The Forgotten Little Brother?
Lapierre X-Flow 712
WORDS & PHOTOS MATT WRAGG
Lapierre's Spicy and Zesty trail bikes have always grabbed the headlines in their range. Sitting at a relatively unfashionable 120mm of rear travel, the X-Flow seemed to be overlooked compared to its longer-legged brothers. Yet when it came time to trickle the Pendbox technology down from their downhill bike, it was the model they picked to be the first one with the system.
The X-Flow represents a new niche that seems to be developing in trail bikes. A few years ago, short chainstays, relaxed headangles and relatively low bottom brackets were the sole domain of downhill and freeride bikes. As longer-travel trail bikes have become more capable, these features are starting to appear on bikes like this one. Combined with cross-country weight and short travel, the result is the potential for a lot of fun. The Pendbox Suspension System
Lapierre describe their Pendbox system as offering "less compromise, more pedalling power." To do this, they have created one of the most intricate suspension systems out there. Cutting it down to its bare essentials, it is a faux-bar linkage very similar to the design Kona uses, with an independent bottom bracket similar to the GT i-Drive system. Faux-bar systems use single-pivot swingarms, so typically, they create pedal feedback - the chain tugging at the rear wheel as you pedal, limiting the suspension performance. By making the bottom bracket independent, that force now pulls the BB with the movement of the rear-end, reducing how much it affects the suspension. With the GT system they use triangulated, one-piece swingarm, where Lapierre's system uses a linkage to control the shock, enabling the designers to fine-tune the suspension performance further. Sound complicated? It is, and we can't think of another bike out there with as many moving parts as this one. Details:
• Purpose: Trail/all-mountain
• Full carbon frame with tapered headtube
• Lapierre's unique Pendbox suspension technology
• 120mm front and rear travel
• Fox 32 CTD fork
• Fox Float CTD rear shock
• 12 x 142mm rear axle
• Press-fit BB
• Sizes: Small, medium (tested), large, XL
• Weight: 25lbs (without pedals)
MSRP: 5,045 Euros (Lapierre are just setting up distribution in the US and Canada now)Frame and Components
We tested the 712 version, which is the second-from-top spec. At the heart of the bike is a full-carbon frame, with nice, clean internal cable routing. Aesthetically, it has to be one of the nicest bikes to grace our doors in recent years, with swooping lines running from front to rear. There are some details that we were very happy to see, like the burly 12x142mm rear axle and internal routing for a dropper seatpost. It features a press-fit bottom bracket, which looks set to be the new standard for bottom bracket fittings. Keeping the suspension in check is a custom-tuned Fox Float CTD shock. Up front was a Kashima-coated Fox 32 Float CTD with a handlebar-mounted remote.
The drivetrain is a mix of XT and XTR. A set of Mavic Crosstrail wheels shod with Schwalbe Rocket Ron tyres are there to get things rolling and Formula R1 brakes are there to stop them again. Steering was courtesy of a 70mm Thomson stem and Easton's 720mm Haven bars. Both of these came off the bike before the first ride, in favour of a benchmark Renthal 760mm bar and 50mm stem. All in, the stock build tipped the scales at just over 24lbs (11kg), Lapierre doesn't publish the frame weight on its own.Component Report
Lapierre seem to have gone halfway down the road to making a bike that can be ridden hard and changed their mind. While there is routing for a dropper post, the bike comes with a standard Thomson post, which although pretty and well-made, just doesn't make the grade for a modern trail bike - something we put right before the first ride. The second major issue is the derailleur. We chose the 712 from the range as it came with the XTR rear mech. Yet, for some reason, Lapierre have chosen to spec the bike with the lower-priced version without the clutch. As the bike has no ISCG tabs and a press-fit bottom bracket, this meant we couldn't mount a chainguide further down the line and our time with the bike was plagued by dropped chains, to the extent where they more or less ruined the finish on the pretty XTR cranks, scratching the hell out of them every time it dropped.
We came to accept, but never love the 32mm Fox fork. On first impressions it was flexy as hell, especially as we came off a bike fitted with its bigger brother, the 36. After a while we became accustomed to the give in the front wheel and the short-travel of the bike meant you tended to hunt for smoother lines anyway. However, the CTD cartridge was everything we hoped it wouldn't be and we had to run virtually no sag to stop the fork blowing through its travel when you braked or pushed hard. We also never used the adjustments, setting it in the middle, 'Trail' mode and leaving it there for our entire time with the bike. Why Lapierre spec'd it with a bar-mounted remote is beyond us, it is a big, ungainly thing there on the bar and as we felt the suspension didn't need flicking between modes regularly, completely superfluous. We would be keen to try one of these bikes with a Fox 34 mounted at the front, dropped to 120mm - as we suspect it would make the bike even more fun.
Looking at the bike in the catalogue, you would be forgiven for thinking it is an XTR-equipped bike, but we'd say you are wrong there. The majority of the drivetrain is XT and, while we cannot fault them for speccing the ever-incredible XTR cranks, the only other XTR part on the bike is the lower-priced, clutch-less mech. We would prefer to see this bike come with XT throughout and the money re-invested in a clutch mech and dropper seatpost, the two things that nearly ruined the bike for us. As it is, it feels a little like the XTR was added to show off in the car park, more than for what it can do for you out on the trail.
The Mavic Crosstrail wheelset was as solid and as good as ever. However, it's hard to know what to say about the tyres mounted on them. When they were rolling we became rather fond of them. They don't provide much grip, which means you need to adjust to them, but once you're there, they are some of the most fun tyres we have used in a long time and meant we spent a lot of time going sideways. If you are after a serious tyre, there are obviously grippier options out there, but we really liked these tyres for this kind of bike. However, they weren't problem-free. They are clearly marked as tubeless-ready, but we had a lot of issues running them tubeless. Initially the rear one didn't hold air well and when we put higher pressures in, the sidewalls were so thin the latex was forced through them. Further down the line we holed both front and rear, resulting in a faceful of latex and much swearing trailside.
One component choice we have to mention are the brakes. In the past we have had what can be best-described as mixed experiences with Formula. The set of R1s on this bike were nothing short of fantastic - they had a wonderfully positive feel to them, delivering plenty of power in a very manageable way. We were also pleasantly surprised by the stock grips, which turned out to be rather comfortable. Out On The TrailClimbing:
The first thing we noticed when we get on the bike was the short top tube. It came up a good 20mm or so shorter than we would have expected. On long climbs (half an hour-plus) we could feel some lower back pain, so if you are thinking of doing big rides on this bike it would be worth looking at going a size up from where you normally are. With the shock set into 'Trail' mode it didn't hang around, we never felt the need to go into Climb, getting the job done quickly and efficiently. As the stock gearing was 2x10 we took the moral option to refuse to use the granny ring (we would have pared it down to 1x10 if we could have mounted a chainguide). Pushing a 36-tooth chainring seemed like it might be a bad idea at first, but once we got out and rolling it became clear that, mated to the 11-36t cassette, it was all you needed on this bike. When the climbs got short, steep and technical, it made tough going feel like light work. Power transfer to the back wheel felt immediate and there was little noticeable bob; traction was always easy to find. The feather-light Schwalbe tyres helped greatly with this and was one of the reasons why, despite our problems with them, we were loath to swap them out for something more sensible.Descending:
This is where the bike came into its own. As soon as the ground starts to drop away from you, this bike comes to life and that short top tube makes complete sense. On serious descending a longer top-tube is beneficial for stability, for sure, but for going into the woods to dick about, the shorter length means you can move around the bike easily. The game is very different compared to a longer-travel bike, you have to be much more precise with your lines and the bike allows you to move to where you need to be to hold them. This paired perfectly with the 67.5 degree head angle and low-ish bottom bracket, striking a nice compromise between some stability, but keeping the bike lively enough to be fun, even if the trail lacked gradient. Short, 428mm, chainstays gave the handling an immediacy that was much appreciated. Throw in the flexy fork, silly XC tyres and a big bar and stem and you have a recipe for a hilarious bike. What you end up with is a lightweight bike that you can work to stick almost any line you choose or pop off anything and everything.
Don't think all this means the bike isn't capable when the going gets ugly though. To shoot the photos for this review we took it to the test track we'd rode previously for the Santa Cruz V10c launch as the light is always good there. It's fair to say that this bike scared us. The way it picked up speed on rough terrain was just frightening and with short travel, a light build and trail geometry there is virtually no room for error as you skipped through the jagged rock stumps. Picking your lines carefully you felt like you were blasting down there like a hero, dancing on the edge of complete disaster. The reality was almost definitely less dramatic, it probably just felt fast as it was so sketchy. There is no doubt that the V10c was lot faster, and a lot safer, on that kind of terrain, but the little Lapierre was arguably more fun.
Our biggest gripe descending is the shock. It just felt like it needed more support in the mid-stroke. With this kind of light bike it feels like it should be popped off things at every opportunity, but at times it felt like you had to work against the shock to do that. As for the Pendbox system? There isn't much to report. It works well enough and the bike did pedal well, we wouldn't argue with that for one second, but there are other systems out there which work just as well without all this complication. In our experience, more parts equals more things to go wrong and a bigger bill when it comes time to replace them. Most of this frame is beautifully-designed and in comparison all that fuss around the bottom bracket detracts from how pretty this bike is. For years the Zesty and Spicy have used a much simpler four-bar system which worked well and we are struggling to understand why they have ditched that in favour of the Pendbox.Pinkbike's take:
|We like this bike a lot and will definitely be a little sad on the day the courier comes to return it to Lapierre. It has been an enormous amount of fun to spend a winter ragging it around the local woods. However, we think whoever is responsible for speccing it needs to come out and ride a bit more often as some of those choices nearly ruined the bike for us, it almost feels like they don't want people to get the most out of the bike. It desperately needs a dropper post, a clutch mech and ISCG tabs. Add in a wider bar and shorter stem and you have the recipe for a bike you can sprint up the climbs on and giggle all the way back down again. Although, if you are thinking of doing longer distances on it, it is well worth trying a couple of sizes to make sure you get the best one for you. -Matt Wragg|