The French are not known for offering much leniency when it comes to their conceptions of what an item should be or how it should be used: “This is a croissant. It is made with butter.” “This is a baguette. It is eaten with ham and cheese.” And it’s fair enough – what the French do, in their very particular way, they do very well. Therefore, it seems particularly un-French, that Lapierre should now offer a choice of two variants of their vaunted Zesty.
For many years, the Zesty’s formula has been bang on, so were as surprised as anyone when Lapierre brought out the Zesty in two completely different configurations for 2014. It seemed odd to us that Lapierre would muddy the Zesty’s identity, splitting the range into an AM (all-mountain series) with 150mm travel and 27.5” wheels, and the TR (trail series) with 120mm travel and 29” hoops. But as old mate said, “what’s in a name?” What really matters is how this rose smells on the trail.
We were fortunate enough to log a few hours on the 2014 version of this bike last year at the Lapierre launch, but we didn’t clock enough trail time for a full review. This time around we’ve grabbed the 2015 model and taken it on a holiday, far away from the depressing Sydney wet weather, out to Alice Springs in Central Australia.
Let’s start with the area that everyone always asks about first: the e:i Shock electronic suspension system. 2015 is the third year that Lapierre have implemented this brainy, automatically-adjusting suspension and we feel that the system has finally reached the level of refinement that will gain it broader acceptance. We’ve had reservations about the e:i system in the past (read about our experiences in our long-term review of the 2014 Zesty 927) but this year it’s a different kettle of fish.
In a highly abbreviated version, the system works thus: a sensor on the fork and a sensor in the bottom bracket communicate with your rear shock to ensure that it’s using the ideal compression setting for any given situation. If it’s bumpy, the shock is fully open, if it’s smooth/smooth-ish then the shock is either locked out or uses a medium compression setting. If you want to learn more about the detail of the e:i system, watch this video.
What is great about the new version of the e:i system is how much more simple the interface is with the rider, and how much more cleanly it integrates with the bike. The battery (which last for around 24hrs riding) is now offset, meaning a water bottle cage can be fitted (hooray!), and the bulbous head unit is gone. In its place is a small receiver that is fitted with a single LED light to communicate to the rider which setting system is currently in. The sleek incorporation of the new receiver not only looks a lot neater, but it’s far less susceptible to damage too – last year, we unthinkingly flipped an e:i bike upside to fix a flat and broke the display, but that can’t happen now.
As with previous versions of the system, you can opt to leave the suspension in automatic mode (which we highly recommend), or you can select to ‘fix’ it into a medium or locked out compression setting. You also have ability to set the sensitivity level of the automatic mode, which dictates how much bump force is required to disengage the medium/locked-out compression settings. We definitely preferred the most sensitive setting, which delivers the smoothest and most supple ride.
Looking beyond the electronics, this is a striking, bold machine that’s put together to an exceptionally high standard. The front triangle is carbon, the rear end alloy, which is a construction configuration we’re seeing a lot more of now. The Zesty TR 829 shares the same OST suspension design as is found on the Zesty AM; it’s a true four-bar configuration, with a double row of bearings used for the dropout pivot. The seat stays and chain stays are super robust and widely set, giving the 829 a level of rear end stiffness that evades most 29ers. The downside of this beefy construction is that some riders may experience a little heel rub (especially flat pedal users), but thankfully this wasn’t an issue for us. If you’ve got big feet, or your ride duck-footed, expect to clip your heels.
The pivot hardware uses massive fittings, and the rear shock doesn’t undergo any rotation at the DU bush, all of which should reduce the need for maintenance. The shock itself is a Rockshox Monarch – there are no FOX shocks currently compatible with the e:i system. Up until 12 months ago, we’d have regarded this as a downside, but Rockshox have truly lifted their game with their rear shocks of late and the stiction that plagued previous Monarch shocks is gone.
While the cables are routed internally out of the box, the frame has a full complement of cable stops so you can run the brake and gear lines externally too if that’s your preference. There’s a high level of attention to detail as well, with nice touches like a sag indicator on seat stay, a quality chain slap guard and thick frame protection stickers fitted to the exposed areas of the frame. If we’re getting picky, we do feel that the rear axle is a bit average, as the cam mechanism became very hard to operate once it got gritty after a few days’ riding.
As the second-highest model in the Zesty TR range, the 829 is kitted out with some of the finest offerings that SRAM can muster. Undoubtedly the highlight is the XX1/X01 drivetrain (using X0 carbon cranks), which never seems to miss a beat – not one dropped chain or missed shift, and the gear range is tremendous. The SRAM Roam 40 wheels were a pleasant surprise too; even though they’re SRAM’s more basic Roam wheel offering, they’re super light, tubeless ready and the freehub engagement is speedy.
Suspension duties are handled by a Rockshox Monarch rear shock and a SID 120 fork with slick looking Fast Black coated legs.
The new Guide RS brakes and a Reverb Stealth post complete the picture. One the advantages of the full SRAM ensemble is that the Match Maker system can be enjoyed to full effect, with just two clamps on the bar for both brakes, the seatpost remote and shifter.
Schwalbe’s new-look Nobby Nic in a 2.25” width handles the rubber duties. The tread pattern of these tyres is greatly improved, with far more stability available when cornering. We do still have some questions about their long-term durability as we did cut the sidewall of the rear tyre, though we were testing the bike in the notoriously tyre-slashing terrain of Alice Springs.
Zap, zap goes the Zesty’s brainy shock the moment you turn a pedal stroke and set off into the trail, instantly firming up the suspension when the terrain is smooth or opening it up when it’s bumpy.
It takes just a few minutes of riding before you begin to ignore the noise of the little motor working away and you stop paying attention to the LED indicator telling you which mode the suspension is in. But after those few minutes you begin to realise something… You’re not thinking about your suspension, at all.
Reaching for a lock-out on the shock or hitting a lock-out lever on the bars has become such a standard part of riding a dual suspension bike (especially on longer-travel bikes) that it’s really refreshing to be able to forget about all that and concentrate on just riding, knowing that your bike is as efficient as is ever possible. And it IS far more efficient; there’s absolutely zero unwanted suspension movement.
Ignoring the e:i system, the Zesty TR is a fantastic handling bike in its own right. It’s a really solid frame, not in a boat anchor kind of way, but in a shove-it-int0-a-corner kind of way – the rear end is much stiffer than we’re accustomed to on a 120mm 29er and this brings lots of confidence to the ride overall. Confidence is everything as far as we’re concerned, and this bike has it in spades.
With its 1×11 drivetrain, the Zesty’s seatpost remote lever is located where your front shifter would normally reside. This seemingly simple setup configuration actually adds tremendously to the ride of the bike. Because the seat post lever is so easy to hit (just as easy as hitting a shifter) we used it much more than usual, dropping the seat an inch for a fast corner, popping it back up for a pinch climb, slamming it all the way down for a jump… In conjunction with the suspension automatically working its magic, we found it really easy to ensure the bike was in the perfect mode for the terrain at any given moment.
The top tube and cockpit are nice and roomy too, and our size medium fitted us perfectly. We’re big fans of the long top tube / short stem setup, and the 740mm bar and 80mm stem are ideal. You’re left in a really strong, confident position to really work the terrain or slot into a corner, which is one thing the Zesty does exceptionally well. Once we’d settled on tyre pressures of around 23/24psi, we found the Nobby Nics to be super consistent, with a predictable break-away point on the loose Alice Springs surfaces.
On the whole the SID 120 is well equipped for the job at hand. It’s simple setup and lightweight construction are a highlight, but we’re sure some riders will look to put on something a little more stout, like a FOX 34 or Pike 120mm, as the bike is not afraid of harder riding. In the extremely dusty, arid, gritty conditions of Alice Springs, the fork became a little dry and sticky over the small bumps. The occasional hard compression was needed to keep the seals and legs slippery and lubricated. Chatting with locals, it’s a common story – the dust in Alice is so fine that just about every fork will need more love than usual.
Interestingly, we noticed that we rarely clipped a pedal onboard the Zesty, even though the bottom bracket height is right where you’d expect it. We put this down to the bike sitting a little higher in its travel as the e:i system kicks in as soon as you start pedalling, raising the bike’s sag point slightly.
If we had to find one area where we thought the e:i system interfered with our normal riding style, it would be in those instances where we put in a fast half pedal stroke to lift the front wheel. Normally when you jab at the pedals and lean back, the bike would sag into its travel a little in the rear, helping the front wheel to unweight. But with the e:i, because the suspension firms up as soon as you pedal, the bike doesn’t sag so much out back, meaning a bit more effort is needed to get the front wheel up. But that’s it, that’s the only instance we could perceive the e:i system as requiring any kind of adaptation from us.
After some slightly frustrating experiences with the e:i system in the past, we are absolutely thrilled with this bike and the advancements it represents. No, of course you don’t ‘need’ electronic suspension (and no-one’s forcing it upon you), but neither do you ‘need’ traction control in your car, or an electric toothbrush or a 6-megapixel camera on your phone.
The e:i system does add complexity to the bike, but what this test showed us, is that it actually simplifies the ride. The Zesty TR is a really fantastic bike, with great geometry, smooth suspension and well-thought out component choices, and even the non-e:i versions of this bike would be magnificent. But when you add the e:i system’s efficiency to a bike that’s already this good, you get an amazing machine. Nice work, Lapierre, it’s great to see this system reach a level we’re truly happy with (now, hurry up and make that battery pack internal too!).