Vitus Nucleus 29 VR review£500.00

Proper hardcore hardtail at a killer price

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Direct-sell brand Vitus uses its ‘one step less’ sales advantage to give the Nucleus 29 VR an excellent trail-tough, upgrade-ready frame and decent spec for the money. Don’t expect a smooth ride though, even with 29in wheels.

Vitus Nucleus 29 VR frame

Skipping the ‘selling from a shop’ stage of the cost chain gives Vitus more cash to spend, and it's 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, the bike treads 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, which is 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.

Vitus Nucleus 29 VR kit

The tapered head tube makes future fork upgrades easy
The tapered head tube makes future fork upgrades easy

The Nucleus has larger-diameter 29in wheels. These are slightly harder to spin up to speed compared with 27.5in wheels, but give an immediate rollover advantage on rough ground.

Vitus has 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 has fitted a neoprene chainstay protector. It’s good to see a 50mm stem and lock-on grips.

Being picky, I’d like a bar wider than 740mm on a bike designed to be a proper trail tamer.

Vitus Nucleus 29 VR ride impressions

Straight away, the Vitus shows that it means business... it doesn’t take long for the Nucleus to pull ahead on toothy descents or technical terrain
Straight away, the Vitus shows that it means business... it doesn’t take long for the Nucleus to pull ahead on toothy descents or technical terrain

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 hard 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 has done its 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.

Vitus Nucleus 29 details

One less cog: The Vitus’s 2x9 transmission means there’s less chain whipping around than on a 3x bike, and a neoprene chainstay protector helps it stop sounding like its back end is coming apart.

Burly build: With its tapered head tube, big tubes and reinforcing gussets, this is a tough frame. That does mean you’ll have to tough out rougher sections yourself though.

Bigger is better: You’ve got a choice of wheel sizes: 650b or 29in. We’d go bigger, for extra speed sustain and a slightly smoother ride

Vitus Nucleus 29 VR specifications

  • Weight: 14.45kg
  • Frame: 6061-T6 aluminium alloy
  • Sizes: M, L*, XL (*Tested)
  • Fork: Suntour XCR-32 AIR LO, 100mm (3.9in) travel
  • Headset: FSA tapered 1.125-1.5in
  • Hubs: KT
  • Axels: 100mm QR (f)/135mm QR (r)
  • Rims: WTB ST i29 TCS
  • Spokes: 32x double-butted
  • Wheel weight: 2.6kg (f), 3.09kg (r), inc. tyres
  • Tyres: WTB Vigilante wire bead 29x2.3in (f), WTB Trail Boss wire bead 29x2.25in (r)
  • Crankset: Suntour XCM, 36-22t
  • Bottom bracket: Square-axle cartridge
  • Mechs: Shimano Altus
  • Shifters: Shimano Altus (2x9) Shimano EF505
  • Cassette: Shimano HG200-9, 11-34t
  • Chain: KMC X9
  • Brakes: Tektro Auriga M290, 180/160mm
  • Bar: Nukeproof Neutron, 740mm
  • Stem: Vitus, 50mm
  • Grips: Vitus lock-on
  • Seatpost: Vitus
  • Saddle: Vitus
  • Head angle: 67 degrees
  • Seat angle: 73 degrees
  • Reach: 450mm / 17.72in
  • Bottom bracket height: 315mm / 12.4in
  • Chainstay: 440mm / 17.32in
  • Seat tube: 485mm / 19.09in
  • Top tube: 640mm / 25.2in
  • Wheelbase: 1170mm / 46.06in
Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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