Long Term Review
2017 Pivot Firebird Review
The last time I reviewed a DW-Link bike, things didn't go so well. Short version; I wasn’t a huge fan, and the internet said I was wrong. The resulting online shit storm spilled over multiple forums with comedic comments like; “The main complaints stemmed down from him being too dumb to figure out how to setup the bike before he rode it....” or "What's his normal bike a karpiel armageddon sprung for a kitten?" I was enthusiastic to try out the new Pivot Firebird, but really hoping this wasn't going to turn into another DHR debacle. Andrew posted a First Look article going over the details back in December. Since then I’ve been out and about riding the Firebird from the steep, janky trails on the Shore, to the wide open, fast trails of the Whistler Bike Park.
So on to the Pivot Firebird then. It was released earlier this year and is intended to be a no compromise Enduro race / aggressive trail bike. The Firebird is available in a multitude of build options with the as tested XT / XTR build due to set you back $6,300 USD … plus the $1,300 USD wheel upgrade to the carbon Reynolds hoops.
- 170 mm rear travel for 27.5” wheels.
- Comes in carbon only.
- Four sizes available from S to XL.
- Geometry is short chainstays, long front center, and low to the ground. Fun!
- Available in a gorgeous red/blue scheme or in the more subdued black/blue option as tested.
The first thing you’ll notice aboard the Firebird is how well it pedals. I don’t mean well for a 170 mm long legged trail destroyer, I mean it pedals well, period. It pedals like no other long travel mountain bike I’ve ridden. Longer climbs were handled with ease. When pointed downhill the Firebird accelerated out of corners extremely well. The short chain stays allowed the front end to come up easily ... which basically means power wheelies everywhere.
Next up, how nice the fit is. I normally ride an XL size frame, and the Large Firebird felt comfortable. If it were my personal bike, I'd likely still spring for the XL size. Due to the steep seat post, which pushes the seat forward in the bike, the Firebird feels a bit shorter than you'd expect when climbing. That said, when standing, the reach is on the roomier side, along with a generous wheelbase. I really liked the 65-degree head angle, the low bottom bracket placement, and the steeper seat tube angle. Ultimately I think Pivot nailed the geometry for both climbing and descending. And then there's the industrial design. The Firebird is a gorgeous collection of flowing, sculpted curves. Aesthetically it is an example of form and function flowing, material where it's needed, none where it's not.
When descending, I was immediately at home on the Firebird, in large part because of the roomy front center. I didn’t think I’d like the short chainstays, but I learned to enjoy how eagerly the front wheel would come up, and how easy it was to rotate the back end through corners around your feet. The longer wheelbase and lower bottom bracket help the Firebird feel stable and make scary trail features seem easy.
Dear Pivot, is the water bottle placement some sort of inside joke? Your bottle gets covered with poo, and then when you want to have some water you have to stop and get off, or be a contortionist and reach under the down tube. I almost think having no water bottle cage mounts would be better.
Pivot actively claims the Firebird is not suitable for any coil shock as the frame is not progressive enough to deal with the linear nature of coil springs. The only exception is a specially valved Push ElevenSIX, which is an expensive solution. Jumping on the coil spring bandwagon is going to be expensive if you have a Firebird.
The Fox Float X2 came with only 1 volume spacer installed, on a frame that isn’t particularly progressive. I had to run air pressure close to the shock's maximum to prevent severe bottoming. I thought the Firebird would be a better bike with more volume spacers installed in the X2, so I installed many more. This allowed me to drop the air pressure a bit, which improved the suspension's performance.
Pivot chose to put a hard compound DHF on the front and a soft compound DHR2 on the rear. After a couple of ,scary rides in the wet, I transferred the hard compound DHF for duty on the rear tire ... much better.
The upgraded Reynolds carbon wheels used Industry 9 hubs. While I didn’t have any durability issues riding these wheels, the rear hub is very loud. On the upside I was motivated to always keep the cranks spinning.
My highly uncalibrated stiff-o-meter suggests a fairly stiff front triangle, with considerable flex through the linkage, rear triangle and rear wheel. There was significant evidence of rear tire to seat stay interaction after every ride. I personally like a very stiff bike, and noticed the rear end flex while riding. I was still able to ride the Firebird very quickly, but the stout looking Firebird is not as stiff as it appears.
There is a close clearance between the linkage and the front triangle near the rear tire, which has a shape that is ideal for catching rocks / stones. These rocks then proceed to remove frame material in the crevise. If you buy one of these, put some foam or mastic tape in the crack to prevent frame damage.
- The upgraded Reynolds Wheels were good, besides being loud. The rims have no dents or dings after months of abuse. No re-tensioning was required, and they still run straight and true. I like the rim profile; mounting tires without tubes was easy. I did have two spokes break in the rear wheel, likely in part due to spoke damage from the unfortunate Box derailleur failure.
- I wasn't wild about the XT brakes. They required a bleed off the hop, and were a little inconsistent. Considering this is a long legged enduro bike, the 180 mm front rotor and organic brake pads seem under spec'd. I'd certainly appreciate a 200 mm rotor up front, some metallic brake pads, and Saint / Code stoppers.
- The bar was miter cut for the Padloc grips, which means you can't run your favourite grips without narrowing the bar, or replacing the handlebar entirely. The Pivot grips weren't bad, but I'd rather not be shoehorned into using them.
- The Fox 36 had flashes of brilliance, but when the trail got fast and rough I felt like the high speed compression circuit was limited. On all other trails, I thought the FIT4 Fox 36 felt fantastic.
- The Fox X2 rear shock works great, and has excellent range of damper adjustment. However, the lack of air spring progressiveness on a frame that isn't particularly progressive means getting through the 170 mm of rear travel a little too easily.
- Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain was flawless, but like Andrew mentioned in the first look article a bash guard & chain guide would be a welcome addition.
- Fox Transfer Dropper Post was excellent. The post had no issues, was responsive, and required no maintenance over the test period.
My review period on the Firebird was a roller coaster of emotions. There were days I bellowed through the woods with sheer glee, and other days where I raised my sore hands to the sky asking why it wasn't working. The upside; it pedals better than any 170 mm bike I've ridden. Effort applied to the pedals results in satisfyingly efficient forward motion when pointed up and down. On smoother trails I loved the way the suspension worked, the Firebird seemed to carve through terrain with ease, and accelerated like a scalded cat. The only time I really didn't enjoy my time on the Firebird was on very rough, steeper, fast trails, where it's tough to get off the brakes. On these trails I felt like the Fox 36 Fit4 would get overwhelmed, the brakes were anemic, the back end flexier than I'd like, and I was expecting the rear suspension to soak up a bit more gnar. At times the Firebird would feel a little under gunned on trails where a 170 mm enduro machine should excel.
If you live in a place with trails where you're primarily off the brakes, and the trails aren't bombed out, you're likely going to love the Firebird. You'll appreciate how well the bike pedals, yet offers plenty of travel to enjoy on the way back down. If you prefer steep, fast, rough, technical trails with plenty of brake work, the Firebird came up a bit shorter than I was expecting. So while the Firebird isn't my favourite long legged bike of this genre, it's a bike that many folks are going to love riding.