Electronic mountain bike suspensions may sound convoluted and unnecessary, but the French manufacturer proves that the tech is here to stay.
Electronics are slowly but surely creeping into mountain bike suspensions.
Last year, we rode Magura’s excellent, though not widely distributed, wireless eLect system. And at this year’s bike test, Lapierre sent its Zesty 529 Trail, a 120mm 29er equipped with the updated E:I electronic suspension the company developed in collaboration with RockShox. (Fox, too, has an electronic setup, but we’ve yet to test a bike equipped with it.)
Here's how it works: the onboard computer senses the terrain and automatically adjusts the suspension accordingly. The mechanics of it are more complex, including two accelerometers, one in the fork and one at the stem, and a cadence sensor at the bottom bracket. These sensors report pedaling efficiency and intensity of impacts to the head unit, which then adjusts the shock by way of a built-in motor. That might sound laborious, but Lapierre says it takes only a tenth of a second for the information to relay.
Luddites will groan, but the system works amazingly well. In Auto Mode, the changes to the suspension are so quick and accurate that you don’t notice them. Even on up and down terrain and techy rock-crawling, the rear end of the bike was firm when we wanted to crank and soft when we took a big hit. Basically, it’s what you think a suspension should be: automatic, seamless, and completely secondary so you don’t ever think about it. It makes the idea of manually turning on and off your shock, even with a bar-mount switch, sound barbaric. Like it or not, this automation will eventually win out simply because it works.
That’s not to say that E:I isn’t without its issues. The first battery we received was a dud, meaning this beautiful, high-tech bike was little more than a clothes stand for a few days until we received a replacement. More importantly, we wish the fork was linked and automated, as in the Magura system, because, after all, if you get automatic windows on the front of your car, you don’t really want manual ones in back, do you? Still, we realize this is a developing technology.
Now, Lapierre’s E:I system isn’t exactly new: we tried it for the first time last year. But the 2015 version is refined, with the unwieldy computer head interface replaced by a trim unit about the size of a heart-rate monitor that's tucked away on the left side of the stem. The battery is smaller, too, bolting inconspicuously to the side of the water-bottle mount. And the wiring is largely internal—and bomber.
While the E:I system defines the Zesty Trail 529, the bike is more than just its electronics. (It’s also available without the E:I system.) Apart from the gadgetry, the bike is a balanced trail 29er that did an adequate job on most terrain. The cockpit is pretty tight, which is in keeping with modern standards, though the steep-ish, 70-degree head angle made for slightly more nervous handling than several testers liked. The big wheels balanced that out and reminded us that, by and large, we prefer the confident, rooted feeling of 29ers.
The parts pick is a utilitarian mishmash, including Shimano XT brakes, a 2x10 drivetrain with an XT rear derailleur and SRAM X7 front driven by Shimano SLX shifters, Race Face Turbine 29 wheels. It’s all good stuff, though the wheels were a bit ponderous. Apart from that hodgepodge, testers appreciated the strapping Nobby Nic tires in the Arizona chunk and the KS Lev Dropper post.
So to sum, what sets the Zesty apart from the herd of other solid trail 29ers on the market is its electronic suspension, which, we should note, is also available on a handful of Lapierre’s other models, from XC race bikes all the way up to beefy enduro machines. It’s a technology that's ready for early adopters, though we might argue that it’s worth waiting until the fork is integrated into the system.
Still, it works so well and simplifies the riding experience so much that it’s difficult to argue that E:I, and electronics in general, is the future of mountain bike suspension.