Bike Test: Pivot Cycles Firebird 29

Launched in the summer of 2018, Pivot’s all-new Firebird 29 was designed to reimagine what was once thought possible of a long-travel 29er. Featuring modern technology and design, the Firebird 29 is unlike most long-travel 29ers to have hit the market over the past few years. We had our first look at the Firebird 29 when we met up with Pivot in Moab prior to the bike’s release date. The Firebird immediately caught our attention and begged us to toss a leg over it. It’s a bike that simply looks fast sitting still, which is why we invited the Firebird into our test fleet this month to see if we could push it as hard as the bike demands—easier said than done.

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

The Firebird 29 suits a wide range of riders—from enduro racers to park rats to trail riders looking for a highly capable bike. It’s built tough and would likely hang with most downhill rigs, while its efficient dw-link suspension makes its 162mm of travel manageable during climbs. The Firebird combines a downhill-inspired reach measurement with sub-17-inch chainstays in order to balance high-speed stability with maneuverability. Riders who are willing to lug the additional suspension, and long, slack and low geometry uphill will be rewarded with an unbelievably plush and speedy trip back

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Pivot constructed the Firebird using its own hollow-core, high-compression carbon molding process, which allowed them to achieve the strength-to-weight ratio they were looking for. The Firebird meets the same stiffness and durability testing standards as Pivot’s World Cup downhill race bike while keeping frame weight right around 7 pounds. Complete bikes are claimed to tip the scales at under 30 pounds.

The Firebird was then packed with modern features, such as internal cable routing, adjustable geometry Flip Chips, frame pro- tection and a Super Boost Plus rear end. The bike is compatible with both 29- and 27.5-inch wheels thanks to its Flip Chips and lower headset cup options. A low seat tube allows for the use of a long-travel dropper post, which over the last year has become popular. Prices start around $5100 for an XT build kit and go up to $9200 for an XX1 build kit with Reynolds carbon wheels. This is a high-performance bike and is not made for entry-level riders.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Our test bike came with the Pro XT/XTR build, but featured a few upgrades to help enhance its performance. In stock trim, our build kit would have come with DT Swiss M1700 wheels and a Performance-level Fox X2 shock. Meanwhile, our test bike featured an upgraded pair of Reynolds carbon wheels with Industry Nine hubs and a Factory-level Fox X2 shock. Other than those changes, our bike matched the Pro build package, which falls near the middle of the lineup.

The component that stood out the most was the XT four-piston brakes, which offered loads of power and managed to tame this fire-breathing dragon on fast descents. Up front, our bike came with a Fox Factory 36 fork featuring a Grip 2 damper and a 44mm offset. Rounding out the package was a Shimano XTR 11-speed rear derailleur paired with an XT shifter. Due to the design of the frame, the Firebird is only compatible with 1x drivetrains.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Setting sag: We’ve become accustomed to using Pivot’s sag indicator that zip-ties to the shock, making setup quick and easy. The Firebird 29 we tested didn’t have that indicator, so we had to measure sag the old-fashioned way. First, we pumped up our shock and equalized the air chambers by cycling the shock a few times. Our X2 shock had a 65mm stroke length, so to achieve 30-percent sag, we adjusted air pressure until the O-ring measured right around 20mm. From there, we found the recommended base tune for our shock and made additional changes out on the trails. Specifically, we slowed down both of our rebound settings and took a few clicks off our high-speed compression.

Up front, we followed the printed guide on the back of our Fox 36 fork, giving us 25-percent sag. From there, we adjusted both the high- and low-speed rebound and then addressed compression settings. The Firebird’s Fox suspension is best suited for riders who like to make minor tweaks to their setup. Riders who prefer to set it and forget it may want to find a knowledgeable rider to help them with the setup process.

Moving out: The Firebird’s long reach is immediately apparent as soon as you hop on. In fact, due to the long reach and short seat tube, Pivot states that most riders will be able to size up or down by a full frame size, depending on riding style and stem preference. With our main test rider being right around 5-foot- 9, a medium frame felt like the right choice. The Firebird is a big medium with a reach measurement of 455mm. For comparison’s sake, Pivot’s downhill race bike, in a size large, has roughly the same reach.

Climbing: The Firebird 29 almost defies the laws of gravity. With well over 6 inches of travel and 29-inch wheels, no one would expect this bike to climb as well as it does. Pedaling trails reserved mostly for trail bikes is no more of a chore than pedaling a bike with significantly less travel. It’s actually quite shocking how well the Firebird marches into battle. We often left the shock in the wide-open position, and while we did experience some bobbing, we simply reminded ourselves that we were essentially pedaling a downhill bike up the trails. The Firebird shines most on technical climbs where it can put its traction-grabbing suspension to work. Long and monotonous fire roads call for added compression to aid out-of-the-saddle pedaling.

Cornering: The Firebird 29 is a long and slack bike that takes a little getting used to in the corners. The bike features a slack 65-degree head tube angle and a 44mm offset fork. When diving into corners, this bike requires you to set up a wide turn and exit with lots of speed. Its short rear end makes it easy to whip the bike around once the front wheel has hooked up. The Wide Trail Maxxis tires were easy to trust and provided excellent grip when flying around turns.

Descending: Of course, this is where the Firebird 29 shines. This is a bike that truly allows its rider to ignore line choice and just go wherever he chooses. The 29-inch wheels steamroll over rocks, and the supple suspension makes rough trails feel pillowy soft. The Firebird 29 is so controlled and smooth, our riders often felt like they weren’t riding that fast until they looked back at their times—only to see new personal records. This is one fast machine that means business on any descent.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

The Firebird 29 offers a solid list of components; however, there are a few minor tweaks we would make to this bike. One of the first complaints from one of our testers was that the bike comes with WTB’s PadLoc grip system. This means the handlebars are cut at the ends to allow the inner wedge shape of the grip to slide into it. While some of our testers liked the added comfort of these softer grips, other testers would have liked the ability to run their  favorite grips without having to swap out the handlebars. Another thing that might deter riders from this bike is not having the ability to run a water bottle inside the frame. You can, however, fit a bottle underneath the bottom bracket area.

BUYING ADVICE

The Firebird 29 will likely be overkill in most situations; however, its pedaling performance makes it capable of hanging with other enduro bikes on the climbs. Once the trails point down, the additionall travel and big wheels boost confidence and turn the rowdiest trails into a mellow walk in the park. The Firebird 29 is ideally suited for riders who want one bike they can use for hitting the bike park, racing enduro or shredding the gnarliest local trails.  www.pivotcycles.com


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