The Lapierre Pulsium 900 FDJ Disc Ultimate is the pro team-spec bike that we could well see used at the cobbled classics this year – incredibly responsive handling and high lateral stiffness see to that. However, despite its outstanding strengths, it lacks a little compliance to mix it with the very best endurance bikes on the market.
When you’re presented with an endurance bike, what is it you really want from the ride? This is an interesting question, because although the answer might seem simple at first glance (a compliant all-day-friendly ride is key, no?), it probably depends on who you are. If you’re a pro-level rider, perhaps you’re going to want a stiffer, racier ride, for example.
This Pulsium is the biggest, boldest and brashest of the entire endurance bike range. In fact at £7,599 it’s the most expensive road bike Lapierre currently makes, and it’s dripping in pro-level equipment, while the frame is the ‘Ultimate’ spec version too.
But, what happens to an endurance bike when it’s fitted with the fastest, stiffest and most expensive kit, based around a frame layup that’s designed not only to make it compliant and easy to ride, but equally racy and aggressive too? Will it strike a perfect harmonious balance of those ride qualities, or demonstrate a conflicting personality?
The frame – Ultimate spec carbon with semi-relaxed geometry
Let’s just remind you – Lapierre bucks the trend in some respects when it comes to frame design, and we’re not talking about that distinctive seattube junction design it shares with the Xelius. No, it’s the fact that it actually makes its top-spec ‘Ultimate’ frames heavier than the standard layups.
The idea is more material is used in areas like the ‘Powerbox’ bottom bracket and chainstays to maximise lateral stiffness, which Lapierre (and its pool of test riders at the FDJ team) seemingly value above absolute light weight, and that shows in the 1,107g claimed figure. However, claimed improvements of 40 per cent in the bottom bracket, 25 per cent in the chainstays and 20 per cent in the headtube are not to be sniffed at.
Incorporated in that weight is a simplified-yet-improved, second-generation elastomer Shock Absorption Technology (SAT) insert within the downsweep of the seattube junction, which flows naturally from the sweeping arc of the top tube in a smooth line right down the seatstays to the dropouts.
Weight: 7.48kg (Large)
Sizes: XS (46cm), S (49cm), M (52cm), L (55cm), XL (58cm)
Website: Lapierre Bikes
UK distributor: Raleigh
Lapierre has also designed the beefy bottom bracket with its clever TrapDoor technology, which hides the Di2 battery within the structure. The intention is to keep the centre of gravity low on the bike, which should pay dividends when it comes to handling.
We had a little play with it to see how easy it is to unscrew and access the battery using a standard Allen key – as long as you can hoist the bike on a bike stand, it’s an elegant solution, arguably easier and tidier than a traditional seatpost or seattube positioning.
The dropouts feature fittings for 12mm thru-axles, while the brakes are flat mount. That said, the fork features a post that allows the front caliper to be mounted away from the fork leg itself, protecting it from excessive heat build-up.
The seatpost is secured using an integrated clamp that sits behind the post itself, shielded by a rubber cover to protect it from water ingress. Meanwhile, there’s fully internal cable routing for both electronic and mechanical drivetrains, as well as hydraulic brakes.
Finally, there’s ample clearance for 28c tyres, although there are no mudguard mounts to be found – something some might consider a glaring omission in an endurance bike, even one as high-spec as this.
The ride – Sharp handling and spades of stiffness
From the first ride, the dominating factor is the sheer stiffness of the experience. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the intentions of the Ultimate-spec frame, but nevertheless when you really hammer the Pulsium Ultimate frameset, you’re left with the sense of true pro-levels of stability and not a hint of flex, that are a rival for any racy aero bike out there.
While I’m not putting out Arnaud Demare-levels of power, the core of the bike around the oversized bottom bracket area stays completely solid when giving it maximum sprint and climbing efforts out of the saddle.
In fact, it feels right up there with the likes of the Bianchi Oltre XR4 for sheer efficiency and transfer of power – and that’s a prime example of a thoroughbred aero race bike, designed specifically for that purpose.
The Pulsium has this knack of rolling incredibly efficiently when up to speed too. Of course this is no aero bike, so once hitting around 40km/h the differences in focus begin to show as the shallow wheels and non-aerofoiled tubing begin to lose their battle with the wind, yet the sense of easy pedalling is remarkable – no doubt thanks also to the stiffness improvements in the bottom bracket and chainstay zones.
With the easy pedalling, the Pulsium is certainly an energy-efficient bike to ride in terms of the effort required through the legs – yet this raw stiffness has its drawbacks if you’re expecting a luxurious ride on UK roads.
When we first got our hands on a rim brake Pulsium last year in the south of France, we were quick to note the immediacy of acceleration and sharpness of response, but we were also quietly aware that French roads are tangibly smoother than those we typically experience in the UK. It turns out that we were right to be wary.
The reality is that the Pulsium Ultimate, with all its lateral strength, lacks some compliance when the going gets rough. The SAT elastomer insert is certainly there to do a job to mete out vibrations and shocks, but unfortunately it’s overwhelmed by the racy DNA the frame is infused with. On its 25c tyres and the high-spec full carbon finishing kit (more on that later), I think it offers just enough compliance for the hardiest of well-trained riders if they were about to tackle the cobbled classics… pros, in fact.
The handling is also suitably razor sharp for that target market despite the endurance geometry: racy in its character even with the tall 185mm headtube that chiefly lends it its endurance geometry, and rake of the fork that visibly pushes the front wheel forward.
Such design traits usually result in a slightly duller ride with easier steering – ideal for long days in the saddle – but here the super stiff fork and headtube sharpens everything up again.
On the odd occasion, the Pulsium could shock at how a lazy lean on the bars while out of the saddle could result in it darting forward unintentionally, while descending took higher levels of concentration than I was expecting. You really feel on a knife-edge; get it right with a perfect line into a corner and it’s supremely rewarding, but get it wrong and it can feel almost nervous, and that in itself adds an underlying element of stress to a ride.
However, is this a bad thing, to have an endurance bike infused with such an instinct for aggressive riding? On the one hand, no – it’s a hugely entertaining and quick bike to ride, and I looked forward to riding it each time I had an opportunity to go out, relishing the challenge and sharp performance. And, it must be noted that Lapierre’s engineers fundamentally set out to achieve these results thanks to input from the FDJ team, who wanted a stiffer solution for the classics season.
The arguably unfortunate consequence of this is that if you’re hoping for a compliant and easy-to-ride bike – a hallmark of an endurance bike – then unfortunately the Pulsium comes up short despite the general position being nicely accessible for riders far less flexible than me.
For many, that will put it below the likes of BMC’s excellent Roadmachine 01 and Canyon’s Endurace CF SLX bikes, which manage to better marry a compliant ride with a racer’s edge for the general endurance bike roadie.
The build – Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2, Zipp and Mavic finishing kit
A pro-level frameset (complete with this flashy tricolour paintjob) deserves a pro-level spec sheet, and the Pulsium 900 FDJ Disc Ultimate provides in more than just its name. There’s a full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset along with the distinctive 140mm black-finned rotors, and it’s quite frankly the best performing groupset we’ve ever ridden fitted to a bike.
With Shimano’s excellent Di2 system shifting so effortlessly even under load and with the semi-synchro system engaged (where the rear derailleur reacts to front derailleur changes to put you in the next effective gear), as a drivetrain it’s hard to fault and provides an experience that feels fundamentally fast and expertly sorted out.
The hydraulic brakes are from the top shelf as well. Last year, I hinted after the launch of the Ultegra Di2 Disc groupset that it’s difficult to justify investing in Dura-Ace in this guise given the performance at the time, and I stand by that conclusion in that the value is far greater in the second-tier, and the differences in performance negligible to all but the most sensitive of riders.
Nevertheless, the time spent with the Dura-Ace discs demonstrated a slight improvement in terms of modulation and tactile feel at the brake lever (set alongside a near-parallel test with the Scott Foil Disc complete with, you guessed it, a full Ultegra Disc brakeset), and means Dura-Ace retains its place as the halo groupset of the range in more ways than just its name and weight.
Elsewhere, there’s a pro-spec Zipp SL finishing kit with handlebar, stem and seatpost all taken care of. The stem especially is suitably oversized to promote the 20 per cent claimed stiffness improvement in the headtube, and contributes to the overall rock-solid feeling the frame gives. The endurance-oriented Fizik Aliante R1 saddle didn’t suit me – I personally get on better with an Antares or Arione – but it is also pro-spec, coming as it does with carbon-braided rails.
The rolling stock comes from Mavic with the Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL Disc wheels – a suitably high-spec wheelset to accompany the rest of the build. Previously we’ve only ridden the rim brake versions of the Pro Carbon SL range of wheels, but we’re happy to report that there are no surprises here in terms of performance.
What should be noted is that the wheels on the test bike were the clincher versions, but this bike ordered from now will be fitted with Mavic’s recently updated rims with UST tubeless tech.
As a general point in a disc-equipped endurance bike, it’s a shame the 900 FDJ Disc Ultimate doesn’t come supplied with 28c rubber. It’s an option that might go some way to helping the comfort of the ride, but right now that’s a solution not supplied by Mavic, which designs its wheel-tyre systems to optimally run 25mm wide boots. Nevertheless, this is an upgrade you can always make in the future.
The Lapierre Pulsium FDJ 900 Disc Ultimate is a bike with an ‘Incredible Hulk’ personality. It’s a super-stiff race bike with all the trimmings, and is devastatingly responsive and quick to accelerate, with all the pin-sharp handling that a pro or keen racer might hope for and expect.
Lacks some compliance
Handling can be too sharp
For some, this aggressive nature will make it a dream bike and well worth strong consideration, especially if you want it with a more conservative geometry. Certainly, we’ve had bags of fun on it.
However, the reality is that if you’re not a racer and you come at the Pulsium Ultimate hoping for an endurance bike that you can happily ride all day with ease and in relative comfort, then there are arguably other solutions out there that will better suit your needs.