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Lapierre Pulsium 900 Ultimate 2018 endurance bike – first ride review

Lapierre's new, stiffer Pulsium endurance bike attempts to strike the balance between performance and comfort

We’re always interested when the likes of Lapierre launch a new bike. In the French brand’s case, it’s the family-run ethos of a business which has proudly been tied to the FDJ WorldTour team since 2002 that we find most intriguing.

On the one hand, despite being owned by the Accell Group alongside other brands including Raleigh, Van Nicholas and Diamondback, Lapierre retains something of its comforting French authenticity, and on the other you have an operation concerned with providing the very best bikes to both its pro athletes and wider clientele. In fact, it’s the latter the Dijon-based brand is keen to stress the most when we become among the first people to ride the new Pulsium.

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As we told you last week, the Pulsium has received an overhaul, with input from Arnaud Demare, a top ten finisher at Paris-Roubaix, designed to give the race endurance machine more bite to accompany the distinctive looks and compliant ride of the original, first introduced in 2015.

The Lapierre Pulsium looks to strike the balance between comfort and performance (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

At the launch, we’re told the updated look of the bike, which now bears a closer resemblance to the Xelius race bike, runs more than skin deep, with stiffness bolstered through an overhauled Powerbox area (that’s the chainstays, downtube and headtube area to you and me).

Moreover, Remi Gribaudo, Lapierre’s engineering head honcho, stresses the Pulsium is significantly stiffer and therefore more responsive than its predecessor. Numbers quoted are a “40% improvement in the bottom bracket, 25% in the chainstays and 20% in the headtube.”  

He also explains the fleet of bikes made available for us journalists at the launch are the ‘Ultimate’ versions that the pros use, which just in case you haven’t read our launch story, means that they’re actually heavier than the standard models. That’s owing to the requirement for extra material to provide additional race-worthy stiffness, while weight isn’t the be all and end all for an endurance bike like this, according to Lapierre.

Côte d’Azur

The place for our first rendezvous with the 2018 Pulsium is in Frejus on the Cote d’Azur, where smooth coastal roads are interspersed with smaller, more rough-and-ready country lanes. It’s certainly not the Carrefour de l’Arbre, but it’s enough to get a initial flavour of the bike’s ability to deaden the everyday buzz and bluster you might get from UK roads.

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With my bike equipped with the latest Shimano Dura-Ace R9120 Di2 groupset, I know what I’m riding is very similar to the machines used by the FDJ team at the Classics, give or take a 28c tub here and a sponsor-pleasing wheelset there (FDJ’s bikes are kitted out with Shimano wheels, whereas mine has Mavic hoops). With the Pulsium’s resemblance to the Xelius, I’m hoping for plenty of punch to go with the compliance expected of an endurance bike.

That compliance previously came from the Shock-Absorption Technology (or SAT) elastomer inserts set within the distinctive separated toptube-seattube junction. Lapierre has since developed the tech into a one-piece system, with the intention of improving compliance further while improving the feel of the road beneath the rider.

While I didn’t ride the original Pulsium, my first impression indicates that this second generation SAT technology has done nothing to detract from the sheer calmness of the ride when faced with potholes and broken road surfaces, while remaining informative. Instinctively I know how much grip I have underneath me through the Fizik Aliante saddle, and I can trust the bike to iron out the wrinkles when rolling over the rough stuff.

As well as the black/grey bike ridden by Ashley, the Pulsium will be available in this stunning blue, red and white team finish (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

Jacked up stiffness

Winding through vineyards and rolling over the undulations common in this part of the world, we’re joined on the ride by Rudy Molard, one of the FDJ team to have just come off the Giro. He’s in a playful mood and has a few digs and, as I try to hang onto the pro rider’s wheel, there’s no lack of responsiveness or directness from the bottom bracket area on the Pulsium, that much is clear.

Instead, it’s punchy and responsive as we dart up short rises in the road, while the tidily integrated front end is composed and readily able to respond to the lightest of touches. Out of the saddle, the Pulsium feels almost a dead ringer for a Xelius, while sat down and pumping away there’s a real air of serenity despite the heart rate numbers I’m seeing on my Garmin.

Molard drops back and suggests we put in a dig to bridge the gap to some of the other riders from our group. We both rise and hit the gas in a bid for the summit – but he’s off up the road like a scalded cat, leaving my legs fulls of lactic acid. I should train more and I might be able to do the Pulsium more justice – but this is a bike designed for the pros, after all.

Lapierre Pulsium 2018 road bike (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)
Lapierre Pulsium 2018 road bike (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)
Lapierre Pulsium 2018 road bike (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

Confident and direct handling

Back down the other side, the sweeping and cambered bends give the opportunity to really bank the Pulsium into the corners, testing the limits of the grip afforded by the (in my opinion) solid-if-unspectacular Mavic tyre setup. I’m struck by the fact that although I’d prefer a set of Michelin Power Competitions or Continental GP4000 IIs on my excellent Ksyrium Pro Carbon hoops, I can really trust the frame to sit planted and reliably tell me when I’m reaching the limits of adhesion.

The Pulsium tracks straight and true, while shifts in weight are easy to make thanks to the lightweight toptube, no doubt contributing to the already impressive climbing ability. There’s not a hint of undue isolation from the road and when my skill (read: bravery) fails and I hit the brakes to bring myself back from the edge, the chassis is composed and stable.

The front end, albeit with rake increased and wheelbase lengthened slightly over the Xelius owing to the endurance geometry, feels sharp and tactile, ready to translate subtle inputs into the road. When those inputs become less subtle, the Pulsium still takes it in its stride.

The Pulsium’s endurance geometry ensures the handling is confidence-inspiring, while remaining direct and responsive (Pic: Jean-Luc Armand)

And, when the speed ramps up as we descend off the hillside down an open sweeping section, it’s only the limitation of the compact chainset born of the need to play to the endurance market that’s really putting a halt on things. I want to go quicker than the 68.4km/h top speed recorded on my Strava, but it’s clear that our other chaperone, ex-Finnish national champ-turned-FDJ directeur sportif Jussi Veikkanen, can’t get much more out of it either (he tops out at 71.6km/h), limited by the amount of teeth on his chainrings too.

However, it’s obvious to me that there’s untapped race potential in the Pulsium in my hands. Make no mistake – the bike barely breaks sweat under the duress of a semi-competent rider like myself, while our first ride displays hints of what it can really do under the likes of Demare and the other FDJ Classics specialists.

We’ll have the chance to test the 2018 Lapierre Pulsium on home roads back in the UK but, for now, first impressions suggest this is an impressive race-focused endurance machine which attempts to hit the sweetspot between performance and comfort. A full test will further reveal just how adept it is at handling the rough stuff.

Website: Lapierre Bikes


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