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Tech-Redux: Lapierre Xelius

From issue 5 (Aug/Sept 2011) • Images by John Maynard

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Lapierre bikes first graced the roads of France back in 1946, and while they have been a mainstay in the French peloton it took almost 60 years for Lapierre to get noticed in the United States. Sponsorship of the Française des Jeux team in 2002 elevated the company’s profile, and in 2003 the team wore all four jerseys at the Tour de France, launching Lapierre onto the international stage. In 2005, Lapierre entered the U.S. market. In the years since, Lapierre has used their partnership with the Française des Jeux  team to develop their line of road bikes. The Xelius is the third racing frame developed through Lapierre’s partnership with the team, following the X-Lite and X-Lite II carbon frames. The Xelius 400 comes in a bold and stylish tri-color Française des Jeux  team replica paint scheme that celebrates the team and proudly shows off Lapierre’s French heritage.

The Xelius is constructed using silicone mandrins that are pre-molded to have the exact shape of the inside surface of the frame. This allows unified pressure to be applied to the frame during the heating and molding stage, resulting in a smooth, crease-free finish, and therefore better adhesion between the carbon layers. This allows Lapierre to add extra layers to key areas, such as the head tube and the bottom bracket, without adding unnecessary material.

The frame is heavily sculpted, with each tube being designed to increase lateral stiffness while increasing vertical compliance. The sculpted tubes house internal brake and shift cables along with routing ports for Shimano Di2 electric components. The head tube is tapered from 1.25 inch at the lower headset bearing to 1.125 inch at the top bearing. To save weight, the headset bearing cups are constructed from carbon fiber and molded into the frame. The down tube is bi-axial ovalized to stiffen both the front triangle and bottom bracket. To further increase stiffness at the bottom bracket junction, the base of the seat tube is ovalized across the width of the bottom bracket shell. The chain stays are narrow compared to most carbon frames on the market, but are vertically ovalized near the bottom bracket and taper to a more conventional round shape at the rear dropout. This design, along with the tapered seat stays, allows for a bit of vertical flex for added shock dampening and comfort. The rear dropouts are carbon. All of these features combine to create a frame that tips the scales at 860 grams in a 55-centimeter frame. Lapierre completes the Xelius 400 with an Easton EC90SL carbon fork.

The Ride
In the saddle, the Xelius 400’s European heritage immediately comes to the forefront and visions of charging through the Alps quickly fill the mind. Out-of-the-saddle efforts are greeted with lively acceleration, and although not as stiff as some carbon frames on the market, the Xelius sprinted straight and power put to the pedals was efficiently delivered to the rear wheel. The Xelius 400 feels like a hybrid of a classic steel frame combined with modern carbon. The frame is light and stiff, yet lively with enough vertical compliance to smooth out most road surfaces. Driving through corners, the Xelius 400 tracked straight and offered no unwanted surprises.

The Xelius 400 is equipped with a complete Ultegra group combined with an Easton EA90 stem, Easton EA70 Ergo handlebar, EA70 seat post and white Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels. A fi:z’ik Pave Cx Mg completes the setup. All told, the Lapierre Xelius 400 tipped the scales at 16.5 pounds, without pedals. Lapierre did a good job outfitting the Xelius 400—leaving us with no complains about any of the parts.

The rider’s compartment on the Xelius 400 feels like a classic European road racer with a long and low setup. The 73-degree head tube angle gives the Xelius 400 a stable and predicable feel, while the long 57-centimeter arcing top tube allows the rider to stretch out for long days in the saddle. The 73-degree seat tube is a common angle and makes finding ones proper saddle position easy.

As the gradient increases, the Xelius 400 comes in to its own. The lively feel of the bottom bracket, combined with the stiff and predictable front end, give the Xelius a light and quick feel when tackling climbs. It ascended best out of the saddle, with the rider quickly turning over the pedals. By standing out of the saddle the rider takes advantage of the frame’s snappy feel and the sensation of constant acceleration propels and motivates the rider to push the pace. In-saddle efforts are best tackled with a fast cadence, staying on top of the gear. When pushing a big gear uphill, the Xelius 400 didn’t carry its speed as well as we expected, but some of this we attributed to the durable but stout 1,825-gram Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels. 

Once to the top, the Xelius 400 is ready to drop down the other side. The Xelius 400 is a big mountain descender and is at its best on open mountain roads with wide arcing corners. Its long top tube makes it stable and fast when the road turns downward, and through corners the Xelius 400 is predicable and tracks true. Steeper, tighter corners required slower entry than usual as the longer top tube prevented the rider from really weighing on and driving the front wheel through the corner. However, any speed lost in tight corners was quickly made up when the road straightened out. The smooth ride, stiff front end and stretched out rider position allowed the Xelius 400 to soar down open roads.

Once the road levels out, the Xelius settles into a comfortable rhythm, seemingly unbothered by the rider’s intentions or speed. The Xelius is as much at home rolling along a mild pace as it is under the strain of a rider in full flight. The Lapierre could be described as neutral, but a better description would be that it keeps its composure regardless of the rider’s speed. Much of this due to the frame’s well-balanced nature that provides a high degree of vertical compliance matched with an adequately stiff bottom bracket and solid front end.

The Rider
The Lapierre Xelius 400 is a classic European race bike with its pedigree remolded in the latest carbon fiber technology. The Xelius rider is much the same. The rider is looking for the latest technology in a bike that fully embraces its European racing heritage. The Xelius 400 embraces the spirit of the Française des Jeux  team and delivers the ride quality and performance to bring victory.

The Xelius line is available with several build options. The top-of-the-line Xelius 900 features a full Dura-Ace drivetrain with Easton EC90 components. Next down is the Xelius 700 that comes outfitted with a SRAM Force drivetrain and Easton EC70 components. Our Lapierre Xelius 400 sits third down in the line, just above the Xelius 200, which also features Shimano Ultegra drivetrain but foregoes the Easton EC90SL fork and comes with Control Tech One components and Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels.

The Bottom Line
Price: $3,650
Size tested: 55cm
Group: Shimano Ultegra 6700
Wheelset: Mavic Ksyrium Equipe White
Details: Easton EA90 stem, Easton EA70 Ergo handlebar, Easton EA70 seat post, fi’zi:k Pavé CX Mg
Weight: 16.5 lbs.; 860g (frame)