They are all good bikes , if you are a little more specific about them and yourself you will get more help . How much experience do you have ? What kind of riding do you want to do ? Which models of these bikes are you considering ? Welcome , enjoy .
Sorry here are more details.
The Pivot is the Mach 5 (that is the only one that will fit me in xs) the shop would put lower end componets on it to fit my budget because they already have the frame
The Giant is the Cypher 1 (again they make an xs)
The specialized is the Saphirre
I was looking to spend around $2000 on the bike
No downhilling, just learning how to ride MTB so easy XC riding for now, no jumps or stunts.
Ride them all , dont buy abike you have not ridden . Since the Pivot is being down graded I am going to eliminate it . The Giant and the Speschy are both good bike , it comes down to which one fits the best . Fit is the single most important part . Then you look at the components . The Speschy is actually better speced IMHO . It still comes down to fit . This is just my opinion , please listen to everyone , give it some time so that you get more responces .
Are you specifically looking for a 5" travel bike?
It will be overkill for just general XC riding. It will be comfy, but sluggish, and slower steering. Just my opinion, from owning both a 5" and 4" bike.
If I were you, I would be looking at the Giant Anthem X1 W. They have a XS. It's 4" of travel, so it will still be plush, but the geometry is a little racier. It will probably feel very comfortable to you, since you are used to a road bike geometry. I highly recommend you, at least, give one a spin.
I downsized from a Stumpjumper (=Safire) to a Anthem X2. It was a great decision for me, and my usual trails. The Ax steers quicker, climbs better, and (to me so far) is just as plush going down, and over rocks and roots. I haven't had the Ax long enough to say for sure, but it very well could be the best riding bike, I have ever owned.
***I think the Maestro (giant) suspension, is better than the FSR (spec.)***
I've never ridden a Pivot, so can't comment on it.
Even though the Mach 5 is near and dear to my heart, I would also rule it out based on your price point...with one exception. If you see yourself willing to start swapping in components in the future to possibly get the Pivot back up to spec....then I would still consider it.....but I'm guessing this is not you....yet....
But if you're looking for a "fire and forget" kind of ride....something you're going to buy and just get into the sport....then I'd spring for a nice component group to round things out nicely so you can have an overall good experience as you grow into the sport. From there you'll either figure out that you can't live without the bike day and day out....or just use it every now and then.
As others have said.....fit is the most important part....you don't want to be miserable on a great bike just because it fits you poorly. Having said that, I wish someone had told me when I bought my first bike that the stock "feel and fit" of the bike can be changed to suit what I like to some degree...which unfortunately I did not know at the time.
What I mean by this is that, if you feel one bike over another is uncomfortable because you feel things like, "I feel too stretched out" or something similar....don't be afraid to communicate this with the shop and ask what could be changed with a different size component (stem length, bar height, bar width, etc). There are things that can easily be changed such as shorter stems to slightly change the feel which may be of benefit to you and may completely alter how you feel on the bike. Hopefully you have a shop that's willing to work with you on that.
Do you have Santa Cruz available in your area? I'd take a look at the Juliana Superlight, it's a female specific model of the Superlight, which is a well regarded single pivot frame with 4" of travel, with either a platform shock or a good spinner (which I'm going to guess you are based on your riding experience) it should be fine for climbing and it has a great reputation as a trail bike for more XC oriented riders. SC has various packages so you should be able to find one to fit your budget.
Five inches is indeed becoming the de facto standard for trail bikes, but with what I'm presuming is your light weight and what it sounds like your riding interests will be, I think 4" will suit your needs at least as well, maybe better. And since you already ride some 'cross, it's kind of silly, to me, to give you the old "start with a hardtail" advice, as you sort of already have that option if you want it.
Regarding the Cannondale does that model have the Lefty fork? If so it's listed a bit above $2K, but maybe you're getting a deal? Cannondale is certainly an old and respected name and they still build great bikes, I have about 2 hours on an older male Canondale with similar geometry and a Lefty and I was very impressed.
The scalpel is a good bike, maybe a bit on the race side of things. The geometry lends its self to quick steering, which may or may not be what you are looking for. Its plus sides include its very light weight. You really need to just get out and ride as many as you can. Spend a bit of time on each candidate even if it's just around the parking lot. We can sit here and e-speculate all we want, but what's good for your body type may not be what's good for most. You're just starting out, so your expectations of what you need in a bike are just starting out too; you can trick them into thinking whatever bike fits best and rides best is the best bike.
1. Ride bikes, as many as are available to you to test.
2. If you have the money, spend as much as you can up front (ie. buying the Scalpel 2 instead of the Scalpel 4). You'll get longer lasting, better working components.
3. If bike A rides better than bike B, but bike B has better components on it, get bike A. You'll be happier in the long run. You can make lots of changes to the way a bike fits, but it may never be as good of a ride for you. My first mountain bike I made that exact decision, and I will never regret it; in fact, 14 or so years later I still have it, still ride it, and have converted it into an insanely fun single speed.
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