The finest steel and exclusive components promise to make the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition a practical yet high-quality gravel bike. The € 5,999.90 price point and spec sheet certainly hint at an excellent overall package. We put vsf’s latest bike to the test to find out if the German manufacturer’s concept can deliver.
When traditional frame builders who have years of experience working with steel like the German vsf Fahrradmanufaktur – whose name itself means bike factory – dare to make a gravel bike, the expectations are high. Although this isn’t vsf’s first drop bar bike, it’s the first to be targeted at the young and dazzling gravel crowd. The vsf Fahrradmanufaktur got to developing their first gravel bike together with the podcaster, mental coach and cyclist Johanna Jahnke. The result is the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition. A beautiful gravel bike with high-quality components, which should be particularly well-suited to bikepacking, adventures and long tours.
vsf Fahrradmanufaktur – What does vsf stand for again?
vsf is an initialism for the rather unglamorous and pragmatic “Verbund selbstverwalteter Fahrradbetriebe”, which means an association of self-governing bicycle companies. The factory was founded in 1987 in Bremen. Their first drop bar bike was the Randonneur C-140, which was introduced to the market in 1996. At the same time, the vsf Fahrradmanufaktur moved to Oldenburg and put their focus on travel and trekking bikes, many of them made of steel. In 2016, they introduced two new road bikes to the market: the R-500 road bike in a well-established classic design, and the sturdy CR-500 cyclocrosser, both of which were made of steel. As you may have noticed, almost all bikes from vsf rely on steel as the frame material of choice and the brand itself wants to represent classic craftsmanship and modern technology.
To add the new gravel bike category to their portfolio, vsf launched the GX-1200 1st Edition in 2021. Considering the introduction of this category, it can be assumed that the 1st Edition won’t be their only outing in the gravel bike territory. The vsf GX-1200 1st Edition was developed in cooperation with the brand ambassador and podcaster Johanna Jahnke. It’s not just the mustard yellow colour of the frame contrasted against the otherwise stealthy black and grey colour palette of the components that’s striking. The price and target group also stand out amongst vsf’s other bikes. At just under € 6,000, it’s the most expensive of all 2022 models.
Intended use and components of the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition
The vsf GX-1200 1st Edition doesn’t do anything wild in terms of material and components as it pursues a stringent and consistent master plan. Apart from the Acros headset and the Schwalbe tires, the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition relies on just three tried and tested brands for the components: Campagnolo, Ritchey and Brooks. But let’s start with the frame, as it’s far from your standard off-the-shelf product. It’s made by hand in southern Germany using double-butted Columbus Zona, 25CrMo4 tubing. The Futura Cross+ carbon fork is also supplied by Columbus. Neither the frame nor the fork offer internal cable routing, which can be very convenient when having to do repairs out in the wild. However, this detracts slightly from the bike’s looks, especially with the plastic cable ties.
The wheels and drivetrain come from Italy, or rather from Campagnolo. The Shamal carbon wheelset features Campi’s iconic spoke pattern and weighs just 1,585 g, providing an internal width of 21 mm and a rim depth of around 28 mm. The (still) unique and exclusive Campagnolo Ekar 13-speed drivetrain certainly is something special and should, theoretically, be well-suited for off-road use. With a 40 t chainring and a 10 to 44 t cassette at the rear, it offers a gear ratio of less than 1 in the easiest gear and a range of 400%. The disc brakes also come from Campagnolo’s Ekar series. These are paired with 160 mm rotors front and rear.
The handlebar, stem and seat post come from Ritchey’s WCS range and are made entirely of carbon. With its 24° flare and bio-bend design in the drops, the Ritchey VentureMax WCS carbon handlebar has some very distinct features that won’t please everyone. The 3 mm thick and grippy Brooks Cambium bar tape provides plenty of cushioning for the VentureMax bar and is paired with the comfort oriented, 145 mm wide C13 Carved saddle.
It’s already clear from the first glance – but especially the second one – that the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition is designed and built to go off-road. The wide 45 mm Schwalbe tires alone predestine this gravel bike for big adventures off the beaten track. Considering the large proportion of gravel-specific carbon components, such as the stem, handlebar and fork, its off-road intentions become even clearer, because these provide plenty of comfort on rough surfaces. The long wheelbase speaks for very composed handling, which is ideal for gravel roads too. Moreover, the wealth of mounting points on and under the top and bottom tubes makes the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition an ideal choice for bikepacking. You can even bolt bottle or gear cages to the fork legs and you’ll find eyelets and bosses for mudguards and luggage racks.
vsf GX-1200 1st Edition
Seatpost Ritchey WCS Carbon Link Flexilogic 27,2 mm, 350 mm
Brakes Campagnolo Ekar 160/160 mm
Drivetrain Campagnolo Ekar 1x13
Chainring 40t x 9–42t
Stem Ritchey C-220 Matrix WCS Carbon 90 mm
Handlebar Ritchey VentureMax WCS Carbon Flare 24, 440 mm
Wheelset Campagnolo Shamal Carbon N3W Disc, 24 Loch
Tires Schwalbe G-One R 45-622
Size 48 51 54 57 60
Weight 9,85 kg
The geometry of the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition
|Frame height||48 cm||51 cm||54 cm||57 cm||60 cm|
|Seat tube||480 mm||510 mm||540 mm||570 mm||600 mm|
|Top tube||515 mm||540 mm||560 mm||575 mm||595 mm|
|Head tube||120 mm||130 mm||150 mm||170 mm||190 mm|
|Chainstays||440 mm||440 mm||440 mm||440 mm||440 mm|
|Wheelbase||1.015 mm||1.031 mm||1.042 mm||1.058 mm||1.070 mm|
|Reach||358 mm||380 mm||384 mm||393 mm||407 mm|
|Stack||546 mm||559 mm||576 mm||595 mm||614 mm|
The most striking aspect of the geometry is the rather long wheelbase. This promises to make the handling of the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition very composed and stable in bumpy terrain. Other than that, the geometry seems balanced thanks to the moderate stack and reach. The riding position is somewhat stretched out but still suitable for touring.
First ride review of the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition
A beautiful gravel bike like the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition attracts attention just standing there. It sets itself apart from the crowd with its slender and beautifully finished steel frame in mustard yellow and stealthy carbon components. It just makes you want to swing your leg over it and go riding. Looks do matter. Fortunately, it feels just as good to ride as it does to look at. The riding position feels absolutely spot-on due to the comfortable posture, though it feels somewhat vague because of the soft Brooks C13 Carved saddle. The Ritchey VentureMax handlebar takes some time to get used to with its flared drops and tilted hoods.
At 9.85 kg, the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition feels a bit like a steam train. Its very composed handling and slow acceleration mean that it’s more of a cruiser than a racer. This gravel bike isn’t out to win any sprints, and you certainly can feel that. However, this is particularly advantageous on long gravel roads. Despite bumps, big impacts and stones, the bike stoically remains comfortable. This is down to the wide tires and the compliance of the carbon components. When things get a little tighter, the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition has a tendency to understeer, but you can easily ride flowing trails nonetheless.
Tuning Tip: a luggage rack and mudguards for the perfect commuter
Unfortunately, the shifting of the Campagnolo Ekar drivetrain isn’t very precise. It constantly needs to be readjusted and fine-tuned to perform well. Added to this is the fiddliness of the thumb lever. While it can be reached from all positions, it seems more like a foreign object on the handlebar. On the other hand, the brakes perform excellently, as they’re easy to modulate and powerful, ensuring rapid deceleration.
With its gorgeous steel frame, high-end components and fair price, the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition is an exclusive and visually very pleasing first attempt at a gravel bike. Its truck-like handling excels on extended tours or off-road excursions into the unknown, and it’s equally suited to bikepacking and everyday commuting thanks to its wealth of mounting points. The imprecise shifting and rudimentary cable ties are the only things clouding the otherwise harmonious picture.
- capable off-road performance
- lots of mounting points for bikepacking and commuting
- high comfort and feel-good factor
- high-end carbon components
- premium looks
- imprecise Campagnolo Ekar drivetrain
- cable ties seem a bit rudimentary
For more information about the vsf GX-1200 1st Edition, visit fahrradmanufaktur.com.
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Words: Martin Staffa Photos: Robin Schmitt