Editor’s Note: Along with longtime Mtbr forum member Kent Robertson (KRob), the 2016 Outerbike Test Sessions were conducted by Ben Slabaugh, aka Schlim on Mtbr. Ben, 37, has been riding mountain bikes since he was 12, and today leans toward the XC side of things. This year, the pair headed to Moab, Utah, for the annual Outerbike consumer demo event where they rode as many bikes as possible. These posts are first ride impressions only — not full reviews. However, they stand by their opinions, and feel like they are good at feeling out the true identity, strengths, weaknesses, and soul of any given bike. For each session, they attempted to get set-up and suspension as dialed as possible. Test rides usually lasted 30-60 minutes. All bikes were then rated on a scale of 1-5 for visual impression/looks, climbing ability, descending, cornering, general agility, fit, and an intangible factor. Lowest possible score is 7. Highest is 35.
Check out the entire Outerbike Test Sessions archive.
The new Pivot Firebird was an extremely popular choice in the desert. Of the first six of us in line, the three larges tagged to go out on the Mag 7 shuttle went out 4, 5, and 6. And it was my first choice given the ridiculously good Mag 7 ride I had on the original 26er Firebird in 2013.
It’s since been updated with 27.5 wheels, a 65-degree head angle, longer front center, and Fox Float X2 piggyback shock. And just to make sure that nobody mistakes it for a shorter travel XC rig, there’s a decal on the downtime that broadcasts 170mm of travel. This bike is pretty much the definition of mini-DH.
My size large test bike was standard black. There’s also a flo red option that actually looks kinda pink, but is still very cool compared to a ubiquitous matte carbon setup. The rear triangle and linkages are stout looking, with the brace being a structural part of a single unified piece. No flex here. I was also a fan of the Shimano drivetrain and brakes. The whole Shimano experience was good as usual, with the welcome double downshift push option and brakes that feel powerful and don’t squawk.
The Firebird was also my first experience on the DT Swiss Spine line of wheels, in this case Spline 2 M1700s with nice looking straight pull spokes. Hubs were chrome rather than the usual black, which I thought was a classy touch. The rims are plenty wide at 30mm external, 25mm internal and fit the intended purpose of the Firebird.
Never been to Outerbike? Find out what this consumer demo event is all about.
Right away, I felt the geometry was dead on. The bike felt predicable, comfortable, and capable of taking on anything thrown at it. Although a much larger bike, it had no problem keeping up with the more zippy and nimble Yeti 4.5 that Kent was riding ahead of me. I know something about that bike since I own one myself, and in the first few minutes, I found myself thinking that I’d really like the Float X2 option on my 4.5. Unfortunately, the smallest X2 eye to eye size is too long for the 4.5.
Over successive hits on slickrock, there was no packing down, fading, or increasing harshness. The ride remained very predictable hit after hit. The rear wasn’t as plush as the original Firebird felt, though. I’m optimistic that the ride could be tuned to preference with the X2 settings, but it wasn’t until Kent dumped out a little pressure that the bike felt more like the actual 170mm of cushion.
Interestingly, the suspension feel and quality seemed very close to what I got out of the Yeti SB6 on Mag 7 last year. Partially, that’s because both share the Fox 36 fork and a similarly slack head tube, but the DW-link and switch infinity suspensions are different beasts. I would give the edge to the Pivot for geometry and its ability to inspire confidence, but in my experience the SB6 scrambled up stuff a little better and was a lighter package overall.
Check out the Mtbr First Look of the Pivot Firebird.
You really can’t go wrong with either, and it depends on whether you lean more enduro or more light downhill. It was a pretty common theme that the forks and shocks were being way over pressured for my own preference at setup, so I started asking the techs to set them up on the soft side. The Fox 36 was very stiff, but also didn’t dive under botched rollers and emergency braking. Kent hucked it right off a 5-foot slickrock cliff and the Firebird carried him through fine.
The DT wheels proved an agreeable pairing, and my sense is that I’d prefer the aluminum to carbon hoop offerings on this bike. My positive experience later on the Intense Primer’s carbon SRAM wheels (review to come) did make me wonder what would contribute to the Firebird’s ride. I was able to climb out on the dirt road just fine passing all kinds of folks on smaller bikes, and the Pivot absorbed all the washboard chatter as expected.
With the comfortable fit and reach, I would absolutely buy the Firebird as a big bike option, provided I had a zippier trail alternative for longer days in the saddle. I think it could have been more plush, but with a multi-adjust shock on slickrock, you never know what a little tuning might accomplish on home trails. These days, it might make more sense to have a single-crown bike like this for versatility than a dedicated downhill rig.
Outerbike Test Session Score: 31 out of 35
For more information visit www.pivotcycles.com.