Wil Reviews The New Pivot Switchblade
Pivot Cycles has just launched the 2nd generation of its popular full suspension 29er trail bike – the Switchblade. As with the original, the new Switchblade is designed to accept both 29in and 27.5+ wheels. However, a quick glance at the new bike shows a very different silhouette. Go beneath the surface, and it’s apparent that very little has actually been carried over from the old model.
Watch the Pivot Switchblade video review here!
- 0:19 – Intro
- 0:51 – Frame Features & Suspension Design
- 1:46 – Geometry
- 2:13 – Tyre Clearance
- 3:13 – Pricing & Build Options
- 3:42 – Switchblade Pro XT/XTR
- 4:07 – Complete Bike Weight
- 4:15 – Suspension Setup
- 4:39 – Riding Position& Fit
- 5:04 – Climbing
- 6:28 – Custom DPX2 Shock
- 7:20 – Shock Tuning
- 7:36 – Descending
- 7:57 – Handling
- 8:50 – The Verdict
“It uses Super Boost and the same headset, but beyond that, everything is improved” explains Chris Cocalis, Pivot’s CEO and lead engineer. Part of this is due to the advancements Pivot has made elsewhere in its lineup, with the Switchblade drawing both aesthetic and functional inspiration from the likes of the Mach 4 SL, Mach 5.5, Trail 429, and Firebird 29.
While this new version comes with a whole suite of updates, the Switchblade has also used the opportunity to dig its heels a little deeper into the ground to reassert its position within the Pivot lineup. While the Trail 429 is the brand’s dedicated 29er trail bike, and the Firebird 29 is the enduro race bike, the Switchblade has been sculpted, refined and honed into what Pivot calls a true All Mountain bike.
Gimme The Switchblade Basics
Compared to the outgoing model, the new Switchblade keeps the 160mm travel fork, though it pumps up rear travel from 135mm to a more All Mountain-esque 142mm. In terms of travel, that puts it right alongside the likes of the Ibis Ripmo, Norco Sight, Santa Cruz Hightower, Specialized Stumpjumper, and Giant Reign 29. Similarities aside, Pivot is keen to stipulate that the Switchblade is not an enduro bike.
This is reflected in the 66° head angle, which is perhaps on the conservative side these days for a bike with a Fox 36 GRIP2 up front. It is over a degree slacker than the old model though, and the seat tube is (of course) also steeper at 75.5°. The rear centre length is still very compact at just 430mm, though reach measurements have grown a healthy 10-20mm over the old Switchblade, helping to increase the overall footprint.
Super Boost 157x12mm hub spacing remains out back, and helps to keep the back end tight while providing clearance for 29×2.6in or 27.5×2.8in rear tyres. When switching between wheelsizes, a flip chip in the upper rocker link offers high (27.5+) and low (29in) positions.
That Shock Didn’t Used To Be There!
Ha – it’s moved! You’ll still find a dw-link suspension platform, though the orientation of the shock has been flipped and now mounts vertically in front of the seat tube. This follows the layout of the current Pivot Mach 4 SL, and given the improvements in packaging, we suspect future Pivot models will follow suit.
Because the top tube is slung lower, the new Switchblade has better standover clearance while still accommodating a full-size water bottle inside the mainframe. That goes for all five frame sizes, including the new Extra-Small. According to Pivot, it’s got a Switchblade to fit most riders between 152-200cm tall.
The frame itself is constructed using Pivot’s Hollow Core Carbon moulding process, where the carbon fibre plies are laid up over a solid silicone mandrel. This allows for a higher compaction rate during the curing process, helping to minimise air bubbles (voids) in between the layers of carbon to create a denser, stronger structure with smoother walls on the inside of the frame.
Details, Details, Details
The intricately constructed one-piece swingarm attaches to the mainframe via two beautifully CNC machined alloy links. These links are loaded with big diameter Enduro MAX sealed cartridge bearings, while sleek anodized hardware locks it all down. Pivot has very kindly laser etched the torque recommendations onto each one, so no excuses for not using a torque wrench.
The internal cable routing is equally well thought out, with large entry ports for threading the cables in and out of the frame. Just pull the cable taut, then snug down the bolt-on caps to secure the lines. Pivot has deliberately stayed away from in-tube moulded cable guides (like you’ll find on Yeti and Santa Cruz frames), which are not only trickier from a manufacturing perspective, but can also cause more noise since the cables are often free to float around inside the tube.
Underneath the BB you’ll also find a bolt-on port cover, which looks identical to the Di2 battery storage design of previous Pivot frames. While this port does allow for easier access to the cables and hydraulic hoses during the routing process, given Cocalis’ close working relationship with Shimano, I’d hazard a guess this may be a sign of future proofing for an incoming Di2 groupset. Or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my behalf.
While we’re talking bells and whistles, the Switchblade is also Fox Live Valve ready. As with the Mach 4 SL, there’s a specific mounting point under the top tube for the Live Valve battery pack, along with room for the rear-mounted sensor on the inside of the non-drive side dropout. It ain’t a cheap upgrade though. The Live Valve package is an optional extra on all Switchblade models for a $3000 surcharge.
What’s It Wearing?
Jet Black will be offering the new Switchblade in Australia with six different build variants – three with SRAM groupsets and three with Shimano. Complete bikes will kick off at $8,999 for the Race XT build, and will top out at a staggering $19,999 for the XX1 AXS model with Live Valve.
The Switchblade will also be available as a standalone frameset (including the headset, hardware and rear shock), which will set you back $5,499. It will only be available in carbon fibre though – Pivot says there are no plans to add an alloy option.
For a closer look at the full range, check out our detailed first look article on the new Pivot Switchblade. In there you’ll find pricing, specs and geometry, along with a closer look at the development story behind it.
Here we’ll be taking a closer look at the bike I’ve been testing for the past week; the Switchblade Pro XT/XTR.
2020 Pivot Switchblade Pro XT/XTR
- Frame | Hollow Core Carbon Fibre, dw-link Suspension Design, 142mm Travel
- Fork | Fox 36 Float, Factory Series, GRIP2 Damper, 44mm Offset, 160mm Travel
- Shock | Fox Float DPX2, Factory Series, 185x55mm
- Wheels | DT Swiss M1700, 30mm Inner Rim Width
- Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 3C Maxx Terra 2.5WT Front & DHR II EXO 3C Maxx Terra 2.4WT Rear
- Drivetrain | Shimano XT M8100 1×12 w/Race Face Aeffect R 32T Crankset & 10-51T Cassette
- Brakes | Shimano Deore XT M8120 4-Piston w/203mm Front & 180mm Rear CenterLock Rotors
- Bar | Phoenix Low Rise Carbon, 780mm Wide
- Stem | Phoenix Enduro Trail, 45mm Long
- Grips | Phoenix Factory Lock-On
- Seatpost | Fox Transfer, Factory Series, 150mm Travel
- Saddle | WTB Pro Vigo
- Size Tested | Medium
- Confirmed Weight | 14.01kg
- RRP | $10,999
Setting Up The Switchblade
Like every full suspension Pivot model, setting up the rear shock is satisfyingly simple thanks to a clip-on sag indicator. I asked Pivot why other brands hadn’t copied the idea, and it turns out Pivot actually has a patent on it. So there you go!
At 30% sag, the shock O-ring will line up with the red mark on the indicator. For my 68kg riding weight, 175psi in the Fox Float DPX2 did the trick. I set the rebound dial one click faster than halfway (8/14 clicks) and initially set the low-speed compression adjustment wide open.
To hit 25% sag on the Fox 36 fork while standing on the pedals, I ran 65psi. From the factory, there’s a single volume spacer inside the EVOL air spring, which I later removed to free up the end of the travel and improve small-bump sensitivity. After removing the volume spacer, I increased air pressure ever so slightly to 67psi.
Setting up the GRIP2 damper is a little more complicated, though Fox’s setup guide is a good starting point. After a bit of experimentation, I ended up with just 1-2 clicks off the lightest setting for both high-speed rebound and compression damping. To keep things lively, low-speed rebound was set a bit faster than halfway (8/15 clicks), and to help the fork preserve its travel on the descents, I set the low-speed compression damping halfway (7/14 clicks).
As for tyres, the high-volume Maxxis Minions come ready to go tubeless, so I set those up with 21psi in the front and 24psi in the rear.
Up at the cockpit, Pivot has gone to great lengths to dial in the fit for different frame sizes. The handlebar width varies from as narrow as 760mm on the XS and goes up to 800mm on the XL. Stem length is 45mm on most sizes, except the XS and SM, which get a itty bitty 35mm stem.
Likewise, dropper post travel grows along with the frame size. All models come with a Fox Transfer dropper post with between 100-175mm of travel. Even the saddle is different on the XS & SM frame sizes, with a WTB Pro Hightail Trail saddle spec’d due to its cutout rear profile that allows for more clearance with the rear tyre when the post is dropped and the shock is fully compressed. How’s that for detail?
A Technical Climbing Champ
At 175cm tall, I’ve been testing the Medium size in the Switchblade. Compared to the previous model, reach has grown from 440mm to 455mm. That’s roomy for a bike in this travel bracket. And since the seat angle isn’t crazy steep, it gives the cockpit a purposeful and slightly stretched out feel – particularly with the 780mm low-rise bars. The result is a comfortable riding position that suits all-day pedalling on varied terrain.
Early on in the test period, it was apparent that the Switchblade is a highly proficient climber. It’s got great posture on the ascents, and the efficient dw-link suspension is about as stable as it comes. Put simply, it rides a lot lighter than it is.
The DPX2 shock has a three-position compression lever, which gives you Open, Medium & Firm settings. For those wondering, the Firm setting isn’t a full lockout – it just adds a load of really heavy compression damping. Regardless, it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to use anything but full Open. Even on my 10km road commute to and from the trails, I never felt the urge to reach for the little blue lever.
The suspension does bob a bit when heaving out of the saddle, but since there’s no lockout on the fork, the rear shock is honestly the least of your worries. Stay seated, and the Switchblade is steady and composed. There’s good clearance under the cranks, which is partly due to the efficient dw-link suspension design that doesn’t give up all its travel at the first sign of a pedal stroke.
It isn’t just on smooth climbs where the Switchblade shines though. In fact, the more technical the ascent, the more impressive it gets. That’s hardly a surprise given this bike was born on the extremely rocky and demanding trails of South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona – the first port of call for any Pivot prototype. Chris Cocalis of Pivot Cycles is well known for his love of technical climbing and descending, and the Switchblade is a very good representation of his riding style.
With its grippy tyres, efficient suspension, roomy cockpit and not-too-slack head angle, the Switchblade relishes in being heaved around on lumpy terrain. It responds well to power moves, and it negotiates tight, awkward lines better than any bike I’ve ridden in recent memory. At faster riding speeds, it hovers above chunder remarkably well, with the suspension free to move without being restricted by pedalling inputs. Pivot has done a bang-up job of decoupling chain torque from the rear shock, allowing for consistent traction and smoother pedalling.
Progressive Suspension For Hard Hitters
Turning around to head back down the mountain, the Switchblade feels more poppy than other bikes I’ve ridden with a DPX2 shock. That’s because on the inside, it isn’t actually an off-the-shelf DPX2 shock.
We’re not talking a different shim stack tune either, but rather a whole new compression base valve and selector plate, which Pivot helped to design and test in partnership with Fox Racing Shox. The reason? Cocalis wanted the glue-like traction and repeated big hit consistency of the DPX2 shock, but still preferred the more lively feel of the inline DPS shock. The result is a custom shock with a unique compression assembly that has been specifically tuned for the Switchblade to give it a more sprightly and dynamic ride quality.
Pivot has also designed the Switchblade with a more progressive leverage ratio, so it’s now compatible with coil shocks – something the old bike with its shock clevis couldn’t do. With the stock DPX2 air shock, it has a very sprightly feel that encourages you to hit any jumps and doubles you come across. Along with the stiff frame, short back end and low overall weight, it’s a total grasshopper on flowy jump trails. However, the progressive spring curve did mean I was struggling to use full travel, even casing horribly on the many jumps down the Hero trail at Mystic Bike Park in Bright. The back end was also feeling a touch chattery on sections of blown-out washboard braking bumps.
Out of the box, the high volume EVOL LV air can has a medium 0.6³ volume spacer fitted inside. That means you can go either way with volume spacers – there are two sizes bigger and two sizes smaller, allowing for a wide range of tuning options. Being on the lighter side, I decided to downsize to a 0.4³ volume spacer. To maintain 30% sag, I increased air pressure slightly to 185psi.
The result was an immediate improvement to the suspension action, with a more fluid feel that allowed me to make use of more of the travel. The back end was still sufficiently progressive – I never once hit full bottom out, despite the back end sucking up some awkward hits. I was simply able to use the travel more effectively.
With a smoother feel throughout, I added a little low-speed compression damping, with 3/10 clicks helping to stabilise the shock around the sag point, without making it feel harsh. This balanced well with the supple 36 fork, giving the Switchblade an impressive ability to track and float over really rough terrain. It’s a thoroughly dialled suspension package – a combination of smooth sliding, supportive damping, and finely-tuned kinematics.
On higher speed speed singletrack, the Switchblade is an easy handling bike, though it did take me a couple of rides to get used to it after having ridden some pretty raked-out bikes lately. One of which was the Norco Sight – a 29er that shares almost the same travel as the Switchblade, and also has the same reach measurement (455mm, Medium), but is two full degrees slacker in its head angle.
Comparatively speaking, the Switchblade has less trail than the Sight, and the front wheel is also closer to the rider. I found I didn’t have to lean the Switchblade over as heavily through the corners, and I also didn’t need to exaggerate my weight distribution over the front tyre to keep it connected to the trail on less-steep terrain. The riding position is more neutral and central overall. With the shorter front end though, it doesn’t feel as planted when riding absolutely full-gas on steep, wide-open descents.
A slacker head angle would help here, but then it would result in compromised performance elsewhere. For those who do want a slacker and lower vibe, it is possible to add a taller lower headset cup to lift up the front, and you can run the Switchblade as a Reverse Mullet, with a 27.5in rear wheel. That would drop the BB height and slacken out the head angle a touch, and it’s something I’d be curious to try out. Shorter riders may prefer that setup for a little more arse clearance with the rear tyre.
Ultimately though, the Switchblade is pitched as more of an all rounder than a white-knuckled enduro sled. Indeed the agile handling is one of the biggest strengths of this bike. It dispatches tight switchbacks cleanly, and thanks to the tight chassis and stable suspension, it threads through back-to-back berms with impressive efficacy. It’s mighty nimble for a bike with big wheels and this much travel.
Thanks to the effective rear suspension, which allows the rear wheel to get out of the way quickly, I found the Switchblade’s dynamic geometry told a different story to that on paper. I’ve ridden other suspension platforms that experience more ‘hang up’ when smashing into rocks and roots on the trail. And for a brief moment, that resistance at the rear wheel causes your body mass to shift forward, compressing the fork and steepening the head angle. To compensate, you need a slacker head angle to begin with to factor in those micro weight-shifts. But because the Switchblade stays so calm and composed when you’re blasting to hell in a handbasket, its dynamic geometry remains more consistent, and that helps you to keep in control.
Component Highs & Lows
I had faultless performance from the Shimano 1×12 drivetrain, with rear shifts performed crisply and accurately with very little hesitation. The wide gear range on offer from the 10-51T cassette is useful on the Switchblade given how well it climbs steep techy stuff, though I’d wang on a 30T chainring if this were my bike to give it even more low-range grunt.
Due to supply inconsistencies with Shimano cranksets (and Super Boost compatible cranks in particular), Pivot has spec’d all its Shimano builds with Race Face cranks. The Aeffect R cranks now use 7000-series alloy and are nicely finished, though they do have a fairly wide Q-Factor of 181mm, which is necessary due to the Super Boost rear hub spacing. Most riders won’t have an issue, but my sensitive knees noticed the difference over narrower crank arms.
The four-piston XT brakes are not only more powerful than their 2-piston cousins, they also deliver better modulation. The only shame is that the fins on the brake pads rattle against the calliper. The Switchblade is otherwise a quiet bike. The cables are held down securely, and a low durometer chainstay protector deadens chain slap.
All Pivot’s Phoenix-branded components are of high quality, though the new lock-on grips deserve specific mention. The diameter tapers subtly from 30mm on the inside through to 32mm on the outside, and the thickness of the rubber is offset to provide more cushioning on the side that faces your palm. These are really good grips, with or without gloves.
The Race Face 1x dropper remote is a nice addition, and is mounted directly to the XT brake lever using a clever MatchMaker adapter. I’m also a big fan of the Fox Transfer dropper post. It’s worth mentioning that the Switchblade has been built with a straighter seat tube that allows for more post insertion, which helps to facilitate longer dropper posts. I could easily fit the 175mm Transfer on my test bike.
There’s not a lot to be said about the Maxxis Minions that hasn’t been said before, so I won’t repeat myself or others here. However, I would suggest more aggressive riders look at an EXO+ or DoubleDown casing for the rear wheel, rather than the lighter EXO casings that come standard front and rear.
With this second generation platform, Pivot has firmly reestablished the Switchblade as the versatile trail tamer as the original. It’s just been made better in every way.
It is expensive, but you’re getting a masterfully engineered carbon frame that is finished to a very high level. The dw-link suspension is superb, and the custom DPX2 shock is a big contributing factor to the Switchblade’s control over any impact that’s fed into the rear wheel. Traction is tip-top, and the bike’s ability to float you over rough, rocky terrain while maintaining such a neutral pedal feel is quite unreal.
On smoother flow trails, the stiff chassis, tight back end, and progressive suspension allows the Switchblade to glide over doubles, and sling out of berms in a thoroughly involving fashion for a big travel 29er. There are certainly more gravity-focussed bikes out there in this travel bracket, and indeed Pivot still recommends the Firebird 29 for the enduro-heads. If racing isn’t your main focus though, there are few options that are as capable, adaptable, and as technically proficient as this.
In fact, it might just be one of, if not the best do-it-all bikes I’ve ridden.
Mo’ Flow Please!
Enjoyed that article? Then there’s plenty more to check out on Flow Mountain Bike, including all our latest news stories and product reviews. And if you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel, and sign up to our Facebook page and Instagram feed so you can keep up to date with all things Flow!