The Sensium, Lapierre’s endurance road machine, has looked a poor cousin in recent times. Thanks to an update to the Xelius SL and Aircode race bikes last year, and the introduction of Pulsium, Lapierre’s flagship endurance machine, in 2014, the Sensium looked somewhat dated. Now, however, that’s been remedied.
It’s had a complete redesign as part of a revamped 2017 range (which also includes the Xelius SL Disc, a new cyclo-cross bike and a new gravel machine), with the frame receiving an overhaul for improved comfort and stiffness. In order to achieve this, Lapierre have ported over thinking from last year’s Xelius SL and Aircode, with features like tri-zone carbon layup within the frame to provide efficient power transfer at the transmission and dampen out vibrations at the contact points, all the while enduring a responsive front end.
Throw Lapierre’s Power Box and Trap Door technologies into the mix, with the former another measure to improve the rigidity of the frame and the latter designed for Di2-equipped models, and it’s clear Lapierre have thrown the kitchen sink at this all-day road bike.
But can this bike really be all things to all roadies? We got down to the Cote d’Or region, home of Lapierre, to find out.
I wake up in my hotel room, and open the curtains to find the weather gods have smiled upon us. It’s a beautiful morning – a stark contrast to the biblical thunderstorms the area has experienced in the fortnight leading up to the launch.
Across the car park, Lapierre mechanics are putting the finishing touches to the bikes. I can see mine already – not because of the bright orange Garmin mount I like to use on these trips, but because of the sleek profile the new Sensium cuts in the morning light. With a sleek carbon grey and black chassis and Shimano’s flat mount disc brakes (the Sensium range will be made up of two disc-equipped bikes and three rim brake bikes), this is another bike which manages to make discs look good.
Rolling out of the hotel complex, with current FDJ neo-pro Marc Fournier and recently retired former Finnish National Champion Jussi Veikkanen for company, we head into the heart of wine country. But this is no relaxing sojourn into the vineyards for a tipple – already we’re heading uphill to one of the countless villages that dot the rolling hillsides.
Replete with kicks of up to around 12 per cent and an average of ten per cent, it’s an immediate opportunity to rise out of the saddle and give this endurance frame a hiding. It’s immediately obvious that the Sensium is not short of stiffness, allowing it to dance to the rhythm of climbing much like the Xelius SL, Lapierre’s lightweight race machine, had the previous day.
It’s not quite as raw and immediate in its feel as the Xelius SL; the work gone into developing a comfortable ride without losing the sheer responsiveness of the race-bred climbing bike has worked, including the addition of the sandwich rear dropout, which has a tangible positive effect on shifting crispness through the mechanical Ultegra groupset on my test machine. This is one flighty endurance frame, and bodes well for the remainder of the day.
Rolling in and out of picture-postcard towns, I attach myself to the back of Fournier, who’s using the day as a recuperation ride ahead of the French National Championships, at this point just around the corner. He’s on a team-issue Xelius SL, complete with full Dura-Ace kit. I know his experience is far different from mine, but nevertheless when he spools up his legs for a tempo run up a 5km drag of a climb, I decide to see what the bike (and I) have got.
Did I hold his wheel? Yes – for 30 seconds. Is that the bike’s fault? Oh, no. The way pros can simply shift into the big ring on a climb and engage hyperspace, riding away from mere mortals like myself is truly astonishing. But, once my pride had been smashed, I refocused to the Sensium, having shed everyone else in our group, and then it hit me just how progressive this bike is.
It’s an endurance bike but one which rewards being ridden hard. The three-pronged design to the frame – the stiffness of the frame, combined with its dampening ride and endurance geometry - gives you the confidence to lay down power without taxing you too much in terms of position or fatigue. Before long, I arrive at the top, with Fournier having turned back and found me again with a few hundred metres to go. He’s playing with me, drafting in the slipstream he gets from the combination of my broad frame and endurance position, but my efforts are acknowledged with a nod of approval and smile as we glance back at the road behind us.
Rolling round for the drop
We set off as a group once more, down a short descent, and then back up again at the bottom. The parcours continues like this, with views down into the valley below, until we encounter a descent to bring us back for lunch.
It’s a classic. Naturally, not as long as an Alpine pass, of course, but the sweeping and often favourably cambered bends allow me to really test the Sensium’s composure.
The Sensium is a bike which exudes confidence. It’s certainly not as sharp, immediately responsive or downright quick as the Xelius SL in more capable hands, but it’s utterly stable and predictable in its approach, ironing out bumps and unsettling creases in the road with ease. The hallmarks of an endurance bike.
It’s also here that the potential of disc braking emerges once more. We’re treated to beautiful weather on this day, so no comments about wet-weather performance apply, but the braking is completely efficient, fade-free and easily modulated with a feathery touch. Lapierre have reworked the frame specifically for use with disc brakes, using a high-TG resin to increase the melting point, and therefore structural rigidity, on the key areas around the disc calipers.
The bottom line is: the Sensium encourages you to push your limits and discover that you can, in fact, be faster downhill than you thought
Gravel? Why not
The access roads in and around the famous vineyards are rarely paved, but as we dart back into our host village for lunch, we take a small detour past the chateaus, and onto the dusty roads. Veikkanen points out they’re like the white dust of Strade Bianche in Tuscany, and the joke continues as Fournier jumps a rock, landing heavily and flatting.
I’m concentrating hard, having ridden these roads on the Xelius SL the day before, and the difference is significant. Darting around potholes, the Sensium reminds me of how responsive it remains, despite doing a great job of ironing out the rough stuff. And it remains quiet thanks to well-constructed cable-routing ports too.
It seems no sooner has our transfer to the gravel begun, we return to the road, and to help Fournier nurse his ruined tub back to the hotel. But he’s still at the front of the group setting the pace.
I’ve enjoyed my ride on this endurance bike – easily as much as I enjoyed the previous day on the race-bred Xelius SL, my go-to type of bike and a machine which should, in many ways, offer the more exciting ride. And, perhaps, that’s the greatest complement that can be made of the Sensium.