Compare-O Bottom Line: Love it or hate it, electronic suspension cometh and Lapierre strikes first with bold, new Spicy 527

27.5 Enduro Enduro Compare-O 2014

This article is part of the Mtbr’s Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here–

Imagine your bike comes with a monkey. Say a French monkey we’ll call Pierre, who rides along inside your front triangle every time you go mountain biking. But instead of eating bananas and flinging poo, Pierre is a helpful little guy with a job to do. He’s a one-pound suspension monkey who keeps his eyes on the trail conditions then adjusts your shock accordingly.

Rock garden upcoming? No problem—Pierre reaches back to your rear shock and opens it up. After rattling through, and just as you’re settling the bike down, Pierre sees a short steep hill upcoming. With the flip of the switch, he locks-out the rear shock, and instead of inch-worming your way up, the bike climbs like a hardtail. All the while, you concentrate on your line, your shifting, and your effort, secure in the knowledge that Pierre’s got your back.

The scenario repeats itself over-and-over—through the crunchy and the smooth, up short, steep pitches, and down wide-open fire roads. On square-edge bumps, washboards, drops and jumps—no matter what you’re riding—Pierre makes sure the suspension is in the optimum setting.

And while the suspension monkey is no more real than target=”blank”>the Trunk Monkey, Lapierre’s brave new electronic:intellegence—or e:i—electronically-controlled shock system sort of acts like one. Co-developed by the French bike-maker and RockShox, e:i uses a series of sensors—one under the stem cap, one on the fork, and a cadence sensor, along with speed data—to divine what forces the bike is experiencing then quickly adjusts shock damping to accommodate.

Despite the fact that similar systems are widely used in motorsports, there’s significant resistance to them for bikes as evident in the comments to our First Look article, not to mention our test riders aversion to even ride the bike.

“It looked like a cool bike, but the electronics are a bit much,” said one test rider. “It seems like we’ve seen this before from Cannondale and K2…good in theory, but not great in reality.”

And while that’s a point-taken, comparing the e:i system to what was on the K2 back-in-the-day is like comparing an iPhone to a Newton. Just because it didn’t work very well then, doesn’t mean the idea was bad. As we see with nearly every kind of technology-based consumer good, there’s a tipping point at which technology catches up becomes truly feasibility. Which brings up the pertinent question—how close is e:i to that tipping point and should you invest in it now?

We’ll get to that, but first let’s see what our test crew thought of the Spicy’s analog aspects.

The Lapierre Spicy 527 uses a Horst-link-style suspension the company calls OST+ to manage the bike’s 150mm of rear travel.

The 411 on Spicy

For several years now, Lapierre, along with several other European manufacturers have been building bikes that employ elements of the Horst-link suspension—an efficient four-bar link design pioneered by former Austrian motorcycle racer-turned-designer Horst Leitner of AMP Research. Specialized bought the US patents to the design in the late 1990’s to protect their FSR platform around them while effectively blocking others—with the exception of a few licensees—from selling Horst-link bikes in the States. With the patent now expired we’re starting to see more such designs enter the US marketplace, and Lapierre brings a very good version to the table. It should be noted that Lapierre calls its OST+ (Optimized Suspension Technology) design a virtual pivot point system, but the placement of chainstay pivots below and in front of the rear axle is one of the primary design attributes of the Horst patent.

As many Specialized riders will tell you, the Horst-link design balances pedaling inputs against suspension movement extremely well, and eliminates brake jack—an Achilles heel for many otherwise good designs that essentially locks-out, or stiffens the rear suspension movement under braking. Characteristically, we found the Spicy’s suspension efficient and responsive under all circumstances—from heavy braking events to wide-open runs.

A pair of massive pivot bearings mates the Spicy 527’s equally beefy seatstays and chainstays, helping to keep the rear end laterally stiff.

“The Lapierre really had a smooth, plush suspension feel,” said one test rider. “I went into a rock garden way too hot and grabbed a fistful of rear brake. Even so, the rear end stayed active and pretty much saved my bacon when I did everything wrong.”

A pair of large pivot bearings are responsible for that smooth movement, and work with the bike’s massive chainstays and seatstays to virtually eliminate side-to-side flex, which had been a criticism of similar designs in the past.

Heel strikes were not an issue for this rider whose feet naturally toe-in, and who wears relatively slim XC-style shoes. Riders with skate-style shoes and/or a tendency to toe-in clicked one or both stays on every pedal stroke.

“I could really feel the lateral stiffness of the rear end. It was great for cornering, carving, and tracking,” said one reviewer. “The beefy stays and big pivots really do a great job keeping the rear wheel centered.”

The one downside to the burly stays was heel clearance. Many riders complained of heel strikes and our tape measure revealed that both the chain and seatstays are extremely wide on our pre-production test bike. A call to Lapierre confirmed that other people are experiencing the issue as well, and that the company had already slimmed-down the chainstays on production bikes by 15mm. Seatstays are also being slimmed down and will be a running change, with Lapierre making the revised version available to riders having significant interference issues with the originals.

That said, some riders had no clearance problems whatsoever. This issue illustrates another reason why you should demo or test ride any bike you’re considering for purchase.

Spicy Muy Caliente on the Downhills

The long-legged Spicy is aimed squarely at the burlier side of enduro as evidenced by its heavy-duty construction and all-mountain pedigree. This Euro-enduro approach makes for a confident downhiller, that swallows rocks and G-outs with aplomb.

“The Spicy ate up the downhills whether you chose to pick your way through, or just point-and-shoot,” claimed one reviewer. “The 27.5-inch wheels made 150mm of travel seem like more, and the Lapierre felt like a mini DH bike and was a scream to let rip.”

The Spicy’s gravity acumen is perhaps not a surprise given the design input of DH legend Nicolas Vouilloz and Lapierre’s Gravity Republic downhill and enduro teams, who influenced  the bike’s confident stance, big Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.35-inch tires and slack 66.5-degree head tube angle.

Lapierre leveraged gravity GOAT Nicolas Vouilloz and its Enduro World Series team—the Lapierre Gravity Republic—to develop the Spicy enduro bike line. Photo by Matt Wragg/Enduro World Series.

The Lapierre Spicy likes to be ridden hard, and its low 12.25-inch bottom bracket contributes to its easy-to-toss personality. Whereas some of the bikes in our test—particularly the 29ers—require a little telegraphing, the Spicy can angle in late and still exit a turn first. Whether railing or sliding the rear end, the Lapierre’s nimble attitude makes it playful, quick and fun, in and out of the corners.

Continue to Page 2 for more on the Lapierre Spicy 527 and full photo gallery »

About the author: Don Palermini

Chicago-born Don Palermini became a cycling-based life-form in the sixth grade after completing a family road bike tour of his home state. Three years later he bought his first mountain bike to help mitigate the city's pothole-strewn streets, and began exploring the region's unpaved roads and trails. Those rides sparked a much larger journey which includes all manner of bike racing, commuting, on- and off-road bike advocacy, and a 20-plus-year marketing career in the cycling industry that landed him at his current gig with Santa Cruz bicycles. Now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, his four favorite words in the English language are "breakfast served all day," together in that order.

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  • Andry says:

    Thanks for the review. Beautiful bike indeed.
    The BB height seems too low at 12.25in. Can you confirm it?

  • Tad says:

    Do you not like the Fox 34 compared to say a Pike or is the Fox 34 just not a good match for the rear suspension on the Spicy?

  • GN says:

    Any company that doesn’t send its $8-$10k bike to be reviewed gets dinged for weight, yet I haven’t seen to many sub $5k 150mm bikes under 30lbs. Aluminum Bronson’s, SB66’s, etc with “low end” builds are all coming in around 30lbs and 80% of the weight difference is in the components, not the frames.

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