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Lapierre Aircode 800 Ultimate road bike – first ride review

Lapierre's updated Aircode may be an aero bike, but it impresses on all levels

At the launch of the new Aircode (and Pulsium) road bikes in June, Lapierre’s engineering guru, Remi Gribaudo, made clear how the French firm is always looking to improve its bikes. Even as one machine is being launch, Gribaudo and his team are looking ahead to the next.

The Aircode is a classic case in point. While Arnaud Demare of the Lapierre-sponsored FJD fed back to Gribaudo that the first generation bike gave the speed and stiffness required to compete in the pro peloton, there was room for improvement.

That improvement, he reported, needed to be in the handling of the Aircode, which didn’t quite provide the favoured characteristics of the Xelius climbing machine. Any benefits to aero performance and stiffness would be welcomed, of course, but the focus needed to be on the predictability of the bike, so that Demare could position himself more confidently for the sprint.

Lapierre’s aero bike, the Aircode, has been updated for model year 2018 (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

Notes taken, Gribaudo returned to the drawing board and developed this new second generation Aircode, featuring revised aerodynamics through NACA and Kammtail tube profiling and a heavily shaped seattube at the rear. Importantly, there’s a more integrated front-end that features a stack height reduced by 10mm, and shortened chainstays across the various sizes that should provide the quick and reassuring handling Demare was after.

As it turned out, shortly after the new Aircode’s presentation to the press, Demare won his first Tour de France stage. We’ve also had the chance to ride the Dura-Ace R9100-equipped Aircode for ourselves on the Cote d’Azur, so how does it fare?

Xelius-inspired handling

As per Demare’s request, the changes made to the wheelbase, headtube and fork profile immediately make the Aircode respond to inputs much like the Xelius.

The fact that the Xelius has been used as a source of inspiration for the new Aircode (and Pulsium) indicates the high regard that that bike is currently held not only by Lapierre, but the FDJ WorldTour team too. From the moment you clip in to the Aircode and ride away, the directness and ease of handling is – for want of a better adjective – surprisingly good. Most bikes (especially aero bikes, in my experience) take a good few kilometres to work out, but the Aircode is one of those bikes that reassures you right from the get go.

The refreshed Aircode borrows features from the Xelius, while retaining its aero qualities (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

Be under no illusions, however – this is an aero bike with some seriously pointy teeth. As we ride a similar loop in the morning that we had on the Pulsium on the previous day, its appetite for speed is at the centre of all things. Weaving in and out of vineyards across roads that switch between typically French smooth asphalt to broken tarmac, accelerations are a doddle to make, with the bike light and nimble beneath me.

When the roads open out, even heading into a headwind, the Aircode shows that the tweaks to the aero profiling are doing their work, keeping speed high while also ensuring the handling remains stable and composed when we start taking on gusty cross winds too.

Lapierre Aircode 2018 aero road bike (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)
Lapierre Aircode 2018 aero road bike (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)
Lapierre Aircode 2018 aero road bike (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

Showing the family genes

Eventually, we rise up a familiar ascent and immediately the Aircode stops being an all-out aero machine and expresses its Xelius genes, much like the Pulsium did. With a beefed up bottom bracket area, it demonstrates a real ability to climb, and with a dearth of weight in the toptube, it’s easy to manoeuvre too.

It occurs to me that even though the family traits between the Xelius and Aircode are so FDJ riders can switch between bikes on different races with an immediate feeling of familiarity, climbers could easily ride the Aircode and feel perfectly comfortable. With a weight that could easily trouble the 6.8kg UCI weight limit, we may yet see bigger riders sticking with the Aircode over the mountainous stages despite the relatively seamless option of stepping aboard any of Lapierre’s race bike range.

It’s only a taste of the climbing prowess however, and before long we’re descending down the other side. That direct handling born of the changes Lapierre has made to both the shortened and more integrated headtube and compact chainstays means the Aircode darts from corner to corner, with a low centre of gravity really contributing to the stability of the ride.

Through sweeping changes in road camber, I feel like I can really lean on the chassis and tip it into bends at speed. The excellent Mavic Cosmic Pro SL C wheels, along with their lasered brake track, really help with the confidence-inspiring handling when the road heads downhill, although it’s apparent the frame is more than up to the take of justifying the premium hoops.

Achieving maximum speed as the road opens up is addictive too. On an open section of descent I nudge over the 70km/h barrier before spinning out, with the ride super predictable and stable even in the breezy conditions we’re faced with.

The Aircode may be an aero bike, but it impresses both uphill and downhill (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

An easy ride

However, what’s perhaps most enduringly surprising about the Aircode is how easy a bike it is to ride. Yes, there’s plenty of stiffness (there needs to be to cater for the likes of Demare), and it’s very, very quick, but what it really does well is make that performance readily available to riders like myself.

There’s no acclimatisation time, no need to adapt my riding style to the demands of an aero bike. Instead, I was able to simply hop on and ride and feel like I was maximising the bike’s performance as far as my ability allowed, and there aren’t too many bikes that enable you to do that.

As a result, Gribaudo and his team seem to have developed the Aircode into a tightened, refined aero machine, and given it some manners as well. How that translates onto UK roads, we’ll wait to see with baited breath.

Website: Lapierre

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