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Lapierre has a proud French heritage that spans three generations and almost 70 years. The Aircode is the company’s first aerodynamic race bike that was developed in collaboration with team FDJ.fr. CTech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a closer look at the new bike in this review.
Gaston Lapierre founded his namesake business in 1946 with a shop in Dijon, France. Cars were scarce in the post-WWII era so it was a canny decision but Gaston’s entrepreneurship was fuelled by more than just opportunism: he was also a passionate cyclist.
Gaston died in 1961 but he had taught his son Jacky every aspect of the business. Indeed, it wasn’t long before Jacky assumed control of the company as it moved into a new factory with full production facilities and a showroom in 1972.
Jacky followed his father’s example by teaching his son Gilles all about the business, which included wheel building and welding. Gaston’s grandson eventually assumed directorship of the company in 1996, and one of his first decisions was to sell the brand to the Accell Group.
Gilles didn’t abandon the company though and still serves as its CEO. The sale provided Lapierre with the resources it needed to expand into international markets. As a result, the brand now enjoys a strong presence in both road and off-road cycling. Meanwhile, Gilles’s son Stephane appears intent on following family tradition.
One important aspect of Lapierre’s company philosophy is its dedication to sponsorship. For example, Lapierre has been the bike sponsor for team FDJ.fr (Française des Jeux) since 2002 and is proud that their bikes have been used in events like the Tour de France. It also has the effect of improving the appeal of the bikes and bolstering the company’s marketing strategy. “You can really tell the people,” explains Gilles, “that the connection between the high-level professional and the products we sell to the consumer are really directly connected.”
Given the long and ongoing relationship between Lapierre and team FDJ.fr, it’s not surprising that team riders played a crucial role in the development of the Aircode, Lapierre’s newest frameset. Designed with aerodynamics as a major consideration, the team was involved from its inception before lending its riders for wind tunnel testing and real-world assessment of prototypes.
There are four models of the Aircode in Lapierre’s 2015 catalogue. At the top of the range, there is the Aircode Ultimate that utilises a high-end carbon blend for the frame. The rest of the range—Aircode 300, 500 FDJ and 700—utilise a standard blend, but all of the bikes use performance oriented builds with parts from Shimano (Ultegra or Dura Ace groupsets), Mavic, and Zipp. For this review, I spent a couple of weeks riding an Aircode 700 supplied by 99 Bikes.
Before the Ride
In designing the Aircode, aerodynamics was an important consideration but so too was the performance of the bike in crosswinds along with the weight, comfort and efficiency of the chassis.
The Kamm tail profile (truncated teardrop) has become a familiar feature of aerodynamic race frames and Lapierre has made use of this design for the Aircode’s seattube and downtube. Narrow teardrop profiles were developed for the headtube and forks while a direct mount front caliper was added to further improve airflow. Finally, items like the seatpost clamp and cables have been hidden within the frame along with semi-integration for the stem.
Interestingly, the Aircode was originally designed with Shimano’s direct mount calipers front and rear however 2015 bikes have replaced the rear brake with a standard caliper and relocated it to the seatstays. It’s a decision that’s easy to applaud as the chainstay location makes the rear brake very difficult to work on, complicates wheel removal, and accumulates too much grit.
Lapierre utilised the same principles that it developed for its Xelius frameset to provide the Aircode with a measured blend of efficiency and comfort. This so-called “Power Box technology” provides lateral rigidity for the headtube, downtube, bottom bracket and chainstays while the toptube, seattube and seatsays afford the bike its comfort.
Most of the magic lies with the modulus and layup of the carbon fibre. Lapierre employs a combination of carbon fibres with a Young’s modulus of 25, 30 and 40 tonnes to dial up the amount of stiffness they need for each part of the frame (for example, 155N/mm for the bottom bracket and 90N/mm for the chainstays). A higher proportion of high modulus fibres are used for construction of the Aircode Ultimate compared to the standard frameset while sprinters on team FdJ.fr are supplied with a custom layup that provides further fortification against their output.
Lapierre also borrowed the geometry from the Xelius, modifying it a little by using a fork with 50mm of rake rather than 43mm. An extra size was added as well.
Overall, the geometry favours an aggressive race position. Chainstay length and bottom bracket drop are consistent for every frame size, being 408mm and 67mm, respectively.
Looking more closely at the specifications of the frame, there is a BB86 bottom bracket and tapered fork steerer (1.125-1.25 inches). A standard round seatpost (31.6mm) inserts into the aerodynamic seattube; a simple wedge is located behind the post that was both easy to use and effective at keeping the post in place.
The bike employs graceful curves instead of thick bold lines making for what is perhaps the most elegant aerodynamic race bike yet. There is a single colour choice for the Aircode 700: matte black with yellow highlights. As expected, the yellow panit was quick to get grubby while the matte finish made it difficult to clean, requiring a tough degreaser to remove the grime.
The Aircode 700 is supplied with a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with a 52/36T crankset and 11-28 cassette. Zipp supplies the handlebars, stem (both Service Course SL) and seatpost (Speed SL); Fizik the saddle (Antares); and Mavic the wheels (Ksyrium Elite) and tyres (Yksion). Weight for the size M/52 sent for review was 7.19kg sans pedals.
The Aircode 700 has a recommended retail price of $5,499. The other bikes in the Aircode range are priced at $10,999 for the Ultimate to $4,199 for the 300, while the 500 FDJ costs $5,499. For more information on the Aircode, visit Lapierre.
After the Ride
The Aircode is an easy bike to like. Where some bikes require a period of time to become accustomed with, I was immediately at home on the Aircode and inspired to tackle long rides. Overall, it was stiff without ever being harsh and comfortable without ever feeling sluggish.
I’m tempted to say that the Aircode has a sublime quality because it doesn’t immediately impress with its weight or stiffness. Instead, the Aircode lingers at the periphery of the senses. Smooth, stiff and responsive with stable and predictable handling, the Aircode occupies the sweet spot for each in a way that is very easy to take for granted.
Where the bike shines is at the point of exhaustion. Every time I thought I had gotten as much as I could out of myself and the bike, I would rise from the saddle and find the bike was still willing to go. Actually it was more than willing: I was consistently surprised at how readily I could get the bike going again.
Occupying the middle ground as well as it does, the Aircode is a versatile bike. I could happily tap out a steady rhythm up a climb or I could jump out of the saddle and hammer the pedals and the bike was equally well mannered and responsive. Some race bikes need to be ridden hard to be appreciated but the Aircode is far less demanding and a lot more accommodating. It lets you ride as you please.
At 50mm, the rake of the fork promises quick steering but I never suffered any nervousness while riding the Aircode. Indeed, I found the steering was stable and predictable, regardless of speed.
I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the aerodynamics of the Aircode. Perhaps it was responsible for some of the bike’s willingness to move forward, but it’s not something I can prove. Interestingly, Lapierre doesn’t provide any data on the performance of the Aircode in wind tunnel tests nor does it make any claims.
My appreciation for Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 groupset continues (or perhaps it is growing?). The shape of the levers is perfect in a way that immediately enhances the feel of any bike. The shifting is of course flawless and effortless.
The use of Zipp parts where other brands economise is a welcome touch, and goes some way to justifying the extra expense of this bike. The Aircode won’t catch the eye of bargain hunters, but then, that was never the intention for this bike.
Final Thoughts and Summary
Lapierre’s Aircode manages to serve a racer’s every need without a lot of flair. The ride quality, handling and responsiveness all hit the mark with confidence, leaving the rider plenty of room to concentrate on making their effort. Ride the bike hard, or not, but either way, I don’t think any buyer will find the Aircode lacking.
For those readers searching in between the lines, they might be tempted to conclude that the Aircode is dull or boring. There’s no need to speculate on that point because the bike is neither. Powerful sprinters will want stiffer, weight weenies lighter, but for everybody else, the Aircode 700 will be a sound choice.
Lapierre Aircode 700 gallery