My review of an LT 29’er… the greatest concept in mountain bike history. Yes, I’m speaking of The Pivot Firebird 29.

 Since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with bikes. I was a dirt kid. BMX allowed me access and something to always ride whether we were building jumps in the wooded areas near the parkway exits or constructing makeshift quarter-pipes on dead end streets or incorporating the two. Maybe we were the pioneers of urban mountain biking. Maybe so, but as a 12 year old kid I knew one thing. I wanted to ride and I wanted to ride fast. My older brother and I had dirt bikes back then. He grew out of the Yamaha YZ 80, that I would later inherit, and moved up to a Honda CR 125. I was obsessed with motocross and loved everything about it.  The sounds of a 2 stroke engine bring me back to those days. Pinning the throttle and hitting sixth gear on that little bike was euphoric but the dream of racing was short lived. Eventually, the 65 mile drive to the trails(and amateur track)became too much for our dad to commit to every weekend. I relied on my one piece cranks and 20” wheels from there on. Eventually racing at a local track but never losing that love and desire for a motocross bike. I never grew out of certain habits from being on that YZ 80.

When I hung up the dream and lost my Mongoose Californian along the way I didn’t ride for the first time in my life. Then came Mountain Biking. I had heard about these guys out west building clunkers back in the day. Legends I’m told.  I remember the first time I saw a mass produced bike. Sort of looked like an old 10 speed with straight bars and a weirdo looking stem you could hang laundry on. The only requirement I had going into the purchase of my first MTB was an aluminum frame. I knew this would be a huge upgrade from the chromoly I had ridden for years. I pulled the trigger and, along with a bright white $20 helmet, purchased a Cannondale M400 LE. Headed out to our local trails here in NY and was super stoked to be back. With old motocross habits in hand and the desire to shred once again 30 yards out of the gate I attempted the root section and had my very first over the bars MTB crash. Lesson learned… don’t buy a $20 helmet. But, were there more lessons to learn? What had happened?

I learned how to ride that bike pretty well and adjusted my old habits to the modern day mountain bike. It was a tricky beast and I remember watching the pros ride downhill and hearing those cantilever brakes screeching all the way. It was the funniest thing to watch for sure. Why were they riding road bikes with wider tires and leaning back so much in total desperation to not go over the bars? This was insanity! I was adapting and my M400 was barely surviving. After burning 3 bottom brackets my buddy Scott and I decided to talk with the “pro shop” guy at our local bike store. We were proud of our rigs and the fact that we were abusing the shit out of them(yes, he also had an M400).  The guy at the shop asked us what we were riding and when we told him he sort of smirked. Hmmm… he knew something and we missed it. Told us they really don’t recommend the bike we had invested so much in. Not just the $420 but the street cred we thought we had. He started talking all things geometry and angles. We were lost within 30 seconds and walked out of there saying things like, “that guy doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about! Geometry my ass… I got a C+ in geometry.” I guess I should have studied more.

Shortly after our meeting with pro shop guy we both starting buying  issues of Mountain Bike Action et al and I became obsessed with finding the perfect mountain bike. Was she out there for me? I was on a quest…

My next bike was a Specialized Stumpjumper M2 Comp and she was a tremendous upgrade with a pro build. Full Shimano XT group and even better aluminum ingredients in the frame. Everything was better and I could handle this bike way different than my entry level predecessor. Geometry though? Yeah, I guess it had some good geometry. I sure paid enough for it. I was set… I found my girl. All 3” of Rock Shox Judy travel up front and a rigid frame was all I needed. We spent a lot of time together and I couldn’t imagine things could be better. Until the day I laid eyes on a full suspension rig. I was ruined once again.

MTB #3 was a Yeti 575. Another pro build of Shimano XT and this was the bike that gave me street(trail)cred and MTB bike handling started to evolve for me. Back then when other riders were talking about their 26” wheelbase full suspension bikes the chatter was always about the travel and loading it into the big jumps. I love jumps but I always talked about how the suspension worked well in cornering and the overall handling of the bike was way better than a rigid rear end. I probably never had that suspension dialed in right for jumps and learned that lesson more than a few times. How could I go over the bars so many times on a full suspension bike? I started to learn about geometry and how it was applied to these engineless machines. The following season Yeti made the 575 with a tapered head tube and slightly more slack. What did all this mean? Why was I obsessed with this lingo now? The pro shop guys smirk rattling around in my head. I thought this was my perfect bike! Yeti even posted 2 pictures of me on their “Proud Yeti Freaks” page! Then, another broken(full face)helmet at Mt. Snow Vt. What was I trying to achieve? I couldn’t break my old motocross habits? What were they? I started to diagnose…

In the early spring of 2012 I came across a Yeti ASR-7 on eBay for sale. The guy bought the frame and didn’t have the funds to build it. I had an idea! This bike was yet again a dream bike for me. The bike I always wanted. More slack head tube angle and a beast. Too much bike for my local trails? I didn’t give a rats ass. I was going to buy this frame and swap the components and use the 575 frame for a coat rack. Well, I learned quickly about modern day MTB compatibility and also wanted to build it as a “one by.” At the time bike companies had finally gone to two chainrings up front but I wanted more… I mean less. By early summer I sourced all the parts and had it built.

I finally knew what the right geometry felt like and I was comfortable for the first time. I could lean forward a bit more, once again. My old motocross habits could shine through and I wasn’t in fear of going over the bars as much. I started to appreciate this “better geometry” and understand how it applied to me and my riding style. I moved on from the more negative “habit” word and started to use “style” in my conversations and discussions about the evolution of MTB’ing. Once again I thought I had the perfect bike but within a few seasons my 7” travel 26” wheelbase was threatened by and evolution of a larger wheel and lesser, better suspension. The greatest bike, for me, that Yeti ever built would soon be replaced by an SB5. Finally a carbon frame, bigger wheels(27.5”) and 5lbs. less weight for me to pedal. Whoa! This was a lot of change. Once again, a honeymoon for me and Becky and I rode off into the sunset. Was the 26’er dead? Why not buy a 29’er? For me at the time the 29’er was for riders that wanted to ride cross country and “roll” over everything. Whatever that meant?! I borrowed a buddies 29’er for a ride once and I pounded on it and went fast. It was more of an XC bike but I liked it because it was super light but the bigger wheels didn’t get me excited. It was a stretch for me to ride 26” wheels years before coming from BMX and motocross. A 29’er was just a different animal and further from my roots.

Becky and I had a great relationship for 3 years. I raced her a handful of times and had finally solved my geometry issues and things couldn’t be better. This was the perfect girl. All the angles made sense and I graduated from 26” wheels and really found my place as a mountain biker. Then I watched Greg Minnaar crush the downhill on his Santa Cruz prototype 29’er and I was entranced. Oh boy… DH bikes with 29” wheels? What?! I began to understand and later began to believe. The 29’er had evolved and the proof was in the pudding. I started to think there may not be a place for a 26” or 27.5” wheel in the entire sport. Many would argue that but for me this made so much sense. Becky still had a ton of value and this was a huge decision for me. A huge risk. I could close my eyes and imagine bombing that dual crown V-10 over gnarly terrain and through deep berms but I needed an all mountain bike. A trail bike with balls. The bike I tried to build 8 years prior. The ASR-7. The bike that was supposed to be my forever dream bike.

I started to read a lot about Long Travel 29’ers. Yes! This was it. A trail bike that could do it all? Smash the DH with enough travel and still climb like a cross country? Could it be possible? Well, I guess I did really believe because a month later I had Becky and my DH bike(Samantha)listed on Pinkbike. I always say, “bikes don’t pay for themselves… they pay for each other.” Now what? All the LT29’er reviews and I’m a Yeti guy! Followed the company and race team since the mid 90’s. Was I looking at other brands after being part of The Tribe for years? The Proud Yeti Freaks page on the website though… what was happening to me?

The summer before I listed Becky on PB my crew and I headed to Kingdom Trails for a long weekend of riding. NEMBA Fest was taking place and we stopped into the Fox Factory tent to talk to the guys. Outside of their tent leaning on a bike stand was one of the most beautiful sites I’d had seen since the birth of my children. A Pivot Firebird 29 covered in glossy Sandstorm paint with black and orange trim. She was that girl you see in a crowd or a subway car and never see again. Didn’t James Blunt write a song about her? What was her name? For me, this was a foreshadow… and her name was Jaime.

When you remortgage the house(or sell off valuables)to buy a bicycle you want to feel confident you are making the right decisions. Even though I could imagine what the big wheeled bike felt like I hadn’t ridden it. The Firebird was on my radar and there was no going back. A 65 degree head tube angle! More slack than Becky. I was ready and I was commited. I made my purchase earlier this year and chose the Shimano Pro XT/XTR build. When I first sat on the bike I felt like I was home again. The front tire was so far out in front of me but closer to me in height. I knew things were right and started to feel comfortable about my decision and anxious to get out on the trail.

My first ride with Jaime was a success. I’d say without even trying I had the suspension and tire pressure dialed in about 80%. The next few rides were fine tuning rebound and brake lever adjustment and by my fourth ride things were seamless. The whole bike is way bigger than my SB5. The Firebird has 162mm(6.38”) of rear travel and 170mm(6.7”) up front in a Fox Factory 36.  The bike is taller and longer. A lot longer. What does this mean for me? My riding style has been satisfied. I feel more confident on the bike, period. I can lean further into turns and even though the front tire is further away from me the height of the tire is closer. On the shorter, smaller SB5 I felt like I would run out of room in turns. My body wanted to do one thing and the bike only allowed a percentage of it to happen. I can settle in to certain situations and stay there longer on the Firebird. I don’t feel like I’m riding a 29” wheel. The whole bike is bigger which makes the proportion feel the same as the SB5 with the exception of the Firebird being more slack up front. It’s like adding sun and water and seeing the whole bike grow in every direction. The bike is super nimble and it only took a couple of rides to get used to throwing the rear end of the bike around. I go through almost all of my travel on trail rides but never bottom the suspension. It’s really plush in downhill sections but climbs and rebounds extremely well. The Fox Float X2 Factory performs incredibly. I never had my rear suspension dialed right on my SB5 as I was always afraid of going through all the suspension and bottoming it. I ended up with rear suspension on that bike that was always too stiff or didn’t have enough rebound set. The stanchion on the Float X2 is wider, feels stiffer in climbs and more plush in DH sections. I run Maxxis Rekon 2.6 front and rear and this was the only change I made at purchase because of trail conditions where I often ride. I wanted the widest tire with a moderate amount of tread and the Rekon’s offered that. I couldn’t be happier with them and consider them a “plus light” tire. I’m really happy with where things are dialed at the moment and as always I’m in love with Shimano. They really got it right with their 12 speed drivetrain. It’s smooth as butter and super accurate. Could Shimano brakes actually get better than they were? Hard to believe but apparently so. The XT M8120 4-Piston brakes are epic. Well done Shimano.

This is the bike I tried to build in 2012 and the concept of geometry along with the technology of suspension and evolution of a wheel size have come together in harmony. Mountain bikes have come a long way and for me they evolved around what I’ve always wanted. Bikes like the Pivot Firebird 29 are built to go downhill real fast and still have the ability to climb back up. When I’m on this bike I feel like a kid and I have moments when I feel like I’m behind the bars of the YZ80 again.

They say it’s hard to break old habits but if you have a style you should stick to it. Eventually you’ll find your girl.