Lapierre Aircode SL700 Review
The Aircode from Lapierre is an aero-styled racing machine tested and approved by Team FDJ.fr’s riders on the WorldTour that has seen such results as Nacer Bouhanni’s best sprinter jersey at the 2014 Giro and Thibaut Pinot’s 3rd place on the final podium of the 2014 Tour de France. Lapierre have just released their 2016 version of the Aircode and before it even had a chance to hit the shops our man in France, Chris has been out testing the Aircode SL700 this past month.
I first saw the Aircode up close when it was displayed at Eurobike last year and of course since then we’ve seen the Aircode under the guys at FDJ on their way to many victories and top performances in the WorldTour including Thibaut Pinot’s ride to 3rd in the Tour de France. In June this year Lapierre introduced their new version of the Aircode and I was lucky enough to get my hands on their SL700 model for a solid month of testing.
What you get
First up, this is a bike designed to be the best compromise between aerodynamics, rigidity and comfort but with the real emphasis being on the first two – it’s a racing machine through and through.
The aero style of the frame is clear from the first look with the Kamm-tail down tube and seat tube being obvious indicators along with the remarkable ‘wave-style’ top tube that really stands out.
The Kamm-tail tubing is a wing profile shape with a truncated trailing edge for maximum aero efficiency and the best possible crosswind performance thanks to its truncated trailing edge. The truncated edge is a nice touch as performance in wind situations other than head-on is a point sometimes forgotten with certain aero frames that are very efficient in no wind situations but less so when the wind comes from other directions. The top tube’s wave style design has also been designed for perfect airflow in all wind situations and was probably the biggest talking point for anyone that saw the bike during this test.
These are the obvious ‘aero’ styled points to the bike but there are a lot more:
* A narrow head tube and semi-integrated stem
* a new profiled fork with semi-integrated direct-mount front brake
* Integrated seat clamp
* Internal cable routing
All these aero features have surprisingly not come with the typical aero disadvantages – namely a too harsh ride and a big weight penalty. For 2016 the Aircode has been reworked and improved to be lighter than last year’s model with a saving of 90g on the frame and 20g on the fork. That brings the weight of the frame down to just under 1kg and makes it very easy with a nice set of wheels to get the overall bike under the UCI weight limit of 6.8kg with my XL sized model as equipped being just over 7.3kg.
As for the comfort of the frame I put that to the ultimate test by taking delivery of the bike the evening before an Alpine training camp with my amateur team and then deciding to leave my bike at home and instead take the Aircode SL700. It was a big call as I had three, 6 hour plus days in the Alps lined up but after one night ride of just 3km to get the saddle height right convinced me that this was far from just an aero machine – it was an all rounder and I wanted to ride it as much as possible in the coming month.
Yes, this could have been the shortest PEZ test on record at just 3 km as I have to admit I was already highly impressed. The first pedal strokes demonstrated its remarkable acceleration and my own street which could be described as a goat track proved that the ride was surprisingly comfortable. It was time to hit the Alps for more than 3km – more like 400km in 3 days of solid climbing to find out more.
Before we get further into the comfort and performance though let’s have a look at the equipment that you get with the Aircode SL700. First and foremost is the full Ultegra Di2 groupset. Brakes, crankset, derailleurs – everything Ultegra, no compromises. There’s not much to write about this groupset that hasn’t already been written – it performs faultlessly, precisely and has many that have previously bought Dura Ace Di2 wondering where their extra money went.
The Ultegra groupset is nicely complemented with a full range of Zipp accessories from the stem/bar combo to the seatpost and then to the Zipp 30 Course Aero wheels topped with Michelin Pro4 25C Service Course tires.
It’s clear from the list of equipment delivered on the Aircode SL700 that no corners have been cut. The Zipp Service Course handlebar stem combo was stiff, with a nice shape and you couldn’t ask for anymore. The Zipp carbon seatpost was also a quality item but one that I was surprised to see on this bike as being an ‘aero’ bike I was expecting to see a profiled post. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the standard or profiled seatpost argument and Lapierre seem to have erred on the standard seatpost side. The post in question is Zipp’s SL Speed carbon model and it’s attached to the frame by a very neatly integrated seat pin that sits underneath a rubber seal that keeps everything hidden and aero.
Adjusting the seatpin is something that is not always easy with aero frames but with this design it’s very simple and easy – providing that you have a torx key of course. Yes, the bolts on the seatpin, stem and handlebars are all torx (hexalobular socket) bits.
After hooking up my torque wrench with a torx bit and setting up the bike with the appropriate saddle height etc it was time to load the bike into the car and head to the Alps for some intensive testing – of both bike and body. Six hour plus days of painful climbing awaited me on a bike that I’d ridden a total of 3km on before the Alpine training camp – this was going to be interesting…
After arriving at the training camp and unloading the bike I came across the Aircode’s first negative – its popularity! The matte black/blue paintjob is a very good looking finish but tends to show up fingerprints quite easily and it was quickly covered in them as every teamate wanted to pick up the bike and touch it. I still hadn’t ridden the bike more than 3km at that point though so I prised their greasy fingers off the bike and hit the road.
The Aircode is designed as an aero frame and not their climbing frame (The Xelius is the model for that) so technically my Alpine training camp was probably not the best place to do my first real ride on the bike but my concerns were unfounded. This aero frame outclimbs many light weight machines that I’ve previously tested and I felt immediately at ease in the saddle. Acceleration on the flats is simply superb but that same acceleration also transferred very well when climbing.
The big factor in the acceleration of the bike would have to come down to its stiffness in the bottom bracket.
Written on the beefy BB surrounds of the Aircode are the figures – 155N.MM which is a massive figure for bottom bracket stiffness. Lacking a labroratory to test these claims I had to leave my decidely non-beefy legs do the testing and whether it was on the flats pushing a big gear or struggling to turn the smallest gear on a 15% grade the results were the same – this is one very responsive bike.
The Power Box is Lapierre’s name for its concept of optimum power and comfort in a bike where the lower section of the frame is intended for stiffness and the upper for comfort. This is achieved by its oversized tubes and maximum fibre lengths in the frame layup – speaking of which the fibres in the layup have been slightly reworked this year using 24 t, 30 t and 40 t to provide a better comfort but the same rigidity as last year’s model and all at a lighter weight.
Putting the power down through this so called Power Box is through a full Ultegra 11spd Di2 setup with Lapierre choosing to equip the SL700 with a 52/36, 11/28 combo. It’s a nice setup and is enough to cover pretty much any terrain and it had me passing all the mountains tackled as comfortably as I could and then bombing down the other side where another aspect of the bike really shone – its handling.
The geometry of the Aircode is certainly a ‘race’ geometry and is the same as the Xelius EFI except that the Aircode has an increased fork offset (50 mm instead of the 43 mm) for better handling. A racing geometry for sure, but not an uncomfortable one with the handling being precise and predictable. This handling is apparent from the very first corner and combined with the wide Michelin tires on board the bike inspired confidence. I normally don’t like to push loaner bikes too much during a test in case the worst happens but I often found myself absolutely flying down descents and overtaking all my buddies and yet I didn’t feel like I was pushing it too much…
Six hours into riding in the Alps on a completely foreign bike I was surprisingly still in decent shape and was able to tick off some more boxes with me being happy with the saddle, very happy with the bar/stem combo and highly impressed by the bike’s overall reactivity and handling. Rarely have I felt this comfortable and at ease on a bike from kilometer zero.
All Good Things Come To An End
With my Alpine training camp behind me it was time to head back to my home roads and put another solid three weeks of riding of the Aircode on test. The three weeks flew by and before I knew it it was time to ask myself the same questions I always do at the end of a long test. What were the postives? What were the negatives? and Would I buy it myself?
The positives of the Aircode were numerous with its responsiveness, handling and overall feel probably topping the list and it’s clear that this frame has huge potential. For me personally the negative of the Aircode SL700 could well be a positive for others – the wheels. The Zipp 30 wheels are a perfect allrounder with good acceleration, decent aero capabilities and excellent braking but at 1655g I feel that they hold back this WorldTour level frame. A high quality, lightweight wheelset would liven up the ride even more but they would also lighten the wallet further which of course takes me to the final question of whether I would buy it or not and that depends heavily on the all important price.
Being that I got my hands on this 2016 machine before it was even being sent out to the shops means that the prices for overseas markets such as the US aren’t yet finalized and even the Euro prices in my home market of France could change. For the moment the Aircode SL700 as tested is listed as retailing for €4,599 which certainly puts it in the competitive category. Do your sums with your currency convertors, hassle your local Lapierre dealer for more info – this is a bike that certainly deserves a long, hard look if you’re after a high quality, well specced race bike.
Interestingly for those that find that price out of their budget the Aircode is also available in two lesser specced models, the Aircode SL 500 at €2,499…
and the Aircode SL 600 FDJ MC at €2,999.
Or if you’ve got an even bigger piggybank and are looking for an even better ride you could check out the Aircode ‘Ultimate’ options, with further upgraded specs, paintjobs and more. If I hadn’t just bought a bike myself then I would be edging towards the SL700 as tested. It’s well equipped, accelerates and handles superbly and is a true allrounder that is at home on the flats as in the mountains. More info at www.lapierre-bikes.co.uk