PIVOT SWITCHBLADE PRO XT/XTR 29ER REVIEW
IF A SURVIVAL KNIFE WERE A BIKE
Words by Mike Wirth | Photos by Katie Jane Photography
When Pivot launched their original Switchblade in 2015, it wasn’t actually original at all. At least the name wasn’t. The true OG Switchblade was welded by Pivot founder Chris Cocalis’ first bike company Titus, all the way back in the early 2000’s. That bike featured a radical adjustable travel and geometry linkage system that allowed it to “switch” and adapt to a wide range of trail conditions. It was a bike that was way ahead of its time, and while the Switchblade’s travel adjustment feature is a thing of the past, versatility is still strong in the DNA of the latest version of this quiver killer. We got one of the new Pivot Switchblades to test its mettle in the SoCal desert, to see if this machine could handle the rigors of our quarantine tester’s boredom and gumption, for our latest mountain bike review.
Pivot takes all the newest material, suspension and geometry technologies to create a bike that’s better than the sum of its parts. That’s their MO—build bikes that don’t pigeonhole you into one style of riding. Take a spin on Pivot’s short-travel 429SL, and you’ll quickly find that in addition to being light and efficient, it is also stiff and plush enough to handle the rigors of the rockiest technical XC trails with aplomb.
Similarly, Pivot’s Firebird 29 is confident enough to handle Bernard Kerr’s extreme 75-foot whips over CrabApple Hits, and yet light enough to get itself to the top of the hill without a chairlift. The Switchblade takes that “Versatile Bikes are Better” mantra, and makes it the primary focus for this true, do-it-all machine.
The Switchblade comes to the trail with either 29 or 27.5+ wheels and is designed as an aggressive, all mountain or trail bike. Some of Pivot’s factory athletes have even used this new version as a lightweight enduro race bike on some of the less technical Enduro World Series stages. The 2020 Pivot Switchblade utilizes an all-new vertical shock layout that increases the travel from 135 millimeters to 142 millimeters of travel with improved stand-over height that allows riders as short as 5-feet tall to clear an extra-small frame.
As with other Pivot mountain bikes, the Switchblade’s Super Boost Plus rear wheel spacing uses 157-millimeter dropouts, which is the same spacing found on many downhill bikes. That spacing is combined with a 12-millimeter, quick-release axle and wider hub-flange spacing to create a wheel that’s stiff and balanced. The spacing also allows Pivot to design in enough tire and suspension clearance without wrecking critical measurements like chainstay length. The Super Boost Plus may seem like a new standard, but in reality it’s an optimized combination of existing standards that Pivot exploited to make a better bike and word on the street is, it’s not going away.
Each Switchblade size uses its own tube profiles, meaning Pivot can custom tune the frame to feel consistent whether it’s an XS or the XL. It means a 135lb rider won’t be riding a bike that’s way too stiff and a 210lb Clydesdale won’t feel like they’re wrestling a wet noodle. All the frames can fit a full-size water bottle, and the medium and larger sizes can fit up to a 24oz bottle. The frame also features niceties like an integrated chainstay and downtube protector, as well as nicely-executed internal cable routing that secures the housing with Allen head bolts to keep it from rattling on the trail.
A nice touch for both creature comfort and improved control is the new Phoenix Factory Lock-On Grip system, which features a profiled ergonomic core and soft rubber compound designed to damp vibration and improve hand fatigue. It’s the type of grip you’d expect to see as an aftermarket upgrade, not as a stock house brand item and we love them.
Pivot offers the Switchblade in several configurations from a frame and crank to Fox Live Valve and SRAM AXS-equipped flagship builds. Whether you prefer Shimano or SRAM, you can find a bike and level to suit your taste.
Acceleration on the Switchblade feels snappier than other bikes in the category, partly thanks to the DW-Link suspension’s anti-squat tendency, which naturally resists bobbing. The versatile geometry compliments the Switchblade’s nimble feel, by putting the rider in an aggressive position right over the pedals. Thanks to the relatively steep seat tube angle, pedaling efforts instantly zip the bike forward, and up and over technical climbs.
On long fire road climbs, we found ourselves running the bike in the firmest settings, and taking advantage of the overall low weight and efficient geometry to get us to the top. For short and punchy ascents though, you’d be hard pressed to find a bike that will claw its way to the top better than the Switchblade with the suspension switched on. With the suspension working, the Switchblade’s rear wheel is able to stay planted even on loose and rocky sections, and give power where other bikes have left us spun-out and putting a foot down.
When the trail points downhill, the Switchblade comes to the table with adequate travel, and geometry that’s more than capable of handling some of the gnarliest trails. While it might not be as “full tilt enduro” as its big brother the Firebird 29, we could see many Pivot enduro racers preferring this bike for more pedal-intensive courses. It’s been said that “average speed wins races,” and because the Switchblade has an active suspension that’s capable of eating baby head boulders without losing too much speed, and then easily accelerate back up to full clip with only a couple pedal stokes, it’s easy to see why we KOM’d several of our favorite rides with this thing. It goes downhill every bit as well as it goes up, and it hates doing either slowly.
Pivot did their homework with the suspension tune and worked with Fox to develop a shock with a custom piston that works in-step with the suspension kinematics to provide an aggressively ramped spring curve. That allows the bike to rely on the DW-Link design for firmness at the beginning of the stroke. Once past the first bit of travel, though, the bike offers excellent bump control and a predictable mid stroke. On big hits, the bike has a progressive feel that resists bottoming well. The Switchblade is compatible with coil shocks, although the DPX2 shock that comes on it feels too lively for us to consider swapping it.
The bike is more nimble than many 29er bikes in this category, probably thanks to its geometry numbers that are closer to most trail bikes than the extreme ones you see on dedicated enduro race bikes. Despite the fact that the chainstays actually grew 2 millimeters compared to the previous generation Switchblade, our testers felt the bike was easy to manage on tight and technical corners and switchbacks but felt even more stable at high speeds.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Switchblade is designed with versatility in mind, so long as your riding doesn’t include World Cup XC or DH tracks, you’re probably in luck. In fact, we’re willing to bet that this bike is a suitable choice for probably 90% of the trails that most riders encounter. We’d even go so far as to say that the Switchblade is among the most capable mountain bike we’ve tested in recent memory. As such, despite being able to “switch” geometry or wheel size, we feel the name Switchblade doesn’t capture the essence of this bike. If its blades you want to compare this thing to, it’s more like a trusty survival Bowie Knife. Its sharp as a surgeon’s blade yet burly enough to chop wood. Simply put, the Switchblade only finds itself out of place when its either surrounded by other bikes with twice the travel and full face helmets, or on a paved road climb with a bunch of lycra-clad XC nerds. Yet even when we’re caught in those scenarios, the Switchblade holds its own.
Frame: Carbon / 142mm
Fork: Fox Factory 36 29″, 44mm offset, GRIP2 – 160mm
Shock: Fox Factory Float DPX2
Brakes: Shimano XT M8120 4-Piston
Handlebar: Phoenix Team Low Rise Carbon, 780mm
Stem: Phoenix Team Enduro/Trail
Shifter: Shimano XT M8100 12-Speed
Seatpost: Fox Factory Transfer 175mm
Saddle: Phoenix WTB Pro Vigo
Wheels: DT Swiss M1700 w/ DT Swiss 350 hub & 36t Star Ratchet 30mm
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHF 29″ x 2.5″ WT, TR, 3C, EXO+, MAXXTERRA
Rear Tire: Maxxis Minion DHRII 29″ x 2.4″ WT, TR, 3C, EXO+, MAXXTERRA
Cassette: Shimano XT M8100 10-51t
Cranks: Race Face Æffect R 32t
Derailleur: Shimano XTR SGS 12-Speed
Most Versatile Bike in Pivot Lineup
Increased Travel With New Suspension Kinematics Offers Great Bump Control
Fluttery Suspension Feel Over Chatter With Nice Progression for big hits
Pivot Dock Carry System
Finned Shimano XT Brake Pads Rattle Until You Replace Them With Non-Finned Ones
Shock Lever is Lower/Harder to Reach
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