Words and photos: Dave Arthur
Electronic suspension, 29in wheels, 120mm travel and a carbon frame makes Lapierre Zesty TR 729 a fast and very capable lightweight trail bike.
Lapierre’s Zesty has long been a favourite of UK trail riders and it’s matured well over the years. I’ve always found them nothing but hugely entertaining to ride. 2014 though heralded some big updates for the brand, new wheelsizes are in with the Zesty now available with 29in wheels and optional electronic suspension.
In a nutshell, the Zesty TR 729 is a blisteringly fast trail bike. It rips around trail centres, its favoured stomping ground, with authority and excellent handling manners. The carbon fibre frame provides plenty of stiffness - changes of direction are carried out with laser accuracy. The fit and shape of the size large bike feels good, with a shorter stem and wider bars replacing the stock setup.
Likes: Great suspension performance, E:i works really well, carbon frame is light and stiff, big wheels are fast
Dislikes: Needs a beefier fork like a 34 or Pike, E:i doesn’t make you any faster, expensive, no dropper post, poor tyre choice
Electronic suspension - is this the future?
The big news on this bike is the E:i (Electronic Intelligence), which the French company developed in collaboration with RockShox. Through an array of sensors, an onboard computer dynamically adjusts the low-speed compression shock settings to suit the terrain. It locks out on smooth stuff and opens up when the ground gets bumpy, and provides platform for everything else.
At this point you might be feeling a bit cynical. I’ll admit I was when I first got the bike. Keen to see if it really worked I immediately drove down to Cwmcarn and fired the Zesty around a lap of the Twrch Trail. This trail has a bit of everything, rocky steep climbs, smoother trails and faster flowing descents, it’s a good test of a trail bike.
And here’s the thing, it actually works. It’s not just a fancy gizmo, I honestly came away from the first ride impressed. It’s hard to fault, it does actually achieve what it sets out to do. You can simply ride the bike without worrying about what suspension setting you’re in, the E:i takes care of that for you, so you can get on and enjoy the ride. It’s pretty compelling.
E:i uses a speed sensor on the front wheel and one on the fork, and a cadence sensor on the bottom bracket, and processes that data to decide whether the rear shock needs to be open, platform or locked. Lapierre claim it can adjust exceedingly quickly to terrain changes, just one hundredth of a second in fact - that’s quicker than you can reach down to the shock and flick the lever, even if you think you’re a bit of a Clint Eastwood on the draw.
The system provides several auto settings with differing sensitivity levels, and you can override it as well. If you’re the sort of riding that likes to always be in the optimum suspension setting on rapidly varying terrain, the system is really appealing.
The changes between settings is so smooth that you really don’t notice it doing its thing. You can certainly hear the electro servo-motor that drives the Monarch twitching as you’re riding. Ignore it and continue riding, and you don’t really notice it doing its thing. What you do notice, more so on the sort of terrain that is quickly and constantly changing nature, is you always feel like the bike is in the best setting.
It opens when you want it to on the high speed descents, firms up on the pedally climbs, and finds a suitable setting for everything in between. It’s quite a firm suspension setting, there’s very little wallow or bobbing compared to previous Lapierre bikes.
Fortunately underneath the electronic blanket there is a really well composed suspension platform that I found even in the open setting is balanced and pedals up the climbs well. There’s loads of traction on the rootiest of climbs, and it’s well behaved on the way back down. It’s not as playful as previous Zesty models, but it’s more efficient and fast as a result.
The head unit, as well as display the suspension mode, also acts as a regular cycling computer, displaying speed and distance travelled among other units. A slim remote control panel lets you dial through the settings without having to take a hand of the handlebar.
I had a few issues. The system relies on a very close position of the front wheel sensor to the spoke-mounted magnet. Not close enough and the head unit would fail to register the sensors. It was frustrating at first but once I had identified the problem, it was easy to fix. Still, it was something I find I had to check before each ride.
Otherwise reliability was superb. I rode the bike through some pretty shocking weather and the system kept working, and even coped with the odd jetwash, so it’s clearly very well sealed. Battery life is a claimed 25-hours, I never ran it out, opting to charge it regularly instead. That’s really easy to do, the battery can be removed from the frame and you can a charge cradle to plug into the mains.
With bikes getting ever more complex and bristling with dials and levers, E:i offers simplicity, but it does so by introducing a whole other level of technology. But was I any faster around the trail as a result? Probably not, and that’s the crux of the matter here. The technology comes at a price, and it’s not necessarily going to make you much faster than the regular bike.
The bike in this spec costs a £4,199. That’s £450 extra over the regular non-E:i version, which costs £3,749. Both get the same carbon frame and parts, but the cheaper of the two gets a Fox CTD shock rather than the Monarch on this bike.
Carbon frame and OST+ suspension
The frame features a carbon front triangle with internal routing for the gear cables and rear brake hose. An aluminium swingarm features a chainstay pivot and drives the rear shock via a top tube mounted rocker linkage. You can fit a front mech, or chainguide, but the SRAM 1x chainset leaves it redundant.
The electronic wizardry can only be as good as the suspension it’s controlling, and fortunately the Lapierre suspension is really very good. They’ve been honing their OST+ for many years and it’s got better with age.
OST+ is essentially a four-bar suspension configuration with a virtual pivot location just ahead and above of the bottom bracket, inline with the down tube. The design works well to reduce feedback when you’re pedalling provided well behaved suspension.
You get 120mm rear wheel travel with a RockShox Monarch, which is one of the best currently available, with great damping and solid durability. It’s partnered on this bike with a Fox 32 Float CTD Performance fork up front, with a 15mm bolt-thru axle.
The fork works excellently, but at times I was lusting after a more stout fork, such as a bigger legged Fox 34. A lot of the time the 32 is just fine, but with the speeds easily achievable of the bike you can find yourself getting deep into situations that the 32 just can’t cope with. That’s not a complaint of the fork, it’s simply embarrassed by the brilliant rear suspension.
Geometry of the size large test bike includes a 69 degree head angle and 74 seat, 620mm top tube, 120mm head tube, 1158mm chainstays and 446mm chainstays. They offer four sizes from S to XL. The 35mm bottom bracket is quite low and I did notice I had to be careful with my pedal position through some corners, but that’s a small price to pay for the stability the low stance provides.
Decent build kit but no dropper post
SRAM’s X01 groupset is a real highlight. Its performance isn’t much shy of the company’s top-end XX1 setup, but it’s a fair bit cheaper. It’s a 1x11 setup and despite the lack of chainguide, it never dropped the chain once. The 30t chainring felt a bit undergeared sometimes, but the 10-42t cassette provided a huge range of gears, enough for my local trails. There’s the trademark carbon fibre guard protecting the rear mech in the event of a crash.
The bike comes with an Easton EA70 90mm stem and Funn Nico Vouilloz Signature 720mm handlebar, but the test bike arrived with a shorter stem and wider handlebar. And it was all the better for it, opening up its capability on faster trails and through the twisty stuff.
Easton also supply their EA70 XCT wheels. They’re a durable wheelset with a reasonable weight and good stiffness. They’re tubeless compatible so it would be real easy to swap the tubes for some sealant.
Schwalbe’s popular Nobby Nic tyres, in 2.25in width with Snake Skin puncture protection, are an adept tyre with good fast rolling speeds. They’re tubeless-ready too so you’re only a set of tubeless valves away from ditching the inner tubes.. While the tyres are perfectly happy in the dry, they struggle on the damp and mud, and don’t cope too well in really rocky situations. Schwalbe have redesigned the Nobby Nic for 2015 so hopefully they’ve addressed some of these issues.
Formula’s R1S brakes provide decent braking performance, the lever is a nice shape, but they feel a bit wooden compared to other brakes on the market, and can be prone to lever travel when the heat builds up.
You don’t get a dropper post which on a £4k bike does seem out of place really, clearly adding the electronic kit has squeezed the price too much to find a bit more for a dropper post, which is a shame as this bike does benefit from one.
It’s a brilliant do-everything trail bike, fast enough to indulge the racer in you but yet doesn’t mind getting a bit aggro now and again. The rolling speed of the big wheels are well complemented with the carbon frame providing impressive stiffness and low weight, and it’s well specced for the money. I’d like to see a version with a 140mm 34 fork or Pike to better live up to it’s TR moniker.
I was hugely impressed with the E:i suspension. It does work really well most of the time, but there were still occasions when it didn’t feel smart enough. It’s durable and survived some manky weather. But it isn’t quite clever enough to provide the right settings 100% of the time, but 95% of the time it’s spot on. Most riders will find the systems provides great performance, you really can forget about it, but more demanding riders may struggle to relinquish control to the computer.
Ultimately, you pay a hefty extra for the clever gadgetry but there isn’t enough payback in performance to make it worth buying over the regular, non-E:i, model. I’d buy the regular bike and use the money saved to buy a dropper post and some better tyres. Or take a closer look at the Specialized Camber 29er Expert I tested previously.
Price: £3,749.99 without E:i; £4,199.99 w/E:i
Sizes: S/M/L/XL (we tested the Large size, which comes up a tad smaller than some brands’ bikes and fits a 5"10′ rider well)