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PIVOT SWITCHBLADE TEST

November 28, 2016
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screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-9-48-27-amPivot’s Switchblade is the most advanced and progressive bike the company has ever made. It is the brainchild of Pivot founder Chris Cocalis, who 10 years ago used the name Switchblade for a project under the Titus name. This new bike takes the idea from the original Switchblade (small tweaks that can be made to adapt to trail conditions) and combines it with new-school thinking. The new Switchblade uses different wheel and tire sizes rather than different suspension-travel lengths to adapt to the rider. We put the Switchblade to the test on several trails, including our SoCal laps and many miles of Moab dirt and singletrack.

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WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

The Switchblade is a new-school bike, one that sports a lightweight chassis, relatively short travel and geometry that’s capable of handling the gnarliest trails. This is an everyman’s bike, so long as your riding doesn’t include World Cup XC or DH runs. It’s the perfect trail companion and won’t flinch when it comes to 99 percent of trail riding.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

pivot-6Dw-Link—yes, please: The dw-Link suspension design provides a bit of anti- squat, but also feels plush when you want it to be.

This is a carbon bike held together with a dw-Link suspension design built to handle 29er or 27.5+ wheels. The name Switchblade seems appropriate, as this bike can switch easily between the two hottest wheel sizes to match the needs of the trail. The bike also features the newest technology, including Pivot’s Super Boost Plus rear-wheel spacing, which was a critical piece of the puzzle for Pivot’s design team.

WHAT’S WITH THE SUPER BOOST PLUS SPACING?

pivot-5Short and snappy: Thanks to the Super Boost Plus, the chainstays of the Switchblade are short, which keeps the bike feeling lively on the trail.

pivot-4Don’t call it a new standard: Pivot’s Super Boost Plus rear end uses a 157-millimeter axle that allowed the designers to have the tire clearance they needed without throwing off key measurements like chainstay length. The new system is actually a re-purposing of the 157 standard that’s been available on downhill bikes for several years.

The new Super Boost Plus spacing uses 157-millimeter dropouts, which is the same spacing found on many downhill bikes. That spacing is combined with a 12-millimeter, quick-release axle and wider hub-flange spacing to create a wheel that’s stiff and balanced. The spacing also allows Pivot to design in enough tire and suspension clearance without wrecking critical measurements like chainstay length. The Super Boost Plus may seem like a new standard, but in reality it’s an optimized combination of existing standards that Pivot exploited to make a better bike.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

pivot-9Surprise, surprise: Despite our initial pre-conceived notions, the plus-sized tire setup proved to be actually a quarter of a pound lighter than the 29er one. Guess we can throw that whole “I don’t ride plus-size because they’re heavy” thought out the window.

Pivot can outfit a Switchblade with any of six build kits and 27.5+ or 29-inch wheels. Prices range anywhere from $5200 to upwards of 10 grand. In addition to the huge variety of price points, the ’Blade can be outfitted with many different combinations of drivetrains and wheels. Bottom line: if you can’t find a build kit that suits your particular tastes, you’re too picky. But if that’s the case, Pivot is also happy to set you up with a frame only.

Dialed and ready: The Switchblade comes with many setup options, in addition to the wheel-size choice. The bike has options for electronic shifting, double-or single-ring drivetrain, and multiple geometry choices.

Our test bike came equipped with a mix of Shimano XT and XTR components combined with top-level Fox suspension and Reynolds carbon wheels laced to Industry Nine hubs. With a build kit like that, it’s tough to poke holes in anything other than the price tag.

pivot-7Juiced-up drivetrain: Pivot likes to run single-ring drivetrains, but they didn’t want to do that if they couldn’t have the gear range they needed. As an answer, they run a OneUp cassette expander kit with most of their stock builds.

Pivot also goes out of its way to spec some of what we’d call “hopped-up” upgrades right from the factory. For example, this bike could have come with Fox’s smaller 34 fork chassis, but Pivot decided that the Switchblade will likely be ridden aggressively, so they went with the burlier 36 chassis for all models. Additionally, the single-ring drivetrain may not offer enough gear range for some riders, so Pivot throws in a OneUp 45t cassette expander with most of its kits. It’s a nice way to float up to the top of the hills without adding a front derailleur. Thanks, Pivot.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Moving out:

The Switchblade can use 29er or 27.5+ wheels, no problem; however, it’s best to understand the setup to dial your bike for either wheel system. Pivot includes two different headset options with each Switchblade. One uses a flush bottom cup to lower the front end, steepen the head angle slightly and bring down the bottom bracket slightly. Pivot recommends using this with the 29er wheel setup. The other headset option has a 17-millimieter rise to bring the front end up and bring the bottom bracket up slightly to prevent riders from smashing pedals due to a low bottom bracket height. Since the outer diameter of the 27.5+ wheels is slightly smaller, Pivot recommends this cup with the plus wheels. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, but tinkering with the included cups makes a difference.

Suspension setup:

Pivot takes almost all the guesswork out of the suspension with an air-sprung fork and shock and an included shock-sag measurement device. Simply pump the shock until the O-ring lines up with the proper sag, then set your desired fork pressure and hit the trails. We found the recommended 30-percent rear suspension sag combined with about 20 percent up front worked perfectly. We didn’t feel the need to deviate far from our initial setup.

pivot-10Climbing traction for days: The plus-sized setup allows riders to tractor their way up steep climbs, especially with the expanded cassette helping the gearing.

Pedaling:

With 135 millimeters of dw-Link suspension, the Switchblade’s pedaling platform works efficiently and feels quick out of the gate. Hard pedaling results in snappy acceleration and a feeling that little to no effort is being wasted on suspension bob. While far less efficient than a true XC race bike, the Switchblade hangs at the top of the trailbike class for pedaling.

pivot-bigSwitch it up: The Switchblade falls delightfully in the middle of Pivot’s lineup. Thanks to a very lightweight setup combined with ample suspension travel and an aggressive geometry, this bike is truly capable of conquering almost any trail with confidence, no matter which wheel size you choose.

Cornering:

Cornering depends heavily on setup. With 27.5+ wheels, the bike delivers tons of traction. With the 29er setup, the bike relies more on the suspension to deliver traction but also delivers confidence at both high and low speeds. In either case, the bike’s short chainstays and relatively short wheelbase make for a fun and flickable bike that’s lively in any corner, whether it’s a high-speed sweeper or tight switchback.

pivot-spreadFun and flickable: The Switchblade might not have as much travel as most enduro bikes, but that didn’t stop us from looking for the fun lines on the trail. The bike is lively and loves coming off the ground, even when the trail is technical.

Descending:

The Switchblade comes to the table with plenty of travel and geometry that’s more than capable of handling some of the gnarliest trails. While it might not be as full enduro as its big brother the Mach 6, we could see many Pivot enduro racers preferring this bike for more pedal-intensive courses.

The Switchblade’s suspension keeps the bike high in its travel in most cases. Once past the first bit of travel, though, the bike dives through and offers excellent bump control on moderate and big hits. The bike feels like it has as much or more than the claimed 135 millimeters of travel, which makes it more confidence-inspiring than the spec sheet would indicate.

The wheel dilemma:

The option to run 27.5+ or 29er wheels on one bike looks good on paper, but we don’t see every rider needing to invest in two wheelsets or wanting to change them out for every ride. For our trails, we preferred the 29er wheels in most instances, although the 27.5+ delivered better small-bump compliance thanks to the extra air volume and better climbing traction thanks to the increased tire footprint. Overall, though, the 29er setup felt snappier and more responsive, especially with the 29er-specific flush headset cup installed.

pivot-2Dial it in: The Switchblade comes with two different head- set cups—one that’s flush, and one that raises the front end 17 millimeters (pictured here). This allows the rider two different options for bottom bracket height and head angle.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

The only difference between the original 157-millimeter downhill hubs and the ones designed to work with Super Boost Plus (SBP) is the spacing of the hub flanges. The SBP hubs put the spokes slightly out with less dish to create a stiffer wheel. There are only a limited number of companies making SBP-specific hubs currently. If you have a favorite hub-maker that doesn’t have SBP yet, a 157-millimeter downhill hub from any company will work just fine.

BUYING ADVICE

Pivot is known for building bikes that are better than the sum of their parts and able to adapt to trail conditions. Pivot’s 429SL can be ridden on trails because, in addition to being light and efficient, it is also stiff and plush. Pivot’s enduro-inspired Mach 6 is as confident as a downhill bike and light enough to hang with trailbikes. That’s Pivot’s MO—build bikes that can do more than one thing.

The Switchblade takes that mantra a step further by not only offering multiple wheel sizes but also adjustable geometry via the multiple headset options, making this one of the most versatile bikes we’ve ever seen from the Arizona company. The only riders who wouldn’t be interested in the Switchblade are die-hard XC and DH racers—and even they might still like to have a Switchblade in their garages for the days they’re not racing the clock.

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