Following on from the announcement that the Lapierre Spicy enduro bike will have 650b wheels for 2014, the Zesty trail bike has also had an overhaul, with two wheel sizes for those struggling to choose between 650b and 29er formats.
To get round this they decided to split the Zesty range into two distinct lines – All Mountain (AM) uses the same 150mm travel frame as the 650b Spicy but with a 150mm fork instead of the latter's 160mm item; Trail 29er uses 120mm of travel at either end. As the naming suggests, Lapierre feel the 27.5in wheel size is better suited to more aggressive riding, while big hoops excel in slightly less extreme terrain.
With input from Lapierre test rider and downhill legend Nico Vouilloz, frame geometry and suspension have seen a complete overhaul on the 2014 Spicy and Zesty bikes. Nico has already added to his overfull trophy cabinet with a victory atop the redesigned Spicy at the second round of the Enduro World Series at Val d'Allos last weekend.
An awful lot of work has been put into the four-bar OST+ suspension system, to help it work better with dedicated single ring drivetrains and to fine-tune the balance between big hit capability, grip enhancing suppleness and pedalling performance.
All top-end models will feature full carbon construction, save for the chainstays – they're made from a newly developed Supreme 6 aluminium alloy that Lapierre claim is 12 percent stronger and 1.5 percent lighter than standard 7005 series alloy, with improved fatigue resistance.
Other tweaks include a move to press-fit 92 bottom brackets, and a curved down tube (to better fit water bottles) with integrated protector and full internal cable routing.
We felt the sizing on the 2013 bikes could come up a bit short, especially considering the hooligan speeds they encourage, so it's good news that the top tube length has been increased by 15mm on small/medium bikes, and 10mm on the large frame sizes. This is in addition to shorter stems and wider bars across the bikes.
Top tube lengths have been made slightly longer across the Spicy and Zesty bikes
Head and seat tube angles are slightly steeper than on this year's 26in-wheeled bikes, at 66.5 degrees for the Spicy's head tube and about half a degree less for the Zesty AM. Lapierre feel that the additional stability of larger diameter wheels offsets the slightly steeper angles.
The main suspension pivots now use expanding collet-type bolts to hold them in place, for easier maintenance with the ability to service bearings without having to remove the chainset. The swing link of the suspension will also be a composite item for the range-topping bikes.
There's been an 16 percent increase in rear triangle stiffness, with the bottom bracket and head tube being 28 percent and 8 percent less flexible respectively. Nico explained: "As the bike is much faster than the 2013 Spicy, we have improved stiffness. Our first priority was good stiffness, reliability and ease to maintain. We were not so focused on weight, even though the frame is 2.5kg (5.5lb)."
The 2014 Spicy range will feature three models, with only the top Team coming with the full carbon frame. This bike is a replica of Nico's race machine, and is kitted out with SRAM's XX1 single ring drivetrain, Roam 50 wheels and an internally routed Reverb Stealth dropper post.
Suspension on the Spicy Team is provided by the new RockShox Pike fork, and comes as standard with the Lapierre Ei shock system. This automatically adjusts the Monarch RT3 rear shock's compression damping settings anywhere from fully open to locked out in a fraction of a second, using a fork-mounted accelerometer and BB-mounted cadence sensor to calculate how large an impact is and whether you're pedalling. A stem-mounted computer gives sensitivity adjustments as well as manual override options.
The top-of-the-range Lapierre Spicy 927 Ei
The second tier Spicy 527 comes with a Supreme 6 alloy frame and full Fox suspension, with a 160mm 34 Float CTD Performance fork and Float CTD Boost Valve shock (an Ei Monarch rear shock is available for an upcharge). It uses a double and bashguard drivetrain with Shimano shifting.
The entry level Spicy 327 is similarly equipped with Shimano gearing and Fox suspension, though the less complex Evolution dampers are used and there's no Ei upgrade available.
Zesty AM 2014
Both the Spicy and Zesty AM serve up the same 150mm of rear wheel travel. But the Zesty's shorter 150mm travel fork knocks the head angle back about half a degree from the Spicy's 66.5 degrees, with a marginally steeper seat tube angle, and lower bottom bracket height of 10mm again to keep a planted, in-bike feel.
There will be six versions of the Zesty AM, starting with the carbon fibre AM 927, which will only be available with the Ei shock system, Kashima coated Fox 32 Float fork and RockShox Monarch RT3 shock. It's equipped with the SRAM XX1 single ring specific drivetrain, Easton Haven 27.5 wheels and RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post.
The 27.5in-wheeled Lapierre Zesty AM
The AM 727 uses the same carbon front triangle but has an all-alloy rear end, a new SRAM X01 11-speed group and Performance series Fox suspension (a Monarch RT3 Ei upgrade is available).
The AM 527 is the last of the carbon frame models, with the AM 427 and AM327 using the Supreme 6 alloy. The latter is also available in a women's specific AM 327 Lady version.
Zesty AM 927 Ei – first ride
From the first turn of the pedal of our top-of-the-line Zesty AM, the changes to the suspension made a strong impression. It was less prone to wallow and pedal-inspired bob than the older OST+ design, even with the Ei suspension set to fully open.
The handling will feel instantly familiar to anyone who's ridden the 26in-wheeled bike, with a low stack height, stable turn-in and confident position on the bike giving no indication of the increased wheel size.
Indeed, it's only once you're up to speed that you notice the small but significant increase in cornering grip over 26in wheels. Despite the Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres using the harder PaceStar compound, the Zesty AM kept positive cornering speed even on the slick, mud-covered berms of the damp Alpine DH tracks we were thrashing. They eked out impressive grip on wet roots and slick loam.
Despite this, the bike was more than willing to change line with little notice, popping out of corners like the best 26in-wheeled machines. The rear suspension was neutral in a positive way, reacting consistently to impacts both large and small, with no uncontrolled compression or rebound through the stroke. It dealt with heavy landings with much better manners than the 2013 bike.
The Zesty AM range is fitted with dropper posts
The flawless performance of the SRAM XX1 drivetrain and Reverb dropper post made for intuitive transitions between climbing and descending, while the Ei system helped efficiency; for the long continuous descents we left it in open mode, though.
On paper, the differences between the Zesty AM and Spicy look relatively minor. But repeated runs on the varied terrain around Châtel, Portes Du Soleil, France, drew out interesting differences between the two bikes.
While the RockShox Pike-equipped Spicy Team was capable of steamrollering through rough roots and rocks, the thinner stanchions and extended dropouts of the Zesty's 650b Fox 32 fork made for a more more active and lively bike. The chassis flex gave a surprisingly springy, almost wriggly feel, although ultimate tracking stiffness was noticeably reduced.
We think that anyone who has a taste for hard riding – or is a regular visitor to the lands of ski lifts and mountains – should consider whether they'd be willing to trade the lower weight of a Zesty AM against the extra accuracy of a Spicy. Lapierre are confident that the Zesty is the better choice for the average all-round rider, and expect it to outsell the Spicy by a significant amount.
While it might share the Zesty name, the Trail is designed to bridge the gap between Lapierre's 100mm travel XR 29er and their more trail focused, longer travel bikes. It offers 120mm of travel at either end, with the same OST+ suspension layout as the 650b models, and shares all the refinements of the other 2014 bikes.
On paper, the angles are fairly conservative for a harder riding big-wheeler, with a 69-degree head angle and relatively long 446mm chainstays, though the 35mm bottom bracket drop is fairly low.
Again, six models will be available, following the format of the AM range – a full carbon 929, moving on to the carbon/alloy 729 and 529, and the aluminium-framed 429, 329 and 329 Lady models. None of the bikes are equipped with a dropper post as standard, though Ei shocks are available on the top four models.
Lapierre Zesty Trail 29er
Zesty Trail 729 Ei – first ride
Our first impressions of the Zesty Trail were coloured by the previous day spent riding the 650b Zesty AM. With 30mm less travel at either end, a longer back end and steeper head angle, our first few runs felt as though we'd moved onto a much more cross-country biased machine than the poppy and involving AM.
Once we'd started to acclimatise to the big wheels, the bike began to show greater depth. The extra momentum and additional chainstay length meant it needed to be leant in to carve a change of direction, but what was lost in agility was made up with plenty of cornering grip.
Pointing it down something steep, the Trail was surprisingly stable and capable of making rapid progress, though there was a distinct angle beyond which the big-wheeler started to feel out of its depth, where the 650b bike would still be in its comfort zone.
Some of that isn't helped by the non-Kashima coated, long legged and relatively flexy Fox 32 Performance fork. While it shares the enclosed FIT damping cartridge with the more expensive, slippery-stanchioned Factory model seen on the Zesty Trail 929, it felt more stilted, possibly due to greater friction against the bushings when the fork was bending slightly under heavy braking or similar high-load situations.
We put all the bikes through their paces in the French Alps
We were riding a cross-country bike on some fairly severe trails, so if there's little in the way of steep and nasty in your day-to-day riding, it's unlikely to be a deal breaker.
The cockpit feel is a nice balance between stretched out, distance riding efficiency and downhill confidence inspiration and the new, slightly longer sizing felt good. We weren't blown away with the bite or power of the Formula R1S brakes, however, the slightly wooden feel making it hard to balance between braking and traction on slick surfaces.
If your rides tend to lean more towards all-day epics than pedal-and-plummet scare sessions, the Zesty Trail is the bike you should pick, though it would be a mistake to think this bike isn't capable of some seriously technical and tough riding.
We can't help feeling that a slightly stiffer fork – a 120mm travel 29er RockShox Pike is rumoured for next year – could expand its abilities.
XR 2014, plus more women's L-Series bikes
The flighty, 100mm travel Lapierre XR 29er marathon bike gets a slight tweak for 2014, with a new carbon fibre layup increasing stiffness. It still comes in at a claimed 1.8kg (3.97lb) and does without chainstay pivots, relying instead on flex in the carbon fibre tubing.
Lapierre's women's specific L-Series range has been expanded to include 10 models. Compared to the men's bikes they feature a more upright riding position due to a shorter, more steeply sloping top tube on smaller and lighter frames. Women's saddles are also fitted in conjunction with shorter stems, narrower handlebars and easier-to-reach brake levers.
The 'Lady' models can be found in the Zesty AM, Zesty Trail, X-Control, Pro Race and Raid ranges, generally at the more affordable end of the spectrum. The Zesty bikes only come in small and medium frame sizes.