Last week, French manufacturer Lapierre released their updated cross-country full-suspension bike – the XR. They’ve billed it as the bike for the racer inside.
The Lapierre XR has sat within the Lapierre mountain bike range for a few years, and was one of the first bikes in the line-up to use the e:i automatic suspension management system in 2013. The system has evolved a little since then, but the concept remains: you ride your bike, it sets your rear shock in the optimal setting: Open, Medium or Locked.
How does it do it? Via three sensors on the bike. One attached to your fork, another next to the stem, and one inside the bottom bracket shell. The sensors at the front detect the size, and intensity of the hit, and the bottom bracket sensor detects your cadence. In 0.1 of a second your shock is adjusted to the right setting. For a small hit and high cadence, the shock won’t be fully open. Bigger hit and zero cadence, and the shock will be fully open to absorb it as best as possible. More details are here.
The unit is capable of adjusting the settings 60 times in a minute, so there’s not really an argument about whether you can do it faster yourself or not.
The electronic system is built into the RockShox Monarch shock (in metric sizing now, for increased sensitivity) and it’s interesting to know that the settings on the shock differ to a stock Monarch unit, as the open setting is more open than a stock shock. Given the bike will often be pedalled in a Medium setting, you can have a more plush Open setting for when the suspension is required.
New for 2017 are improvements on the weather-proofing of the battery, and they’ve made it a little easier to remove from the holder – especially if it’s a bit grubby.
Downsides to the system? Well if you want complete control you can still set it to Manual and move between the settings with the button on the head unit. The LED display shows you what setting you’re in. So really it’s just the extra cabling that some might not like. Servicing is done as with any other Monarch RT3 shock, and Lapierre importers look after any electronic issues. But the e:i Auto system has proven to be very reliable.
New frame for the Lapierre XR
What has really changed here is the frame. Cross-country and marathon races have been getting more technical again, and the demands placed on bikes are growing. Long stems and near on treadless tyres are out. Stiff frames, wide bars, full-suspension and even dropper seat posts are in. Geometry is changing to suit, with longer front ends, shorter back ends to keep the handling responsive, and slacker head angles are matched with increased fork rake and short stems to get stable yet agile handling.
So those are the kinds of changes Lapierre have made to the XR. The head angle is 70.5 degrees, and the bikes use a 51mm offset fork. The chain stays are moderately short at 440mm, and the seat angle is 74 degrees, putting you right over the pedals. The top tubes are long, to work well with shorter stems. The fork and rear end have Boost spacing as well.
The previous XR stood out as the shock was ‘encased’ in the middle of the seat tube. It was rudely interrupting the seat tube, and changing this was one of the key objectives for Lapierre. So the shock has moved forwards, and upwards, but the frame still encases it somewhat – partly for aesthetics but partly for engineering as well, to help for lateral rigidity.
The seat tube is almost entirely straight, to allow for a dropper seat post. None of the models come with one out of the box, although Lapierre do produce their own stealth dropper posts with 100, 125 or 150mm of drop. So that might be a great upgrade via your Lapierre dealer.
The frame also has what Lapierre call the ‘Trapdoor’. It’s an entry point into the base of the seat tube, where a Di2 battery OR the e:i Auto battery can be mounted. If only the two power sources could be combined. This placement keeps the weight on the bike lower and centred, and out of the elements.
The suspension system is Lapierre’s OST+ system – essentially a VPP system. It has a very low kick back from pedalling to keep it efficient, and the suspension path keeps it very stiff until the sag point, but then it opens up a lot more to make sure you’re using more of the travel, more often.
Cable routing is internal, through generous ports either side of the head tube. So if you run right to front braking, you can have your rear hose enter the right side of the head tube with a nice pass around the front. Small details matter on high-end bikes.
Riding the new Lapierre XR
Jumping on any 100mm travel, 29″ wheeled ‘new’ cross-country bike, I’m most likely to make comparisons to my own bike, a Norco Revolver 29 FS. Lots of things remain the same. A long top tube and short stem. Low head tube. Shorter back end. 51mm offset fork. Light. The frame is 2.1kg with the shock and Boost axle.
So really, everything felt in the right place. I rode a 629, not dissimilar to the 729 pictured here.
Riding on the flat, the bike felt super efficient. It’s a purposeful stance as stock, and I was comfortable on the Large size. The lock out lever for the fork was mounted above the bar, but I think really this needs to be in a more ergonomic position. More on that later.
Our test loop started through vineyards, before climbing a southern facing slope in the sun, up double track that was littered with rocks. Some loose, some embedded. Traction was excellent, even with relatively high pressure in the tyres. The close shifts of the Shimano 2×11 XT group set were part of the result here. As it was easy to spin up with a smooth cadence, and have the suspension look after itself.
Faster terrain in the trees was a blast – the handling was spot on. What I really appreciated was the lateral stiffness of the bike, especially when pushing hard in corners. There seemed to be greater stiffness through the top tube, and Lapierre said that maintaining that was one of the goals. They could have made the frame lighter, but they didn’t want to reduce the quality of the bike’s handling.
On steeper terrain, I was at first a little cautious as I’ve quickly become accustomed to using a short dropper post on my own XC bike. While the XR frame can take one, they’re not stock. But once I’d remembered to force back behind the saddle, I was impressed by the bike on the steeper, rougher chutes. In the test area they were mostly quite rocky, and while the tyres pinged around a fair bit the bike itself felt capable.
Looking at the o-ring on the shock I wasn’t accessing all the travel, so did run a little less, and still found it very efficient thanks to the lock out.
Technical climbing was also very good, and the bike mostly stayed in the Medium setting, which is usually exactly what you want to maintain traction. But thanks to the e:i system, if you are pushing over a pinch climb to then bomb a descent on the other side, there’s no need to reach for a lock out lever over the top. Reverse the situation where you’re racing a course you don’t know and come to a pinch climb off a fast descent, and it’s the same scenario. You focus on the pedalling and bike handling, the e:i Auto does the shock setup.
Except the fork – you still need to do that.
And that’s ok, but not ideal. Paired with a better lock out lever, or even something like the Fox IRD setup, and it would be a better high-end race package. I use non-remote lock out front and rear on my bike, and it’s a bit of a hinderance on faster races where the courses pop onto road or fire trail with some frequency. E:i Auto gets around half of that.
But overall, the suspension action, the geometry, the features, manufacturing, and suspension management was spot on. I found it very hard to get the E:i system unsettled, and can’t think of many times where I could do a better job than it, save for maybe landing to a flat drop out. But even then if you aren’t pedalling the system is likely to be in the Medium setting.
Is it perfect? No, what is? There’s just one bottle mount in the frame. And that’s not a deal breaker but with brands like Specialized, Rocky Mountain, KTM, Cannondale, Swift and more offering the ability to hold two bottles within the main frame, it’s become a bit of a decision maker, especially for people who will choose to target big races like the Cape Epic, or Crocodile Trophy – or just any marathon or stage race with sparse feed zones.
The E:i Auto system is still proprietary, which might put some people off. But those same people should therefore not look at Specialized or Cannondale either, as they both have proprietary rear shocks and wheels. It’s an increasing shift in mountain biking, as it lets companies design exactly what they want.
Overall I think it’s an exceptional bike, and while my time on the XR 629 was brief, I’d be really interested in testing one on my own trails with some of my own personal preferences. I think it would be a very competitive bike, one that rides well and takes a bit of the thinking out of racing a dual-suspension bike for the most performance possible.
Need more details? Get in touch with your Lapierre dealer.
All photos from Lapierre by Damian McArthur