What weighs thirty pounds and has 170mm of travel and now comes with the latest and greatest 650b option?
Pivot Bicycles was formed in 2007 by bike designer Chris Cocalis (previous owner of Titus Bicycles). Since its inception he has expanded his shop into a 26,000sqft warehouse space, employs 25 full time people, has eight models of alloy bikes, plus three carbon models.
Lee Lau and I had the privilege of touring the Pivot warehouse on a trip to Phoenix this year. During the tour he gave us a great overview of his production which was also reported on in an interview here. This was a very detailed interview so I won't repeat except to add some other information I found to be interesting. Chris continued working on his own suspension design after leaving Titus. He wanted to create a bike with a rearward wheel path to handle square edged hits, and to ensure good pedaling efficiency, something that eluded him with the Horst Link Design. After working on his design for awhile he heard that Dave Weagle was working on a similar design. After some talking they decided to collaborate and come up with the Pivot Suspension. One issue Dave had with his design was the lack of a place to put the front derailleur. Chris solved this by mounting the front derailleur directly to the frame and coming up with the floating front derailleur for the Firebird frame.
This is one of the finer unique attributes that Chris brings to his frames; he has an idea and made the design work to create a stiff frame with a suspension that handles square edge hits, climbs like a goat and has the added benefit of Dave's anti squat suspension. Each bike model is initially designed, prototyped and built in house with custom rigs in a step by step process to ensure the frame is exact, straight and moves within the tight constricts of its design. This precision is maintained in the Taiwanese factory by moving this production line over to the facility, training the Taiwan welders in Phoenix by drilling quality assurance into their souls and sending them back to work in the production facility after they too have become Pivotees.
To further ensure Chris's obsession with quality and precision is maintained in all Pivots, a Pivot employee (American production manager) is on site to ensure the process is followed precisely. Chris mentioned the frustration of convincing the Taiwanese that he didn't want to put frames out as fast as possible. He wanted frames put out RIGHT; regardless of the time and with only some concern to cost. When the Taiwanese frames return to Phoenix each are measured before the bike is assembled and shipped to its new owner.
Once back from the manufacturer each bike is checked and assembled by dedicated Pivotees.
As an added consideration, producing these frames in the USA would not be possible as these skilled trades sadly seem to no longer exist to manufacture bicycle frames to scale. Thus production in the USA would be far more expensive and nobody would be able to afford to buy these bikes. Other USA and Canadian bike manufacturers would agree. You might ask, how could such a complicated design with such tight tolerances last? Again I attribute the longevity of his frames to his perfectionist approach.
The Firebird, is a tried and true mountain machine that can climb all day and descend in the gnarliest rock garden or root infested rock you can throw at it. See my previous review in 2010. How can it be better? The current rage is the 650b/27.5 wheel. Smaller then the 29in wheel, another infatuation which can make a poorly-designed bike handle less quickly and is awkward for some riders, the 27.5 has the middle road appeal of not negatively impacting quick handling as do some 29er's, but offering more speed and stability then a 26'er. Why were bikes 26inches in the first place? An arbitrary decision; who knows if 27.5 really is better? Current experience indicates it is faster with no noticeable downside.
After riding the Firebird 27.5 for a week in Phoenix and Sedona I can tell you that it did not negatively affect the handling of the Firebird at all; it did make it faster and more stable in chunder. Is the difference enough for those to convert their current 26 into a 27.5? Perhaps not, but if you were to choose a bike now, why not have a better climbing, faster more stable steed?
Continue reading for the Pivot Firebird 27.5 riding and overall impressions, more videos and photos.
Chris on National Trail in South Mountain. The test track!
The Firebird comes in three sizes - small, medium and large. The 6061 oversized aluminum frame is proven strong and light. The unified rear triangle is connected to the frame via the carbon upper rocker at the top and DW link at the bottom. The shock is connected to the upper carbon rocker and the lower DW Link. This creates a full floater shock resulting in a more variable shock rate which adds to the plushness of the suspension. The DW Link features oversize pivot axles rotating on 8 cartridge bearings. The rear triangle is stiffened via the vertical tubing connecting the seat and chain stay. This provides a unique look to the frame as well as using enough material to keep the bike light but stiff.
To convert the 26in Firebird frame to be 27.5 compatible Pivot created an angled head set to maintain the slack head angle with the larger diameter wheels. In fact the 27.5 Firebird is one degree slacker then the 26in Firebird. The larger wheels also create a greater forward rake which also aided in stability. The 27.5 fork and wheels fit the frame with no modifications. The bike could also (barely) accommodate Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires which are the current largest 27.5 tires in production.
Other observations follow:
- The geometry biases this bike for speed. 44.3inch wheelbase with a 2014 Fox Float 34 CTD Kashima Fork, 17.25 chainstay, slightly higher 14.1inch BB Height and slack head 66o and seat angle (71.5). The low standover (28.75in) aids in its nimbleness.
- The 30.9 seat post size can accommodate the Rock Shock, Gravity Dropper, Kind Shock, Command Post and Joplin adjustable seat posts. This Firebird had the KS LEV Dropper post with the integrated cable and remote thumb lever. Very easy actuation and quick up and down action. The bike comes with a custom valved Fox CTD or DHX Kashima shock. The rear axle is 12X142mm for maximum stiffness.
- Another unique feature on this bike is the floating front derailleur. Designed to move in line with the rear axle to keep the chain in line to ensure consistent shifting performance. I found this feature to result in a lot of clanging on rough terrain, this was rectified with the MRP LRP 2X chain guide.
- 1.5 inch head tube is designed to accommodate a 160mm or 170mm fork. The Firebird 27.5 comes standard with at Fox Float CTD 160 24 Kashima fork.
- The rear drop out is shaped to accommodate the CNC'd derailleur hanger. One of the finer touches on the Pivot bikes.
Open slickrock slopes.
The 27.5 Firebird maintained the same ride characteristics as the 26in bike. You would not know you were riding a bike with a bigger wheel size unless you were told, or saw the number on the tires. Each pedal stroke provided more forward momentum to move over obstacles and through rough terrain. While climbing each pedal stroke moved you that much further allowing you to go very slow in technical terrain but move fast enough to maintain your balance. Even in loose rough chunder the front tire was not easily deflected. The bike is plush and the suspension very responsive. As long as I maintained a stable riding position the bike plowed over and through the terrain. It almost made riding too easy! The only noticeable difference was how much faster you are then your friends.
On smoother terrain the bike just wanted to go faster. The rear triangle was stiff in corners and over rough terrain resulting in smooth consistent tracking. The bike only used the suspension it needed or what you brought out of it.
I found the higher bottom bracket on the 27.5 resulted in fewer pedal strikes than what I would get riding in our home rooty rocky terrain.
The 23 inch cockpit was comfortable for climbing and descending for my 5'9" frame. The slack head angle was noticeable on longer climbs as it puts you in a more upright position. The slacker 71.5o seat tube angle would also contribute to this position. If you are a rider that doesn't like slack climbing geometry you may be uncomfortable climbing on this bike. The 28.75 inch standover made riding slow technical trail sections more comfortable.
Sharon on the National Trail South Mountain.
The Pivot Firebird is a super fun and poppy bike. It is really responsive to rider input both climbing and descending. Not many bikes weighing 31lbs with 6.7inches of travel would provide such a stiff, responsive predictable ride. Paired with the quality crafted frame ( tough enough to handle rocky, rooty, technical and occassional bikepark use), the 27.5 version is faster and more stable then its 26inch sibling.
If you were forced to choose one bike for all your riding needs, this could be it. Light and efficient enough for long pedaling rides, tough enough for burly descents.
Next question, when is the Carbon version coming out?
- Frame Set: oversized, triple butted, hydro-formed 6061 aluminum
- Fork: Fox FLOAT 34 Kashima 160mm
- Shock: Fox CTD or DHX Kashima coated shock
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large
- Color: Anodized Black or Rootbeer
- Weight: Medium frame - 7.1lbs.
As per build kit.
Geometry (Medium Size)
- Standover: 28.75in
- Head Tube Angle: 66
- Seat Tube Angle: 71.5
- Theoretical Top Tube Length: 23in
- Bottom Bracket Height: 14.1in
- Chainstay Length: 17.25in
- Wheelbase: 44.3in