At A Glance
Earlier this year, Pivot filled one of the last gaps in their range with the arrival of a long travel 29er. Previously, the Switchblade had been their most progressive big wheeler, but this still had trail bike tendencies and was an excellent ride in those scenarios but not in bigger terrain. Their biggest hitting non-DH bike was the Firebird, which delivers 170mm of travel in a mega enduro package but on 27.5 wheels, the progression was obvious.Buy Enduro Bikes on
Combining both big wheels and big travel led to the birth of what should surely have been called the Fireblade but ended up with the slightly less catchy Firebird 29. The result is a thoroughly modern machine with big wheels and huge travel, capable of being all things to all riders. Light and nimble on the climbs yet descending like a downhill bike.
So the Firebird 29 sports 170mm up front and 162mm on the rear delivered by the trusted DW link suspension system seen throughout the Pivot range. The Firebird 29 uses a small clevis link to drive the shock and there is a flip chip to alter the geometry slightly if required. These geometry numbers are a slight break from the norm for the brand and see reach numbers extend modestly from 485 on an XL Mach 5.5 or original Firebird, up to 495/500mm on the new Firebird 29. The head angle rests at 65 degrees in slack mode and the seat tube sits at about 76 degrees dependent on low or high frame setting. All these numbers make for a contemporary enduro bike, matching a steeper seat angle to the longer reach and keeping things slack up front. Also of note is the short seat tubes which allow riders more choice in size whilst still being able to get a long dropper post in there.
The build here is the Pro XT, which features a range of Shimano and Fox products to get a balance of performance and cost. It also features DT Swiss alloy wheels rather than the more exotic Reynolds/Industry 9 carbon wheels, which are a $1,300 upgrade. At its core is a 170mm Fox Factory 36 Grip 2 fork, which is about as good a fork as is possible to get on a bike, especially if you like tuneability. This is matched with a Performance X2 shock, which lacks independent high-speed rebound and compression damping but still offers the great X2 feel.
The drivetrain takes its pick from the XT line up but adds an XTR rear mech for good measure. What is notable are the new 4 pot XT brakes, which have upped the power of the highly popular brake to meet the demands of fast riders. Elsewhere we have a Fox Transfer dropper, Raceface cranks and Maxxis rubber in big 2.5 size. Pivot own brand carbon bar and finishing kit rounds it out in style and gives the boutique brand a quality feel.
The frame is also compatible with 27.5 plus wheels and tyres if that's your bag, and a headset cup is available to keep the head angle the same between the sizes.
On The Trail
There is no doubt this bike is a fine piece of design work. The clean lines and strong colour scheme make for a striking bike, which is poised and purposeful. Getting set up isn't the quickest with the Fox suspension, but time spent getting it right is worthwhile and makes a huge difference to performance.
The flip-chip allows the bike's head angle to be adjusted by half a degree if required. This also results in a marginally slacker seat angle and lower bottom bracket. For a bike of this calibre, I had no reason to venture out of the slack setting, and I struggle to see why you'd steepen it, but then choice is rarely a bad thing.
The Firebird 29 was a truly fascinating bike to ride, in that it really did combine trail bike qualities with downhill characteristics. This had, at times, a confusing effect on the rider, making you think you are simply riding a lively trail bike, only to discover the huge depth of travel on offer. Usually, a big long travel big would be a little heavier, maybe a little more sluggish, but the Pivot maintains that lively, pedal friendly feel found throughout their range.
Easy angle climbing is efficient and comfortable, with a feeling that you could spin all day up fire roads. It's no Trail 429 but it certainly feels like it's related to that family. Tight and energetic, the big tyres may slow it down a bit, but there doesn't feel like much loss in the suspension under pedalling. The climb switch calms the shock a little, but the movement is small anyway if you pedal sympathetically. Mash the pedals and you can blow through some travel, but spin calmly and progress is easy.
On steeper climbs, I found that the seat would benefit from sliding forward to keep the front down. This was an XL bike with an XL rider, so this will be less of an issue on smaller bikes but the super short chainstays meant I was a little off the back on the tech/steep climbs. The suppleness of the initial stroke on the shock further put me back and regularly getting out of the seat for steep climbs proved beneficial.
The Trail/DH split personality developed over a variety of trails and conditions. On flow trails, bike park and trail centres, it was impressive just how lively and fun it was to ride a 160mm 29er. Easy changes of direction and playful style over jumps all added up to an incredibly engaging a fun ride. It's fair to say that buff trails and berms were not why the Firebird was developed, but it can certainly perform here. Despite the supple suspension, there was enough to push against through the corners to keep things rapid.
Taking the bike to more full-on terrain revealed another side on the bike, and letting that long travel do some work revealed just how capable the bike was. The depth of supple suspension really means it can take anything you can throw at it. My only slight issue came linking continuous steep corners, where I found myself too far off the back of the bike. The short rear end and soft, traction-finding rear suspension had me on the back foot, both literally and metaphorically.
It took a concerted effort to stay up front and load the front into the turns. Initially, I tried to get more support from the shock at the back, but found the solution was to make the fork match the rear and embrace the ground-hugging, DH style suspension and think less about the 'trail bike' feel.
One thing I can't argue with is traction, and despite some pretty poor UK riding conditions, the Firebird's back end never skipped a beat. I was regularly surprised as the back refused to break free, or when it did, was done in a controlled manner. This calmness comes through the bike on all but the roughest of tracks and muddiest of conditions.
It's hard to think of a bike that can perform so well across a range of riding styles and terrain. It was a bike I could happily throw in the van without knowing where I was going to ride. From uplift stints to long adventurous days in the saddle, it truly is a versatile bike and perhaps, in this flexibility is where the true genius of this bike lies. Rather than simply another long, heavy numb enduro bike, the Firebird 29 could be the ideal bike for the rider that wants it all, providing the bank balance stretches.
Components are hard to fault on the build, but Fox really needs to get a longer travel dropper post out as soon as possible. The short seat tube is screaming for a 170 and above drop. The XT 4 pot brakes have been my most enjoyable Shimano braking experience of recent years and hopefully, represent a return to form.
On the frame, the rubber DW link cover goes someway to preventing wear, but much still gets under and it needs to be kept as clean as possible. All the other rubber frame protection works very well and keeps the noise down to a minimum.
Pivot has made me reconsider what I can expect from a long travel bike by mixing a range of characteristics I thought were mutually exclusive into one bike. Providing lightweight efficiency and long travel confidence, it's a heady mix which comes with an equally impressive price tag which can be perhaps justified by truly having one bike that can really to do it all...
This review was in Issue 57 of IMB.For more information visit Pivot Cycles
By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.