Lapierre's latest Aircode has seen some tweaks and improvements over previous iterations which follow a mostly aero theme. Don't discount this SL 900 Ultimate model as being a full-on aggressive speed machine for the pros only; under all of those swoops and arcs is a bike that'll tackle a bit of everything, and do it all quickly.
Pros: Super sharp handling at speed, Zipp handlebar comfort
Cons: Creaking bottom bracket, twitchy handling at low speeds
It wasn't love at first ride with the Aircode for me. I was initially left feeling a little wanting.
They both responded to a damn good stamp on the pedals too; the harder you rode the more they felt like they were egging you on in a 'is that all you've got' kind of way.
The Lapierre has none of that, it's not about having its shirt undone to the navel with its medallion glinting in the sun like the Cipollini. It's more reserved but with ruthless efficiency and once you've adapted to that you're in for a very productive partnership, after all the numbers don't lie.
Taking the Aircode out on some of my favourite routes I was a good couple of miles per hour up on what I've been doing on the other bikes and it was windy and cold. Christmas was doing its best to relieve me of the last bit of form in my legs too.
The geometry of the frame is long and low which allows you to get into a pretty aero, flattish back position for the majority of the ride so you can literally sit there and just tap out the rhythm. You'll be amazed how quickly you can cover the miles.
With an all up weight of just 7k,g undulations in the terrain don't really faze the Aircode either so you can just flick around through a couple of gears and stay right on top of it.
Short, sharp hills are dispatched with similar ease as the bottom bracket and front end stiffness is immense. You can literally stand out of the saddle as you hit the incline and just power it up to the summit.
Read more: The best and fastest 2018 aero road bikes — wind-cheating bikes with an extra turn of speed
Even for a pro level race machine the Aircode SL Ultimate is an unbelievably quick handling bike. That can translate into twitchiness at slower speeds like working your way through town centre road layouts and traffic. You need to be smooth and relaxed with it; try and wrestle it and you'll be making constant tweaks this way and that.
Once the speed climbs the Lapierre comes alive. It's direct and millimetre-perfect through the bends with just a little bit of input from the rider whether that's a shift of weight or the direction of the handlebars.
Even when I had a front blow out at 45mph on a sweeping left hander the Aircode remained balanced and well under control. I managed to scrub the speed before the impending right hander and it was only the last 10mph that the front end started to squirrel around a little bit.
Once you learn how the Lapierre likes to be treated you realise just what a quick and efficient machine this is over a multitude of terrain. It's no one trick pony: wherever you take it it'll perform.
Comfort level is pretty good for what is a very stiff bike. It ain't no armchair ride but it's well within the tolerable limits I'd expect from a bike of this kind.
The majority of road buzz is removed and it's only the really big bumps that you feel. Because of its light weight it can leave the road if the speed is high enough and the impact big enough so that's something to keep in mind. I remember one descent where I passed a speed limit sign doing a fair bit more than the suggested 30mph and those yellow lines painted across the road gave me a bit of a scare.
On the whole though you aren't going to get beaten about excessively or unnecessarily.
Bike makers often send us the top end model in the range for testing and it's no different here; we've got the full bells and whistles.
For £6,999 the Aircode SL 900 Ultimate comes with all the dream kit. There's a full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset including direct mount brakes; Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL wheels; Zipp SL70 Aero Carbon handlebars; Zipp SL Speed Carbon stem; and Fizik Arione R1 saddle.
The groupset is the latest Dura-Ace Di2 R9150 setup and it is very good indeed. We'll be reviewing the groupset separately soon so for now I'll just give you a few of the highlights.
Each generation of this electronic groupset gets slimmer with all but the front mech virtually looking identical to the mechanical equivalent, but with wires instead of cables.
The front mech motor doesn't look anywhere as bulky as the original's and on a frame of this colour and chunkiness it actually blends in quite well.
The new shifters have a much more defined click of the buttons. The very light feel is the one thing I've disliked about electronic shifting in the past especially when you are wearing thick winter gloves. With these you know you've made the gear change.
The rear mech now uses the Shadow technology from Shimano's off-road systems. The main body is slimmer and sits further under the chainstay than the mechs found on 105 and down.
That gives the Dura-Ace mech a strange look, almost like it has a long cage. There are some miniscule aero advantages to be had but more importantly the mech is less likely to be damaged if the bike falls onto the driveside.
The 900 comes with a 52/36 chainset and an 11-28 cassette, a suitable range of gears for the fast riding the Lapierre encourages. With the light weight of the whole bike I never found myself over geared on the steep hills; in fact the Ultimate responded quite well to climbing out of the saddle.
Direct mount brakes have been around for a few years but not many manufacturers have really embraced them. They are basically the same as your normal dual pivot brakes but instead of one central bolt holding them to the frame there are two, one either side attaching both sections of the brake to the frame.
There's an improvement in brake stiffness and feel that you can detect if you ride the two different setups side by side. Dura-Ace calipers are always impressive these latest iterations are no different. There is loads of power on offer and a good degree of modulation too. The Swissstop Yellow pads worked excellently with the carbon fibre rims of the Mavic wheels. Whether wet or dry, it was pretty much like riding an alloy rimmed wheel.
Mat found the same thing here when he reviewed the Cosmic Pro Carbon SL C wheelset back in 2016. It's worth reading that review if you're in the market for some new carbon hoops.
At around £1,500 the wheels take up a big chunk of the budget but their 40mm deep rims and overall 1,433g weight make them an ideal choice for a bike with the Lapierre's all-rounder sort of attitude.
You get a small amount of aero advantage from the rims but they also aren't so deep that you get blown around in strong winds. I used them when Storm Eleanor came to visit with little issues.
I've not had the greatest of history with Mavic's own brand tyres. In the past I've found them to have poor wet weather grip and rubbish puncture-resistance but these Yksions have been absolutely fine in all weathers, apart from that blow out when I nicked the edge of a stone mid-bend.
They are nominally 25mm wide, which is the narrowest width Mavic recommend with these rims.
The Zipp cockpit also adds to the bling list especially with those SL 70 Aero handlebars. The wing-shaped tops are a perfect depth giving you a big platform to rest your palms on plus the aerofoil shape sits comfortably in your grip.
The downside is that you can't fit any accessories to the bars like computer mounts or lights, if they need a round bar to clamp on.
The Zipp carbon stem is a chunky piece of kit and really stiff to boot.
Lapierre provides its own seatpost to fit the oval seat tube and it includes an elastomer bumper just beneath the saddle clamp. It's a firm rubber that allows just the tiniest of movement but I'd say that's plenty. A soggy feel to the Aircode's rear end would just feel at odds with the front.
No expense has been spared on the saddle either: it's Fizik's top end Arione R1. I always find it a great saddle shape and thanks to the carbon rails perfectly comfortable too.
The SL 900 Ultimate's price isn't actually that extreme considering the finishing kit. There are plenty of other more affordable models in the lineup starting with a non-Ultimate version, the SL 600. It uses a full Shimano Ultegra groupset and Mavic Cosmic wheels for £2,999.
Frame and fork
The Aircode has taken quite a few of its design cues from Lapierre's Aerostorm time trial bike to create a bike that is more efficient out on the road.
The headtube has an almost hourglass profile when looked at from the front. Its waist is sucked in as it leaves the 1 1/4-inch bottom headset bearings and then flares out again for the 1 1/8-inch ones at the top. The headtube finishes lower than the top tube which then allows you to effectively slam the stem down to the same level as the top of the top tube if you so desire. A custom headset spacer that sits snuggly over the top of the bearings makes this possible.
The fork has little aero tabs beneath the arms of the brake calipers which the wind tunnel or computer has no doubt shown to help air move around the front end cleanly, and the fork has been oversized and shaped to flow into the dropped bottom edge of the down tube. The legs of the fork are bowed outwards, which is not something I've seen before.
The top tube is triangular as it leaves the headtube with rounded edges before it morphs its way into a more oval shape at the rear, then some more aero shaping takes place at the seat tube junction to allow it fill in the gap around the rear wheel.
Both the down tube and seat tube increase in size where they meet to create the huge bottom bracket section. This is the part which gives the Lapierre its high level of stiffness.
However, Lapierre have gone for a PressFit bottom bracket and the Aircode has seen a lot of rain, salt mud and even snow over the test period which has resulted in some creaking around the bearing cups.
The chainstays themselves are massive to resist the forces coming from the pedals but the whole rear end looks as though there is room for a 28mm tyre if you want that option.
The frame has provision for internal routing to suit either mechanical or electronic groupsets. The unused downtube entry port is blanked off with a smooth insert to give a tidy look.
Underneath the bottom bracket shell is what Lapierre call their Trapdoor technology. It's a cover that you can unbolt and gain access to the Di2 battery should you need to. It does keep everything out the way of the elements though.
The top of the range model is very rarely the most cost-effective but even with that in mind this 900 SL Ultimate build stacks up well against other aero bikes.
The Dura-Ace Di2 equipped Merida Reacto Disc Team E, for example, is a cool £9,500. Mat certainly liked it and it shares a lot of the features with the Aircode: carbon cockpit, deep section wheels and even the elastomer in the seatpost.
Then there is the new Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6 that also scored very highly. Di2 equipped as well it has a price of £8,500.
After the amount of miles I've ridden on the Lapierre I'd say it deserves to be in the company of these two excellent bikes which does go to show how good the price is even if, in the common non-cyclist's exclamation, you could get a car for that.
In conclusion, the Aircode is an excellent bike just as long as you don't get too hung up on the whole aero thing. If it's a blisteringly fast, seat-of-your-pants ride that you want, this probably isn't quite the bike for you, but it is still very quick and extremely easy to live with provided you've got the experience to be able to cope with that fast handling.
Doesn't feel the fastest aero bike out there but the clock doesn't lie; an easy-to-live-with all-rounder
road.cc test report
Make and model: Lapierre Aircode SL 900 Ultimate
Size tested: Large
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame : AIRCODE SL CARBON
Fork : AIRCODE 100% CARBON
Headset : FSA 1"1/8 - 1"1/4 ORBIT C-33 44E
Bottom bracket : SHIMANO PRESSFIT SMBB9241B
Crankset : SHIMANO DURA-ACE FC-R9100, 52X36T 170mm(XS,S) 172.5mm(M) 175mm(L,XL)
Stem : ZIPP SL SPEED CARBON B1 318 6° 31.8mm 90mm (XS,S) 100mm (M) 110mm (L) 120mm (XL)
Seatpost : LAPIERRE AEROFLEX CARBON
Handlebar : ZIPP SL70 AERO CARBON 40cm (XS) 42cm (S,M,L) 44cm (XL)
Front derailleur : SHIMANO DURA-ACE Di2 FD-R9150F BRAZED, ELECTRONIC SHIFT
Rear derailleur : SHIMANO DURA-ACE Di2 RD-R9150SS, 11s ELECTRONIC SHIFT
Brakes : SHIMANO DURA-ACE BR-R9110 DIRECT MOUNT
Shifters : SHIMANO DURA-ACE Di2 ST-R9150 ELECTRONIC SHIFT
Saddle : FIZIK ARIONE R1
Wheel : MAVIC COSMIC PRO CARBON SL C WTS
Sprocket : SHIMANO DURA-ACE R9100 11s 11-28T
Tyres : MAVIC YKSION PRO UST SSC 25
Tell us what the bike is for
Its ultralight, 100% carbon frame provides enhanced stiffness and precision characteristics. Associated with the Powerbox technology, this bike delivers top-rated efficiency on the open road. The profile of Kamm Tail tubes (with truncated flared edges) and NACA tubes (imported from the aeronautics industry) endows the frame with all the advantages of a conventional tapered tube, while its back 'section' creates a virtual surface that serves to significantly reduce drag forces.
Aircode SL 900 Ultimate demonstrates incredible stability, which proves to be ideal for both punchers and sprinters. Equipped with an aerodynamic Lapierre seat post made of carbon, for reduced weight, and a new set of Zipp Aero handlebars, integrating the cable system, nothing has been left to chance regarding either aerodynamics or aesthetics. The 100% carbon fork mount incorporates a Direct Mount brake for maximum braking stiffness and power.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frame looks very well made and there aren't any rough edges to be found under the covers around the seatpost, headset or Trapdoor entrance.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame and fork are both manufactured from carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
For the length of head tube is actually quite low so you need to be pretty flexible to get the most out of the position without adding loads of stem spacers.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Reach on the large gives us a figure of 393mm and stack of 560mm which leaves a ratio of 1.42, pretty normal for a pro level race machine.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, relatively for such a stiff bike.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The front end and main triangle is very stiff which is compensated for by the seatpost and it's rubber elastomer.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Very lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
This bike has some of the quickest handling I've known even for a race bike.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Zipp handlebars have a little bit of flex at the hoods which gives relief from road buzz.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
For their light weight the Mavic wheels are very stiff.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels again come to the rescue here. Quick rolling and light makes them ideal for any terrain.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The latest version of Dura Ace Di2 is great. The buttons give more feedback that a gear has been selected plus every component just works great.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so
The Mavic Cosmics are very good indeed providing a balance of light weight and stiffness. Wet and dry braking on the carbon rims though is absolutely excellent.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
The first Mavic tyres I've been reasonably impressed with. Puncture resistance was better than other models and grip was acceptable too.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
I absolutely love the Zipp SL 70 Aero bars for their shape and comfort plus the same company's stem offers loads of stiffness.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Against the competition the Aircode offers good value for money and being based around a very impressive frameset the Lapierre offers a great ride and all round performance.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.