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Pivot Switchblade Team XTR reviewed

Can Pivot’s Switchblade really make a £9k price tag seem worth it? Guy Kesteven has been blasting his local test trails in a responsible, solitary fashion to find out

Pivot Switchblade XTR review
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Brilliantly vivid yet smoothly controlled, high-velocity technical trail bike for the few who can afford it, but not without some potentially irritating aspects

For

  • Super clean, precise and efficient but still smooth and grippy
  • Excellent all round aggro handling balance
  • Super Gucci XTR/Fox/Reynolds build kit
  • Delicious frame detailing
  • Sweet custom air shock but coil shock compatible too.

Against

  • Very high price
  • Too progressive for most riders in stock form
  • Press Fit BB and option limiting Super Boost rear end
  • XTR brake pad rattle drove us nuts

Pivot’s latest Switchblade keeps the 27.5+ or 29er wheel size switch versatility and SuperBoost stance of the original, but shape, shock position and travel are all tweaked. Is that enough to justify its Gucci pricing and where does it sit in the premium trail bike/enduro bike rankings?   

Design and geometry

The most obvious difference with the new Switchblade is that Pivot has moved the shock from a vertical position under the top tube to a vertical position in front of the seat tube. That makes the mainframe smaller and lower while still fitting a large bottle in the conventional position on every frame size. Pivot has also refined its size-specific Hollow Core Carbon construction to reap maximum gains from the lighter and stiffer mainframe dimensions. Pivot claim 2.6kg for a small frame with no shock which equates to around 3kg for a medium frame with shock. Complete bike weights are comparable/higher than those of 3.5kg confirmed frame weight bikes though.

A super-short lower linkage and big sculptural 3D-machined upper linkage make up the revised, 142mm travel DW-Link suspension. The custom Fox DPX2 shock is trunnion mounted on bearings for maximum smoothness and there’s an eccentric geometry switch chip on the upper rocker.

The back end is still single piece and still Super Boost 157mm width, which gives tyre clearance for 29x2.6 or 27.5x2.8in tyres while retaining a short 431mm chainstay and ample ankle space. It’s still a rare size though so dramatically reduces your wheel/hub choices. It also uses a press fit bottom bracket which won’t please everyone.

Pivot Switchblade XTR review

Neat details include switchable cable ports that organises hose and cable connected hardware  (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Neat detailing is extensive though with switchable ‘Cable Port’ cable/hoses covers for wired or wireless transmission and Fox Live Valve hardware mounts. Interestingly although Pivot always collaborates closely with Shimano it’s not Di2 compatible, strongly suggesting its next electric group won’t need wires. Extensive rubber protection around the belly and swing arm includes a really neat slow rebound raised hollow block chainstay protector and a rubber skirt over the mainframe/subframe gap to stop rocks getting trapped. It comes in green or blue and is covered by a ten-year original owner warranty.

Geometry is updated from the previous Switchblade with 66/66.5- head and 75.5/76-degree seat angles, 347/352mm bottom bracket height and 470-475mm reach (size large) depending on the chip position. Short seat tubes on all 5 sizes make going up a notch up for extra length an option too.

Components and build

As the name suggests our sample gets gears and brakes from the trail-spec version of Shimano’s flagship XTR group including four-pot brakes and large 200/180mm cooling fin equipped rotors. A 493g Race Face Next R carbon crankset saves significant weight compared to the alloy XTR equivalent though. Fox 36 fork, DPX2 rear shock and size specific Transfer dropper post are all gold Kashima coated ‘Factory’ spec.

Reynolds Black Label Enduro wheelset match a 28mm internal, asymmetric carbon rim to hyper-fast engaging Industry Nine Hydra hubs via 28 Sapim spokes front and rear for a suitably light and snappy feeling build. Tyres are top-line Maxxis DHF 2.5in front and DHR 2.4in rear. Pivot supplies the size-specific low rise carbon handlebar and stem with colour-coded file pattern lock-on grips and steel railed WTB saddle to finish.

If you’re not into XTR there are no less than 14 different build options from the £5700 XT/SLX/DT M1900 wheel mix to the Team XX1 AXS Live Valve uber bike at £12400. Based on UK pricing complete bike costs are similar to Yeti’s SB-130 but significantly more than Santa Cruz’s Hightower.

Ride, handling and performance

Thankfully the premium build and Pivot’s legendary attention to detail is apparent straight away. While its weight isn’t particularly light for price or category and the tyres are grippy rather than rippy, the Switchblade feels outstandingly ‘bright’ and eager straight away. The tight Reynolds wheels, stiff, compact frame, short linkage, short but super-wide back end and short offset fork give a vivid and immediate connection to the trail. The size-specific composite lay up delivers a superb balance between precise and punishingly stiff too, so a Tai Chi trail cruise feels as good as an all-out assault.

The Pivot co-developed DPX2 custom shock has a completely new base plate and selector ring for better oil flow and the trunnion mount also has a cartridge bearing up top for minimum stiction. That makes it much smoother and less chokey than most 2020 DPX2s and off the power the progressive rate naturally sinks low into the stroke to sit you ‘into’ the bike. Add the short back end and it loves to manual and flow through drops and stutter bump sections or pop and flick off any trailside feature just for the fun of it. There are still moments when the basic rebound architecture of the DPX2 still catches slightly or the chain reaction means a bit of slap through your pedals but we’ll happily trade that for zero mush or wallow when you’re driving hard. 

We also swapped out the default volume spacer for a 40 per cent smaller one and then ended up running it without any spacers to get full travel from the progressive stroke. It’s a simple job though and the kinematic means you can run a coil shock for an even more damped and controlled feel if you want. 

Pivot Switchblade XTR review

Shimano's precise XTR drivetrain complements the Switchblade's 'get-up-and-go' DW suspension characteristics (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Get on the gas and the DW-Link stiffens the bike up enough for a firm and encouraging power delivery that’s boosted by the instant connection from the Industry Nine hubs. Slight pedalling lift adds to already decent ground clearance so you can get power down more places than a slammed bike. There’s still enough supple motion to give an excellent technical climbing performance from the forward saddle position too and that 66º head stops it feeling too floppy as you get to stalling speed. The positive pedalling also means you’ll only need to reach for the middle ‘trail’ position on the piggyback damper if you’re hustling hard out of the saddle on a fire road climb.

While there’s an 18mm discrepancy between the 160mm travel fork and the back end on paper, it never feels anything but totally balanced on the trail. The Grip2 fork damper is super smooth off the top, supportive in the centre and hovers naturally high in the travel so you can really drive through it and rail the turns. While it can occasionally twitch and tuck under when a longer, slacker bike would truck on, the front wheel stays hooked up more consistently in sand and other loose conditions.

 Although it definitely feels ‘trail’ in stance rather than ‘enduro’ it still compresses enough to not feel awkwardly perched through faster turns too. Add the precision and grip through the big Maxxis tyres, Reynolds wheels, fat fork legs and tight Pivot frame and cockpit and it feels totally connected without the need for excessive body movement or ‘long way round’ line choices and it’s never a chore to thread it through tech or blitz it back up to speed. As you’d hope for £9k the performance of the rest of the kit is spot on for its naturally blitz quick aggro trail temperament with precise positively communicated stop and go control from the XTR gears and brakes. The constant rattle of the loose-fitting XTR brake pads on anything remotely rough is very intrusive though and undermines what’s otherwise a totally premium ride feel.

Pivot Switchblade XTR review

A large upper linkage and short lower linkage keeps the rear end stiff and direct (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Verdict

There’s no escaping the top-end price of the Switchblade. Press-fit bottom bracket and SuperBoost wheel options are also potential issues and most riders will need to swap/remove the shock volume spacer. The rattle of the XTR pads on this spec nearly drove us nuts, too. Hit the trail though and that immediately all seems forgivable. Its ability to turn every section of trail into an ultra high definition pop, rip and power through playground is as good - if not better - than any other bike we’ve ridden. While it doesn’t feel like it has more rear travel than 142mm, the quality of flat-out flow and tight power response is exceptional. The seemingly unbalanced front/rear travel actually syncs superbly and while they aren’t the most radical numbers the geometry is perfectly poised for the vast majority of real-world riding. It’s also one of the few bikes where you can still swap to plus-sized wheels if that’s your thing but for most, it’ll be the delicious detailing and visceral, dynamic speed of the Switchblade that makes it something very special.  

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 6-12 degrees,
  • Surface: Mixed local woods and moorland back country.
  • Routes: Nidderdale, Blubberhouses, Stainburn trail centre off and on piste.

Tech spec: Pivot Switchblade Team XTR

  • Model name: Pivot Switchblade Team XTR
  • Discipline: Trail/Enduro
  • Price: £9000
  • Head angle: 66-degrees
  • Size: Large
  • Weight: 13.62kg
  • Wheel size: 29in
  • Frame material: Hollow Core carbon fibre mainframe and swingarm
  • Suspension (front/rear): Fox Factory 36 Grip2 160mm travel, 44mm offset/Custom Fox Factory Float DPX2 142mm travel
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XTR M9100 10-51T 12 speed gearing and shifter. Race Face Next R 32T chainset. 
  • Brakes: Shimano XTR M9120 brakes with 203mm, 180mm rear rotors.
  • Wheelset: Reynolds Black Label Enduro Wide Trail carbon rims with Industry Nine hubs, Maxxis Minion DHF WT, 3C MaxTerra 29 x 2.5in front and Maxxis Minion DHR WT, 3C MaxTerra 29 x 2.4in rear tyres
  • Handlebar: Pivot Phoenix Team Carbon 780x35mm bar
  • Stem: Pivot Phoenix Team 45x35mm stem
  • Seatpost: Fox Factory Kashima Transfer 175mm dropper post
  • Saddle: WTB Phoenix Team Vigo saddle