR versions and there are different wheels and tyres: it’s a 40mm tyre on gravel version and we think that’s the sweet spot – enough volume for the type of riding the bike should be doing while keeping weight down. You also get a flared 16-degree carbon bar for extra off-road stability.
“It’s a good spec offering good value, we’re focused on a value-to-performance ratio. With the sales model we have, we’re part of one big group that means we can offer the advantage of direct-to-consumer but we’ve got the backup of these bike retailers, Wiggle, Chain Reaction, ProBikeShop in France, Bikester in Germany, and the new direct-to-consumer operation in America, with sales via the Vitus website.”
Just like the Venon, Vitus as a company has undergone a transformation in the last two years. Previously it was pigeonholed as the house band of Wiggle, but under its new owners, German holding company Signa Sports United, which claims to be the largest sports e-commerce platform in the bike, tennis, outdoor, team sports and athleisure categories, Vitus has its own identity. The Venon EVO is the Vitus’s vision of the future, but this is only the start of it.