Lapierre's Zesty range brings the firm's 15 years of development to a brand-new 140mm travel all-mountain platform. The 314 base model demonstrates that they're ready to challenge the best in the world.
Ride & handling: rolls up its sleeves and dives right in
At a glance, the ‘Zesty’ name seems a bit twee, but get the bike rolling, especially across loose, rough mountainside, and you’ll see that it’s an apt one. Like sucking on a lemon, the Zesty makes you realise you’re alive.
Key to this ride is a sorted geometry, such as the 68-degree head angle. This allows you to settle and relax while pedalling hell for leather into sections that you might otherwise avoid.
The 140mm travel Fox float RL is a fork we already know and love and, thanks to the Zesty’s 68-degree head angle, is well positioned to take big hits without pitching you through the proverbial front door.
This front end works even better for challenging yourself with new lines, if, like us, you run the Zesty on the soft side at the rear. The bike gives up travel freely and without fuss or spikes, inviting you to push the limits of traction ever harder.
The damping adjusters are easy to use and changes made at the dial read into discernible differences on the trail (some forks require lots of twiddling to make any difference at all).
Out back, and balancing the Fox fork perfectly, is the extremely supple, swing link-driven back end. This allows the Fox RP23 shock to follow the surface of the trail with the kind of tenacity that’d make a bulldog proud.
None of the great suspension matters a bit if you can’t use it effectively, but Lapierre has got that cracked, too. The rider is positioned squarely between the wheels; this balanced weighting inspires confidence, especially in challenging low-traction situations such as traversing trails on loose off-camber scree.
Wherever you decide to point the Zesty 314, it just rolls up its sleeves and dives right in. It’s a feeling of total commitment that rubs off and will have you challenging the bike to duel of bravery whenever the opportunity arises.
Frame: sorted geometry
There's more to the Zesty's successful frame than just the slacker head angle. Without a shred of carbon in sight, the 7005 series alloy frame is well proportioned, with a reasonably long 600mm top tube on our 46cm (medium) frame.
The bike has been made long enough that you’ll feel like logging plenty of fast miles should you feel racy, but short (and tall) enough that you’ll also be totally comfortable if you decide to investigate that goat track off the side of some Welsh mountainside.
As a bonus, the open layout of the front triangle makes accessing the rear shock controls a breeze – not something you can say about all full-suspension bikes. It also makes cleaning the Zesty after muddy action much easier.
Lapierre has worked hard not only to make the frame work, but also to make it a work of art. We like the flowing lines, especially the broad, flattened ‘hockey stick’ seat stays. The whole bike looks thoroughly modern and refreshingly different from the aesthetically similar ‘swoopy’ Specialized and Giant silhouettes. Think Renault Mégane rear end, and you’ll get the design vibe.
Equipment: slick transmission, prefect braking
New Shimano Deore XT transmission is flawless. We particularly like the new Rapidfire shifters which can be pushed or plucked to make lightning-quick gear changes. We had to look hard to spot the substitution of the XT look-a-like Shimano FCM 542 22/32/44 chainset.
It was just as stiff as an XT, and should last as long (although the rings are still cheese-soft and will be gone in a hurry – just like the XT’s).
Of course, it’s no good having a confidence-inspiring suspension setup and super-slick transmission if you can’t add sufficient braking control. Thankfully, the Zesty 314 uses one of our favourite hydraulic disc brakes of the moment, the Formula Oro K18.
This base model, the K18, doesn’t have the useful Free Stroke Adjuster of the more expensive Formula K24 and Puro models, which enables you to balance and fine-tune the lever throw. We’ve rarely needed this feature when we’ve had it, though, so it’s no great loss. The 180mm front rotor bites hard and the 160mm rear fills in the power nicely, despite the relative lightweight nature of the Oro K18, and we never felt the braking was anything short of perfect for this bike’s needs.
However, we did have reservations about Lapierre’s decision to fit Michelin XC Dry2 tyres. The closely spaced small block tread looked less than perfect for our mid-winter mudfest rides, and we’ve ridden better-suited tyres for such conditions, such as Schwalbe Nobby Nics and Continental Mountain Kings. That said, the Michelins provided reasonable performance – just look out for regular puddles to help wash the treads clear.
Verdict: makes you feel better than you are
The Zesty is a real rider’s bike. It’ll make any trip to the trail a pleasure, whether you’re on the flat or in the mountains. From the get-go, we felt immediately at home on the saddle, and it is testament to the Zesty 314’s character that we rode the slimy, greasy trails flat out, feet up, lock to lock, on less than perfect tyres and loved every minute.
All that and it climbs neutrally and, if coaxed, quite quickly. With a bit more air in the shocks it will gallop along flatter tracks in search of more extreme adventure.
Lapierre has made, in the Zesty, the kind of bike that makes you feel like a better rider than you are. That’s a great attribute for any bike.
The word from designer Gilles Lapierre
Gilles Lapierre is the managing director of the family firm established by his grandfather, which is now famous for its downhill race team as well as its pro road-racing team.
BikeRadar: What was your main aim with the Zesty?
Gilles Lapierre: Our goal was to create a versatile all-mountain bike that is as efficient as our X-Control models, but with an enhanced sense of ‘fun’. We’ve tried to make the character of the Zesty as ‘playful’ as we could without losing sight of the competitive nature of the bike. We say ‘total riding pleasure’.
BikeRadar: Who was responsible for the Zesty platform?
Gilles Lapierre: The new OST system was developed by Lapierre’s R&D department. Our existing FPS2 system didn’t allow us to create the geometry we wanted for longer-travel bikes, because of the placement of the rear suspension unit. Our engineers designed a new platform, with an improved geometry and a virtual pivot point system to prevents pedal bob.
BikeRadar: How long has the development process taken?
Gilles Lapierre: The Zesty was a two-year project for us. We went through many iterations of the frame, but there were three main prototyping stages for the frame until we were satisfi ed that we could approve it for manufacture.
BikeRadar: Why haven’t you produced a carbon fibre Zesty?
Gilles Lapierre: Our priority was to create a new, high-performance suspension system, so we wanted to make sure the platform worked perfectly instead of playing with different frame materials.
BikeRadar: How much input did 10-time world downhill champ Nicolas Vouilloz have with the bike?
Gilles Lapierre: Nicolas works very closely with our R&D department. His qualities as a rider, as well as his ability to ‘feel’ a product, allow us to develop and introduce products, particularly in suspension, that meet our high expectations.
He works on a wide range of product at Lapierre, not just the gravity mountain bike range.