SIZE UP OR SIZE DOWN?
How to Pick the Right Size Bike.
PIVOT SHUTTLE LT | LARGE VS. MEDIUM
Are you struggling on picking the right size bike for you? You’re not alone. With current bike geometry trends making big moves, deciding what size bike you need has become harder and harder. When it came time for us to review the Pivot Shuttle LT, I was inspired to document the struggle. I’ve been 5’11 for the last 20 years and have almost exclusively ridden size large bikes for all of them. As geometry has evolved, brands are finding themselves pushing further, slacker and lower for fear of not being, “Called by 2017 to return their geometry back” by online commenters.
I’m not going to say the changes to bike geometry have been all bad, in fact I love many of the changes we’ve benefitted from. That said, I have been told by half a dozen bike designers and engineers that message boards have ruined bike geometry for the average rider. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but either way, it must mean I’m not the only one. What does all this rambling have to do with why I have a medium and large-sized Pivot Shuttle LT facing off? Because I’ve been battling almost two decades of history riding size large bikes, and I’m now feeling that the playful, lively feel I enjoy so much has been traded out for long, stable new-school geo. At nearly six-foot, I find it hard to believe Medium is my new bike size of choice.
Now I’m well-aware 5’11” isn’t exceptionally tall, and I do not think I could have had a career in the NBA, but other test riders here at The Loam Wolf range from 6’1 to 6’3”, and I’d put them in the taller range of the spectrum. Recently I’ve been coordinating test bikes with our crew and when I have Robert Johnston, at 6’2” saying he thinks an XL is way too big and he’d rather test a size large, or even a medium, I start wondering where we are going and what size bike does a person who’s 5’6” ride? An XXS? Or will new riders be forced to get accustomed to more sluggish trail and enduro bikes, that favor the new school long and stable bike mentality? Maybe I’m just not extreme enough, or maybe my age is showing…or maybe I’m just hoping to buck the trend and ‘Make bikes playful again’?
So, back to the Pivot Shuttle LTs. A few months back Chris Cocalis and the Pivot Cycles team reached out to send us the new Shuttle LT. Chris and I have had many conversations on bike trends and performance, and I’d like to say that although he’s way smarter than I am, we see eye to eye on more than a few things bike related. Now, when I looked at Pivot’s sizing chart, I saw that my 5’11” height put me in the range for either their medium or large bike. I felt a bit of pressure to go for the large: afterall, I’m nearly six foot and have been riding large bikes for two decades now. After a few rides on the size large Pivot Shuttle LT, I was very pleased with the suspension platform, looks and overall capabilities, however I felt that it rode a bit heavier and more planted than the Shuttle AM. understandable with all the extra travel and all, but it felt like more was missing.
After reaching out to the Pivot Cycles team and sharing my thoughts, they came back with, “Why don’t we send you a medium and let you compare them head-to-head?” I was all in. After just two corners descending the medium-sized Shuttle LT, I knew I was on the right bike, for my preferences and that trail at least. I feel at this point I should take a moment to disclose the type of terrain I enjoy and my riding style, as this hugely dictates the preference of bike sizing and desired performance on-trail. I grew up riding in the Los Angeles area, on multi-use trails, AKA not mountain bike-specific trails. These trails were littered with baby heads, rain ruts, flat corners with loose-over-hard conditions and plenty of challenging rock gardens. I also love steep trails with tight corners, line options and finding natural gaps to jump and air whenever possible. I am the kind of guy who goes to Whistler for 10-days and won’t hit A-Line a single time. True story. So, my preference in everything from bike size to trail selection will likely alienate me from new school shredders who live for high-speed berms, big jumps and the like. These are the places where a longer bike will come in handy. So, if that’s you, I’m guessing you’ll be checking out and leaving this old school kook and his “short” bikes alone.
What is short? Well, like anything, short is relative, and to a Pole Bicycles Voima rider who’s on a 520mm-reach bike, a frame with a 495-500mm reach may seem short. To me, anything under 470mm for a large would be pushing into the (too) short territory, whereas a bike that sits at 495-500mm will be above my desired range. I’ve found that reach numbers around 475mm to 480mm are ideal for me on eMTBs, whereas non-eBike reaches feel best at 480mm to 485mm, depending on the discipline. I like a shorter eBike because the extra weight of the system lends itself to stability enhancements beyond reach numbers. When I want to exit a corner and get that front end up quickly or change directions, that shorter front end keeps a heavier eMTB from feeling too sluggish or like I’m trying to manual a recumbent.
Now, it may be apparent that I hold a slight bias coming into the test, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As I said before, all riders have specific goals, feelings, and terrain in mind when they buy and ride their mountain bikes. As such, you shouldn’t be pressured to ride a bike that works for someone else in an area totally different than our own. It’s ok to ride a shorter bike or have a higher bottom bracket than those super sick bros you see talking smack riding their swept groomers. Variety is the spice of life and mountain bike trails should have the kind of variety that makes a Las Vegas buffet blush.
” Bernard, Eddie and Matt (Pivot Factory Racing) are all at least 5’11” and tested with the Larges but they all settled on Mediums. ”
So, now that my soapbox has gotten slippery from all this blabber, let’s look at the results from the trail. Where did the medium shine through and how much faster is the large when the trails get wide open, steep and gnarly? Here we go.
Seconds…Do seconds count to you in your daily riding routine? That’s all the difference was in our test runs. When we looked at the overall timed runs on a trail that had a variety of super steep, high speed corners with tighter, more awkward bits, our times were negligible in difference. Any section of trail where the Large made-up time was negated by the Medium catching up in tighter, slower bits of trail where line choice and quick moves were needed. If a trail was more uniform in terrain, the larger was a couple of seconds faster on the “Downhill” trails that required all out speed, keeping off the brakes and leaning back to plow. Everywhere else, the medium was either keeping up or pulling ahead, making it a lot more versatile all around.
What was more than a couple seconds apart however, was the amount of fun and control we had over the bikes beneath us. There were definitely instances where I felt more confident, more composed and therefore faster on the Large, however never once did I feel like I was having more fun on the Large than the Medium. For our crew, and the testing we did, fun trumped the minimal difference in timed race runs. Whether it was manualing the bike on straightaways, correcting a line to avoid obstacles mid-corner or jumping and playing with the bike, we all had more fun on the medium Shuttle LT, no matter where we went. And that was the deciding factor for us. While there are certain places the Large would be better to have, the versatility to ride and have more fun in more places, led us to the realization that sizing down is likely the right decision for us in the future.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO YOU?
As with any of our reviews, or content, this is opinion and based solely on my (and the crew’s) experience of riding hundreds of bikes all around the world. We hope that it can offer some peace of mind or direction to other riders who may not be able to take two sizes of a bike out to compare them. What we’d suggest for riders in the market for a new bike, is to take a look at the geometry of a bike they really loved and had fun riding, and compare the reach, stack and bb height, chainstay length and overall wheelbase with the next bike they’re looking to buy.
Consider your terrain; what you want from your ride experience; and what you loved or wished you could improve from your last bike. If you loved how fun and playful it was to ride and the replacement bike you’re looking at is 20mm longer, or more, realize you are likely to lose out on some playfulness. If you felt your bike was too twitchy, skittish and you want a more planted feel, perhaps you are in luck with the new crop of longer, slacker bikes. Ultimately, we believe your trail types, riding style and where you spend your time riding should be big factors in your decision, as bike geometry can greatly affect your experience in navigating the trails and obstacles in front of you.
Thanks for riding along.
RESPONSE FROM CHRIS COCALIS
For a 5’11” tall customer on every bike in our line (other than the Firebird and Shuttle LT) we would likely recommend a Large. However, with the slightly longer reach, steeper seat angle and relaxed head angle, most riders in this height range will feel more comfortable on a Medium just for the increased maneuverability. Bernard, Eddie and Matt (Pivot Factory Racing) are all at least 5’11” and tested with the Larges but they all settled on Mediums. In our previous generation, which had a slightly shorter reach and wheelbase, we all found that there were times where we would want to be on a Large but generally still preferred the Medium in 85% of our riding situations. With the latest geometry we really wanted to give the team a bike where they would be comfortable on the Medium 100% of the time. At the same time, we do have some customers in that height range that would still like the Large. If you just live for the gnarliest of trails then the Large puts ample bike out in front of you to build confidence in your riding. You just need to realize that you will be giving up some versatility and the ability to throw the bike around in less aggressive terrain. -CC
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