The not-so-minor details
Frame only price
Flawless, versatile handling.
Easily converts to singlespeed.
Confidence for miles.
Stock tyres are not tubeless compatible.
You can almost envision the meeting at Pivot HQ, amongst the rocky mesas of Arizona:
“Guys, I really think we should make a hardtail.”
“Whaddaya mean a hardtail? We’re called Pivot – can you tell me where the pivot is on a hardtail? And what the hell would we call it anyhow, this pivot-less Pivot of yours? Hey…. wait a minute.” And so the Pivot Les was born. Well, at least that’s how we like to imagine it.
The crew at Flow have long been fans of Pivot Cycles, and over the years we’ve had plenty of their superbly engineered bikes either in our own personal quiver or on test. Mr Pivot, Chris Cocalis, possesses one of the finest design brains in mountain bikes, and his expertise resonates through the brand and all the way to the trail.
But one of the aspects that generally makes Pivot bikes so appealing is their rear suspension performance. And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Les ain’t got no rear suspension. We’ve seen many a brand come up short when they try to step outside their area of expertise; would the Les live up to our usual lofty Pivot expectations?
Hardtails aren’t our bread and butter at Flow. The trails around our HQ are rocky and rough, and riding them on a hardtail is kind of like watching subtitled television – less fun and requiring too much concentration. But the perfect opportunity to give the Pivot a real test was on the horizon, with the four-day Port to Port MTB stage race coming up. Having already checked out much of the course, we knew that it was well suited to a hardtail, and within moments of clapping eyes on the Pivot it got the nod for the job.
The Pivot has a look about it that we loved from the very outset; it’s a carbon hardtail without fear, with pin-striping that wouldn’t be out of place on a souped-up Valiant. The front/centre measurement is long, the rear end is very short, the head angle a little slacker than most cross country hardtails, and it’s equipped with wheels that can take a beating. It’s a bike that eases the hardtail learning curve and doesn’t punish you too much when you forget you don’t have five-inches of travel. In sum, the Les is exactly the kind of hardtail you want if you usually ride a dual-suspension!
Power transfer and direct, confident handling are two hallmarks of Pivot bikes, and the Les frame reflects this: the head tube area is whopping, and it’s mirrored by a tremendously stiff 92mm press-fit bottom bracket junction. In comparison, the more flattened profiles of the top tube and seat stays look rather svelte, but it’s all about factoring a little bit of compliance into the ride.
While we weren’t masochistic enough to do so, the Les can be easily converted into a single speed too. The Swinger dropouts have a unique, indexed chain-tension adjustment system, allowing for single speed use without the need for a chain tensioner. Out of the box though, the frame is set up for geared use, and the single speed dropouts are available separately. One the topic of dropouts, the Les comes with a lovely DT-made 142x12mm rear axle, which is a nice touch.
Keeping the rear end short is absolutely key to good 29er handling, and at 434mm the Les is fairly compact in the chain stay department. Widely bowed seat stays and a slight curve to the seat tube (and the added fact that our bike had no front derailleur) ensure that there’s still plenty of tyre clearance, which would certainly become a boon during the incredible mud we encountered on Day 2 of the Port to Port MTB stage race.
Internal gear cable routing is kept hassle free with a large access port under the bottom bracket shell, while the rear brake is kept external for simplicity and ease-of-maintenance.
With a $7000+ price tag, it’s no surprise that the Les has components that leave very little room for upgrading. SRAM’s formidable XX1 groupset is a highlight, as are the Stan’s Arch EX wheels and FOX Float Factory fork. Still, we did make a few changes to the bike before race day – in a stage race environment, the reliability of your bike is so important and the last thing you want is to be carrying out undue maintenance each night when you’re shagged. Some of the tweaks we made were about confidence, some were about comfort.
The Magura MT-8 brakes were removed in favour of a well-loved set of Avid XO Trail brakes. While this change added weight to the bike, we didn’t have any spare parts for the Maguras available, and previous experience with some temperamental Magura stoppers left us wary. The tyres also had to go. While the Stan’s wheels are tubeless-ready, the Kenda tyres seal up about as well as flyscreen! We opted for the new Maxxis Ardent Race in a 2.2″, and they ended up being the perfect tyre for the job, with a robust casing and fantastic grip.
We also swapped out the cockpit. The Les has a long top tube and with the stock 100mm stem and 740mm bar, it was too much of a stretch for our test rider. It’s unlike us to go narrower on a handlebar, but in the end we settled on a 730mm Thomson bar combined with an 80mm stem. With the stem flipped and lowered as far as it would go, the riding position was perfect! With all these changes made, the Les weighed in at just over 10.3kg,
Back on the subject of the drivetrain, the Les came equipped with a 30-tooth chain ring. Our initial thought was to change it for something a little bigger, but we ultimately left it in place and we’re incredibly happy we did! We lost count of how many times riders asked if they could borrow the Pivot’s tiny chain ring as we spun by on the climbs – gear your bike for the climbs, not the descents, especially when there’s four days of racing to be done.
Looking back, we really cannot fault the Pivot’s performance during Port to Port. Aside from about 15 minutes during the lumpy third stage when our back lamented not having a full suspension bike, the Les truly was the ultimate tool for the job. Nothing reinforces this fact more than the complete lack of thought we gave to the bike during the actual racing – not a niggle, not a squeak, not one moment of uncertainty.
This is what a great bike achieves, it allows you to worry about your own performance, not the bike’s. But a truly excellent bike goes one step further, compensating for you when your brain and body is too rooted to ride properly. There were plenty of instances when the Pivot carried us through situations that could have ended up very badly on a more nervous bike; the insanely fast and muddy descent from the Pokolbin State Forest on stage 2, or blindly bombing into rocky Glenrock singletrack on stage 4 for instance. But in each case, the stability of the Pivot carried us through.
For a bike that still weighs so little and climbs so well, the Pivot’s frame stiffness and refusal to get thrown off line is pretty impressive. The wide Stans rims give plenty of stability to the tyres, but it’s the feeling of connectedness between the front wheel, your hands, your feet and the rear wheel that really makes this bike shine.
The XX1 drivetrain never missed a shift, even when the derailleur was literally a solid block of mud. At one stage during the race, the sheer amount of mud on the chain ring meant the chain just wouldn’t stay on, forcing an impromptu bike wash in the nearest puddle. The super-fine chain ring/chain tolerances just couldn’t cope with that much mud, but we’re talking about so much crud that the wheels wouldn’t even turn, so we’re not going to hold this against the Pivot!
The FOX Float 32 Factory fork was stellar. It exemplifies set-and-forget performance – we left the fork in the intermediate Trail mode for the entire four days of racing, from the roughest descents to the smoothest tarmac sections. Despite absolutely zero maintenance being administered, the fork’s performance didn’t deteriorate at all, and we couldn’t have asked for a better balance of sensitivity and support.
Pivot have nailed it. With their first carbon hardtail, they’ve managed to capture all the important aspects that have traditionally made Pivot bikes so great, just minus the rear suspension. The added versatility of simple single speed conversion will appeal to some, but for us it’s the way this bike blends the best of a high-performance race hardtail with the confidence of a much burlier bike that has won us over.