The Pivot Switchblade is not your average bike, in fact no product from this mid-sized Arizona brand conforms to the norm. They don't operate in 'year models' like most brands, and this gives them the ability to be quite flexible and creative with their bikes, only releasing them when they're fully evolved. The Switchblade represents absolute premium design, and we had the opportunity to ride two of them for this review. Why two you might say?
The not-so-minor details
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Build kit price
$4824 to $10689
One frame, two wheel sizes.
Iconic Pivot quality.
Ride anything type of bike.
Tall and short geometry prefers mid-range speed.
Bottom bracket height clearance issues when climbing.
The Switchblade is Pivot’s first frame compatible with both 29″ and 27.5+ wheels, the two wheel sizes have inherently very different ride attributes, so effectively two different bikes can be built from one frame. Two wheel sizes in one model of bike is not a new concept (like the Trek Fuel, Specialzed Stumpjumper, Scott Genius and more) but two wheel sizes with one frame is. What’s most interesting is how two Switchblades can built with the different wheels resulting in nearly identical geometry, leaving the different ride characterise to be determined by the wheels only.
The two wheel sizes have inherently very different ride attributes, so effectively two different bikes can be built from one frame.
For an in-depth discussion of where we see the wheel size trend possibly going, read our opinion piece ‘The Middle Power’ here.
For our review of the Switchblade we were fortunate to secure two bikes with the same build to ride at the same time, a rare opportunity to garner a crystal clear impression of the two bikes’ different attitudes.
There’s no hiding we are big fans of Pivot’s superbly built frames, over the years we’ve witnessed this relatively young brand go from strength to strength. From their unique approach to geometry and suspension, to the pioneering and immediate adoption of the latest technological trends and standards, Pivot are up there with the best of them. But it’s the suspension performance that receives most adoration from us, the way the DW Link suspension is executed into the frame is brilliant. The distinguished DW Link suspension is instantly noticeable on the trail with ultra-smooth and supple action matched with stable pedalling, any bike using DW Link suspension deserves instant credit. For an explanation of the whole DW Link biz, click here.
There’s 150mm of travel up front and 135mm out the back of this thing, quite a variance in travel amounts but not uncommon amongst modern long travel 29ers and plus bikes where a bigger wheel/tyre seems to make up for less rear wheel travel on the trail.
The Switchblade is a damn fine piece of expensive stuff, the type of bike that you can stare at for some time, we sure did. The carbon shapes are robust and the compact and stout aluminium linkage is shaped much like the Phoenix downhill bike and Pivot’s enduro racer, the Mach 6. Cables are all housed internally, with very effective cable ports that clamp in place as well as holding the cables tightly to reduce creeping or rattling inside the frame.
Shimano Di2 integration: Pivot have always been pretty tight with Shimano, Pivot Cycles founder, Chris Cocalis worked at Shimano for many years. So you’ll certainly notice the way a few of their systems neatly integrate into the frame like the side swing front derailleur (co-developed with Shimano and Pivot) and ultimate integration of Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting components with a specific set of port fittings for wires and a specific cradle for the Di2 battery in the down tube.
Thinking of Di2 in a Pivot? Check out our Shimano XTR Di2 build of a Pivot Mach 4 we did recently: Pivot and Shimano Di2 integration. And our review of the fantastic Mach 4 here: Pivot Mach 4 Carbon review.
Front derailleur compatible: There is provisions for a front derailleur (new side swing style), which in our opinion is both a blessing and a curse. Fans of the Shimano double chainring gear range will be happy with the option, but we also can’t help but wonder how the frame would look and hot it could benefit without the restrictions of the space required for a front mech in the region around the main linkage. Either way, more options is a good thing and the frame certainly doesn’t lack in lateral rigidity or strength at all, so we’ll live with it for now.
The 17mm stack headset cup: The only difference between the two frames is in the headset, included with every frameset is two lower cups; a zero stack and a 17mm stack. The 27.5+ wheels with the supplied Maxxis Recon 2.8″ tyres have a slightly smaller diameter than the 29er wheels with Maxxis High Roller 2.35″ which will give the 27.5+ bike a lower bottom bracket height. Fitting the 17mm headset cup lifts the 27.5+ bike in the bottom bracket and also corrects the head angle at the same time.
Pivot are quite open to the fact that the 17mm cup is not mandatory, if you prefer a lower bottom bracket height just run the zero stack cup in either wheel size.
Super Boost 157mm rear hub: None of what the Switchblade achieves in regards to geometry would have been possible without pushing a few things outwards, starting with the rear hub and the chain line associated with it. As Pivot put it; “Super Boost Plus 157 uses the existing chain line developed for DH bikes but uses standard trail bike BB widths and crank combinations to take 29” and plus bike performance to the next level.”
While we’re still getting our heads around the new-ish Boost 148mm rear hub spacing which pushes chain lines outboard by 3mm, this Super Boost takes it further with a 157mm spacing that pushes out chain line 6mm. That extra chain line width has allowed the Switchblade to go shorter in the chain stays (428mm), provide generous tyre clearance, front derailleur compatibility, and still maintain a stiff and strong wheel and frame. The wider hub flanges reduce the dish on the rear wheel, which is a bonus for wheel strength too.
Water Bottle ready: Two water bottle mounts are at the ready, the usual place inside the main triangle and the second mount underneath the down tube. We found clearance pretty tight with our setup, so a smaller size water bottle was the best fit. The shock can also be rotated to move the adjustment dials on top to allow more room for a larger bottle.
Pivot bikes are available as a frame only or frame and build kit, with the same frame available in a variation of configurations dressed in hand-picked components by Pivot themselves. Their build kits have a unique flavour, a real mixture of brands. Take a look at the build kits on offer here: Switchblade build kits. The frame alone will set you back $4609.95 and build kits range from $4824.95 to $10689.95 for the ultimate Shimano XTR Di2 build.
Shimano: The two bikes we have on review use the base model (yeah, hardly entry level we know) spec with a 1×11 Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain, RaceFace cranks and Shimano XT brakes. The cassette is modified with a One Up 45 tooth sprocket upgrade for a 12.5% larger gear range, a small but impressive detail as standard.
Wheels and tyres: DT Swiss make the custom hub for the 157mm spacing, and also supply the rims. The plus set uses 40mm internal width rims, and the 29er uses 25mm rims. We’re seeing a lot more Maxxis plus size tyres creeping into the market now, the early adopters of plus tyres like Specialized, Schwalbe and WTB are now joined by the big players in tyres, Maxxis and we’re glad for it. Of all the plus tyres we’ve ridden so far these would have to be our pick of the bunch, the tyre profile and tread shape strikes a nice balance of rolling speed and bite in a reasonable weight of 780 grams. While we did slice one small hole in the rear tyre (launching off massive granite boulders in Beechworth) it sealed up with Stan’s No Tubes sealant and didn’t interrupt our day.
Suspension: Like there is a lot of Shimano in the range from Pivot, the same goes for FOX, with the forks and rear shocks all coming from the high-end brand. Interesting to note though, is that in all the build kits the fork and shock remains the same, with the FOX 36 Factory 150 Kashima Boost 110QR fork, and out the back is the superb FOX Float Factory DPS EVOL Kashima. Both fork and shock have all the adjustments you could wish for, including the incredibly effective low speed compression adjustment which we use a lot.
Riding both Switchblades
Setup: Setting up the suspension on two identical Pivots in two wheel sizes was quite a unique experience especially when it came to tuning rebound speed and compression adjustment, on the plus bike particularly. With such a large volume of air in your tyres it can act like an undamped spring at times, we found running slightly lower rebound speed in the fork and shock would help the bike from bouncing or oscillating on the undulating surfaces of the trail.
Tyre pressure: The key to making the most of the plus tyres is to nail the right tyre pressure, too much and the tyre won’t conform to the terrain like it should, wasting the benefits of the plus size, and too little and the tyre will squirm around and bottom out on the rim and you’ll risk a deflating pinch. We ran between 13-16 PSI in the front tyre, and 15-18 PSI out the back, we’d suggest experimenting to find the right pressure to suit your riding weight, and make sure the pressure gauge is accurate.
Cockpit: The cockpit took some getting used to, our first impressions were that it felt quite high up the front on our medium size test bike, the 29er especially. Flipping the stem did help provide a lower position when climbing out of the saddle and helped us weight the front tyre through the corners.
DW Link: The DW Link suspension is known for its smooth and active action and when you’re mashing down on the cranks, the stability of the system is great. The Switchblade is one of the rare types of bike that you can run the FOX ProPedal lever all the way open, even during the climbs where you really benefit from the insane grip this bike has on the dirt.
Riding both Switchblades
Riding both bikes back to back it was clear to feel the differences, the general consensus going around the mountain bike community is that a regular 27.5″ bike will feel agile and fun, a plus bike will have loads of confidence and control and the big wheels of a 29er will be fast. That’s certainly the case here, the plus bike was eager to clamber up and down anything and take creative lines through tricky corners, while the 29er would get up to speed and want to stay there with fantastic rolling momentum and corner speed.
Climbing: Both bikes are fantastically grippy climbers, though the front end feels quite tall and the bottom bracket very low, there is gobs of traction letting you care less about finding the best line up the trail, leaving you to focus on putting good pedal strokes down. The Plus bike is especially unstoppable on technical climbs, once you get comfortable on the thing you begin seeing the trail differently, impossible climbs become a reality.
The Switchblade is seriously low in the bottom bracket, noticeable most when you’re climbing. We bashed the pedals into the ground quite often prompting us to experiment with increasing the rear shock pressure, in the hope it might ride a little higher when spinning up a climb. Some testers found it off-putting that the pedals would constantly bash the rocks, but of course the tradeoff is that a low bottom bracket is a good thing when you want to lean the bike over into a turn. Of course with the low bottom bracket, it was in the corners that the bike (especially the Plus version) scores top marks for, railing turns aggressively and confidently.
Descending: The powerful Shimano XT brakes, grippy rubber, burly 36mm leg forks and great suspension had us quite excited at the top of each descent. There were moments where the trail would get so nasty we’d expect to bottom out and feel the shockwaves through our body but instead the Switchblade remained composed and maintained speed very well.
We may have not gotten 100% comfortable at race pace like we would on a 160mm travel enduro bike but at slower speed and on technical trails the agility of the Switchblade out-shone the bigger and longer race bikes.
Like we mentioned before we found the front end quite tall in comparison to many 150mm travel bikes we’ve ridden recently, which made for a less aggressive cornering bike. We’d love to try out the new Pivot Mach 6 to see how they handle fast descents, but we do get the feeling the Switchblade is more suited to riding everything capably and confidently than setting personal best times on your enduro trail descents.
The 27.5+ Switchblade is almost un-crashable in a corner, seriously.
Cornering: Definitely a strong point, on loose and sketchy turns the Switchblade holds on tight, tyres aside the supple suspension, low bottom bracket and sturdy frame instills the confidence you need when tipping the bike into a loose turn. The 27.5+ Switchblade is almost un-crashable in a corner, seriously.
It doesn’t feel like a big bike at all when you’re flicking your way through the singletrack, while the 29er will naturally feel a little taller than the plus version, this is one very agile bike considering all the others in the category. Tight turns don’t feel awkward, and in fast turns you feel confidently glued to the dirt, a real winner here.
We rode the Pivots on a wide variety of trails and it always seemed to get along with the trail surface, it’s the type of bike that would be happy travelling and exploring new and unfamiliar trails confidently and safely.
The Switchblade’s one frame two wheel size concept is an interesting one, we’re still not 100% sure if there will be people out there who would buy this bike and swap the between 29″ and 27.5″ wheels (and lower headset cup) to suit the trail or task, but if you were keen you’d have two bikes with enough distinction that it’d be worth it. Either way Pivot have produced one impressive bike than can be configured in two very different ways rather than making two bikes – sounds like a sensible way to do things to us!
While the price may seem a real turnoff it does compare to the likes of other American fancy brans like Yeti, Intense and Santa Cruz. Yes, we know, big dollars indeed!
Who’s it for then? Well, we are admittedly getting pretty tired about talking about wheel size so often, but here goes a bit more for you. The Switchblade configured to 29″ wheels would make a great all-mountain bike for powering through trails at speed, while the 27.5+ configuration makes for a seriously grippy and confident bike that will make light work of the slipperiest surfaces.
Sell your car, choose your poison.