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by Josh Flexman on July 14, 2014
The first thing I noticed about Arizona was that it really is a desert. It’s not just hot or dry or sandy; it is 100% full on Yosemite Sam, The Three Amigos, standing on the surface of Mars, desert. Coming from temperate green, redwood grove, coastal northern California, this was a stark contrast. The heat is dry and heavy, and the wind feels like a sauna door is being opened in your face. I remember asking Brien, our Pivot sales rep, before getting on the plane: "if there was anything I should bring that I might not normally ride with?", and he said, “a hydration pack, the bigger the better." And man he wasn’t kidding.
The Pivot building is in Tempe, a section of the greater Phoenix Area. A large unmarked warehouse style development where from the outside might as well have been a cardboard factory. A few very off road capable vehicles parked out front with trailer hitch bike racks is your only clue as to what’s going on inside. As you walk in the front door you are greeted by a small “showroom” displaying a few of the new Pivot bikes, highlighted by the Phoenix Carbon 27.5 downhill bike.
In general this is a very reserved, low-key facility, which is surprising because some of the brightest and most active minds in the industry are churning away thinking of how they can create a better mountain bike.
The main shop portion of the facility is loaded with machinery. They have all sorts of CNC machines and testing machines, forging equipment, and a 3-D printer for making test parts. The facility is top notch and it alone is worth a special visit. All of the employees are friendly and welcoming, even excited to see us on the walk through.
Because of the heat we started our first ride just before sundown. It was still nearly 100 degrees, but there was a mild breeze that made the environment quite pleasant. In a photograph the trail conditions might seem pretty unforgiving. The dirt looks loose and deep, there is no shade, there are no roots or ferns or shrubs. The conditions are just about as different from home as physically possible. Different however, doesn’t always mean bad, and I was pleasantly surprised at how fun this desert was to ride. First and foremost, the trails had really good traction. The kind of dirt they have there has a very frictioney (made up word) feel to it, like they put carbon paste on all the rocks and pebbles. I took Chris’ advise and did not change the air pressure in the Ardent race tires that were on my demo Mach 6. Although it seemed a little high to me at first, it actually worked out well.
On the first ride we did in the evening, the trail was undulating all the way through with one 5-minute exception right at the end. There were no long climbs or descents, and you could pedal throughout almost everything. This ride was perfect for a trail bike demo. There were plenty of semi technical lines as well as some pretty smooth lines. I’ll say it again, traction was really good, so much so in fact I got a little over confident a couple times and almost crashed. On all of the bouldering sections you could really carve into the rocks and force things to happen. A number of times I went into a section much faster than I would on a similar section around here or in Tahoe, just because the tires hooked up so well. One other interesting detail I immediately noticed about these trails, was how, unlike in Marin County, you could sometimes really see way up the trail because there are no trees or bushes. This made things even faster and more predictable. Before I knew it I was having an absolute blast, and completely forgot about the bike or why I was even there.
That’s when you know you are shredding, you just forget everything else around you.
The next morning we did our second ride. This time I rode a Firebird 275. The ride was completely different this time around. Instead of a rolling trail, we rode uphill for about 1.5 hours, stopping occasionally to take in the view and get a quick explanation from the guides (Brien and Chris). Again, traction was great, and today there were even more boulders to climb over. There were lots of cool little rock/boulder shoots. We have a lot of very technical climbing around here as well, so I felt pretty comfortable with everything. I could see getting really into riding the same sections over and over, trying to beat a time or run a cleaner line. At the top of the climb we turned around, just an out and back today, but the downhill was a whole different ballgame. Keep in mind I am on a 7 inch travel bike, dropper post, and sitting on the wheel of a guy who has probably rode this section of trail more than anyone. All I did was follow his line and the bike was spectacular.
The Mach 6 is like a really pedally downhill bike. I may have just invented a new bike genre there but I don’t care, that’s how it rides for me. I think it is a fantastic bike for almost every kind of riding out there. On that first day you could open it up and really flirt with disaster while feeling in total control. Cornering over bumps is probably the best part about this bike. Even though there were no roots there, I could really see this being a fantastic root handling bike. It felt like more travel than 6 inches on the downhill, and it pedaled uphill quite well. Out of the saddle uphill burts were very, very effective. Technical climbing was no problem. It felt as heavy as it is, but the anti squat properties of the DW design counter balance the weight nicely. We have so much steep long climbing around here, I have become pretty “weight aware” on a mountain bike. That’s not to say I’m a weight weenie; I just know when I’m riding a 30 lb bike vs something more 1 hour steep climb friendly. I would not call it the perfect all around Marin bike, but that is just because of how much steep fire road climbing we have to do in order to reach any trail that is going to push this bike. I can think of a few trails I would LOVE to get this thing on, but when I picture doing the climbs up to it over and over, I prefer my 429c with its more all-mountain build.
The Firebird 275 bike that I rode was the most perfect bike I could imagine for the trail I rode it on. I would not prefer any other bike. It is very similar to the Mach 6 overall, but its just a little bit more bike. More bike on the uphill and more bike on the downhill. We were climbing at a very mellow pace today, so the bike was just fine, but if the pace dialed up, I would have been at a disadvantage over the 6. The Mach 6 being carbon helped as well. The stiffness to weight on carbon really shines on an all mountain application. The way I see it, if I hit something hard enough to crack a carbon Pivot, then I am probably putting a catastrophic dent into a metal bike.
Either way, the Firebird was impressive and super fun. I want to get one now. I think it would be the most perfect bike for the Tahoe area. This bike could handle the downhill experience at Northstar and then go rip a Rim Trail run. You could take it up to Downieville and do a loop as well. It really is a fantastic blend of traits. I think there are very few other bikes out there that could sit in this spot. In some ways I think this is a better bike than the Mach 6. I really feel like if I want a bike that can handle a technical, rocky, unadulterated downhill run, with jumps and drops, this is the bike. It can still get up the climbs effectively, similar to the Mach 6, but then on the descent I can really open it up. Geometry wise, the Firebird has a lower BB, shorter wheelbase, and longer chainstay length. When you combine these attributes with a little more travel and a 36 fork, it makes for a uniquely handling bike These are very personal preferences. To be honest I really want all the bikes. But when faced with a bike to compliment my current 429c, I think the Firebird would be a little better.
All in all I was blown away by what Pivot is doing down in Arizona. It is almost like they have their own little bike manufacturing and testing mecca. All of the staff were welcoming and accommodating as well. I look forward to the opportunity to reciprocate the experience and show the Arizona guys some good Marin trail riding!