Despite France being home to cycling’s grandest of tours and countless cycling legends, its bicycle tech is few and far between. The number of bicycle companies still operating at the top end today in France can be counted on one hand. At the head of the class, particularly when it comes to operating at the WorldTour level, is LaPierre.
Words: Ben Edwards
LaPierre was for a long time a name synonymous with mountain biking innovation in France, but in 1993 it started getting serious about road cycling innovation. In 2002, its partnership with pro racing team La Française des Jeux, or FDJ (sponsored by the French national lottery), like many high-end cycling brands, has given it a testing ground for frame innovation at the highest level.
The top-of-the-line LaPierre model, the Xelius SL, its “grimpeur” model, is a frame that has been part of the team’s palmarès on the WorldTour, particularly for sprinter Arnaud Démare and climber Thibaut Pinot. After introducing new frames in 2015, the aero road frame Aircode and classics machine, the Pulsium, the folks at LaPierre retooled the Xelius, which promptly went on to win a Tour stage atop L’Alpe d’Huez under Pinot.
The new Xelius has integrated much of the LaPierre tech that was introduced and tested on the newer iterations of the Aircode and Pulsium, with some new bells-and-whistles thrown in, in an effort to build the lightest race machine it could.
The Xelius offers an aggressive race geometry without sacrificing comfort. It feels fast even just cruising the Languedoc wine country around Pézenas. Out of the saddle, the frame feels quick, stiff and responsive. The Xelius comes with shortened chain stays intended for quicker, more direct acceleration, which makes the bike’s inherent comfort even more surprising.
LaPierre integrates the Xelius’ Power Box design from the older EFI model. Stiffness is built into the head tube and down tube as well as through the bottom bracket and chain stays, while building compliance into the seat stays and down tube. The comfort likely comes from its 3D Tubular Technology, which is not about surfing. Instead of attaching the seat stays to the seat tube, the rear triangle is affixed to the top tube. This has allowed LaPierre to cut weight, but also build in a bit more flex for comfort. Overall weight has been dropped with a revised carbon layup from what it has used in the past. At just 850 grams for a medium frame, it’s a great start to any lightweight build.
The results have been pleasing, particularly for Pinot, whose feedback has played a major role in the frame’s development. “I have a special relationship with this bike,” he says. “It’s agile, dynamic and lightweight. It’s a great all-rounder, with an exceptional weight-to-stiffness ratio. Even in steep cols, the energy transfer from pedaling is optimal, enabling me to keep some reserves for the final.”
At our weight and ability, we’re no Pinot—though we do love to drink the wine! On test-riding the Xelius its race pedigree is clear. It rips out of paved corners but doesn’t feel unnecessarily aggressive if you’re not looking to mix it up with the fast guys. The comfort is undeniable and the bike feels pleasantly lightweight, without feeling flimsy. In fact, it’s a ride that feels every bit as comfortable as a pure endurance bike. The Xelius makes easy work of short punchy climbs and the designed lower center of gravity gives you a feeling of stability if you’re out of the saddle.
Even in rough corners or when laying down power across a nasty road surface the Xelius feels planted and confident, another benefit of the work LaPierre put into the seat cluster and its 3D Tubular Technology. It’s quite refreshing to see a design that is so eye-catching, yet truly has a link to the bike’s performance.
If you’re not so pro at navigating, we can report that while perhaps not designed to tackle gravel vineyard roads in the South of France, the Xelius feels stable and responsive on many rocky detours that are definitely not designed for bicycles; and, full disclosure, when we got so lost the lightweight build made that hike-a-bike through steep gravelly portions of French wine country not so unpleasant!
It’s abundantly clear the Xelius SL 600 is about performance over the distances and hours of a grand tour. It’s crisp and lively, but never forgets that it’s fresh legs that win stages and claw back seconds at the end of a long day in the mountains, two weeks into a grand tour.
PRICE: $3,000 (frameset)
WEIGHT: 7.3kg/16.1 lbs (size MD w/o pedals or cages)
BUILD: Shimano Ultegra 11-speed mechanical, Zipp Service Course alloy bar and stem, Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels with Yksion Pro tires, fi’zi:k Antares saddle.