Flow reviews the 2022 Pivot Firebird
The Pivot Firebird has been carrying the long travel torch for almost as long as Pivot has existed. First introduced in 2008, a year after Pivot Cycles came to be, the original Pivot Firebird made waves thanks to its long travel capabilities and impeccable pedalling manners. Despite not being the *ahem* prettiest of ducklings, it earned a loyal following amongst gravity-hungry riders who valued the all-day efficiency of its dw-link suspension platform.
That alloy Firebird was also the first Pivot model to move up to 27.5in wheels, which was followed by a dedicated carbon fibre model in 2016. Two years later Pivot expanded the range with the Firebird 29, which went on to become the enduro weapon of choice for the Pivot Factory Racing team. It’s a bike we’ve had a heap of experience with, having made full use of its bacon-saving abilities when we took it down to Maydena.
Given how well the Pivot Firebird 29 rode, and how popular this bike has been in Australia over the past three years, we were intrigued to see what Pivot would do with the new model. As it turns out, quite a lot.
Pivot Firebird overview
The new Pivot Firebird is the 5th generation model within the Firebird’s 13-year history. It remains as a brawny 29in enduro bike, with 165mm of rear wheel travel paired to a 170mm travel fork. That sees it competing directly with the latest Cannondale Jekyll, Trek Slash, Norco Range, and Canyon Strive.
Being a premium, high-performance enduro race bike, the Pivot Firebird will only be available in carbon fibre. It still employs a dw-link suspension design, though as per the latest Switchblade, Trail 429 and Mach 6, the new Pivot Firebird moves to a vertical shock layout. Funnily enough, this actually sees the Firebird returning to the layout of the original model. However, that’s about where the similarities end.
Along with its straighter tube profiles and compact suspension links, it’s the cleanest looking Firebird to date. It can also now fit a water bottle inside the mainframe (hooray!), and there’s room for a second or a tool keg underneath the downtube. Additional bosses up at the top tube allow riders to make use of bolt-on storage solutions, like Pivot’s own Tool Dock System.
Updated geometry with variable chainstay lengths
There have also been some significant changes to the Pivot Firebird’s geometry, with the head angle getting a degree slacker (64°) and the seat tube angle steepening by around two degrees (76-77°). Of note here is that Pivot calculates the effective seat angle based on the average saddle height for each frame size – a nice touch.
Reach has also increased by around 14mm per size, so you’re now looking at 468mm for a Medium, and 488mm for a Large. That is quite long.
The chainstays remain short, though the big news here is that the Firebird introduces size-specific rear centre lengths – a first for any full suspension bike from Pivot. On a Small frame it measures 431mm, growing to 445mm on the XL. The goal is to maintain more consistent weight distribution throughout the size range, regardless of rider height. Pivot achieves this in a similar way to Norco, by changing the location of the BB on the mainframe, thereby extending or shortening the effective rear centre length.
Yep, you can mullet it too
The Pivot Firebird carries over its two-position geometry flip chip, which allows riders to lift the BB height by 6mm and sharpen the angles by 0.6°. And yes, the Firebird is ready to go full mullet if you fancy – just put the flip chip into the High position to compensate for the smaller 27.5in rear wheel.
Speaking of options, the frame is rated for use with a 180mm travel fork. And you can even fit a dual crown fork if you really want to go Beyonduro™ with the Firebird.
There are SO many nice details
As we’ve come to expect from Pivot Cycles, the new Firebird is absolutely humming with neat details throughout.
To maintain the desired chassis stiffness for different sized pilots, each frame size features variable tube sizing and its own unique carbon lay-up. Along with the size-specific seat angle and rear centre lengths, Pivot has not held back in its efforts to ensure that ride quality is maintained throughout the size range.
Suspension kinematics are also tuned for each frame size. The links themselves are made from cold-forged hunks of 7000-series alloy, which are then CNC machined and anodised into their final form. Enduro MAX full-complement bearings are used throughout, while a rubber mudflap sits on top of the lower link to reduce the chance of debris getting jammed between it and the back of the seat tube.
Further frame protection comes in the form of a 3D chain-slap guard, and there’s a generous dollop of armouring inside the drive-side of the swingarm. A thick panel also wraps around the belly of the downtube and the huge 92mm wide press-fit bottom bracket shell, while ISCG 05 tabs offer chainguide mounting options.
Sticking with Super Boost
The Pivot Firebird maintains the Super Boost spacing of the previous bike, with a 157mm wide rear hub that’s paired to a wider chainline. This helps to get the back end nice and short, while maintaining a beefy and stiff swingarm.
There’s also generous tyre and mud clearance, with room for up to a 29×2.6in rear tyre. Pivot also says the wider rear hub allows for a stronger and stiffer rear wheel, something that’s particularly important on a long travel 29er.
It’s a standard we’ve seen Pivot fully embrace for the latest Trail 429, Switchblade, Mach 6, Shuttle and Phoenix, and we’ve also seen it adopted by the likes of Evil, Devinci and Knolly. While it does present benefits, it does require a Super Boost compatible rear hub and crankset – something that owners will want to bear in mind when considering spares and upgrades.
2022 Pivot Firebird price & specs
The Pivot Firebird will be offered in a staggering array of build options – 15 to be exact. Prices start at $9,499 AUD for the Firebird Race XT and go up to a healthy $19,999 AUD for the Firebird Team XX1 AXS Live model.
Worth noting is that the new Pivot Firebird is actually available right now. Not in six months, but right now. We understand that much of the first shipment has already been pre-sold to Pivot dealers, though more stock is due to arrive in September.
Whatever model you go for you’ll be getting a Fox 38 fork, a Transfer dropper post and Maxxis Minion 3C tyres. You can choose between a Fox air or coil shock, and there are also carbon wheel and Fox Live Valve upgrade options.
The bike that Pivot sent us to test sits somewhere in the middle of the range. Its full name is the Pivot Firebird 29 Carbon Pro XT/XTR, which is quite the mouthful. Read on for the full specs, followed by our review of the big travel Firebird.
Pivot Firebird 29 Carbon Pro XT/XTR
- Frame | Hollow Core Carbon Fibre, dw-link Suspension Design, 165m Travel
- Fork | Fox 38, Factory Series, GRIP2 Damper, 44mm Offset, 170mm Travel
- Shock | Fox Float X2, Factory Series, 205x65mm
- Hubs | Industry Nine Hydra, 110x15mm Front & 157x12mm Super Boost Rear
- Rims | Reynolds Blacklabel Wide Trail Carbon, 34mm Inner Width
- Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHF EXO+ 3C MaxxTerra 2.5in Front & Minion DHR EXO+ 3C MaxxTerra 2.4in Rear
- Drivetrain | Shimano XT/XTR 1×12 w/Race Face Aeffect R 32T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano XT M8120 4-Piston w/203mm CenterLock Rotors
- Bar | Phoenix Team Low Rise Carbon, 20mm Rise, 800mm Wide
- Stem | Phoenix Team Enduro/Trail, 45mm Long
- Grips | Phoenix Factory Lock-On
- Seatpost | Fox Transfer Factory, 31.6mm Diameter, Travel: 150mm (S), 175mm (M-L), 200mm (XL)
- Saddle | WTB/Phoenix Volt Pro
- Sizes | Small, Medium, Large & X-Large
- Confirmed Weight | 14.66kg
- RRP | $13,499 AUD
Testing the 2022 Pivot Firebird
We’ve been riding the Pivot Firebird for the past couple of weeks on our local trails, and so far we’ve been thoroughly impressed with the mighty ‘Bird. Thanks to those compact suspension links and sparkly metallic-fleck paint job, it’s a seriously classy-looking bike that just oozes quality – as it should do for the price.
Our test bike features the Fox Float X2 air shock option, and it’s also been hopped-up with a carbon wheel upgrade in the form of the Reynolds Blacklabel Trail Wide wheelset. These feature blunt carbon fibre rims with a very broad 34mm internal width to support new generation 2.4-2.6in tyres, and they roll on slick Industry Nine Hydra hubs. The rear hub gets a 6-pawl mechanism with a ridonculous 690 engagement points for near-instantaneous pickup at the pedals. Confirmed weight for these high-end hoops is just 1,768g, which is very light for an enduro-capable wheelset.
The bike itself is also quite light given its intentions. With the tyres setup tubeless, our Large-sized Pivot Firebird weighs in at 14.66kg without pedals.
Sizing & fit
To suit Ben’s height of 181cm we chose the Large size. Once we chopped the bars down to our preferred width of 780mm, the fit proved to be absolutely spot-on.
The 488mm reach is long, though the steepened seat tube angle helps to shorten the effective top tube length. Along with the riser bars and 45mm stem, you’re provided a comfortable and centralised riding position.
Thanks to the new shock layout, the Pivot Firebird now features a straight seat tube. It looks better, and it maximises seatpost insertion, so there’s plenty of room for adjustment with the stock 175mm travel Fox Transfer. And with the low-slung top tube, there’s more standover clearance too.
Suspension & tyre setup
Pivot recommends setting up the Firebird’s rear shock with a generous 33% sag. While there are no handy clip-on guides on the Firebird’s rear shock (like you’ll find on the Pivot Trail 429, for example), lining up the O-ring on the shock stanchion with the very bottom of the bump on the piggyback reservoir gets you to that 33% figure.
Because the leverage rate is so progressive, the Float X2 is setup with zero volume spacers inside the air can. And with all the adjustability built into the X2 damper, Pivot elected for an off-the-shelf medium tune from Fox, with no custom trickery required. We didn’t have to do anything funky with the settings, and the progression felt fantastic out of the box.
The only question mark we had with the build kit was with the Maxxis Minion tyres, which are equipped with light-duty EXO+ casings. Factoring in the nasty rocks on our local test trails, we set pressures at 22psi up front and 25psi on the rear.
What does the Pivot Firebird do well?
There are two overwhelming sensations that the new Pivot Firebird exudes. One is its ability to pickup speed, and the other is its propensity to carry that speed across really rough terrain. No doubt about it, this bike is fast. Real fast.
Of course you’d kind of expect that for such a big, long travel 29er, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Firstly, the Pivot Firebird is a very well proportioned bike. And unlike some other bikes in this category, it doesn’t take long to get comfortable. Indeed within the very first ride we had already notched up our fastest ever time on three separate descents, which we ride a lot. On those descents, which are littered with ugly, momentum-robbing rock gardens, there were numerous corners that we were coming into with way more speed than we were used to.
The suspension is sublime
Much of the Pivot Firebird’s ability to build speed comes down to the brilliant dw-link suspension. Compared to the previous bike, the new Firebird has a more rearward axle path, much like the latest Mach 6 and Phoenix. Square-edge hits are gobbled up with ease, the sensitive Float X2 allowing the rear wheel to get out of the way quickly without upsetting momentum or weight balance.
It’s remarkably well controlled, even as the impacts get bigger and faster. On more seismic hits, we were able to use all the travel as needed, albeit with no harsh clunks to speak of – a direct result of both the progressive leverage ratio and the huge bottom-out bumper inside the Float X2.
Up front the Fox 38 is an excellent match for the high quality rear suspension. It’s beautifully supple, something that becomes more obvious when under load. The GRIP2 damper provides exceptional high-speed control without feeling sticky and over-damped, while the big chassis compliments the stiff and stout frame nicely.
Pointing & shooting
Along with the well-balanced suspension, there’s a real sense that the front and rear wheels are tracking evenly and on the same plane, with zero deflection between the two. It really encourages you to adopt a point-and-shoot mentality, and to hold a line with conviction – something that was particularly noticeable when holding a high line through an off camber section before setting up wide for the next corner.
Indeed the harder you ride it, the better the Pivot Firebird gets. However, it’s not the sort of magic carpet ride where the trail disappears underneath you entirely. You can still feel exactly what is going on beneath the tyres, not necessarily in an uncomfortable way, but in a sense that empowers you to pick exactly where the bike goes next, rather than just being a passenger who’s along for the ride.
What does it struggle with?
In all honesty, very little. The Pivot Firebird is a big bike, and our first assumption was that it would be entirely overkill on everyday trails. That didn’t end up being the case, which was a bit of a head-scratcher at first.
Of course it’s no XC bike and it weighs close to 15kg, but it still climbs very well for such a long travel bike. The seated position is fantastic thanks to the steep seat tube angle, but that’s only part of it. The dw-link suspension remains stable when you need to leap out of the saddle on technical pinch climbs, with excellent response under power and plenty of traction on loose surfaces. There’s a climb switch on the rear shock, but we never bothered with it for proper off-road riding.
It’s not the blunt instrument you might be expecting
The undemanding climbing performance extends through to the Pivot Firebird’s handling, which is decidedly low-fuss. Even on tighter and flatter singletrack, the Firebird rarely feels too big.
Because the suspension is so well behaved, the Firebird maintains predictable weight distribution, with less pitching and rocking under pedalling and braking inputs. There’s minimal wiggle through the chassis, so you don’t feel it bending and wallowing under load. The result is that you’re less likely to understeer and blow through tight corners, which is a trait common to many uber-slack, big travel bikes.
The short 438mm rear centre length certainly helps here, as does the one-piece carbon swingarm and those chunky linkages. It gives the Firebird a lot of precision given the amount of travel that’s on tap. Combined with the centred riding position and refined suspension package, the Pivot Firebird never feels like a heffalump on undulating terrain.
Component highs & lows
We’ve been impressed by the Pivot Firebird as an overall package, but our test bike wasn’t entirely without fault.
Unfortunately we put a nasty pinch-flat into the rear tyre, which wasn’t totally unexpected given the lightweight EXO+ casing. We’d love to see Pivot spec’ing a heavier DoubleDown casing for the rear tyre at least. In the meantime, Firebird owners should wang a tubeless insert in there STAT!
The Fox Transfer has also stopped extending properly, occasionally sticking in the last 20mm of its travel. This is an issue we’ve encountered before with the Fox Transfer on the Merida Ninety-Six, and as we understand it’s an issue with bushing alignment from the factory. That means it’ll be fixed under warranty, but it’s still disappointing to experience on a bike costing $13,499 AUD.
On the note of price, while the Race Face cranks haven’t caused any issues, they do seem a little cheap given the rest of the build kit. On the flip side, the US-made Industry Nine Hydra hubs are a real treat on this bike. And the lightweight carbon rims certainly contribute to the Firebird’s zest for all-round riding.
Otherwise the Shimano groupset has been flawless, and we have nothing but praise to heap onto the buttery-smooth Fox suspension.
The only thing to watch for is your drink bottle placement, as we initially had a small amount of contact with the shock’s piggyback reservoir. And as we’ve previously noted in our reviews of the latest Switchblade and Trail 429, you’ll want to wrap some electrical tape around the gear and dropper cables where they enter the head tube, in order to secure them properly inside the bolt-on port and reduce any chance of rattle.
Pivot Firebird vs Trek Slash
As a direct competitor to the Pivot Firebird, the latest Trek Slash is a fellow long travel 29er enduro bike that we’ve had a load of experience with. So how does it compare to the Firebird?
The two bikes are quite similar on paper, with the Slash featuring 170/160mm of travel. However, it delivers its travel via the ABP suspension design and a custom RockShox Super Deluxe Thru-Shaft shock. The Slash also gets a nifty storage compartment in its downtube, a huge armour plate that covers almost the whole underside of the downtube, and the Knock Block steering limiter. It’s also available in carbon and alloy variants across five frame sizes, so it speaks to a wider audience than the Firebird.
The geometry is also very close between the two bikes, with the Slash featuring a 64.1° head angle and a 486mm reach in the size Large. Even the rear centre length is basically the same at 437mm. The biggest difference would be the seat tube angle, which is notably slacker on the Slash (75.6° vs 77°). This means the cockpit feels longer, and we had to slam the saddle forwards on the rails to get the Slash feeling comfortable on the climbs.
On the trail the Trek Slash feels like a much bigger bike. The suspension is plusher and more reactive thanks to the Thru-Shaft shock, which is incredibly sensitive and offers stupendous traction. It melts over sharp rocks and rough ground effortlessly, and the high-speed handling is so foolproof that you could close your eyes and let it monster truck through all the tech sections. Err, on second thoughts, don’t do that.
In comparison, the Pivot Firebird feels like the faster and more precise bike of the two. Its suspension is more progressive and supportive out of the box, with less need to rely on the shock’s compression damping. The steeper seat angle also makes a noticeable difference to your riding position on the climbs, and along with the efficient dw-link suspension, it’s a better and more comfortable climber.
Whereas the plush suspension on the Trek Slash can dull the trail somewhat, the Pivot Firebird feels more lively and direct. It does pass on more trail feedback, but it also puts more of the control back into the hands of the rider. And thanks to its steady suspension, that makes it the more balanced all-round option, particularly if you’re not frequenting death-gnar trails all the time.
With the new 5th generation Firebird, Pivot hasn’t just upped the performance bar of its long travel 29er, it’s also delivered one of the most refined and versatile enduro bikes currently on the market.
It’s clear that there’s been an enormous amount of time and energy that’s been poured into the new Pivot Firebird. From its size-specific kinematics, to the scaled rear centre sizing, to the beautifully finished frame, there’s an exceptionally high level of attention to detail on show. And that results in a very tight and precise feeling bike on the trail.
Of course with its big wheels, big travel and updated geometry, the Pivot Firebird monsters the descents like an absolute champ. Much of this is owed to the revised dw-link suspension design, which allows you to build speed and maintain momentum on raucous terrain.
Where the Firebird really surprises however, is in its ability to thread the needle on less gnarly trails. The short and stiff back end enhances steering response, and the lack of suspension wallow means you can hold a line with serious conviction. Add in the excellent climbing manners and you’ve got a long travel 29er that doesn’t shy away from bigger all-day rides that don’t involve a shuttle vehicle.
With the premium carbon-only frame, it isn’t exactly the cheapest bike going. Beginners and wheels-on-the-ground riders will also be better served by shorter travel options like the Switchblade or Trail 429. But if enduro racing is on the cards, or you’re simply the type of rider who craves riding at warp speed on highly technical terrain, then the new Pivot Firebird is one of the most capable and pedal-able long travel bikes going.