French brand Lapierre is already a well known name amongst the British mountain bike market, so we’ll spare you the drawn out introduction. It’s certainly a name that we’re familiar with here at Singletrack HQ, having had experience with a wide range of Lapierre models over our 15-year history. Oh, and on that note, it’s not just your favourite UK magazine that’s notching up an incroyable milestone in 2016. As one of the largest bike brands in Europe, the Dijon-based bike company is celebrating 70 years in the business this year, which is damn impressive. Or ‘impressionnant’ if you will.
Backed by substantial manufacturing and R&D resources, Lapierre has earned itself a reputation for producing numerous innovations and award winning bikes over the years. Unique technologies such as the e:i electronic suspension platform have helped generate significant media buzz, while big name athletes such as Nico Vouillouz and Loic Bruni have successfully flown the Lapierre (and French) flags in their respective racing disciplines. The company also made headlines recently when it launched the high-end carbon Overvolt AM ebike, which has been polarising opinions across internet forums all over the world.
Over that same time, British mountain bikers have developed somewhat of a French love affair with Lapierre, specifically with the Zesty. It’s a bike that we regularly see out on the trails, and it’s a model that I have a reasonable amount of experience with personally, having previously flirted with the 150mm travel Zesty AM and the 29in-wheeled Zesty TR. Indeed, the combination of gorgeous looks, alpine-capable geometry and the active OST+ suspension design on the Zesty platform has led to many “oh-la-la’s” on the trail, both from fellow test pilots and onlookers.
For 2016 however, Lapierre undertook a not-insignificant overhaul of the Zesty range, with an updated suspension design, lighter frames and reworked geometry applied across the line. Gone is the Zesty TR 29, and in its place is the new Zesty XM 27.5.
This might seem like an odd move, as the 2015 Zesty TR was without doubt one of the best handing trail bikes to have worn the Lapierre badge. While Lapierre believed so too, the company also admitted that it simply wasn’t selling enough of them. Perhaps consumers are simply turning towards other brands for 29in wheels? Whatever the reason, Lapierre decided to redesign its 120mm trail bike with 27.5in wheels, and in the process, gave it a new name; the Zesty XM.
Starting from £1849 for the entry-level Zesty XM 227, and topping out at £4199 for the top-end Zesty XM 827 e:i, you’ll find a total of eight Zesty XM models available in the UK. There’s a women’s specific option in the Zesty XM 327, and both the ZestyXM 427 and XM 827 models are available in e:i versions too. The Zesty XM 527 and 827 models are equipped with a full carbon frameset, while the rest of the line relies on alloy frames to keep the price down. Confused? All you need to know is that the higher the number, the higher the spec.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been getting very familiar with the mid-level Zesty XM 527. Given how high the Zesty TR set the performance bar, I was keen to find out whether Lapierre had made a mistake shelving the 29in wheels. Would the new XM live up the same lofty expectations?
Whereas the 150mm travel Zesty AM is targeted towards hardcore riders frequenting steeper terrain, the 120mm travel Zesty XM is designed to be a lighter, more playful, and more versatile all-round trail bike. Interestingly, both bikes largely share the same frame, but the Zesty XM runs a shorter stroke shock and a different upper shock mount. As a result, the beefy frame and oversized pivot junctions make the XM look more like a shrunken-down Enduro bike, rather than a long-legged XC bike.
On that note, it must be said that Lapierre knows how to make a very good-looking bike. Peer a little closer though, and you’ll see that the shapely carbon profile has primarily been designed for function first. The seat tube and main pivot have been offset to deliver crucial real estate for the direct-mount front derailleur, and the curvy sub-frame offers up butt-loads of tyre clearance for up to 2.4in wide rubber.
The internal cable routing is sleek, with the bolt-on carbon armour plate at the base of the downtube doubling as a large access port for the cables. Other quintessential Lapierre touches include the carbon rear derailleur guard and a discreet removable sag indicator on the seat tube.
Despite the beefy appearance, a medium-sized Zesty XM frame weighs just 2.28kg with the rear shock. Titanium shock pins and large diameter alloy pivot hardware certainly helps, and so does the full carbon frame and shock linkage. Lapierre have been perfecting their carbon frames both on the road and off it for many years now, with the Zesty XM frameset receiving their latest UD carbon fibre construction. There’s a 92mm wide press-fit bottom bracket shell to help strengthen the down tube and seat tube junction, while the massive head tube junction features a similar design with press-fit alloy cups.
Part of the Zesty XM’s light weight is also due to the new OST+ suspension design. Lapierre’s engineers have removed the shock yoke from the previous design, which helps to shed grams while also creating a more progressive feel to the suspension curve. The goal was to give the new bike snappier pedalling and improved bottom-out resistance, while also allowing a water bottle to fit inside the front triangle. Thanks to the top tube-mounted shock, that’s now possible with the new OST+ suspension design.
Suspension on the Zesty XM 527 is provided by RockShox, with a Monarch RT shock out back that uses a large volume Debonair can. Up front is the highly underrated Revelation fork with 130mm of travel. Coming in at a 1.8kg on our scales with a Solo Air spring and skinny 32mm stanchions, it’s the PIKE’s baby brother.
The Zesty XM 527 is dressed up with the latest Shimano M8000 Deore XT groupset. While some of the ‘core’ riders out there will scoff at the 2×11 setup, it’s good to see Lapierre providing riders with gearing options, and it’s a relatively easy and inexpensive process to set the bike up as 1x if you so choose.
Wheels come in the form of a new OEM wheelset from RaceFace called the Aeffect. These are built with trick-looking CNC machined sealed bearing hubs, straight-pull spokes and brass nipples. The eyeleted rims feature a 23mm internal rim width, and I found them easy to setup tubeless with the addition of two layers of Stans Yellow rim tape. Unfortunately tape and valves aren’t included with the bike, but the Maxxis tyres are Tubeless Ready models with the reinforced EXO casing, so it makes sense to ditch the tubes as soon as you can. At 1720 grams, the Aeffect wheels surprised me by coming in well under their claimed weight.
And whilst on the topic of weight, our medium Zesty XM 527 test bike came in at 12.52kg after I had removed the inner tubes.
On The Trail
As I’ve come to expect from Lapierre mountain bikes, the Zesty XM felt comfortable straight off the bat with excellent contact points. The 740mm Nico Vouilloz handlebar has the perfect amount of rise and sweep, and for most riders it’s the ideal width for XC trail riding. The thin lock-on grips have great tactility, and the SDG saddle proved to be a highly inoffensive perch for all test riders who tried it.
Compared to last years Zesty TR, the overall reach of the Zesty XM remains much the same, but it’s now achieved by combining a longer 610mm top tube and a shorter 60mm stem. The stubby-ish stem is necessary to speed up steering with the slacker 67-degree head angle, which pitches the front wheel a good way out in front. It does mean the XM experiences a certain amount of ‘wheel flop’ if you’re dawdling up steeper pinch climbs, but you quickly learn to compensate by dropping your elbows and leaning over the bars to help weight the front tyre.
Overall, the Zesty XM is a textbook example of modern trail bike geometry. Much like a downhill bike, it’s long, low and slack, and it begs to be ridden hard. In the sag position, the bottom bracket axle sits just 30cm off the ground, which helps to drop your centre of gravity further down in between the hub axles. The Zesty XM also features a relatively steep seat tube angle, helping to position the rider smack-bang in between both wheels. The combination of these two attributes means the Zesty XM handles corners like a mid-engine race car, with you feeling very much in complete of all the available grip.
Also contributing to this cornering composure is the stiff and lightweight frameset, which is highly adept at making last-minute line changes. It also remains stable underneath you when you’re pummelling the bike deep into banked turns – a scenario where less-capable trail bikes can often begin to wiggle and feel vague. When you do reach the limits of traction, feedback from both tyres is translated well to the riders contact points, and the short back end means the rear tyre is easy to push into oversteer. The Ardent/Ardent Race treads proved to be a decent enough combo for hardpack XC riding, but with the Zesty XM egging me on, it didn’t take long for me to try a chunkier 2.3in High Roller II up front to see just how far I could push the bike on more technical terrain.
The new suspension design certainly delivers on its promise of improved pedalling efficiency, and it contributes a lot to the Zesty XM’s ‘pop’ and playfulness on the trail. That said, it has definitely lost some of the plushness of the previous OST+ design. This is because rotational duties have been handed back to the shock’s lower DU bushing, instead of the two sealed bearings used inside the shock yoke of old. Despite the fact that the Monarch features the Debonair can with its larger negative spring and smoother starting stroke, I still couldn’t get the back end to feel as plush as the previous Zesty TR, which had one of the smoothest suspension designs going. One potential remedy would be to fit a needle roller bearing in the lower shock eyelet, and further tuning options would be to try some Bottomless Rings inside the air can (the rear shock comes stock with none).
To achieve the required 35% sag, I ended up settling on 190psi in the rear shock for my 70kg riding weight. I did find that the OST+ design is relatively sensitive to setup, as its virtual pivot point achieves equilibrium at the sag point, meaning anything outside of that starts to make the shock feel over/underworked. Once you get it right though, the rear suspension offers a very deep and bottomless feel, with an active mid-stroke that is not unlike a VPP bike. Larger high-speed hits are swallowed up admirably, to the point where I was seriously questioning whether the Zesty XM only had 120mm of travel.
Without the funky e:i system controlling rear shock compression, the stock Monarch RT does feel a little boggy when you stand and hammer at the pedals, so you’re better off remaining seated for pedalling. I typically left the shock wide open to do its job, but for long fire road sections, the blue compression lever does come in handy to engage a firmer pedal platform.
Up front, I ran 88psi in the Revelation fork to put it at around 27% sag. In a further attempt to match the deep suspension feel out back, I also removed one of the two stock Bottomless Tokens to help flatten out the spring rate. It became apparent that I was fighting a losing battle though, as while the Revelation is a smooth fork that handles most impacts pretty well, it is no match for the bigger PIKE fork – a fork that the Zesty XM is begging for. Now that modern carbon frames and wheelsets are becoming so much stiffer, any fork with 32mm stanchions on a trail bike just feels under-gunned, and that’s especially noticeable on a bike that’s as playful as the Zesty XM. Yes this is a sub-13kg carbon trail bike with 120mm travel, but the extra plushness and steering control from a PIKE would be well worth any weight penalty. On that note, I should also mention that the Zesty XM frame is rated for up to 140mm of fork travel should you want to slacken the bike out further.
I did run into a couple of niggles during my time with the Zesty XM 527, with the Shimano press-fit BB developing a nasty creak about half way through. Typically, you’ll find that removing, cleaning and reinstalling the Nylon cups can remedy this, but it’s frustrating to experience on such a new bike in 2016. I also had some of the pivot bolts work loose after the first few rides, with the two shock pins being devoid of any Loctite. A good reminder that any new bike needs a thorough check-over when it comes out of the box.
The new XT controls are an absolute delight to use thanks to the textured dimples on both the brake levers and shift paddles, and the indexing on the shifters is the most positive from Shimano yet. However, the shifting was never as smooth as I would expect from XT. Further investigation led me to find that the gear cables were crossed inside the downtube from new, but even after re-routing them, shifting remained heavy. Otherwise the range from the 2×11 system is fantastic, and on many an occasion while riding long climbs alongside riders with 1x drivetrains, I took much delight in dropping the chain into the granny gear to save energy and spin my way uphill.
The KS LEV Integra dropper post offers up 125mm of smooth, infinitely adjustable travel, and the minimalist remote works well. Bizarrely, the saddle would often refuse to return on its own if it was fully compressed for more than a couple of minutes. This annoying trait seemed to be independent of cable tension and seat clamp torque, with a quick tug of the saddle required to free the post up.
You may have already picked up that the Zesty XM 527 arrived in my possession to a certain amount of skepticism. I was definitely a big fan of the Zesty TR, and I hate seeing good bikes being quashed by commercial pressures. Thankfully however, the Zesty XM proved me wrong. It isn’t as fast as its 29in predecessor, it doesn’t climb the chunder as well, and it just doesn’t have the same raw bump-eating capabilities that the previous OST+ suspension design enjoyed. But the Zesty XM is without doubt a livelier and more playful trail bike that puts a spotlight on the very best attributes of the smaller 27.5in wheels.
In essence, the Zesty XM successfully combines capable big-bike geometry in a lighter and snappier carbon frameset that makes it an absolute hoot to throw around on the trail. In my opinion, more riders could benefit from riding a bike like the Zesty XM rather than a big 6in travel All Mountain rig. And realistically, with its 180mm rotors, dropper post and competent chassis, the Zesty XM gives up very little in the capability stakes.
If it were my bike? I’d seriously consider getting a PIKE on the front. I’d also like to play around with Bottomless Tokens inside the rear shock, and potentially some needle roller bearings in the shock eyelets just for shits and giggles. The Zesty XM 527 definitely needs a fatter tyre up front too, so along with going tubeless, that would be my suggestion. Otherwise Lapierre have done a bang-up job of spec’ing out the Zesty XM 527.
Want something cheaper? Check out the alloy Zesty XM 427, or the 327, or the entry-level 227. Want something blingier? Then electronically-controlled suspension can be yours on the top-end Zesty XM 827 e:i if you dig the idea of automated suspension.
- Frame // Zesty XM Carbon
- Shock // RockShox Monarch RT Debonair
- Fork // RockShox Revelation RL Solo Air 130mm
- Hubs // Raceface Aeffect
- Rims // Raceface Aeffect
- Tyres // Maxxis Ardent 2.25in & Ardent Race 2.20in
- Chainset // Shimano Deore XT 36/26t
- Front Mech // Shimano Deore XT E-Type
- Rear Mech // Shimano Deore XT 11-Speed
- Shifters // Shimano Deore XT 11-Speed
- Brakes // Shimano Deore XT
- Stem // Easton EA70
- Bars // Lapierre Nico Vouilloz 740mm
- Grips // Lapierre Lock-On
- Seatpost // KS Lev Integra
- Saddle // SDG Duster LP Custom
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 12.52kg
|Product:||Zesty XM 527|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for three months|