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Lapierre Xelius SL 700 – review

Lapierre has been providing bikes for the FDJ pro team since 2002 but the French brand has been building them for a lot longer. It was Gaston Lapierre who started the company in 1946 when he put the family name on the first frame to come out of his workshop in Dijon.

In the nigh-on 70 years since then, Lapierre bikes have helped all sorts of riders to victories in a variety of cycling disciplines. Off-road, they’ve helped the likes of Loic Bruni and Nicolas Vouilloz to wins in the downhill world championships and enduro world series, and they’ve won multiple French national cyclo-cross titles underneath Francis Mourey. On the road, Lapierres have been ridden to stage victories in all three grand tours, the most recent of which was Thibaut Pinot’s win atop Alpe d’Huez at this year’s Tour de France.

Pinot was wrestling the new Lapierre Xelius SL, launched ahead of the Tour in June, up the Alpe’s 21 hairpin bends on that occasion. And while only a privileged few get to play with the top-spec team-issue version of that Pinot rides, the Shimano Ultegra Di2-equipped Xelius SL 700 is an attractive alternative.

The frame: featherweight climber

Until the introduction of the Aircode in 2014, the Xelius had been Lapierre’s go-to race bike. But the arrival of the aero machine meant the Xelius no longer had to be so all-purpose. So with the Aircode focussed on flat-course speed, Lapierre’s engineers set to work on turning the Xelius into a climbing specialist.

To that end, they’ve made the redesigned Xelius SL light – fantastically light, in fact. The bare Xelius frame tips the scales at around 850g (depending on size) but even when it’s fully dressed in Shimano Ultegra Di2 you’re still getting a bike that keeps the needle below the 7.5kg mark.

Weight may be a priority for a race bike but so is stiffness, and that’s why the Xelius SL frame incorporates Lapierre’s ‘Power Box’ technology. Which is a fancy way of saying the headtube, downtube, bottom bracket and chainstays are oversized to keep the Xelius rigid enough to respond crisply to steering inputs and accelerations.

There’s nothing unusual about speccing bigger tubes for extra stiffness on a race bike but what is unusual about the Xelius is its seatstays. Rather than attaching to the seattube, they bypass it altogether and meet the frame on the toptube. This achieves three things: first, it means the seatstays aren’t supporting as much of the rider’s weight so they can be thinner and, as a result, lighter; second, it uncouples the seattube, allowing it to flex more and absorb bumps better; and third, it gives the Xelius a ‘triple triangle’ look reminiscent of some old, and a few current, GT bikes.

The ride: your flexible friend

Those slender seatstays certainly make for a flexy rear end. Flexy in a good way, though, as the Xelius has a ride quality that’s well cushioned, to say the least. It feels almost strange to be on a road bike with as much give as the Xelius has and it takes some getting used to.

You can’t help but notice a degree of bobbing when you first set out on it and are spinning along in smaller gears. But that soon smooths out when you shift a little further down the cassette and start pushing, rather than merely turning, the pedals.

Bumps and broken tarmac don’t entirely disappear when you roll over them on board the Xelius but their edges are blunted. Your palms and backside get dull thumps instead of the sharp kicks you might otherwise expect.

The Xelius SL is most at home on the climbs – as you’d expect with a bike this light – and it always seems as though it has more to give no matter how fast you’re gaining altitude. Better still, all that built-in flex gives it a calm, relaxed feel as opposed to the nervous twitchiness of some race machines.

As nice as all that flex is, however, it’s not without flaws, particularly for bigger, beefier riders. Flyweights with the climbing credentials to match this bike needn’t worry but if you’re hovering around the 80kg mark and get out of the saddle to stamp on the pedals, it can feel as though the Xelius is trying to tie itself in knots. This isn’t an issue on the climbs when the gears you’re stamping on are smaller but sprinting in a big gear does highlight the issue.

In all fairness, the Xelius SL hasn’t been built with bunch finishes (or mid-ride signpost sprints) in mind so it may seem like a harsh criticism. But it has been built for the mountains and if you’re sprinting out of a hairpin turn trying to make up time on a descent then a bendy bike can be somewhat disconcerting.

The components: black and blue

The Xelius SL 700 comes with Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 electronic gears, which aside from needing to be recharged occasionally create no cause for complaint. The mid-compact 52-36t chainset and 11-28t cassette it’s supplied with give further credence to this being a bike for climbing.

It rolls on Mavic’s new Kysrium Elite wheels, which have been redesigned for 2015. The rims retain the Ksyrium’s ‘Fore Drilling’ nipple mounts, which only require holes on the rims’ inside faces to increase strength and eliminate the need for rim tape but now also benefit from being wider. An extra 2mm has been added to the Kysrium’s internal width, meaning the tyres (in this case a pair of Mavic Yksion Pros) have less of a light bulb-like profile and can be run at lower pressures for more comfort without compromising on either rolling or puncture resistance. They also come with blue nipples to match the bike’s black and blue colour scheme.

Zipp provide the smart handlebar and stem (aluminium) and the seatpost (carbon), which is topped off with a suitably colour-coordinated Antares saddle from Fizik. All top-notch finishing kit with no corners cut.

Conclusion

You don’t have to be a Tour de France stage winner to appreciate this bike. If you’re heading for the hills – whether it be on a social ride or sportive – the Xelius SL is a great ally. Especially if you’re more concerned with comfort than clock watching. There’s enough flex in the frame to allow you to spend hours grinding up gradients without leaving you in need of a visit to the chiropractors afterwards.

Lightweight racers looking for every advantage on the climbs will love it but anyone after a comfortable bike with a competitive edge won’t be disappointed either.

Pros

– Floaty light for faster climbing
– More than enough flex in the frame to keep you comfortable
– Lovely wheels

Cons

– Feels almost too flexy under big riders making big efforts
– Two-tone bar tape; it’s a personal preference (although it does match the colour scheme)

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