Lorna from Lapierre and Martin from UK distributor Hotlines popped up to the North of the country the other day to show us a brand new big wheeled bike from the French brand. The 100mm travel Lapierre XR 29er was released back at the Roc D’Azur event last year, but this is the first time we’ve seen one the flesh – and this particular bike is rather special for another reason.
The XR is Lapierre’s first full suspension 29er and the basic layout harks back to their early X-Race cross-country suspension frames. The XR is utterly modern though, with both the front and back halves being made from carbon fibre. Interesting enough, the 142x12mm back end does without a rear pivot on either seat or chainstay, instead relying on flex in the carbon to provide the movement needed. Due to the relatively small overall amount of travel, this isn’t much at all, around 5mm.
As you’d expect, there’s a tapered, integrated headset up front, full internal cable routing and BB92 Press Fit bottom bracket with swingarm mounted Direct Mount Low front mech. Geometry is on the new skool side of racey 29er, with a 70° head angle, short-as-they-can-make-it headtube and rangey top tube. The shock sits in a rather neat carbon fibre cradle, connected by a short swing link, all pivots running on cartridge bearings.
This specific bike happens to belong to living legend and Lapierre development rider Nico Vouilloz. Well known for utterly dominating downhilling in the 90’s before moving on to be just as successful on the enduro scene (via a stint in rally cars, obviously), Nico’s attention to technical detail and speed on the bike is legendary. How many people travel around with a bottle of nitrogen in their van for adjusting shocks inbetween run, or machine bits from their bikes to make them flex more?
There’s some extremely cool bits of homemade kit on here, especially the SRAM X0 cranks modified to run as a 1×10 setup with a 30 tooth 9spd chainring on the inner tabs. The chain is kept on with a guide attached to the Direct Mount mech tabs on the chainstay, created from a pair of carbon fibre plates spaced with nylon rollers. The rear shock is one of the latest Fox Float CTD items with bar mounted remote ProPedal adjuster and from the feel of them on our brief test ride, the externally normal looking Fox Float 32 forks feel like they’ve had some seriously heavy duty adjustment to the compression damping. There’s lots of it going on, hardly moving unless they’re battered into something.
The build is absurdly light – the standard bike is far, far from a porker but this has been pared right down. There’s hardly any metal left on the bike, with carbon fibre Easton EC70 wheels, bars (with foam grips) and post and the saddle is well, minimal, seemingly made from a single sheet of carbon fibre. The tyres are Michelin 2.1″ Wild Race’r and although fast rolling and low profile in the centre, they have a nicely space and broad edge made from what feels like a much softer compound than Michelin tyres we’ve previously used. Formula brakes with dinky 160mm rotors – we assume you don’t need to brake that much if you’re that good – and SRAM XX bits and bobs finish it out. Weight? 21lbs – but 22lb builds are apparently easily possible with off-the-shelf components.
We took the XR up for a little spin in the valley above Todmorden for a couple of hours, just to get a feel for it. Our loop consisted of a viciously steep tarmac climb followed by a less steep but more technical, rough packhorse slabs and finally some steep, line-picky multi-track. Unsurprisingly, it was shockingly fast uphill, darting forwards as you’d expect a bike with so little mass.
Despite that, it was free of any untoward bobbing or twanging and the handling was resolutely flop free, even on the steepest of sections. That’s helped by the low front end and negative rise stem. Position on the bike was well stretched out – the stem being a bit longer than our test rider is used to – and feel is definitely of an aggressive cross country bike. It’d be easy to roam the countryside, looking for hills to destroy until the only thing that remained of the rider was a set of manky lyrca shorts, small pile of crystallised salt and utterly worn out cleat.
Turn the bike around and odd things happen. To draw out a dog-based analogy, the whippet turns into more of a pointer, bounding over rocks, threading through gaps with uncanny precision and generally carrying on in a most un-XC fashion, despite having a saddle jammed somewhere near the moon. The work carried out on the suspension is really rather special. No odd spiking or pitching, no sensation of running out of travel all of a sudden, just a well muted amount of feedback. Despite the lightweight kit and build, there’s no sense that you’re on some sort of pieced together weight weenie deathtrap. It feels solid and encourages hard pedalling up, across and even down. Lively but not nervous. Stunning really. Some of that is possibly due to Nico-magic shock and bike setup but even so it’s a hugely entertaining and flattering bike. All in all it’s a bit confusing. A 21lb bike has no right to ride that well downhill.
And that saddle? Remarkably comfortable.
We’re looking forward to having a longer play on the XR29 when the range is available from distributor Hotlines UK in two weeks time. The top of the range XR Team, the base for Nico’s bike, will cost £5,399.99 while the range starting Lapierre XR 529 will be £2,699.99 and the Lapierre XR 729 sits vaguely in the middle at £3,499.99.