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The Hundred Hand – Lapierre 2011 DH Team

Up on the world–wide screen it appeared that Lapierre were making heavy weather of their new downhill bike. Images beamed from Leogang’s second World Cup showed a bike resembling something like a weather chart from old blighty mid–November…a big storm hitting the east coast followed by two fronts heading in from the west.

From Dirt Issue 105 – November 2010

But even if it seemed as if a thunderbolt had pierced team rider Sam Blenkinsop’s downtube, and his swingarm/link area a ton of isobars, the company must have been doing something right, as out of the mist the New Zealander stormed to a fastest qualifier with hardly an hour on the clock.

Luckily not too much should be made of predictions, forecasts, for the new Lapierre is a ray of sunshine – if a little frazzling on the brain. Complex bike this one.

VIEW FROM THE OFFICE

What then do you get for your money?

Let’s start with the frame and at the back. Beautifully sculpted replaceable drop–outs get together with the well–spaced carbon swingarm allowing for tyre clearance and to keep the weight to a minimum. The guys in the office don’t like it and think it’s pointless, preferring ugly weld ups, painted with a sticker added later. Carefully formed, colour balanced, internal cable routed, chain protected, OK, I guess it might come across as jewellery, but it’s special. There is no denying the carbon, over–laquered metallic blue paint and gold bearing cups are clean and impressive. Custom fitted frame protector. Obviously everyone here loves carpet on their chainstays. I’d argue otherwise.

From that point the game gets a bit more convoluted as the swingarm finds its way to the shock by way of a linkage, but there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s arguably one of the best systems for shock ratings. Supple. Progressive. Except that there’s more. Pendbox. Why? To enable the bike to move forwards with even small pedal input. We’ll see about that later.

Heading to the front of the ship its crazy angles, featuring integrated fender and Fox RC4 shock, cause havoc with the flow of the downtube, but it’s what Lapierre do best and it hooks up with the headtube by way of some slick graphic, loveable mudguard, juicy bumpstop and mysterious cable routing – so much to talk about – and there are mounts for those wanting the more straightforward, but visually messier, outside line. Adjustable headtube finishes the story. It’s all beautifully constructed. Yes I know I forgot to mention the seatclamp. But the office don’t like that either, ‘a place to collect mud’ they say.

What they do like is the Easton Havoc carbon bar, stem and Mavic Deemax wheelset. The Formula brakes are in a class of their own. Hutchinson Cougar up front, Fox 40’s, e*thirteen device, own brand seatpost and slick Selle seat. It’s all straightforward, well-proven, componentry complementing the visually lithe, stunningly compact and graceful frame. And a bottom bracket that moves a couple of mil to keep the chain tight (with a fancy name of course).

HILL RAID

It’s understandable how some people get protective, upset even, when their chosen brand gets less than favourable press, especially when the difference (or margin) between good and very good is cheese biscuit thin. Variables ranging from component specification, price, weight, dynamic geometry or appearance all factor in determining which side of the bread a particular bike is buttered. It could be a good bike yet weakness in one area makes it only that, very similar to that periphery surrounding World Cup winners…and just riders. Crackers isn’t it?

Fortunately bike tests are not decided upon race results, and Dirt does not have room to feature the leftovers that might reveal a little more depth into what can and does happen when a company gets it wrong. Four grand bike with perfect geo or three grand bike with shoddy angles? Four grand bike with great component spec or three grand bike with lower spec and better suspension? These are the kind of choices riders are faced with.

Have Lapierre put together a total bike? It’s not far off. First up, it’s a winner out of the box and needs no upgrade or adjustment. Secondly it has some fine detail, the kind of things that makes a bike special. Third it incorporates good weights and measures. Finally the ride, the handling, the grip, balance are all very, very good indeed. Upgrading to BOS would obviously cross the boundary into something else again, but would ultimately be beyond the price range for many. Time is money. But this bike is already quite some cash.

Let’s get some geo on this bike. It stands longer than a large Giant Glory or large carbon Santa Cruz V10, about the same as a medium Specialized Demo and a few mil shorter than a large Mondraker Summum. They’ve got it about right this year, but still the possibility remains to go a shade longer and get three bikes in the range. Head angle? I knew you’d ask…wait for it….62 degrees. And you know what, it’s fucking bang on, but don’t let anyone tell you that one simple number is the overriding influence on a bikes handling. The new Lapierre has managed the complete interrelationship of angles and suspension to bring one of the most explosive bikes of 2011, accelerating at the instant of input and pushing forward, quickening the pace, driving, floating, carving…this bike is a flying machine and in the right hands sanctions forays into the zone of time thrashing at any instant.

Visually the Lapierre looks diminutive, its svelte lines comparable to something with far less hideous intentions in mind. There really is very little to it. We had the bike in steep setting with more room for the fork.

What then makes this bike better than so many others? Visual, componentry, angles tick all the boxes, but ultimately it comes down to performance. If the Lapierre is even only a second faster than say a Glory, Demo, V10, then it’s a better downhill race bike. But if ten times World Champion runs two seconds faster over a repeatable run then you should take even more notice. Two Vouilloz seconds is a long, long, long time.

Anyone riding the Lapierre will be inspired. You’re right, it wont turn as quick as a 65 degree head angle downhill bike on a vaguely dipping switchback, that’s not what its about…thankfully. The Lapierre is about throwing in, weaving inventive lines, coercing the very limits of your daring. It can use slack angles because it’s reasonably light, but we were surprised that it came up almost four pounds heavier than the Mondraker, at 38.4lb. The suspension can be fine tuned to get the most out of it, but the bike has a sensitive balance point.

As mentioned earlier, it could well be the fact that the Lapierre is so out of the ordinary that people will be drawn to it, with its fine blend of carbon and graphic. Lapierre probably won’t rest with this particular design visually, and if Vouilloz steps up his involvement the engineering and suspension will only improve even further. The French are certainly pushing the game forwards. It’s not so much the Pendbox, but the thinking ‘outside the box’ that it will get many votes…if you can get one. One of my favourite bikes this year.

Lapierre DH Team £5799.99

(Alternatively the DH 720 @ £3499.99)

SPEC

Frame Carbon/Alloy Supreme 6 PENDBOX
Fork FOX 40 RC2 FIT
Rear Shock FOX DHX RC4
Rear Der. SRAM X.0 Carbon Short Cage 10S
Crankset SRAM Descendant PressFit 38T 170mm
Wheels MAVIC DEE MAX UST Disc
Tyre HUTCHINSON Cougar 2.6, Barracuda 2.5 UST
Brakes FORMULA One Factory 203
Levers SRAM X0 10S
Saddle SELLE ITALIA SL XC
Seatpost EASTON Haven 31.6×250
Handlebar EASTON Havoc Carbon Low Riser 750mm
Stem EASTON Havoc Bolt On

Contact: www.hotlines.co.uk

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