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Nico Vouilloz’s Lapierre XR Team

| Blog, Mountain Biking Uk | 28/06/2012 11:14am

Ric rides the Greatest Of All Time’s new 29er

Nico Vouilloz' Lapierre XR Team

I’m always nervous the night before interviewing a big name. Strangely though, as I sat in the car park at Bristol’s Leigh Woods, I got that tingly feeling waiting for a bike. A bike – an inanimate object that couldn’t throw a strop, launch a drink in my face, storm out and get me sacked…

This wasn’t ‘just’ a bike, though – it was Nico Vouilloz’ personal Lapierre XR Team. I grew up pawing through MBUK during the Nineties, a period dominated by Nico. Ten world championship wins between 1992 and 2002 only tells a fraction of his incredible story, though. What drove Nico were the details – he carried a suspension dyno with him to every race, and every run was a stepping stone to the next tiny fettle that would chip a fraction of a second off of the clock.

His new XR Team, one of only two examples in the world, now sits in front of me. Swinging a leg over, I realise that it’s smaller than it looks. The 29in wheels and lengthy wheelbase let my gangly frame off with it however and once I’ve swapped the brakes over and squeezed some additional pressure into the rear shock (sorry, Nico) we set off.

The chunky foam Ritchey grips aren’t for me but set the tone of the bike – weight and function are paramount. The Formula brake levers are mismatched too (one alloy, one carbon) but the man himself later reassures me via email that this is just a temporary measure as the result of a crash.

Likewise, his one-piece (including folded rails) saddle weighs in at a staggering 60g.

The chunky Fox Racing Shox CTD remote is a definite highlight. It’s the first time I’ve got hands-on with the system which allows the rider to select three separate modes for front and rear shocks (Climbing, Trail and Descent).

Also notable from the off is the dinky 30t chainring and custom carbon fibre chain guide. Nico had apparently raced the bike in a local XC race with some steep sections which required the smaller cog but admits to using smaller rings on 29ers to mimic his preferred 38T on a 26in.

The guide was handcrafted by the man himself to accommodate the smaller ring but he’s since received an e*thirteen number he’s planning on fitting.

On the trail, the XR Team’s ride was a bit like getting Sunday Lunch trouser-loosening levels of fullness after eating a salad. Despite the ingredients all looking like they’d add up to a twitchy, XC racer whippet, the feel was far more planted trail machine.

Nico’s custom carbon fibre chainguide

Carving through the numerous berms of Leigh Woods and Ashton Court, it oozed confidence. When loading the inside of the tyre, the bike audibly bit into the turns and shot out the other side ready for more. The Fox CTD system felt like nudging on your favourite track in the car just before a familiar fast section of road – even with little fettling I instantly ‘got’ it.

The back end, complete with carefully tuned compliance courtesy of the seat-stays felt controlled and never out of it’s depth. The bikes minimal weight 27lb weight most noticeable when get back on the pedals out of the turns and pushing hard into climbs.

Returning to the vans after an hour spent on the XR Team, I was grinning like a French Socialist after this year’s election. There aren’t many people who can say that they’ve ridden Nico’s bike, and I just had. It was an intoxicating combination of being in the presence of a personal bike belonging to one of the greatest racers of all time whilst also being swept along with an obviously really capable and accessible suspension platform.

This wasn’t like climbing aboard Rossi’s Ducati, which I’d feared it might be. There were no cutting edge, mere mortal-baffling tricks or settings. It was probably the easiest hours ride the XR Team had ever dealt with and I doubt I ever troubled it’s true capabilities but that said, I was doing my best and got rewarded with a hard-charging, keenness and, dare I say, playfulness that I honestly wasn’t expecting from either the sum of the parts or the illustrious pedigree.

The XR will be available in 529 (£2,699.99), 729 (£3,499.99) and Team (£5,199) models that will all use the same carbon fibre frame (Nico trialled an alloy version but deemed it too heavy). UK importers Hotlines Europe are expecting stock in the next few weeks.

Get MBUK 279 for a full Super Bike feature – on sale tomorrow! And check out the full gallery of photos of Nico’s Lapierre XR Team on BikeRadar.com!

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