Lapierre's Overvolt range has been developing as quickly as the E-MTB market has. Lapierre is a French brand based in Dijon, and they're right at the fore of pedal assisted bike technology. While many AMB readers will reel in disgust at the concept of E-bikes, bikes with pedal assistance are often for a different rider – maybe it's worth thinking of people you might know who can't ride as much anymore. Maybe it's fitness, illness, injury... what if they could ride a high-end mountain bike with you even if they weren't as fit? That's just one of the way E-bikes can fit in.

At the recent 2017 model launch, I got a chance to ride the new Lapierre Overvolt AM 500+, with a couple of handy riders, including Lapierre's own Nicolas Vouilloz and Rae Morrison. Nico has been a big part of the development process with the Overvolt range, and he races the French E-Enduro series too.

The Overvolt AM 500+ is an alloy framed, 140mm travel all-mountain bike. New for 2017, the Bosch equipped pedal-assisted bike has moved to Boost spacing for the 27.5” wheels, but thanks to some handy engineering by Lapierre, the rear dropout can be swapped around to create more clearance for a 27.5” Plus wheel set. The RockShox Yari Boost forks with 150mm travel take them with no worries. So while this model was 'Plus' sized from the floor, any of the Overvolt AM range can be run Plus or not with a wheel and tyre change but the same frame and fork.

With a SRAM NX 1x11 group set and powerful Shimano brakes, the Overvolt is pretty well setup for some all-mountain shredding. The RockShox Monarch shock is the new metric sizing, said to be more sensitive. Although we've never found Lapierre's OST+ suspension to be lacking for sensitivity.

The frame has good standover height but thanks to the battery – no water bottle cage. Sure, you can take a backpack – but it really is nice to not have to carry one just for water on a short ride. With Lapierre's own dropper post fitted, the bike is otherwise set for everything you would expect an all-mountain bike to tackle.

Lapierre are making their own wheels now, and the wheels on the Overvolt 500+ are appropriatelt wide with 40mm rims front and rear. The front wheel has straight-pull spokes but the rear are J-bend on a modified 150mm DH hub to suit the Boost spacing. The extra strength deals better with the torque that the engine generates.

High voltage

Speaking of the engine, managing the battery life and the power delivery is part of the fun of riding a pedal-assist bike. With the options of Off, Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo – the display gives you details like how far you have ridden, and how far you can still go on the current setting. While taking off in Turbo and seeing if you can master the E-wheelie is fun... it's worth remembering that the power assist cuts out at 25km/h.

And this is where riding the Overvolt AM 500+ gets interesting. We rode on some slippery trails through the forest, crossing mud and limestone. Even with the footprint of a 2.8” Schwalbe tyre that's a challenge. Learning to manage the torque for traction on climbs and slippery terrain takes a few goes. The assistance comes in when you pedal, so you need to understand how the bike will react to a few quick dabs on the pedal. If you were running Turbo while getting onto a slippery ledge, you might well be on your bum. And the same goes for steep uphill switchbacks.

So – you can't run it full gas all the time, and it cuts out at 25km/h, so what's the point? To me, it was about the enjoyment of mountain biking with friends. It was a true leveller. We had a really mixed group from professionals to a rider with a 20kg camera bag on – but we rode the same trails, had the same laughs, and were never waiting for anyone.

Keep an eye on the command centre!

In time, you get used to using the pedal assist to help get the bike up to speed, then toggle with your thumb to wind it back to Eco – or even off. You might choose to run it higher on longer climbs, and on a bike like the 500+, you can take some seriously loose and steep climbs and still find traction.

But it's still not for everyone. The battery and motor add 3kg to the bike, and it's noticeable weight when handling the bike in downhill singletrack, and trying to reign the bike in for a corner that is sharper than expected. Lapierre's top of the range Overvolt AM Carbon is lighter and has more centred weight to reduce this, but the bike is still heavier.

A place for the Overvolt

So where does the Overvolt sit? In my mind it's the perfect choice for someone who wants to keep up with their mates but doesn't quite do it anymore. The latest flash XC bike won't make the difference, but some pedal assisted fun with gobs of traction and suspension might do it. The Overvolt has an exceptional suspension system, and well designed geometry to suit both the Plus and standard versions. Best of all the one bike can be both. I can see the Overvolt being useful in places like Mt Buller, where to hill is actually pretty big, and some of the trails are just beyond the reach of many riders. And with long and hilly trail developments growing around the country, let's hope that more people realise an e-bike can be another option for some riders – not something that's there to ruin our sport. If it's not for you, that's not problem. But why not try one next time there's a demo fleet at your trail head?

Component Highlights

SRAM 11 speed drivetrain

Lapierre 150mm dropper post

RockShox Yari RC 27+ suspension fork

RockShox Monarch RT shock

Lapierre Nico Vouilloz Signature finishing kit

From: Advance Traders

RRP: $6999