The French do things differently, that much is clear. Whether we're talking about cars, sex, or bicycles, you can count on our Gallic friends to be just a little bit weirder, like they're following a different set of rules or social norms.
The Xelius SL from Dijon-based Lapierre is no exception: it's a bike meant to turn heads, and by golly it does – but its qualities also led it onto the longlist for our sister title Cycling Plus's Bike of the Year 2016 awards.
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Bold body language equals serious compliance
Although the Xelius name has been around for a while, this is a completely new bike, a lightweight counterpart to the Aircode SL that launched at the same time, and one of the machines that pro team FDJ ride and race.
These two bikes, along with the Pulsium endurance model, share a design language that's anything but shy and retiring.
The head tube has a suitably imposing profile, while cabling is all internally routed
The Xelius' carbon frame weighs a claimed 850g and has all the niceties of a 21st century road bike: a gigantic BB86 press-fit bottom bracket, fully internal cabling, and a tapered full-carbon fork complete with bumpy bits that may or not have a purpose, but look muscular and enticing.
It's the seat cluster that's most distinctive however, a design that harks back to the GT triple-triangle but differs in its execution. The top tube thins down to almost nothing before splitting three ways – the upper section curves up very slightly to meet the seat tube, while seat stays flow downwards to the rear dropout.
The latter pass either side of the seat tube without touching it at all, and it's easy to visualise how this introduces compliance: there's a huge length of seat tube that's able to flex around its single anchor point.
It's easy to see how Lapierre has wrung endurance-bike levels of comfort out of the eye-catching back end
Aside from the fact that we think this looks amazing, helped along by a stunning FDJ paintjob, it works. Honestly, if you told us that the Xelius was Lapierre's endurance model, we'd believe you, because despite its comparatively racy geometry, it has a rear end that absorbs bumps far better than seems reasonable for a lightweight frame.
We'd liken it to sitting on a ruddy great spring. It's mildly disconcerting at first, but fantastic for putting in the miles, as seat tube and seatpost deflection takes the sting out of all but the worst of surfaces.
Well-balanced character and kit
Lapierre is as keen on marketing speak as every other bike manufacturer on the planet, and it touts what it calls Power Box technology. In layman's terms, this is essentially the targeted stiffness that all makers employ, which means massive profiles for the head tube, down tube, bottom bracket and chainstays.
While we've ridden stiffer bikes than the Xelius, it strikes a well-judged balance in terms of power transfer
The Xelius isn't jaw-droppingly stiff – there are probably better bikes out there for pure sprinters – but we reckon it's very well judged, with sufficient rigidity to make climbing pleasant and to give that sense that energy isn't being wasted. In combination with a rear that's Kardashian-like in its splendour, there's a whole lot to like here.
The Xelius' build is spot on for the price point with full Ultegra groupset barring the cassette and chain, and the assertive direct-mount version of the front brake. The cockpit is tidy Zipp stuff with mildly inconvenient Torx hardware, and it's nice to see a branded saddle from Fizik.
A particular highlight is the wheels, which are the latest incarnation of Mavic's Ksyrium Elites. The old version was a popular choice for its lateral stiffness, but its ultra-narrow rim and boxy design weren’t universally popular. Mavic has now upped the internal width to a more useful 17mm, and the '4D' rim milling process makes for a lovely sculpted profile.
As a complete package, the Xelius SL is hard to fault. It's a pro-approved frame with a smart selection of components bolted to it, it looks great, and the ride is excellent.