Lapierre have been making classy road bikes for over 60 years and in that time they've built a strong racing pedigree which the X Lite 200 more than lives up to. This is one of those cool, understated machines that you can quickly grow to love. We were certainly sad to give it back.
Sophisticated is the word that probably best describes the X Lite 200. If you want a bike that's a good all-rounder, for the long-haul or the short dash, that's got a classy frame at its heart and is well worth hanging on to, look no further. It's well-priced too, and now that the 2009 model is on the way you may find some end-of-season bargains out there.
On the other hand, you might want to run the rule over the '09 version which boasts a high-modulus, unidirectional carbon monocoque frame instead of this year's tube-to-tube model. Lapierre says this has resulted in a stiffer front end and bottom bracket, and a more comfortable ride. The new frame has carbon cable stops, dropouts and headset cups, internal cable routing and a tapered steerer (1.5in to 1.8in), while the fork has been upgraded to an Easton EC90.
Those upgrades and the weakness of the pound against the euro do mean, however, that although the new X Lite 200 is stiffer and slightly lighter than the '08 model – the frame weighs 50g less, with the complete bike hitting the scales at 8.1kg/17.9lb – it has an altogether heavier price tag, up by a hefty £600.
Ride & handling: Remains unruffled no matter what you chuck at it
Have you ever seen one of those French dances where a fella in a beret and stripey top chucks around a woman in a beret and stripey top in between swinging her around by her hair, while she unaccountably keeps coming back for more? That is essentially what the Lapierre X Lite 200 is like to ride, except that unlike the French lady with the strong hair, it won't turn around and stab you should you suddenly cast an eye in the direction of another bicycle.
Not that you would anyway, because this really is a classy piece of kit. A thoroughbred that will roll along all day in the big ring, it's made for silky-smooth French tarmac but is more than capable of handling the lumpier British stuff.
This is a bike that will get you to the end of that big ride without giving you any shocks on the way. You can be rough with it if the conditions demand or there's a sudden emergency – jumping potholes, yanking the front end into a sudden change of line, it can handle it. There may be the merest hint of doubt about the tyres' grip at the outer limits, but we are talking outer limits – a mud covered 25 percent descent with the brakes on, so not a place most of us will voluntarily take them anyway
Our test ride took the Lapierre to some unforgiving places – tight, steep, mud covered lanes strewn with gravel and stones, pocked with potholes and scarred with ruts, the sorts of places you pick your way down, working the front brake to the max – and still it forgave me hauling my sorry arse up the near vertical chute back up the other side of the valley.
Climbing was fuss-free. The Lapierre dealt with whatever the hills had to offer. Dig in and the response is instant, although on some bigger efforts there was a distinct pinging from the spokes of the Mavic Aksium wheels. I couldn't pin down whether this was due to flex in the frame or the wheel, although my hunch was for the latter simply because I never detected rear end flex from the frame in any other situations. On the other hand, the Aksiums aren't exactly a light, flexy wheelset – quite the reverse.
Descending was excellent. This is a bike that can hold a line, but should you need to adjust it, does it without any unnecessary histrionics. Ditto cornering or in a sprint. You tell it what you want to do and the Lapierre does it.
That level of stability is down to the combination of a decent length wheelbase (98.5cm on our 52cm), long enough not to be twitchy but not so long that it sacrifices responsiveness, plus a steepish 72.5-degree head angle, which gives direct steering slightly dampened by 4.3cm of fork offset, and a classic 73.5-degree seat angle, which doesn't perch smaller riders right over the bottom bracket. In the larger sizes, the seat angle steepens while the head angle slackens – the 59cm has a 72-degree seat angle and 73.5-degree head angle.
The sensation of a stable yet responsive ride is further enhanced by the bike's relatively light weight (8.3kg/18lb) and well thought out controls. The 42cm Ritchey alloy bars are spot-on in this respect – just the right width to minimise twitchiness but not so wide that steering becomes slow and ponderous. They offer a good choice of handholds too, and we liked the shallow bend in the drops.
You might think all this talk of “stability” and lack of “shocks” means the Lapierre is a tad dull. You'd be wrong. This is an engaging machine which is simply good enough to factor out all the types of “excitement” that you don't want.
Chassis: Classy carbon with a sophisticated look
The heart of the X Lite 200 is the T3 carbon frame. T3 carbon isn't super-high-end any more, but then neither is it bargain basement either. The frame is a lugged construction designed to be responsive and efficient in transferring rider input to the back wheel. The evidence of our test ride is that it does just that.
What's more, at only 2.4lb (3.5lb with fork) the frame is sufficiently light to make it worthwhile shedding further weight from the X Lite 200 over time. Swapping the Mavic Aksium wheels for something with a little less heft would pay immediate dividends – keep the Aksiums for winter training rides.
The Easton EC70 fork makes an excellent match for the frame, tracking well while filtering out unwanted road buzz.. If you were in upgrading mood you might think about trading up to an EC90, but that would buy you only a slight weight saving rather than any great boost in performance.
Frame finish is good and the deep blue, almost black, paintjob drew admiring comments – it's a sophisticated look which also has the advantage of not showing marks. Mind you, the finish seemed admirably tough so there weren't many marks to hide.
Equipment: Well thought out without being flash
The finishing kit on the X Lite 200 was uniformly good. We liked the Ritchey bars, and Ritchey supplied the alloy seatpost too. The best we can say about the San Marco Pozzo saddle was that we never noticed it, which is pretty much all you can ask of a good saddle. Our only question mark would be against the wheels which, while they performed well enough, are probably in terms of weight at least a notch below what the bike deserves. Our guess is that this is the component Lapierre used to keep the price down when speccing the bike.
The 50-34 chainset mated to a 12-27 cassette is an excellent choice for mixed terrain. It is certainly big hill capable, with a 34in bottom gear which should get you up more or less anything. If most of your riding is done on the flat you might find yourself under-geared at the top end.
Both front and rear mechs are Shimano Ultegra (do you need anything more?) matched with Ultegra levers and 105 brakes – a combination that gives light, precise and powerful stopping. You can scrub off the merest sliver of speed without a murmur or haul on the anchors for total stopping power, and if the back end locks up the Lapierre is so well balanced that everything stays under control.