In 2005, Lapierre Bicycles launched its line of high-end road bikes into the U.S. market with a small meeting in Boulder, Colorado. Brand managers raved about the bikes’ French style and panache. Lapierre’s target American customer, they said, was the connoisseur who wanted to stand apart from the legions of Treks and Specialized bikes on the group ride. They believed this affluent customer was not deterred by Lapierre’s sky high sticker price in the quest for individuality.
Road Bike Review isn’t sure how many Francophiles purchased Lapierres during the following years; however we can confirm that we saw few on any group ride we attended.
Nine years later, Lapierre was back in Boulder recently to discuss details of its re-launch into the U.S. market. Instead of chirping about French panache and niche-within-a-niche markets, however, Lapierre’s American brand managers discussed a more pragmatic marketing scheme: build innovative, race-ready road bikes and sell them at a wide range of price points.
“We’re competitive across the board,” said Matt Millen, sales and marketing director for Lapierre. “We think there is a bike for everyone.”
Credit Lapierre’s new American managers for brand’s new strategy. While the brand was introduced to the U.S. in 2005 by French group SBS, Lapierre’s U.S. distribution is now overseen by the Dutch conglomerate Accell Group, which also has Raleigh and Redline. The company’s plan for North America is to serve the low- to mid-end market with Raleigh, and then graduate those consumers into its high-end brand, Lapierre.
The change in strategy comes with an equal desire to grow Lapierre out of the niche market, which many European brands have accomplished over the last decade. It’s no secret that the American market for European carbon bikes has grown. Lapierre’s new managers realize that many Euro brands accomplished this by selling bikes to Joe mid-pack, not just his rich uncle.
Mike Hammond, Lapierre’s North American product manager, said the brand wants to compete for market share with Pinarello, Scott and Wilier. “We’re looking at the European brands closely,” Hammond said. “We’re not pulling out of the U.S. anytime soon.”
Don’t expect to see the bikes being piloted by domestic pro road teams just yet, however. Lapierre will take a more measured approach to sponsorship, and will outfit local amateur teams or development squads to test the waters. “We’re not necessarily looking for the best riders,” Millen said. “We’re looking for promotable riders.”
For 2014 Lapierre enters the U.S. market with three models: the Xelius racing bike, the bump absorbing Pulsium, and the slacker Sensium, which it will push for gran fondos and endurance rides. All the bikes are ridden by Lapierre’s longtime World Tour team, les Francaise des Jeux. And all will be available at five price points.
Read details about the Pulsium here. The entry-level Xelius EFI 100 features a Shimano 105 group, Richey parts and Mavic’s workhorse Aksium WTS wheels. The bike is race ready, but at $2750, it is in the same price range as the Specialized Tarmac Elite, one of the most popular models in lower racing categories.
At the highest rung of the Xelius is the EFI 800, which comes stock with Shimano Dura Ace 9000 and Mavic R-Sys wheels, and hits an MSRP of $7300. Additional models sell for $3,000, $3,500 and $4,800, respectively.
The Sensium has an even lower entry-level price point, with the Shimano Tiagra-equipped Sensium 100 coming in at $1800. The Sensium 500, which is equipped with Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting, retails for just $4,200. Mid-level price points are $2,100, $2,400 and $2,900.
All of Lapierre’s price points feature the same modulus frames with plenty of bells and whistles, such as internal cable routing and internal battery storage for electric shifting. The Xelius frame is made from three levels of modulus carbon: the high-modulus “stiff zone” includes the down tube, bottom bracket and chain stays. The first six inches of the frame’s top tube support a larger, stiff section to increase the overall rigidity.