By Justin Steiner
In 1987 Chris Cocalis moved to Phoenix, AZ where, shortly thereafter, he discovered National Trail in South Mountain City Park, just a short pedal from what is now Pivot headquarters. Those of you who’ve ridden, and/or heard stories about this trail, may be familiar with its burliness and the skill required to ride it quickly, up and down. The opportunity to ride National literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times on scores of different bikes has given Cocalis the time and perspective to design the right bike for conquering the downhill drops, ledges and general burliness of trails like National, while comfortably pedaling back to the top.
Pivot’s Firebird is the result of this post-doctorate level study in trail domination. With the goal of delivering slack enough angles along with a low center of gravity for stability and confidence while descending, yet offering a responsive, lively and efficient ride up to the top.
Cocalis felt the ultimate package for this mission was best delivered in the form of a 167mm-travel dw-link rear end, mated to a 170mmtravel Fox 36 fork up front. We’ve talked at length about the dw-link theory in the past. Essentially, a dw-link design, brainchild of suspension guru Dave Weagle, combats suspension bob by mechanically resisting pedal induced squat through the physical placement of the suspension’s links rather than relying on platform damping in the rear shock.
Frame stiffness is paramount to the Pivot mission, and there’s a long list of impressive frame details that have been honed to maximize stiffness for a predictable and cohesive ride: from the cold-forged BB tower, to the one-piece suspension links, to the nearly symmetric rear swingarm— facilitated by the slick floating front derailleur. To read more tech info about these design features, go to www.dirtragmag.com/firebird.
Unlike some other Pivot models, which use Shimano’s BB92 integrated bottom bracket, the Firebird uses a standard 73mm threaded bottom bracket with ISCG 05 tabs to maximize chainguide and crankset compatibility. Pivot also offers a custom MRP dual ring chainguide that plays nicely with the floating derailleur for $120, outer bash ring included.
The 1.5” headtube easily accommodates forks with straight and tapered steerers, while allowing users to employ Cane Creek’s Angleset. Additionally, cable routing is some of the cleanest I’ve seen on a long travel bike, and there’s an extra set of tabs to accommodate your dropper seatpost remote.
The Firebird is a decidedly earn-your-turns kind of bike—my test ride came equipped with a triple chainring setup. Climbing aboard the ‘Bird is amazingly efficient for a nearly seven-inch-travel bike. The dw-link suspension is unbelievably adept at providing an efficient pedaling platform, as it really does not bob in any appreciable fashion—even without the RP23’s ProPedal engaged. Only on the occasional paved climb did I feel compelled to engage the ProPedal. During technical climbing the rear suspension resists plunging through the mid-stroke on squareedged bumps, while also providing gobs of traction.
For comparison, this bike pedals better than both of the 5”-travel single-pivot bikes I’ve tested in recent history—it’s that good. Granted, with a dropper post and pedals there’s no denying the ‘Bird’s 33lbs. weight on the climbs.
As well as the Firebird pedals, this bike really comes alive as trails tilt downward and speed increases. With nearly 170mm of travel front and rear, you’re encouraged to take the burly line, point and shoot the rough stuff, and catch significant air when the opportunity presents itself. Whether on Rocky Mountain trails, or rocky Appalachian singletrack, the Firebird sheds new light on familiar trails as you look for opportunities to push the bike.
In every situation I placed the Firebird, it felt ready for more, whether it was three hours of fast and burly descending on Porcupine Rim Trail in Moab, climbing and descending the rocky Shenandoah region of Virginia, or hitting the man-made features of our local freeride trail.
Suspension action from both ends is expertly balanced with good small bump sensitivity, a responsive mid-stroke, and a nearly bottomless end of stroke. The 170mm-travel Fox 36 RC2 is a stellar fork, providing highly predictable and tunable suspension action that’s a great compliment to the rear end of this bike. Stiffness is also excellent, on par with the rest of the bike.
With a 66.6º headtube angle and a sub-12” sagged BB height (13.85” unsagged), this bike comfortably balances stability at speed and carvy cornering, while providing descent pedal clearance thanks to the dw-link’s anti squat characteristics. Since the suspension does’t squat through it’s travel while pedaling over square-edged bumps and logs, I found myself to clip pedals any more or less than average.
Given this bike’s aggressive trail/all mountain intentions, it comes as no surprise that it feels suited to a certain level of elevation gain and subsequent loss to let this bike hit its stride. Given sufficient elevation, this bike is ready for everything from 40+ mile backcountry rides, to spending days shuttling your local bike park. Pretty damn versatile, eh?
One thing that impresses me about Pivot’s bikes is the seamless nature of the riding experience. I’ve ridden few bikes that ride as cohesively and predictably. This bike simply disappears beneath you, earning your complete and unwavering trust because it is so damn predictable, not to mention unflappable.
There’s no getting around the fact this bike is expensive. Bikes of this caliber and spec are expensive due to complex components and precise manufacturing techniques. The value proposition in this cash outlay is Pivot’s attention to detail in design, engineering and manufacturing, as well as the human touch—in terms of tuning and ride feel—that is the product of a clear vision of how they want a bike to ride and handle.
Who’s this bike best for? Well, for starters, you’ll need some elevation change to truly appreciate this bike. Your aptitude and interests should lean toward the burlier, more technical end of the spectrum. And, you better be able to enjoy yourself ’cause this is one hell of a fun bike, not to mention being one of the more versatile longer-travel bikes I’ve ridden. If you’re in the market for a trail bike, I wholeheartedly recommend considering the Firebird. I’m about 99.9% certain I’ll be selling a kidney to keep this bike around.
- Age: 28
- Height: 5’7"
- Weight: 165lbs.
- Inseam: 31"
- Country of origin: Taiwan
- Price: Frame and RP23: $2,200, XT complete bike: $5,800 (as tested)
- Weight: 29.7lbs. (w/out pedals)
- Sizes available: S, M (tested), L, XL
This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #157. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store, or you can purchase a subscription to read all our reviews as soon as they’re published, plus additional fiction, interviews and features.