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First Impressions: 2014 Lapierre Zesty AM

On a damp morning in June, 30 journalists from assorted bike media dragged themselves into a provincial chalet in Chatel, a bike resort on the Portes Du Soleil, most in search of coffee, but all there to check out the new range of 2014 Lapierre bikes. With Nico Vouillez, Sam Blenkinsop and the cool guys from SRAM on hand to help, it was sure to be a great day!  We were all here to test 3 bikes from the new 2014 Lapierre line up, The 650b Spicy AM and Zesty AM, and the 29er Zesty Trail.  In this article we examine our first riding impressions of the new Zesty AM.  

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The 2014 Carbon Zesty AM 527

First of we need to talk about the elephant in the room, wheel size! This year Lapiere have put all their eggs in one basket and will only be offering the Spicy and Zesty in 27.5inch format, there is a also a 29inch version of the Zesty, named the Zesty Trail. I try not to jump on bandwagons and have often thought that the jump to 650b wheels would only be a negligible change offered more in the pursuit of marketing than actual performance advantages. However, after riding a 26inch wheeled bike for the previous 5 days in the bike park, the switch to 650b was significant.

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Bikes all prepped, dialed and ready to be ridden.

Both bikes in the 650b format rolled faster and felt significantly quicker than my own personal very high end 26inch wheeled machine. This was particularly evident on the fast and flowing trails of the Chatel bike park! After a couple of runs the wheels did not feel any less maneuverable than the 26 inch versions, and it just felt like a really fast and smooth ride. So there may be something in this 27.5 inch wheel after all! Whether 27.5 or 29 or even the stalwart 26 inch wheel is for you comes down to how you ride, what you enjoy and how you like your bike to feel!   It will always be a personal choice, but it is interesting to see manufacturers stopping production of 26 inch bikes in the competitive enduro sector.

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The cool guys from SRAM were on hand to dial in the correct SAG and rebound on the shocks.

Zesty AM 2014

The first bike we tested was the all new carbon Zesty AM, with 27.5 inch wheels, a carbon frame,  SRAM 1×11 groupset and the new e:i shock the zesty is perhaps on paper the perfect machine for enduro racing. 150mm travel front and back seems to be the new ‘enduro’ sweet spot for 27.5 inch wheels. The custom black (just for the product launch) carbon frame with alloy chainstays looks handsome and lateral stiffness through the bike is very high.  Lapierre now use Supreme6 alloy for their chainstays, proposed to be stronger than previous years!  For 2014 the top tube has been lengthened and the bottom bracket has been lowered to make the most of the new wheel format, and the head angle runs at 67 degrees with the 150mm fork.

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The Zesty AM 2014 rails berms with ease and feels agile and planted.

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It is fantastic to see adoption of the SRAM 1×11 drivetrain as standard!

e:i Shock Technology 

Perhaps the most controversial move by Lapierre was the integration of e:i shocks over the range.   To explain the system simply, a sensor in the cranks measures cadence, and when the bike senses that you are trying to pedal, it checks in with accelerometers in the fork and stem. If the terrain is smooth the computer will stiffen out the bike providing maximum efficiency. If the terrain is rough the suspension will remain in its open setting. This is all very clever stuff, but the really clever part is that it does this 30 times a second, so you are always in the correct settings. So how does it perform – in short – perfectly! Over the days I rode three bikes kitted out with the e:i shocks, all with very different target markets and personalities but all performed admirably. I think that the true test of good suspension is that you just don’t notice it working, there is nothing more jarring than when the compression damping is off and tough terrain soon becomes a choppy and challenging affair.

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Climbing was effective and automatic with the e:i shocks, no pedal induced bob!

With the e:i shocks, after I had messed with all the buttons on the bike computer sized central control unit on the stem, been talked through the 6 different levels of automatic control and all the manual settings, Simon our cool guru from SRAM told us to simply leave it in Auto and go and play. I have to admit that I personally do not particularly like the idea of electronics on a mountain bike, but I cannot fault the system in operation. For the whole day, when I sprinted the bike was stiff and powerful, when breaking bumps chopped the trail the bike was composed and pliant and when hitting the drops, landings were plush. The only evidence that something clever was happening was the occasional shutter like noise from the solenoid in the shock as it changed modes.

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The central control, e:i provides an excellent racing solution

I could not have been more impressed! To a racer where time mistakes are costly, I can see this being highly advantageous. From an owners perspective, it is vital that the technology is robust, reliable and fool proof.  The SRAM guys were keen to point out the weather proofing and reliability and it was clear from the aggressive jet washing between rides that they had complete confidence in the kit. With a battery life of 25 hours, the system may not be quite there for some riders (if the battery dies you are stuck in the last mode, but can change it with an allen key), but it is certainly a step in a very interesting direction.

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The steep and loose black runs are perfect to put the enduro focused bike through its paces.

On the trail the bike feels fast, controlled and dynamic. Eager to accelerate and balanced in the corners it has the feel of a well sorted bike. The 27.5 inch wheels pick up speed easily, and once they are spinning momentum is high. The Zesty carved really well into the berms of the Chatel Bike Park and felt like a bike with more travel through the tight and technical natural trails. The SRAM 1×11 drive train is exemplary and performed without fault over really rough terrain, with no chain loss issues. I rode the medium sized bike, and at 5’10 was glad of the longer top tube, the bike feels stable at high speed and the low bottom bracket gives it a fun and engaging ride. Stiffness is excellent with minimal flex through the frame, and the 67 degree head angle feels good with the bigger wheel, there was no noticeable tuck in hard corners. If I had to sum up the bike in 3 words, I would say smooth, agile and quiet, all good terms.

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The Zesty AM, in custom matt black colour.

I did have a slight issue with the bike though, even after canting my SPD cleats right to the inside of my shoes, I was still catching the wide rear swing arm with my heels on descents. The chain-stays seem very wide, especially around the rear axle, and as I ride with a heel down attitude, I kept fouling on the frame which was a weird feeling, and there were plenty of scuff marks on the demo bike to show that I was not alone. This is not likely to be universal but I would certainly recommend a test ride before purchase. If you find you have clearance, and are looking for a stiff, lithe trail rocket that will carry you to podiums, the Zesty AM is well worth a look!  It really is a missile down the trails and I expect to see many on the enduro race circuit next year.  I thought 650b was a gimmick, but have to concede that my 26 inch enduro bike felt a lot slower the next day, perhaps it is the future!

Next up: The 2014 Spicy AM – Coming Soon.

For more information on the Lapierre range check out http://www.lapierre-bikes.co.uk/

Review: Trev Worsey

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