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.