Lapierre are in an enviable reputation when it comes to making mountain bikes, their long association with the legendary Nico Vouilloz and a spate of seriously good all-mountain machines cementing their reputation (in the UK, at least) as the brand to beat.
When I mentioned this to managing director Gilles Lapierre (grandson of the founder) he was happy but surprised – in their home country of France it’s the road bikes that have always been the biggest part of the company’s vision. Take their long association with pro team FDJ, now into its 12th year.
The factory itself is a small but highly organised operation. Rather than going for the usual automated production line, pumping out bikes continuously, Lapierre have taken a different approach.
Yes, component parts such as bars, stems, bottom brackets, cranks, wheels and tyres are assembled on a production line. But they then go to one of four stations where fully trained mechanics assemble and finish individual bikes by hand. It means every bike is completed and signed by one expert.
Each bike is assembled by one mechanic
That signature forms part of the bike’s guarantee card, meaning Lapierre have a total history for each bike from start to finish. Having full accountability is one thing, but it also means they can easily identify and target single bikes should the worst happen – a recall on a component part, for instance.
Every good brand should have their own testing facilities, and Lapierre are no exception. Aside from a full swathe of machines that emulate CEN testing (the legal requirement for selling a bike within Europe), they have a table designed in-house and dedicated to testing the integrity and alignment of pivots for their suspension bike range.
They also have an automatic rig for testing frame stiffness at the head tube, bottom brack and rear triangle simultaneously. R&D chief Rémi Gribaudo explained: "While there are ‘tests’ for frame stiffness out there, we didn’t feel that their designs measured in the ‘correct’ way. We designed our own test that we feel properly corresponds to the forces a frame is put under in proper riding conditions."
Lapierre’s own stiffness testing rig
The rig exerts pressure at the three points simultaneously, and automatically records direct to Lapierre’s database. Gribaudo told us that it’s not only essential for their design work but also helps them benchmark frames against the competition.
The final part of the R&D and testing facility is marked by some ominous green doors, behind which lies Machine 6. This is the vibration test rig; Gribaudo told us that other companies have similar rigs but that most are located at manufacturing bases in the Far East – Lapierre are one of the few brands to have something in-house and in Europe.
We got a glimpse behind the doors but weren’t allowed to take photos. Machine 6 is big enough to hold a complete bike, and simultaneously puts 80kg of pressure on the seat tube and 50kg (horizontally) at the bottom bracket, all the while vibrating the frame at high frequency. The idea is to apply an accelerated lifetime’s worth of use, and frames that go behind the green doors inevitably end up being tested to destruction.
For more information on Lapierre bikes see www.lapierre-bikes.co.uk.