I stepped out of the shuttle bus, took in the smells of the Whakarewarewa Forest and listened to the excited chatter of the other passengers as they unloaded their bikes. I took a deep breath; I was a little apprehensive as I was about to have my first ride on the new Pivot Switchblade, the Arizona-based brand’s latest carbon superbike. The sights and sounds of the forest were a stark contrast to the last couple of hours which I had spent in a conference room listening to John Pentecost from Pivot Cycles talking me through the finer details of the all new Switchblade. 

My takeaways from John’s presentation were two-fold. The first was that Pivot had gone to town on the Switchblade and re-designed the whole platform from the ground up. Apart from the headset this was an entirely new bike—new wheel-size, new suspension configuration, new frame design, the works! Chris Cocalis and his team have gone all in on the 29” wheel size, upsizing the Switchblade and fitting it in between their existing short travel Trail 429 and their full-blown enduro rig the Firebird. They felt like a ‘true’ trail bike was the missing piece of the puzzle in their line up and developed the Switchblade as 160mm front and 142mm rear travel bike to plug the gap.

The second takeaway was that Pivot take their carbon production process very seriously; in fact it’s their pride and joy and pivotal to their entire philosophy on bike performance and quality. This was an eye-opening look at how carbon should be done. The Hollow Core carbon frames are intricately laid up and cured over a one-piece silicone mould, which results in a denser, stronger and smoother end product. By the end of John’s chat I realised not all carbon frames are created equal.

Built around a Super-boost (9mm wider than standard) rear axle and Dave Weigel’s DW Link suspension platform, the Switchblade is the epitome of the contemporary trail bike. It’s long in the reach at 455mm for a medium, steep in the seat tube for climbing, and short and incredibly stiff in the back end. The only eyebrow raising measurement is the head tube angle sitting at a conservative 66°, which seems to be a reflection of Pivot’s desire to create a true trail bike rather than another enduro bike.

Back to the Redwoods, I suddenly find myself hurtling down the high speed ‘Eagle vs Shark’ trail. It’s a fast and furious introduction to the Switchblade, but within a few corners I find myself crouched low, egging the bike to go faster. My initial impression is how stable and quiet the bike feels, and the relaxed yet aggressive riding position it pushed me into. Hooting and hollering, we re-group at the shuttle and head back up to push the Pivot on some of Rotorua’s rougher, more technical terrain.

Another key factor in the bike’s development was Pivot’s collaboration with Fox suspension on their DPX2 shock. The designers wanted a livelier experience from the DPX2 over its traditional planted feel, so Fox set about developing a unique version of the shock especially for the Switchblade’s kinematics. This came into its own as we took it into more technical terrain: through the rougher mix of roots and compressions the DW link and DPX2 really came alive, keeping the bike buttery smooth and effortless tracking on line. The lively suspension combined with the short chainstays and extra stiff Superboost rear lends itself to an active riding style, which I enjoy over a point-and-plough style of bike, but it’s something to think about if you lean the other way. 

After my day in Rotorua I managed to get hold of the Switchblade for another week’s testing at home. Here I got to put it through it’s uphill paces—a vital characteristic for a trail bike. Again the well thought out geometry and high front end put you in an ideal climbing position and it was obvious very quickly that the Switchblade excels at ascending. One disappointment however is that even with a carbon frame the Switchblade does sit a little on the heavier side at around 14kg, something which you really only notice on the longer climbs. Those gram-shavers among you (with bottomless bank accounts) could look at upgrading the wheel set to carbon which would trim a bit off.

The model I tested was the Shimano XT-specced Pro model. However Pivot’s attitude to their build options is to adopt an equal opportunities policy and they offer both SRAM and Shimano options right through the range of groupsets—there is even an option to add on Fox Live Valve too.

Does it have any weaknesses? Well the obvious elephant in the room is that this is a state-of-art carbon-framed superbike dripping in top of line components, and as a result comes with a five-figure price tag that will instantly exclude a lot of riders. Apart from that no, not really; the Switchblade exceeded my expectations in everything it was designed to do. That said, it’s important to realise it’s built to be an allrounder—a true trail bike. Therefore it’s a compromise, a balance between bump-gobbling plush travel and XC climbing prowess, so you just need to weigh up your own riding needs versus the merits
of the Switchblade.  

I really bonded with the Switchblade; it seemed to work very intuitively for my riding style and I loved how it rode. The ride feel was the perfect balance of spacious modern reach and short rear end (disclaimer: I’m a fan of short chainstays). This is also my go to travel for everyday riding so everything about it just worked for me.

The Switchblade is a modern day Swiss Army knife. It has it all: an aggressive, trail-smashing attitude mixed with the desire to climb hills and roll playfully through flowing terrain. Yes, it’s expensive, but aren’t all the good things in life.

Neil Kerr