Chatel lies right on the Swiss/French border, up in the Alps, part of the famed Portes du Soleil (12 linked ski/bike resorts). It’s a part of the world where the cattle are milked by hand and wear giant bells, where melted, stinky cheese is served with everything and where the mountains are absolutely massive. It was also the place that Flow had travelled to for the launch of Lapierre’s 2014 range.
If you’re looking for a place to put new bikes to the test, there can’t be many finer venues. Chatel has a chairlifted bike park chock-a-block with runs from green to the blackest of black, and you can pedal across the valley to any number of other amazing bike parks (places like Morzine, Les Gets and Champerey). Not by coincidence, the Lapierre launch was held alongside the Pass Portes event, which is an 80km ride that takes in 12 resorts across two countries and attracts almost 7000 entrants. On the final day of the launch, we were to be given the chance to put one of the new bikes to the ultimate test, riding the entire Pass Portes course. The excitement was enough to get all gooey like cheese fondue.
The stars of the Lapierre range for 2014 are the new 27.5” Zesty AM, 29er Zesty Trail and 27.5” Spicy lines – Flow had the opportunity to clock up some solid ride time on all three. Before we delve into our initial ride impressions, let’s take a look at some of the elements that are common across the three.
Please note; the stealthy black paint jobs of the bikes we tested will not be available to the public. These were custom for the press launch, sorry! We’ve included pics of the stock painted bikes however, so you can see what they’ll really look like.
Unveiled last year, the EI system is arguably the most advanced suspension system in mountain biking. The electronic suspension system uses a host of sensors to optimise the bike’s rear suspension for whatever the trail conditions happen to be at a given moment. You can learn a little more about the EI system in our initial review here. In a nutshell, if the terrain is smooth and you’re pedalling, it locks the rear shock. If the terrain is moderately rough and you’re pedalling, a middle level of compression is engaged. If you’re not pedalling, or if the terrain is rough, the shock is left fully open for the best bump eating performance. If you think it’s gimmicky, you couldn’t be more wrong; this system works incredibly well. What’s the point you ask? You don’t need to think! No more flipping of lockout levers or adjusting compression settings at the bottom of the climb – you’re always in the right setting.
EI suspension is available as an option on most Lapierre models. It adds about $500 to the price and around 350g to the weight. It’s definitely worth it.
We had hoped that Lapierre would find a way to fit the battery for the EI system internally (like Shimano have recently done for their Di2 road shifting systems), but it remains mounted to the down tube as it was in 2013. This means that EI equipped bikes still cannot fit a water bottle.
OST rear suspension system
The Lapierre OST suspension system is renowned for delivering incredibly smooth, bottomless feeling suspension. The system is a true four-bar linkage, with a Horst-link on the chain stay. Interestingly, the patent on this system has just finally lapsed after bring held by Specialized for the past two decades. This means that Lapierre can finally expand into the USA market for the first time! For 2014, the swing link has been further refined for easier maintenance, as disassembly was a bit of a nightmare previously.
Repositioned rear brake caliper
Both variants of the Zesty and the Spicy have the rear brake caliper mounted in the inside of the seat stay. This is said to improve the stiffness of the rear end, but it also looks incredibly neat and sleek (adjustment the caliper position and removing the brake pads is more fiddly though!). One consequence of the caliper positioning is that the rear end is very wide at the seat stays and we noticed many of the test bikes bearing obvious scuff marks and paint damage from riders’ heels rubbing on the stays after just a couple of days on the trails.
The Zesty was one of favourite bikes of 2013. We spent a lot of time on board the Zesty 514 (read our long term test here), as well as getting an opportunity to test the Zesty 314 in an EI configuration.
The big news for the Zesty platform in 2014 is that there are now two completely different lines within the Zesty family. There’s the Zesty AM (all-mountain) which runs 27.5” wheels, 150mm travel at both ends and is an absolute ball-tearer of a bike. And there’s the Zesty Trail, which is a 29er with 120mm at both ends and tears balls equally as well.
The first bike we rode was the AM, in the fancy 927 configuration (the top of the Zesty AM pile), equipped with EI suspension, XX1/X01 drivetrain, Reverb Stealth post and the whole shooting match. It’s an absurdly fun bike; we definitely felt faster on this 27.5” machine than the 26”-wheeled 2013 model, but thanks to the 430mm stays, it sacrifices nothing in the manoeuvrability stakes. Lapierre have opted to spec a FOX 32 fork, rather than a 34, which saves a little weight. If you’re after something stiffer up front, you’re best to look towards the Spicy range.
We didn’t get a lot of opportunity to test the bike’s uphill prowess (seriously, there was a chairlift, would you go climbing?) but the EI system works exactly as it says on the can, giving untold levels of efficiency. Likewise the geometry is spot on for long days; we rode a medium frame and it had enough room to stretch out for this 172cm-tall rider.
Criticisms? Being picky, we found the Formula brakes a little hot and cold, occasionally delivering inconsistent lever feel, but we were riding on proper downhill tracks, not your average trail ride. We’d also upsize the chainring from the 30-tooth specced to a 32 or 34 to avoid spending too much time in the smaller cogs of the cassette.
Otherwise, this bike was exactly what we excepted and hoped for; a more refined and even faster version of a bike we already adore.
Now this bike was a real surprise packet. We did not expect Lapierre to unveil a trail 29er and we couldn’t believe how capable this bike is. After just a couple of runs on the Zesty Trail 929 (again, the top of the pile in the Zesty Trail range) we said ‘well bugger me with a fish fork, I’m taking this bike to the black diamond runs.’ And so off we went, on a 120mm 29er, to ride some dead-set proper downhill tracks. And you know what? The Zesty Trail begged for more.
Yes, compared to the Zesty AM you notice the shorter travel in the high speed rough, but the ability of this bike to retain composure over the harshest trails and in the steepest situations is incredible. This is a proper, new-school trail 29er and we think it’s going to go bananas in the Australian market. It’s light enough for a marathon and nasty enough for a downhill track. Convert the tyres to tubeless (we got a bit carried away and picked up a couple of punctures) and pay special attention to your suspension pressures, as the 29er doesn’t have quite the same bottomless suspension feel as the Zesty or Spicy and is little firm towards the end of the stroke.
Given the terrain in which we were testing these bikes, the Spicy Team was in the highest demand amongst the assembled journos. Nico Voullioz has been instrumental in this bike’s development, crafting it carefully into the ultimate enduro racing weapon.
The Spicy shares the exact same frame as the Zesty AM (27.5” wheels included), but runs a longer 160mm-travel fork to kick the angles back a little and give it a bit more attitude for the descents. A shorter and wider cockpit, bigger rubber and tougher rims round out the package.
We won’t delve too much into the bike’s performance right here as we’ll have an in-depth review of the Spicy coming up soon. Suffice to say, this is the machine that we picked to ride the 80km Pass Portes du Soleil event at the culmination of the press camp. Stay tuned for the full write up soon!