Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate road bike – review

An aero bike that’s as easy to ride as a climbing bike? We’re listening…

It seems that, with bike manufacturers forever tweaking their lightweight climbing bikes to become more aero become ‘all-rounders’ (see the latest Specialized Tarmac for one example), the pure aero bike has become something of a poor cousin. Sure, they’re still super-fast, but are they really the kind of bike you want to live with on a day-to-day basis? That’s where the new Lapierre Aircode SL could buck the trend.

Naturally, aero road bikes the ultimate speed machines for road racing and, to a lesser extent, fast sportive riding, yet are equally notorious for their stiffness, very direct handling and, of course, raw straight-line speed. The Aircode is interesting, because when we first got aboard the bike around Fréjus on the Cote d’Azur earlier this year, it was tangibly quick as you’d hope, but there was a significant sense of all-round ride quality in the mix, too.

Lapierre’s Aircode SL 900 Ultimate road bike combines the speed of an aero bike with the all-round ride quality of a lightweight climbing bike
  • Specification

  • Price: £6,999
  • Weight: 6.92kg (56cm)
  • Sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58cm (XS-XL)
  • Website: Lapierre
  • UK distributor: Raleigh

The latest version of the Aircode was designed so that Arnaud Demare of the FDJ team would have a bike that he could manoeuvre easily to find the optimum position in the bunch, before being able to unleash his sprint. That was fine by the Lapierre engineers and their leader Remi Gribaudo, because through conversations with the wider team, it was determined that the bikes available to the squad during the whole season needed to display similar traits; the idea being to create a familiar ride whether the team used the Xelius in the mountains, the Pulsium on the cobbles, or the Aircode in the fast, flat stages.

As you’ll have gathered from our launch story and first ride review, the Xelius (due to its position as the FDJ team’s favourite go-to bike) became the Godfather for this tweak in design focus. So, the new Aircode and Pulsium saw updates to bring their behaviour more in line with the climbing bike.

Consequently – and this is the really key point – the Aircode has been imbibed with the manners of a highly-rated, pin-sharp climbing bike and, theoretically, a ride quality that might help win over over a wider range of riders beyond the WorldTour. But has it worked?

The frame – sculpted tube profiles and good looks

The Aircode SL is available in Ultimate and ‘standard’ versions of the frame, and we have the former here. Both frames share the same aero tube profiling, so the main difference is in the carbon layup and weight.

We’ll come on to the specifics of the build later but this Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 machine, the Aircode SL 900 Ultimate, comes in at £6,999, while there are are Ultimate machines with mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace (£4,999) and Shimano Ultegra Di2 (£4,299). There’s also a regular Aircode SL with mechanical Shimano Ultegra for £2,999.

The Aircode frame is available in two versions, with a ‘standard’ option as well as this top-end Ultimate chassis

Lapierre has used a combination of NACA and Kammtail tube profiles for the Aircode. It’s also set against knowledge garnered from the Aerostorm DRS time trial bike, so the rear side of the downtube morphs from an airfoil profile at the top to a flat-backed Kammtail shape as it extends towards the bottom bracket. The idea of this transition is to optimise smooth airflow at the top end, while maximising stability in crosswinds at the beefier end that houses a Pressfit bottom bracket. That Kammtail shape continues to flare into a beefy ‘Powerbox’ bottom bracket area that rivals the oversized one we saw with the Bianchi Oltre XR4 we tested at the start of the year. It certainly signals the Aircode’s sprint intent.

The toptube sweeps in a slight arc to the seatpost and is shaped in a soft-edged triangle profile, tapering as it makes the junction. The distinctive aerofoil shrouding merges the junction, and it’s there to help guide airflow cleanly off the back of the bike, according to Lapierre. You can spot the clean, sweeping arc join to the seatstays, which then taper from a flatter profile before finishing in a more traditional round section. At the top, the frame gives way to a proprietary teardrop-profiled ‘Aeroflex’ carbon seatpost which contains a vibration-dampening insert, while below the seatstays the rear wheel is shrouded to help reduce uncontrolled turbulence.

Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

The front edge of the seattube also bows inwards slightly too, which allows for the chainstays to be shortened and the rear wheel brought in closer to the bottom bracket for sharper rear end responsiveness. Up front, the slightly bowed forks (a concept popular with aero bikes these days), are bladed and merge tidily with the headtube and downtube to smooth airflow. It also means the whole headtube-fork assembly is more compact by 10mm in stack height versus the old Aircode – something that sharpens the front end, Lapierre says.

When astride the bike, it’s clear this is a geometry with racing in mind, but it leaves just a little in reserve for those who don’t want a slammed stem and can’t achieve a pro’s position. While the stack height has been reduced by 10mm over the previous Aircode, the height of the headtube remains relatively ‘sensible’ for amateur riders (16cm on our large frame).

As our test bike is fitted with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, it makes use of Lapierre’s ‘Trapdoor’ design that houses the Di2 battery (and its weight) in an opening on the underside of the bottom bracket.

The ride – rapid and stiff in all the right places

Often when we review aero bikes, we love the super-stiff frames and immediacy of the handling, and know that the bike is really just toying with us – almost as if there’s extra speed just out of reach of mere mortals. But the one fundamental, prevailing characteristic of the Aircode is that it’s so easy to ride; that even you or I can unlock its potential.

It’s a bike that exudes confidence with every pedal stroke. The Aircode is super-solid through the bottom bracket area, with direct yet predictable handling at the front end, and a rear that feels like it’s drawn up underneath to create the sense of a bike that’s smaller than it actually is without compromising fit, and the result is a super-sharp handling machine.

Turn or lean on the Zipp carbon handlebar and stem (more on this in a bit), and the bike darts towards your chosen trajectory. If that puts you in mind of a razor-sharp race machine in the ilk of the astonishingly stiff Bianchi Oltre XR4, it should. However, where that bike occasionally bordered on the harsh at times, the Aircode has a true dual personality: it has a softer side that calms the experience and brings it right within the rider’s capabilities to control.

This is no more evident than when descending, where the bike carves a smooth arc into corners with confidence, with that shortened and more integrated headtube-fork design bringing you right into the thick of the action. Even when you overcook a corner or take a half-step into the red, it gives you the predictability to recover. On top of that, the direct mount brakes provide ample stopping power.

The non-driveside chainstay proudly shouts about Lapierre’s technologies

That’s not to say the Aircode’s predictability makes it any way boring, though. There’s stiffness aplenty here, with out of the saddle spurts lapped up with keen enthusiasm. The front end carves forwards; direct, stiff, efficient. ‘Addictive’ is an often-overused adjective in this business, but it certainly applies here. The Aircode provides a truly rewarding experience and, despite the oversized tube profiles, it accelerates and responds as well as any ‘traditional’ climbing machine.

On that note, at 6.92kg it’s comes in at a remarkably competitive weight, given the large frame and deep-section wheels, so there’s no bulk holding you back when it comes to your power-to-weight ratio. No, it’s not hill-climbing, UCI-law-breaking lightweight, but that’s not wholly relevant here given the aero focus of the bike. In tandem with the very high stiffness in the frame, it’s plenty light enough to glide up climbs as fast as the rider is able to power it.

Of course, it’s no endurance bike when it comes to rougher, broken tarmac, but it does a great job of deadening the impacts and vibrations to take the edge away. Where some bikes can feel slightly unbalanced by a proportionately soft rear end versus its front, Lapierre has created a whole bike that manages to handle British tarmac admirably for an aero bike. I wouldn’t go looking for potholes, mind, but during testing I showed the Aircode a stretch of Strade Bianche-like gravel road with 25c tyres reduced to around 70psi and it stays admirably true and confident.

Whether the FDJ riders would actually pick it over the new Pulsium bike for Paris-Roubaix is another matter, but it’s not out of the question. Mat Hayman won the Hell of the North on his Scott Foil after all. Indeed, there’s plenty here to present a genuine conundrum for the team’s riders given that there’s just enough space to squeeze 28c rubber in between the direct mount brakes and frame on a dry day. Lapierre says the frame only ‘supports’ 25c rubber though.

The bottom line is, the Aircode is the most comfortable aero frame I’ve tested on longer rides, outstripping both the Oltre XR4 and NeilPryde Nazare. It would be my go-to machine for a hilly century sportive.

The build – wish list ticked off

This SL 900 Ultimate build of the Aircode comes equipped with all the toys, as we uncovered in our first look piece a few weeks ago. You’ll find a full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset with 52-36t chainrings and an 11-28t cassette.

The Aircode is equipped with direct mount brakes and the benefits of the system are clear in an aero bike: the calipers sit closer to the frame with a smaller profile, presenting less resistance to the wind. It also allows the frame to partly shroud the components – see the Aircode’s forks for an example of this in action – further integrating the machine. They’re also claimed to be more powerful and stable with the support of the frame behind them.

The entire functionality is Dura-Ace Di2 is, as you’d expect, excellent – as superb as it was when we first got a taste of it aboard the Pulsium in the summer. However, the junction box is still housed just beneath the stem in its traditional position and it’s a shame that Lapierre hasn’t gone to the trouble of integrating the junction box into the frame (as the likes of BMC and Pinarello have), or at least supplying a bar that will house the bar-end junction box for cleaner lines at the front end. Still, there’s no functionality lost.

Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)
Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate aero road bike (Pic: Ashley Quinlan/Factory Media)

Junction box oversight aside, the supplied 42cm Zipp SL70 aero bar is a joy to hold (you get a 40cm bar if you have an XS frame, or 44cm if you ride an XL). It features cambered curves that point the levers inwards slightly, helping you maximise your aero efficiency on the front end. It’s ergonomic, with ample drops, too. But, what makes the bar distinctive are the flattened tops. On my first rides I found them to be a touch cumbersome – certainly, you can’t grip too hard due to the shape – but after a while you learn to simply rest your palms, rather than physically grasp the bar.

That’s attached to a Zipp SL Speed carbon stem, which, like the bar, is super-stiff. In a large (56cm) frame, you’ll be given a 110mm version, and this varies by 10mm increments depending on the size you opt for (90mm for the XS and S frames, and upwards from there). It’s visibly broad, and as a result provides a visual cue to the strength and stiffness of the cockpit. It’s indicative of Lapierre’s desire to make the Aircode as useable as possible having opted to go down the route of a traditional two-piece bar and stem, rejecting the small gains to be had from a fully integrated setup in favour of a more adjustable solution.

The hoops are also premium, too: Mavic’s excellent Cosmic Carbon SL C wheelset that we first saw at Paris-Nice in 2016. They’re still up to date, complete with the iTgMax lasered brake track that provides serious stopping power and modulation in wet weather – although be warned, the supplied and recommended Yellow King brake pads from SwissStop wear quickly.

The spec on this flagship model is second-to-none, with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset, Mavic carbon wheels and Zipp cockpit

The aforementioned Aeroflex seatpost is Lapierre’s take on the trick seatposts we see around these days, designed to improve comfort in an area where it’s felt most keenly. In truth, it’s excellent and provides much of the cushioning you feel through the saddle thanks to the built-in dampener on the rear side. Atop it sits a carbon-braided Fizik Arione saddle, which is perfectly suited to both my shape and the naturally aggressive geometry of the Aircode. Whether that’s the case for you is another matter.

Being carbon braided, it’s lightweight, just like the rest of the build, which comes in at a very impressive 6.92kg all-in. Of course you pay a pretty penny for it – £6,999, to be precise – but given that you can have the same excellent Ultimate spec frameset and wheels in a mechanical Dura-Ace build at £4,999 (the same we rode for our first ride review), or an excellent Ultegra R8050 Di2 version for £4,299, there are certainly cheaper (some might argue better value) options open to you for much of the same experience.

Finally, this 900-spec Aircode is also available in a replica FDJ paintjob, as well as a rather smart version inspired by Thibaut Pinot.

Conclusion

Whether you want to spend seven grand on all the bells and whistles will obviously depend on your budget, but the fundamental truth is the Lapierre Aircode SL Ultimate is a super quick and incredibly responsive aero bike. It handles superbly, is efficient in any kind of wind you expose it to, and is relatively comfortable to boot.

It has no outright weaknesses to speak of, but what’s most impressive is just how easy to ride it is. From short, hard blasts to long distance cruises and everything in between, it’ll deliver you to your destination not only as fresh as realistic, but most likely with a few Strava PRs in the bag too. In this build, it’s well-deserving of a spot in the rarefied pantheon of ‘dream bikes’, and it sets an extremely high bar for other aero bikes to match for all-round performance.

Pros

  • Very easy to ride
  • Quick in all conditions
  • Stable in crosswinds
  • Well-considered race geometry
  • Dream spec

Cons

  • Expensive

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