Setup | It’s been a while since I’ve genuinely remarked “wow that’s light!”, but the Pivot Shadowcat is a solid 2lbs lighter than anything I’ve tested in some time, and 5+lbs lighter than the majority of rigs that come through our test fleet. With the stock EXO casing Dissector tires doing little to inspire confidence for my riding, I opted to add some considerable weight to the package in the form of a DD Assegai up front and DH Minion DHR2 in the rear, since the test period was going to involve some riding in areas like Sedona, where I’d be tackling some rough, rocky trails blind. Suspension setup in the rear was simple thanks to the sag indicator on the shock shaft and minimal adjustability for compression. The fork needed a little more experimentation to achieve a comfortable yet supportive setting with the Fit4 damper – it would be great to see a Grip 2 damper in there instead – but I settled upon a happy spot after the first couple rides. At the top end of the large Shadowcat’s size range, and therefore the top end of recommended Shadowcat riders in general, I found the front end a little on the low side with the stock bar, so swapped out for a higher rise OneUp unit, and found myself in a comfortable spot ready to attack some trails across the west of America.
Climbing | With the efficient suspension platform and low weight – notably in the wheels – the Shadowcat gets off the mark impressively fast and makes for a great technical climber until it gets particularly chunky. The climbing position is comfortable and well rounded, but combining a slightly more relaxed seated position with the relatively short rear end can lead the front wheel to go a little light when the climb gets steep, for my tall stature at least. Shorter riders will likely obtain a more balanced climbing position to really harness the snappy acceleration and supportive pedaling platform. On all but the steepest climbs there’s little to complain about when climbing Pivot’s small-wheeled trail bike though.
The DW-Link suspension offers enough support to let you forget about the climb switch in the shock, but in doing so retains enough sensitivity to keep the rear end passably comfortable. Make no mistake however, the Shadowcat falls on the firm and sporty side of things when pedaling. Traction out back is acceptable, especially when suitable tires for the terrain on the menu are used, but the drawback to the climbing performance with the small wheels comes when the terrain gets particularly chunky. In areas like Sedona, you’ve got to be mindful to keep your wheels moving through some of the wheel-eating holes and compared with a 29” wheel the likelihood of the Shadowcat’s hoops getting hung up in a hole is notably higher. For many this won’t matter, but it’s notable how much less care you need to take when climbing a 29” wheel-equipped bike to keep momentum.
Descending | All of the agility from the way up the hill carries onto the way down, making for a seriously fun trail machine. Darting from side to side on the trail and lifting the front end or placing the bike is incredibly easy, and there’s a fine mixture of support and sensitivity on both ends to feel connected to the trail below without being completely beaten up. With 140mm out back and the 160mm fork, the Shadowcat can still hang on for the ride through some impressively rough terrain, albeit with some slightly more careful line choice to keep the wheels out of the largest holes.
Once speeds rise or the descent steepens the Shadowcat begins to show its limitations, with a slight nervousness that can quickly detract from confidence. Brake-bump riddled trails, especially with hardpack berms, highlight the increased chance of the smaller wheels being swallowed up and unsettling the bike. Keep it within the trail bike remit though and the Shadowcat will handle some fairly aggressive riding without concern.
The overall stiffness that Pivot has managed to achieve with the combination of chassis and wheel choice on the Shadowcat is impressive, offering up plenty of confidence to pop and play down the trail or hit turns hard. It’s not going to iron out the trail like some can, but in its class, it still retains enough comfort to support some long days in the saddle.
Build Comments | The Maxxis Dissector EXO tire spec is a good match for the bike in drier climates, especially if you’re likely to cover some big miles in the saddle, but capability can be increased considerably by fitting burlier and grippier options. For my preferences the Grip 2 damper would have been nice over the Fit 4 unit fitted, but I understand that some riders within the Shadowcat’s target group may appreciate the ability to lock out the fork for extended periods of climbing. At nearly $10k, the Pivot Shadowcat Team XTR build spec better be good. It’s nigh on impossible to call a bike at this price “good value”, and the chances are that none of our crew would ever be able to justify dropping the money for this level build. That said, there’s nothing to complain about with Pivot’s selection of components on this build, and the frame is amongst some of the most refined out there, so riders with pockets deep enough are unlikely to be disappointed.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Although 27.5” wheel bikes are likely to remain somewhat of a niche market moving forward, it’s safe to say that a lot of riders would have a great time on board the likes of the Pivot Shadowcat, as the gains in agility and weight reduction are not insignificant. The result is a bike that is a serious amount of fun to ride in slightly less gnarly and slower paced trails, with incredibly peppy climbing mannerisms that make it a joy to pedal.
Weight: 28.8lbs as tested (Size Large with DD f / DH R tires + bottle cage)