I had a chance to demo a couple Pivot Swtichblades this weekend thanks to Trail Bikes out of Courtney BC and On The Edge out of PQ who is the Canadian Pivot distributor. The folks from Trail and OTE were both very professional and helpful. They took the time to swap my flat pedals on the demo bike and adjust the suspension for me…using feedback from my first demo ride to improve the second one. All in all a well run demo setup. Given how expensive mountain bikes are these days getting a chance to ride them on trails is really beneficial in helping to understand how they’ll work for you. Thanks guys! Your efforts were well appreciated. 🙂
I showed up 30 mins early for the start of the demo and the large Switchblade I wanted was already gone! Yikes I knew this new Pivot 29er was popular, but I didn’t think it was going to be that crazy. They did have a medium I could take out so I grabbed it. The geometry between my Mach 6 and the new Pivot Switchblade has changed a lot. Namely the newer bike has a steeper seat tube angle and a longer wheelbase for a given size. I could probably ride a medium SB with a seatback seatpost and a 65mm stem. It’s as long as my large Mach 6. The SB features a lower BB height as well.
The SB is a 29er/27+ bike and the demo had 27+ wheels on it. I’m not interested in a 27+ bike for my day-to-day trail riding for reasons I have posted about in the past. The demo staff kindly threw a set of 29er wheels on the SB for me. However, they were shod with 2.4 Ardents, which kept me from getting too “rad” with the bike.
Checking out the SB before I left for my first demo ride I had to appreciate the build quality of the frame. It’s beautiful and the subdued graphics look much nicer than my “Power Ranger” edition Mach 6. The rear triangle and linkage are both beefy giving the whole bike a stiff feel that’s impressive for a 29er.
My demo loop started with a fireroad climb I do every Cumberland ride. This cimb alternates between some steep and moderate pitches and has loose gravel to contend with in some spots. The big wheels of the SB took some effort to spin up to speed. I felt like the bike’s suspension was efficient without any serious bob leaving the shock in the open setting. That was expected from a mid-travel DW-Link bike. However, the climb was not particularly fast for me and every time I hammered the pedals I felt like I was putting in a lot of energy for a modest increase in speed. Given I had semi-slick tires on and efficient suspension I’m going say the steep seat tube angle [STA] wasn’t letting me generate power as effectively as normal. Riding the large SB with High Roller II’s later I felt the same sluggishness on this climb and when I switched back to my Mach 6 I rocketed uphill dropping people with ease.
I turned onto my first trail excited to unleash the power of the big wheels. I wanted to keep the demo rides a reasonable length so I stayed low on the mountain and rode some rolling blue trails with a scattering of rocks and techy root sections. Not particularly tight, but as they are forest trails they are narrow and winding. Going into this demo I figured I was on the idea trail network for the SB. As I got rolling the big wheels definitely smoothed out the roughness in a very pleasant way and the bike’s mid-travel suspension was ready for the bigger stuff. The SB didn’t have the plushness of my Mach 6, but I could launch off features and never felt the rear end bottom out. Steep punchy climbs were a bit of a chore. Not bad, but again I felt like I couldn’t put as much power into the pedals as I would expect. I also wasn’t as far back on the bike due to the steeper STA, which made getting traction from the rear tire while seated harder.
As my speed picked up the big wheels were noticeably harder to change direction quickly as the trail zigged and zagged. I think I could have gone faster than my Mach 6 on the rolling root/rockiness with the 29er wheels, but the slow steering limited how fast I could attack the trail. When I hit sections of trail that were straighter I could feel the bike accelerate better than my Mach 6 would have.
Techy slow speed climbing on the SB was good. The big wheels resisted getting hung up on stuff and the bike was fairly manoeuvrable. I hit some elevated wooden skinnies without thinking about it. The SB kept its composure on the wood work nicely. I wasn’t sure if the SB’s BB would be too low for our trails, but I had no pedal strikes and didn’t think twice about the issue. One thing that did bug me was the wide BB. The SB uses a 157mm Super Boost rear hub and a wide BB to get the chainline in the right place. I felt like I was riding a horse with the wide q-factor. I ride with my feet as inboard as possible on the flat pedals on my Mach 6.
I ended my demo loop with another fireroad climb and a bomb downhill on gravel. Getting back the demo tent I was keen to try the large SB as the medium’s steep STA and short stem meant I was pretty cramped. Luckily the large SB came back in while I was waiting. We set it up a bit softer than the first demo ride as the Fox suspension didn’t seem as plush as it should be when run in open mode. My buddy Chris came out with me on the second loop riding an XL Mach 6.
The fireroad climb was equally uninspiring the second time round. The large SB had 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Highroller II’s on it, but the bike climbed pretty similarly to the Adrent shod medium. It wasn’t a dog, but there was no motivation to hammer up the climb like I would on my Mach 6. The cockpit on the large felt much better and unless I was going to use a setback seatpost I would buy a large for my 5’11” frame with 33″ pants inseam.
Getting onto singletrack with the large SB I was surprised how well the longer frame handled. There really didn’t seem to be much downside to sizing up frames. With more aggressive rubber it was easier to attack the trail and get around corners. The SB deserves some real knobs. The slower steering of the big wheels was still there, but it was a much more fun ride downhill this time.
I swapped onto the XL Mach 6 so Chris could ride the SB. Again I was amazed how the longer bike wasn’t noticeably harder to get around the trails. In fact this demo makes me wish I had bought an XL Mach 6. It’s not worth spending money to swap frames and our home trails are much tighter and more techy, but still the bigger frame impressed me.
The other thing I noticed riding the XL Mach 6 was how much more playful the bike was with the smaller wheels. Tracking the trail was easy and so was jumping/manualling features. The Mach 6 was a scalpel and SB was a chainsaw. Both got down the trail, but the smaller wheeled bike was a lot more precise. The 29er wheels rolled through stuff better than the smaller wheels, but the extra travel on the Mach 6 levelled that effect out and the easier turning on the Mach 6 meant we both went faster on it.
At the end of the second loop we gave the demo bikes back and jumped on our personal bikes. Chris mentioned he liked the XL Mach 6 a lot more than the SB and pretty much noted all the things I wrote above. I was glad to hear that it wasn’t just my Mach 6 bias that was talking and that he saw things the same way.
The Switchblade is a really nice bike. I can see if I rode more open trails how I would be able to use the large wheels to keep my speed higher and use less energy. I don’t know if I’d be able to adapt to the steep STA riding position and that’s a big question mark as it really effects how the SB climbed for me.
As I rode up the same fireroad climb on my personal Mach 6 that I had twice on my demo loops I was happy to feel the bike accelerate like a champ and make me want to push harder and harder. If this demo did anything it made me appreciate my Mach 6 even more. It’s such a versatile bike. It holds its own on easier trail rides with shorter travel bikes and as things get steeper and rougher it rides better and better.
I should note that I run true 2.4″ wide tires on my Mach 6…pretty much the biggest rubber that will fit in the rear of the bike. These tires are noticeably bigger than the standard crop of 2.35″ – 2.4″ tires people ride and are more in line with what other companies are putting out as 2.5″ tires. I find these wide tires provide a noticeable improvement in roll through, traction and ride quality over more standard rubber without any of the downsides of plus tires or the bigger 29er wheel. The more I try other setups the more I am impressed with how well my 2.4″ Continental Trail Kings run on 35mm wide rims. It’s a great sweet spot for our trails.