I hate reading instruction manuals. You know those people that will spend an extra hour tinkering with the Ikea furniture because they refuse to consult the instructions and want to figure it out for themselves? Yeah, that’s me. When I first get a test bike, I don’t read the geometry charts, the spec sheet, or the short description on the website about the bike’s intended purpose. Instead, it’s straight from the box to the trail. I have a little test loop where I’ll feel out a bike and start to make some initial impressions without any preconceived notions from what I’ve read. It was during that test loop that the mistake must have happened. See, I was pretty convinced the Pivot Firebird was a downhill mountain bike, and I abused it as such. All it took was a quick pedal, and I was off to the gnarliest, steepest trails I could find. After a week or two of gravity-induced flogging, I decided to visit the Pivot website, and it said something about this being an “Enduro” bike. Call it whatever you want, but as far as I’m concerned, this thing is a mini downhill rig that can climb. Besides, is it even enduro if it doesn’t have a water bottle cage mount?
Let’s actually take a look at the numbers on the Pivot Firebird. 170-millimeters of travel, a 65-degree head tube angle, 16.93-inch chainstays, and a 13.7-inch bottom bracket. Those specs are remarkably similar to other aggressive enduro rigs, like the Santa Cruz Nomad. Our large size frame had a 48.37-inch wheel-base and 18.31-inch reach, which is a tad longer than the Nomad and gives a really roomy cockpit. Mountain bikes like this are the reason why a lot of riders, including myself, no longer have a dual crown downhill rig. For 90% of the trails I ride, the Firebird is more than enough to tackle the downhills, but pedals up a whole lot better than any dual crown downhill rig with a 62-degree head tube angle.
The Pivot Firebird’s frame features a full carbon internal hollow-core front and rear triangle, with aluminum links and shock yoke on the DW suspension platform. By optimizing the curve of the DW suspension design for a more rearward path in the first part of the stroke, Pivot claims the Firebird has improved square bump absorption. An air-sprung Fox X2 rear shock sports high/low-speed compression, a dialed firmness adjustment, and high/low-speed rebound adjustments. Upfront is an air-sprung Fox Factory 36 with a FIT 4 damper. Adjustments on the fork are limited to a single rebound dial, an “open mode adjust” dial that controls firmness and a firm/medium/open dial. Though some riders are a fan of the simplified controls, I, for one, like to be able to precisely and independently adjust the damping characteristics of my suspension. Shimano XT brakes with 180-millimeter Ice Tech two-piece rotors do the stopping, while an internally routed Shimano XTR derailleur with a 46-11 rear spread and 30 tooth front chainring ensures a massive gearing range is on tap. Honestly, the 46/30 gearing is a bit too far for me, but does lead to some serious torque for steep, technical ascents—that is if you can even balance when you’re crawling that slow. In-house carbon Pivot bars, stem, and a seat on a Fox Transfer dropper post round out the cockpit. The carbon Reynolds wheels are a stand out feature, with low weight, blue color-matched Pivot decals, and excellent performance.
It’s always been the dream to have a bike that descends like a full-blown downhill rig but still climbs well enough to get you to the top with a smile. Now that space, which was once reserved for only a coveted few bikes, is getting pretty crowded, and there are a lot of truly great sleds competing for people’s hard-earned money. That means the decision often comes down to literally splitting hairs, which is something I hate doing with a bunch of solid bikes. A year ago, I would have been very impressed by the Pivot Firebird’s climbing abilities. Still, after riding the new Polygon Square One EX9, which has almost no pedal bob with the shock wide open, I’m a little less enthusiastic. That isn’t to say the Pivot Firebird is a mediocre climber for the 170mm category, though since its performance is actually very respectable. Lockout the rear shock and the Firebird climbs with ease up fire roads or steep trails, but open it, and the pedal bob is noticeable. On technical climbs, I found myself running the lockout switch at about 1/2 to 3/4 and putting up with a little extra bob to get more compliance and grip from the rear end. With that setup, I made it up everything I pointed the bike at but did feel a slight loss of power transfer.
Turn the bike back down the mountain, and it really shines, which is no surprise given its close lineage to Pivot’s Phoenix DH bike. The chainstays are short enough to encourage manuals and snappy cornering, but the wheelbase and geo provide the bike with ample stability when speeds pick up. With a bike like this, speed is your best friend, and the faster I went, the more the Pivot Firebird came alive. I charged all my favorite downhill trails (the ones that used to be the reason I kept a DH bike around) without so much as a single time I wished for more travel. The Firebird simply takes all the confidence found in a downhill rig and puts it in a smaller, more climbable package. No matter how steep the chute, the Firebird begged for more and shrugged off the worst I could throw at it. The suspension soaked up senders hucked to flat with ease, and the bike had ample pop off lips. In a few specific instances of repeated large whoops, the back end of the bike felt a little hung up, but a little pedal bob and hangs ups aside, the Firebird was nothing but rowdy good times. No matter how steep, technical the trail or large a jump was, the bike felt poised and confident.