Lapierre Zesty 314 £2399

Totally composed, speed-boosting performance

BikeRadar score 4/5

It may not be perfect, but if there’s one bike in our Trail Bike Of The Year test that took everyone’s riding ability to the max it was Lapierre’s beautifully balanced, phenomenally poised Zesty. Just be ready to change the tyres and spend your time waiting for other riders at the end of any technical section.

Ride & handling: Gives you a new level of ride confidence and speed

It’s a credit to the basic Zesty chassis that once we'd changed the tyres (because the rear 2.2in Continental Race King was too easily punctured) it was picked as the unanimous favourite by our more radical test riders. It's not as slack, low and downhill-styled as some of the competition, and it's got a quick-release rather than through-axle fork, but nothing delivered as much outrageous limit stretching, laugh-out-loud excitement as the Lapierre.

We did a lot of our testing up at Stainburn trail centre in North Yorkshire where the tight, bouldery descent line has as much flow and rhythm as a dad at a wedding disco. However, even riders who were getting kicked all over the place and brake grabbing on other bikes were whooping, hollering, floating the drops and pinning the berms as soon as they switched to the ultra-balanced and composed Zesty.

There’s noticeable tip twist from the fork and the 68-degree head angle is more twitchy than some obvious competitors, but overall precision and consistency is still excellent, letting you take the bike right to the limit without experiencing any worry. Regardless of the fork, the front end manages to tackle the roughest lines and highest-G berms with an insatiable appetite and still responds to flick-knife traction slips or tight singletrack switchbacks.

The way the OST suspension stays smooth through clatter and chatter, yet seems to drive forward out of big hits or drops is genuinely inspirational, pushing you on harder and faster with every run down the hill, however hectic it gets. Once you've dialled in the sag via the neat frame mounted pointer, the suspension never requires another moment's thought. The Zesty was an obvious choice to take to an Innerleithen enduro downhill race as part of testing.

The Lapierre climbs with total poise and pedal stability, and weight is on a par with a lot of less capable, shorter-travel bikes that don’t pedal as well, meaning it's more than happy blitzing the descents and spinning easily uphill all day long. This is a bike that will keep up happily on the climbs, crucify most bikes on tight and technical singletrack and blow a lot of bigger bikes out of sight on descents, making it our clear trail bike choice for more radically minded riders.

Frame: Tapered head tube and tubeset upgrades for 2011

While the basic layout is unchanged, Lapierre have done a fair amount of work on the Zesty for 2011. The biggest change on this year’s frame is the deep-flanged tapered head tube and matching fork that back onto a big, angular, gently tapering top and down tube. The top tube also forks at the far end to support the extended seat tube.

The skinny-looking seat tube curves down towards the oversized keystone block for the press-fit, ISCG-tabbed bottom bracket. Burly, slightly asymmetric chainstays head backwards down to very low set pivots ahead of triangular multi-piece dropouts. In contrast to conventional thinking, the seatstays are even bigger than the chainstays, with the deepest, strongest section at the dropout end before they taper back towards the mainframe.

The X-brace swing link is set into the underside of the top tube, driving the down tube-anchored Fox Float R shock in a falling rate setup. Lapierre's confidence in their OST suspension design shows in the fact that the standard sleeve shock only gets a rebound adjust knob rather than the usual ProPedal bob stopping damping setup.

Red anodised detailing includes the seat collar, replaceable mech hanger, bearing cap grip collars and a removable sag pointer on the seat tube for accurate suspension setup. There’s a carbon fibre shroud over the rear mech which is more than cosmetic – we've never snapped one off despite several potentially gear mangling crashes or trailside rock swipes – and the bolted clip cable routing down the down tube side is really neat too.

Equipment: Rear tyre needs swapping & through-axle would combat front-end twist

Unfortunately, while the tapered head tube stiffens up the fork you don’t get a 15mm screw-thru axle to complete the combination. The twisty front end and far too easily punctured semi-slick rear tyre aren’t a good fit for the aggression levels of the bike. Bars wider than 680mm would be good too, although the 75mm stem length is spot-on for highly technical cut and carve speed work.

Otherwise the white Formula RX brakes boost confidence, the Shimano SLX triple chainset gives a full gear range, Fulcrum bladed spoke wheels are okay, as is the Fizik Gobi XM saddle. If you can afford the Zesty 514 for £2,799 though that gets a carbon fibre rear end plus QR15 axle fork and Shimano XT wheels. Real hardcore riders should check out the Spicy 316, which gets a longer shock for 160mm travel plus a screw-through 142x12mm rear axle and Fox 36 fork for £2,499.

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