The FDJ.fr paint job – in keeping with the WorldTour team that ride Lapierre’s bikes –is instantly noticeable, and shortly after that you’ll clock the unusual frame shape, most obvious at the toptube/seattube junction. This is the technology that delivers the promised ride comfort dubbed Shock Absorption Technology (SAT) by Lapierre. It’s an elastomer that absorbs impact and road vibration, and the split toptube has one part acting like a leaf spring, which allows those vibrations to be minimised.
Lapierre claim the Pulsium offers a 27 per cent increase in compliance over their Sensium endurance bike, and the positive of this is increased ride comfort, with the idea being that the plusher ride lowers fatigue, rather than the rider being bashed up on a bike which kicks up a hard ride. The trade-off for this in the Pulsium is the frame has a certain amount of flex, meaning the ride doesn’t feel like it has quite the same direct input as a traditional race frame might. You gain comfort and lose a little output.
The part of the frame dubbed the ‘Powerbox’ by Lapierre – which includes the oversized headtube, chainstays and downtube – is the section optimised for stiffness. The head tube is fairly tall, and that combined with the shortish toptube means the position is quite high so you feel more upright and relaxed compared to a traditional race bike. It’s worth noting that Lapierre size their bikes by the length of the seattube, not the toptube, so this 55cm Pulsium (what Lapierre also call a large) has a 565mm toptube and 185mm headtube).
Again, it’s to offer a more comfortable experience for riders not so concerned by a low, long and aggressive race geometry. Consequently handling feels a little slower and more casual, but not at all bad, just not as thrilling as a crit-style bike. Plus, in all fairness, this bike isn’t designed for crits, but for the FDJ pro team to conquer the cobbles of Belgium and northern France, as well as the wider sportive market.
The point of a bike such as this is that it’ll smooth out the roads a little and help riders to feel fresh after kilometre upon kilometre of punishing pavé and tarmac. After long rides there was a definite improvement in how I felt – still tired, but not as beaten up as harsher bikes can leave you after a day in the saddle. At times I missed the race-ready and spritely feeling but it became an accepted ride characteristic over time and there was a significant reduction in vibration and chatter over poor road surfaces.
With the fork offset at 50 degrees, the resulting unusual curved shape aims to offer some compliance and comfort on broken surfaces. The 27.2mm carbon seatpost offers yet more compliance, topped by a plush Fizik Aliante saddle. Saddles are obviously a hugely personal choice, but the Aliante continues the comfort theme that has is obvious throughout the build.
Weight-wise, the Pulsium 500 isn’t an especially light bike, but it definitely climbs better than that weight suggests (just over 8kg). I found myself adopting a planted and steady climbing strategy – with the compact 50-34t chainset and wide-ranging 11-32t cassette providing a huge spread of gears – and the bike is definitely well-suited for sportives where the comfort it provides would be a real plus.
This isn’t to say the bike can’t be raced – and FDJ have definitely given it a good thrashing on the cobbles – and it’s perfectly capable but the focus on comfort overrides the nimble handling you’d want for certain types of courses. It’s more planted and steady, in handling terms, and at times I felt like it could do with being a little sharper on descents.
Longer rides, and even some fairly tame off-road adventures where a ‘cross bike might have been more at home, it handles with aplomb. The 25mm tyres and Mavic Aksium wheelset are dependable, and performed well although, at this price point, the Aksiums feel under-specced and the Pulsium deserves something better.
Groupset-wise Shimano’s Ultegra 6800 setup performed as flawlessly as we’ve come to expect with exceptionally consistent shifting time after time, and the brakes are reliable and confidence-inspiring. The Zipp bars and stem, along with the aforementioned Fizik saddle, bring tried and tested quality to the finishing kit and are an excellent touch.
I had some initial concerns when riding the Pulsium 500 about the real-world benefits of the SAT comfort system and whether it’s benefits would outweigh any compromises. As I rode it, my perception changed from one of a technology that felt ungainly to one that – despite some misgivings – brings a noticeably different ride quality to the table. It is, after all, an endurance bike designed for comfort and it succeeds as a plush all-rounder. Empty legs and overall tiredness remain, but after riding the bike on British roads, with their, erm, unreliable surfaces, a bike like this shines.
– Long-distance comfort
– Stylish finishing kit
– Shimano Ultegra groupset is excellent
– Cheap wheelset
– Handling is a little uninspiring
– Pro team looks aren’t for everyone