Test Ride: Lapierre X-Lite 400

Rode the Lapierre X-Lite 400 this weekend on a fast-paced team ride around the South end of the lake with Mercer Island and in a smaller group to Kent and back. The routes had flat sections with rollers and a few steep climbs. Performing very well, the bike also attracted attention with lots of questions from cyclists.

x-lite400.jpg

The white and black paint job is a handsome and looks good in the Sun – thank you Sun for showing yourself! White is the new black in carbon, so you could really euro out with aftermarket parts like TRP brakes and PRO bars.

The Ride

First impressions are a smooth comfortable ride. It’s plenty stiff and responsive and rides like a solid road bike. Accelerating well, it moves fast down the road, but is less a crit or climbing bike and instead designed for long miles in the saddle.

The X-Lite handles as expected, but does shudder on big hits. I think that’s the super stiff fork and chain stays. It feels like you’re suspended comfortably well between the wheels, until a large pothole or bike-path root gets your attention abruptly.

I also noticed that the front end steers like a rudder at speed. Rather than turning the handlebars when I pulled through to the front of the pack, I could just steer the bike with body english and thinking of where I wanted it to go. It was like riding atop a solid wedge of carbon: point a knee to the right and go right instantly.

I agree with RBA’s review that the 15-centimeter tall headtube offset my normal fit. I was more upright than usual. That’s a Grand Fondo, tourist-style geometry and intended for all-day comfort and to appeal to a broader range of cyclists. Trek does this as well with their performance Fit and so does Specialized with the Roubaix. Added benefit is less stack height and spacers for the steerer tube.

The X-Lite is similar in ride to the S-Lite I rode last year, with more stiffness in the bottom bracket.

Vertical Stiff and Horizontally Compliant

Bike manufactures use various alchemic methods to layup carbon in the best manner to achieve a frame that’s vertical stiff and horizontal compliant. A bike that’s stiff when you stand up and accelerate and also moves side to side is the universal elixer they’re seeking. On the road, that means a bike that goes fast, but doesn’t beat the crap out of you on a bumpy road.

I’ve ridden bikes that we’re flexy noodles and others so stiff each bump was like getting a roundhouse kick in the butt from Chuck Norris.

Lapierre, with an odd French sense of humor, labels the frame with

  • Weight Saving Progress
  • Full Carbon
  • 3D Lab
  • Nano Vibration Control

Setting aside the marketing jargon, the X-Lite 400 is an excellent choice for cyclists wanting to improve their touring time, make it up the climb, and finish strong in a race. It performs well in all areas with its best characteristic being big-miles ride quality.

I have this X-Lite 400 on long-term loan and will report back after a few races and more hard riding.

Upgrades

Ultegra SL is a perfectly good group and puts the bike at the $3500 price point with high-to-mid level components. I’d keep the Krysium Equipes for training and upgrade the wheels for the big day. You could drop another pound with incremental upgrades to the parts and get it under 16.5 easily.

Note: the bike ships with compact cranks and those were swapped out for Dura-Ace for this test. I don’t ride compact and will point you to Mark’s post for opinions on riding compacts.



11 Comments

Interesting review, thanks - I am considering a 2010 Lapierre Xelius 700 which looks like it has pretty much the same frame as the 2009 x-lite. I’m curious why you thought it was better suited to long miles rather than climbing or crits, as other reviews I have read stress stiffness and light weight. A 15cm head tube doesn’t seem so big to me on a bike with a 55cm effective TT (Lapierre’s size 52), assuming the 2010 geometry is the same as 2009. That size would fit me perfectly and as far as I can work out would allow me to get a 9cm drop from saddle to bars, which is as low as I’d ever want to go…

Any further impressions after more riding time? Does the stiffness give the bike a dead feel like some stiff Alu bikes, or do you only notice it when you hit the bumps?

@neeb,

X-Lite 400 is a capable race bike, but not as stiff as other bikes I’ve ridden and is a Grand Fondo style bike. That may work great for you and is not a concern. For example, I’m riding the [Musseuw Flax bike](http://bikehugger.com/2009/09/museeuw-flax-fixed.html) now and it’s a remarkable blend of stiff/smooth, so much so I think the industry needs a new term for that, like stiction. Maybe stoove or smiff. Johan likes it stiff in the front—and I’m talking super stiff—with some flex in the back. Totally different ride than the anything else and in comparison the X-Lite isn’t as stiff, but that doesn’t mean it’s “not stiff.” The Scott I rode recently was [rocketship-stiff](http://bikehugger.com/2009/09/protour-bike.html).

Also note that I’m a bigger guy pushing 175 pounds on the bike and a ride changer for any bike is the wheels. You can stiffen or soften a ride with wheels.

Regarding geometry, so wish the industry would get standard on geometry cause the websites and brochures can say what they want, but both RBA and us found the bike road like a MD-80. Meaning, with it’s nose up in the air and note that’s not a criticism, just how the bike rides.

For your comparison, I test a bike by

* Seated, stomp on the pedals—what happens does the bike erupt from under your or just get up to speed?

* Grab the front end and shake it side-to-side—does the bike shimmy? Move around like a fishing lure or resist and get right back in line?

* Sprint it with all your weight forward—does it dive or stay upright?

* Dive into a corner—does the bike track like it’s on rails or float with oversteer?

Finally, the bike is not dead feeling. As I wrote, at times it’s a bit harsh and if you’ve narrowed it down to buy, you’re making a good choice. Lapierre is a good value and also is different than all the race bikes out there and that counts.

Thanks, that’s very useful. I’m only 140lbs so if it’s moderately stiff for you it’s probably plenty stiff for me, especially if i stick my campagnolo eurus wheels on it. Being light myself, weight is also an attraction; the 2010 xelius 700 is under 15lbs. I still don’t understand the Grand Fondo thing though; looking at the geometry of the 52 size it has classic 73 + 73 angles and a headtube short enough to allow plenty drop (for me at least), unless there is something really weird going on like a very low BB or long fork. Can I ask what height you are and what frame size you were riding? Could it just be that the bike was a larger than ideal size? Lapierre’s sizes seem not to be corrected for the sloping top tube, so I guess their size 52 is more like a 55 in old fashioned terms.

In any case, I have my heart set on the 2010 xelius 700, so I’m not thinking about a purchase until later next year if and when the prices come down (and of course I wouldn’t buy before I’ve had a chance to test ride it).

Grand Fondo is a term used to described performance fit or, in other words, high-performance bikes for baby boomers that can’t lay flat on the top tube anymore. Grand Fondos are like the charity rides we do here in the States with cyclists that want a high-end bike that’s comfortable and doesn’t beat them up (stiff and vertically compliant). Look at the way it slopes and the size of the top tube, that’s putting you in a more upright position v. a classic roadie fit. As I said in the review, same thing that Specialized does with their Roubiax. For comparison, the Musseuw I’m riding now has a 55 top tube and a 155 stem. 155!

Sorry, I’m a real nerd when it comes to this sort of thing and can’t resist a civilized debate.. :-)


The way I see it, the main thing that determines whether a frame is gran fondo/performance/sportive fit or a more aggressive fit HAS to be the ratio of the effective TT length to the headtube length (another factor perhaps is frame angles, with gran fondo bikes sometimes having more relaxed angles, but with the Lapierre the angles are pretty normal). Seat tube length doesn’t matter on a sloping TT bike, and the slope of the TT is only important to the extent that a steeply sloping TT may /permit/ a longer headtube on a larger frame by increasing standover; it’s not important in itself. The Lapierre in size 52 has a 55cm effective TT and 15cm HT, i.e. a ratio of 3.66. This is hardly in the league of a Specialized Roubaix, where the comparable size 54 has a 54.8 effective TT and a 16.5 HT (ratio 3.32; the roubaix also has a more relaxed HT angle). Admittedly it’s a smidgen more gran fondo-ish than a Spec. Tarmac (54.8 ETT, 14.5 HT, = ratio of 3.78), but it’s much closer to the Tarmac than to the Roubaix (2.66 times closer to be precise). A Pinarello Prince in size 54 has a 55cm ETT, the same as a size 52 Lapierre, and a 15.2 HT, making it effectively the same as the Lapierre (actually very slightly more gran fondoish with ratio of 3.61), and yet I’ve rarely heard the Prince described as a gran fondo bike.

I don’t see how anything other than these geometrical variables can influence whether a bike has an upright position or a more aggressive one, unless it is choice of frame size or components (obviously you can fit a longer or shorter stem with a steeper or shallower angle, more or fewer spacers etc, but these things are merely adjustments). Of course if you compare a size 52 Lapierre with a size 52 Tarmac the Lapierre will feel more like a gran fondo, but this is just because you actually have a frame that is one size larger, due to the different measuring conventions.

Get out of the website numbers and onto a test ride of the bike and reply back is what I suggest. You’ll have a stronger debate position when you’ve ridden it.

It’s the numbers that determine the ride position, period.

Ride quality/feel is a different matter of course, but to make meaningful comparisons you have to correct for the numbers.

You’re right though, a test ride is the only way to go. Thanks again for the review and the other information, much appreciated.

More perspective may help: we ride a lot of bikes, we’re bike huggers, and ignore the marketing materials, effective top tube claims, layup process marketing blather, and just ride the bikes. That’s how we know and I think have a good feel for it—it’s also how we differentiate from the boiler plate, fluff pieces.

In comparison shopping sure, you need to see all the numbers. Makes sense. I’m calling it a Grand Fondo bike because I think it is and Lapierre told me it is. I’m not sure if you’re debating the fondoness with me or not, but think that doesn’t matter.  If it’s not a fondo to you and you race it at your local Tues Worlds than cool.  ETTs to me are meaningless until I get on a bike and I think that’s just me being an old school roadie. We had a very similar debate about compact cranks where what I guess is an engineer swears there’s no way we can tell the difference between a compact and road crank when geared “effectively the same.” Well, I can, because the flywheel ain’t the same.

Here’s a scenario: You ride “square” bikes for twenty years and do so with body english, your knees on the top tube. Do that to “steer” into a tight turn or descend on rails and move the bike around slightly with an nudge. With a sloping or compact frame there is no top tube for you to put your knees on. DAMN! You say as you fly down into a 180 hairpin. That effective top tube just effectively changed the entire handling of the bike.

It’s great to get real impressions uninfluenced by the marketing hype! On the other hand, if you “just ride the bikes” and ignore the geometry and setup, you risk confusing the genuine attributes of a particular bike model with other factors. How do you know that the reason a bike feels like a gran fondo is down to the bike model itself (i.e. it would feel that way to anyone) rather than to the frame size or setup, if you ignore things like effective top tube length? When you say “effective top tube claims”, do you mean that you think the figures provided by the manufacturers are inaccurate? That seems unlikely to me, but if so, it’s an easy thing to measure. I think we also have to be careful about definitions. In the article you implied that the reason you were calling the bike a gran fondo was because you thought it had an upright geometry, but now you seem to be saying that it’s more just because it has a sloping top tube and that’s not what you think of as an old school roadie’s bike and not what you’re used to. I’m surprised that Lapierre told you that the x-lite was a gran fondo, as that’s certainly not how it’s marketed (although maybe they understand the term differently). This is the frame used by Francais de Jeux after all, it’s hard to believe that they would be using a frame designed for arthritic baby boomers as their standard bike in the tdf…

I can’t debate with you how the bike feels to ride because I haven’t ridden it, but I also can’t ignore hard figures when it comes to working out what the riding position is. Unless the numbers provided by Lapierre are actually wrong, I /know/ that if I was to set up a 52 size x-lite for myself with the top of the saddle 73.5cm above the BB I would have /at least/ 8cm drop to the bars (probably well over 9cm) if I took all of the spacers out. So when you tell me that the bike feels like it has its nose in the air that’s hard for me to explain, unless it is something to do with the frame size or setup. It’s like when someone tells you they’ve seen a UFO or a ghost - until I see one myself it’s always more reasonable to believe that their mind was playing tricks on them than it is to believe that UFOs and ghosts exist.(no offence! :-) )

You say that RBA also found the bar position to be high. When I look at their pictures it is obvious that the saddle is set quite low, so this is not surprising. They tested a size 55, but it looks to me as if the rider pictured would have been better off with a 52. What’s the bets that they just ordered a size 55 because this what normally fits, without checking the weird French sizing?

When you get bikes for review, you ride them mostly as they come. I think yes you could make this work flatter with stem bar, seat changes, flatten yourself out. Again, I’m not entirely sure what you’re debating other than to tell me no it’s not a Grand Fondo style bike. As I said:

> I agree with RBA’s review that the 15-centimeter tall headtube offset my normal fit. I was more upright than usual.

And as a bike design trend, that’s in the Grand Fondo style. My point on the ett was that marketing can say what they want and those bikes handle differently than square bikes. The geometry wouldn’t tell you that on paper and Trek didn’t tell you that their first new Madone had a fork that dove when you sprinted.

What LDJ rides is one thing, what they sell is another, and Lapierre makes bikes like this for performance tourists. This isn’t really an issue, as I said repeatedly, the bike is absolutely raceable and so is a Roubiax. That’s what Boonen races on and what Specialized sells LOTS of and where the largest market is for racing bikes. Specialized figure it out and the other companies followed along.

The guys I race with on these, they’re not calling them Grand Fondos either. My observation is what it is: the 15-centimeter tall headtube offset my normal fit. I was more upright than usual.

I suggest your concern should be more with the cantilevering effect on the big hits. . .

We’ll just have to agree to differ on the use of the term “gran fondo”, as you seem to have your own subjective definition, which is fine of course. There is no way that the /geometry/ of that bike is nearer to a Roubaix than to a standard fit though!

(((I suggest your concern should be more with the cantilevering effect on the big hits…)))

Yup, it is. Everything else I have read about this bike says that it is a harsh, stiff ride, although fast. ProCycling did a piece recently where they compared this bike to a vintage steel colnago. They had a few pros compare the two and they nearly all liked the Lapierre, but the lightest guy, a climbing specialist, basically said that it was far too stiff… So I’m thinking that if even a pro thinks this bike is too stiff, there’s a good chance it’s far too stiff than would be ideal for my non-pro powered 63kg..

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