Review: Pivot Cycles Phoenix DH
February 20th, 2012
You know that feeling you get when a bike is going to be sweet just from looking at it? You’ve never ridden it, you don’t know anyone who has, but the lines, angles and stature of the bicycle in front of you is calling you to the hills and forests with two things in mind: going fast and having fun. For me, the Pivot Phoenix was one of those bikes. With a fair amount of experience on a similar chassis (whose potential I know was cut prematurely short) I was more than keen to see what this bike was really like, and if it really had improved on a modern classic.
It’s difficult to talk about this bike without talking about another bike first. Although the similarities are there for everyone to see, Pivot did more than just license a linkage design with six world championships behind it: they took it and ran with it, producing everything the other bike could have been. Perhaps it’s name, ‘Phoenix’, aptly suggests that this did rise from the ashes as something which has not only improved on it’s aforementioned predecessor, but truly embraced the possibilities the design was, and is, capable of.
Words: Olly Forster
Photos: Olly Forster, Jim Newby and Pivot Cycles
Okay, let’s talk about that ‘other’ bike quickly, the bike which will always be mentioned when talking about the Phoenix. I had two Sundays, a World Cup and a Team. I loved one, couldn’t get on with the other, but they were both amazing bikes in more ways than one, and definitely a bike that helped changed the direction for downhill bike design and manufacturing. The Sunday, as good as it was, did have it’s weaknesses, but playing on it’s strengths and understanding how to fix these weaknesses would always prove a good place to start if you’re going to produce a bike of any calibre.
The Phoenix is everything the Sunday was and more – polishing up where the Sunday was dull and lacking, and with a few additions to the layout and aesthetics, Pivot has really brought DW’s linkage onto a more befitting platform.
Although based on the classic and still popular Iron Horse Sunday, the Phoenix is definitely not a Sunday. Taking Dave Weagle’s concept of using a position sensitive shock as a bottom out device, the Phoenix DH shares a similar leverage ratio curve for the first part of the travel, and then remains slightly progressive through the end of the travel; the opposite to the Sunday and definitely an area where the Sunday lacked.
The Phoenix isn’t the lightest bike by today’s standards; you’re looking at around the 38-42lb area, depending on your build and component spec. Our test bike was around the 40lb mark and with a few alterations to the wheels, shock spring and finishing kit, could easily have been a bit lighter without sacrificing the bikes robustness and solid feel.
The geo employed here looks pretty standard at first, but the more you look the more you see… Check the length of those stays and couple that to a low BB and the ability to take a degree off the standard HA with the supplied Cane Creek Angleset. Oh yeah, we’re talking about a bike that is gonna rail!
Dave Weagle’s become a busy man of late, and without a doubt one of the industries key influencers in suspension design and fabrication. Many would suggest he’s also a marketing genius, but be that as it may, he has helped produce some amazing bikes and products over the last few years.
Notice the section of frame which starts by the bottom bracket and goes all the way to the lower link pivot – that’s manufactured from one solid piece of CNC’d alloy. What this means is that the frame’s main bearings are always in perfect alignment as their locations are machined with zero defects and all from one single lump of material. Nice and straight – you just need to undo the pivot bolts to see how nicely everything lines back up (unlike some supposedly hand made bearing and bushing eating frames I could mention).
This will be the last time I mention the Sunday I promise! Riders and racers loved it, but it’s fair to say it did lack in the aesthetics department, especially if you got up close and personal. The linkage wasn’t the best and the swing-arm was just plain ugly, with a mixture of both box and tubular sections that really made the bike look like it was cobbled together from factory leftovers. The Phoenix doesn’t have these issues and is made from the ground up to the highest standards, utilising a few clever manufacturing techniques along the way. It’s also made in Taiwan, and if you don’t know much about bicycle manufacturing, let me tell you that most of the factories over there were built from the ground up to do one thing; manufacture bicycles and nothing else.
The swing-arm is manufactured from two hollow, forged and machined box sections welded together and then mated to the main frames pivot points – this is as straight as an arrow and as stiff as it will ever need to be. It’s also worth noting the build quality here too – just look at the photo…
This lump of alloy is the starting block to the upper linkage plates…
Attention to detail is everywhere. Machining like this removes human error from the equation and produces perfect parts time after time. This might sound trivial, but so many frames suffer from misalignment issues leading to excessive wear of both the bushes and the bearings; an intensely expensive and annoying experience to say the least.
The linkage area is undoubtedly a work of art, both from a functional and aesthetic standing, but I do think the cable routing was an afterthought and one that could be improved upon. Some imagination and a few zip ties can quickly remedy this, and from talking to Pivot, is something they are aware of and are working to improve upon next year.
The finished article rolling on 16mm hardware with a double row of Enduromax bearings – zero flex right here.
The lower link uses 17mm pivot pins and another double row of Enduromax bearings. This design isn’t just straight, it’s also incredibly stiff – in fact the whole bike is just that, adding to the stability and confidence inspiring nature of the bike.
The volume of material in this location is partly responsible for the Phoenix’s rather portly weight, but focussing this weight in this area actually helps the bikes stability and lowering that all important centre of gravity even further – if you’re gonna have it anywhere, this is the place!
Adjustable Dropouts – a feature that will appeal to those of us who like to tinker and adjust, but also for those of us who like to dial their bikes in and maximise performance. The rear axle assembly is simply a big 12 x 150mm bolt and there’s nothing wrong with that in our books – nice and simple and less likely to go wrong. Taking the rear wheel out and replacing it was easy and without drama as well.
All to often, frame designers overlook access to the rear shocks dials and adjusters. The designers at Pivot have removed a section in the lower frame where the shock sits, allowing full access to the compression settings – important for me so I can turn that bloody high speed right off! As clever as this is, I rode this through the British winter where two words sprung to mind – mud magnet! I’ve never had a frame with the ability to bring so much of the trail home. Utilising some sump foam from an MX bike, most of this was easily remedied, but a I do think a door of some sort here would be only advantageous for helping in wet and muddy conditions.
There you go, just look at that for machine work. Once the shock is removed, the hole where it lives opens up and smacks you in the face at just how much work has gone into this part of the frame. Removing the shock was beyond easy: two bolts and out. No special technique required or random spacers falling out here, just two bolts and out it comes.
Behind this bit of ‘moto foam’ is the access point for water and dirt to enter the frames huge downtube – not a massive issue, although I do think having some pre-cut sections of foam and some supplied instruction as to where to install it would be a great addition. I know I’ve already said it, but look at the machine work…. This frame resonates reliance and the annoying little things needed to maximise its potential, bare in insignificance to the ingenuity present. Loved it!
Well if he’s got one, I want one! The Angleset is indeed a component to marvel upon and one that’s becoming a common sight on premium DH frames, but trail side adjuster it is not. For the first few rides, I kept the frame in the standard 64 degree setting using the ‘0’ cups – after a quick trip to my LBS to borrow some tools, I opted to go slacker and take a whole degree off and never went back – all I can say is rocket ship, but on the right tracks. More on this in a bit – back to the Angleset: you get three cups with the frame, 0 degree, +/- half a degree and then a solid 1 degree of adjustment.
The Headtube is a monster, notice the alignment markers for the Angleset and lack of headbadge. The whole frame employs MX style graphics and it even comes with a few to play with, but I can see way more potential here… If there was ever a canvas for custom decals, here it is!
On the Trail.
This bike likes to go fast. It’s as simple as that. If you find yourself riding tracks with little gradient and unchallenging obstacles, I really don’t think the Phoenix will reward you as much as it does the rider who rides on real tracks and likes to attacks real obstacles. The angles, the dialed Fox suspension, the position of the weight in the frame, coupled with the low centre of gravity and the fact that good ‘ol DW designed this to accelerate like shit off a shovel, all play into the Phoenix’s ability to go fast.
Sitting somewhere between the lively nature of an FSR, and the bump eating “point and shoot” nature of a VPP, the Phoenix is as playful as it is serious about doing the job at hand: getting from A to B in as quick a time as possible. As much as I like to play with the trail, there is something to be said about fatigue at the end of the run where average Joe, or me, is getting tired and doesn’t want to be spat off his bike 30 seconds from the finish line – the Phoenix really does put the rider first and although at times you feel like a passenger rather than a pilot, all you’ve got to do is point, shoot and smile!
I’ve never ridden a bike that likes being on the rear wheel as much as the Phoenix – this thing loves the manual! S-bend berms, dips and getting the front up nice and high over obstacles was easy, but more importantly, it was fun! Short stays coupled with a low centre of gravity are the recipe here and one I can’t recommend enough of.
Jumping the Phoenix was an experience of stability over creativity – I felt like I was sat within it, rather than on it and more akin to a motorcycle. Although not as playful in the air as say a Specialized Demo or an Orange 224, the Phoenix liked to fly and seemed more than willing to land where I wanted it, but the feeling of stability from take off to landing was certainly confidence inspiring and re-assuring at high speed.
Corners are where Phoenix really shines. I’m not exaggerating here, but this thing is on rails! With so much material weight around the BB and with the shock so low it’s virtually poking out the downtube, the Phoenix has one really low centre of gravity leaving you to just figure out how low you dare to lean in.
I just want to quickly brush on the suspension components here. I’m a firm believer that certain bikes thrive with certain shocks and even certain brands of shock – to this end, the Pivot certainly like it’s suspension with a tail. Both the RC4 and 40’s performed flawlessly and I think I may have the Fox Shox bug…
The ant-squat capabilities of the Phoenix are evident from the off, delivering an excellent transfer of power through the drive train, propelling you in the right direction without unnecessarily wasting valuable energy – important stuff you don’t want to waste on a 40Lb bike!
You can see the cables bunching up under the top tube as the frame compresses in the picture below. This wasn’t a major problem, but an area that needs addressing. The frames progressive nature combined with the RC4 give you a great deal of re-assurance if you gas to flat or come up short on a jump or drop.
Really liked it! It was real fast on real tracks, incredibly stable and planted, yet fun when you wanted it to be. Some bikes are either one or the other, and don’t let you choose when your mood swings. I’d find myself just going for the rougher, wilder lines over the sometimes smoother and probably faster lines, just because I could and they were fun. Open her up I’d be saying to myself and let go of those brakes. I wish the GoPro footage I have was good enough to be published, but one run at Cwmcarn, it literally looked sped up!
Some of the tracks commonly found in England, you know the flat ones with jumps and little all else? Well, the Phoenix didn’t like them too much – it knew like I do, that this isn’t what a DH track looks like. Rocks, big jumps, roots, off camber, step downs, ski jumps and general tom foolery with 8″ of suspended bicycle between your legs is downhill riding. Great isn’t it! Back to the Phoenix – point this thing down a real track and your gonna be gagging to jump back on that uplift and do it again and again, and that’s no shit either. I waited months to get this bike in for review as I knew would kick ass and you know what, it did.
Nothing is perfect and the Phoenix has its flaws. The cable routing was just Walmart and something I know could be done so much better – just look at that frame and the internal real estate for some clean routing. The other thing was it’s thirst and taste for mud. It loved it so much it quite often wouldn’t give it up making it a bitch to clean. Be this as it may, both of these issues can be easily overcome with some zip ties and ingenuity and sometimes you can’t have it all. So what else? The weight, oh yeah… It is heavy, but to be honest, on proper tracks I didn’t notice it, but that’s not to say a pound off the frame wouldn’t go a miss.
The DW Link and Fox suspension were amazing. I don’t really care about what you’ve read elsewhere, I thought they were bloody brilliant and the guys at Mojo didn’t touch ’em the whole time and they could’ve done quite easily – although a big thanks to Ash over there for sorting the correct springs and what not! Back to the beast in question and yes, this is a beast, one that in the right hands will make you look at the tracks you ride and race on with a different perspective. Pin it ya fairy!
With a retail price of £2500 with the Cane Creek Angleset and RC4 shock, the Phoenix becomes a formidable force within the marketplace, especially with some brands increasing their pricing while losing their appeal in the process. Pivot is also a new brand and one that is still growing; it was great to get people looking and asking questions about the frame, genuinely interested and quite often, former Sunday owners wanting to know what the crack was.
So, to finally sum this up and let you get on with your day/evening: If you’re looking for a new frame or indeed bike, and you want something that smashes stuff like a VPP, pedals like a 140mm bike, goes round corners like nothing else, lets you hang it out, but gets you home for supper and all the while not blending into the rising sea of Specialized and Giant sheep – this is one wild beast of a bike you really need to check out, and former Sunday owners missing their old flame, look no further…
Pivot Cycles are distributed in the UK by Upgrade Bikes. For more on the Phoenix
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