I’ve missed a couple demos over the past year and there’s been several new, really interesting bikes come out so my bike test list was starting to get quite long. But with three or four extra testers to help grab bikes we made a serious attempt to knock off as many of my must-rides this year as we could. The list was packed with several new aggressive geometry 29ers in both shorter and mid- travel configurations, short travel 27.5″ Endorphin competitors, and several full on longer travel enduro rigs.
I arrived three days early to get some extra Moab riding in before the demo began, starting off with what has become maybe my favorite Moab ride: Mag 7 to Portal. I got in town around noon and parked my truck up at the top of Gemini Bridges road. I was pleased to see the new Getaway single track starting right from the top now thus avoiding the first mile or two of dirt road. Its flowy, creative and fun. I liked it. Having ridden Bull Run pretty much every time I’ve done Mag 7 and being on a bit of time clock, I chose to stay on Getaway clear down to Arth’s, then on to Little Canyon. While the new top section of Getaway was stellar, the lower portion was just OK though more direct, but overall I still prefer Bull Run.
I always love the climb up to Gold Bar rim. It is so creatively routed and has such spectacular views that you hardly notice you’re climbing. The stuff up along the rim is both challenging and rewarding.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Endorphin handled all this ride, including the “A” option drops and final gnarly DH type descent down the Portal. The geometry and stability allowed it to handle all of the steep chutes, steps, and tricky switch backs without any sketchiness and only a bit slower than with a bigger bike like the Chilcotin. And the Endo was much more fun on the more pedally Mag 7 stuff.
Next day I caught an early shuttle for what was supposed to be Geyser Pass, but overnight rain kept us lower for our starting point for the Whole Enchilada. We were dropped off at a back door entrance into the lower section of Jimmy Kean which is an up and down alpine singletrack loop that takes in much of the terrain of Hazard and Kokopelli but in a more circuitous fashion. I’m glad I got to do it without having to commit to the full seven mile loop in the middle of a Whole Enchilada ride. The rain was light but steady and the trail surface started to get a bit slick and muddy in a few places but for the most part was in really good shape. The sandy parts on UPS and LPS and clear down Porcupine Rim were perfect. The Endorphin was again a nearly perfect companion. Fast and responsive and a good pedaler on the flatter and climbier sections, yet still solid, smooth, and responsive on the fast shark fin chop the is ever present on Porc Rim. Major props to the X-Fusion Sweep fork that was stellar on reacting to repeated sharp-edged hits with the rebound adjustment full open.
The same qualifiers apply to these reviews as always. They should be considered as first ride, first impressions only. We try to get the set up and suspension dialed as well as we can for a short ride that usually lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. So if you’re expecting full-on extended reviews you may be disappointed. We do stand by our opinions though, and feel like we are pretty good at feeling out the true identity, strengths, weaknesses, and soul of any given bike.
We rated all the bikes on a scale of 1-5 for visual impression/looks, climbing ability, descending, cornering, general agility, fit, and an intangible factor. Lowest score is a 7, highest is a 35.
The original Titus Switchblade was tops on my list when I was ready to invest in my first real, high-end full suspension bike some 15 years ago because it ticked all the boxes of what I was looking for in an aggressive trail bike. The new Pivot Switchblade was tops on my list for this demo for the same reasons. It definitely ticked all the boxes. The Pivot Switchblade is an aggressive trail bike with 135mm of rear travel and 150mm up front. It ships with either a 29” or 27.5+ wheels. It also sports pretty slack head angles at 67.25-degrees in 29er configuration and 66.5 in 27.5+ form. Chainstays are nice and short at 16.85”, yet it can still accommodate a front derailleur and 3.25” tires. With a stiff carbon frame that’s fairly light, it can be built up in the sub 30 lb range without totally breaking the bank. It sounded like the perfect All-Trail bike (Yes, I’m coining a new bike category. You’re welcome.)
I scrambled to the Pivot tent first thing and was able to secure this black, size large SB, set up with 27.5+ wheels. As with all Pivot’s recently, the Switchblade has nice compact, visually balanced look. The bottom bracket, seat tube down tube junction is thick and oozes stiffness. The links are short and well executed keeping things tight and aesthetically pleasing. The fit was perfect for my 71″, average body type.
Moving up the trail was easy and the SB responded well to pedal input. Lateral stiffness kept things in line and for a 130 travel 27.5+ it bumped off small kickers and drops with relative ease, but felt slightly sluggish doing it. Cornering also felt a bit vague with the bigger tires. They didn’t really lack for grip, I just didn’t ever really feel a nice edge to set with confidence. I took it on some rocky, more technical climbs on the Deadman’s Loop and was impressed at its efficiency and climbing grip though less so with its ability to roll up and over square edges. The rear end seemed to stiffen too much and caused a noticeable hop in its progress though no discernable pedal kickback. Getting around tight switchbacks was natural and didn’t require any major adjustments in technique. I’d give it a 4/5 on smooth and technical climbing. This is a good characteristic for an all day trail bike and an enduro race rig.
For a longer travel 27.5 plus what wasn’t expected is that it didn’t feel super plush on rougher descents and didn’t seem super smooth on smaller trail irregularities, an area where the Ibis Mojo 3+ really shined. Maybe I didn’t ever get the tire pressure dialed which I know is critical or maybe I didn’t ever get the Fox Float CTD adjusted correctly, but quite a bit of fiddling didn’t substantially improve this lack of plushness. I’d like to try it again with a Float X2 or or CCDB Air. Perhaps a nice custom coil like the Push Eleven Six would be the ticket, but the lowly Float CTD wasn’t doing it. I know Pivot knows how to give a bike that deep and plush rear suspension feel because I’ve ridden the Mach 6 on several occasions, but I couldn’t help but think how the SB felt more akin to the 429 Trail than the Mach 6. Maybe that was by design, but I expected more of a Mach 6 29er/27.5+.
When I took the SB back to the Pivot tent I asked the technician to “switch” on the 29″ wheels. I immediately felt more comfortable. It felt more responsive to pedal input, cut into corners better, and rolled up and over square edges with less kick. The bigger wheel transformed the bike for me. It still wasn’t perfect, but I liked it a lot better in 29er form.
Score: 30/35 in 27.5+ form; 32/35 in 29er form.
Rocky Mountain Slayer
The Slayer is back with a full carbon frame, 27.5 wheels, and with 165mm of enduro crushing travel. The Slayer was the first of three full on, long travel enduro/am bikes we rode. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take it on the kind of steep, fast, gnarly trails that would really make it shine, but it had all the right numbers to make it work in the roughest terrain. We were, however able to get a reasonably good impression of its strengths on our ride. The very tame trails that access the Deadman’s loop which is the most technical trail at the Brand Tails showed that the Slayer was a pretty good pedaler. For a big bike it cruised along the buff xc Lazy trail with relative efficiency and was able to keep up speed without feeling too sluggish on the flats . As I turned up the rocky Deadman’s loop I discovered it also climbed pretty well. The horst type Smoothlink rear suspension eased over square edges without sagging too much into its travel but there was enough squat that combined with a relatively low bottom bracket, pedal strikes were common.
Despite its slack head angle the climbing position felt natural and it was easy to get forward to weight the front end due to the steep 75 degree seat angle. I liked how it gathered traction on loose scrambles and worked its way around switchbacks with little floppiness or drama. There was no hiding the fact that it was a big bike though.
Once pointed downhill, descending was smooth and fairly well cntrolled but noisy. I checked the lock on the clutch derailleur and it was only partially on causing the chain to slap quite a bit. Once locked on it quieted down but then got noisy again a mile or two down the trail. Not sure if the problem was with the derailleur or the bike but it was annoying. I’d forgotten how I hate noisy bikes since most are pretty quiet lately. The Fox X2 shock worked well on this platform and absorbed everything in its path with a nice controlled plushness. I couldn’t help but keep feeling like the Slayer was just beginning to really unwind when I’d get to the bottom of the short descents in the Bar M area. I’d love to take it on some longer, steeper runs. I think this is great addition to the full on enduro category and is built to take on everything up to and including lift served runs and all day big mountain climbs.
Transition Patrol Carbon
I’ve been wanting to ride the Patrol since it came out in aluminum two or three years ago. They did’t have the carbon Scout at the Transition booth when I stopped by so I took this opportunity to swing a leg over its big brother. The Patrol was like the Slayer’s Canadian twin. They both felt very similar and rode quite a bit alike, so I’ll focus on their differences. The Patrol sits squarely in the big bike category despite just 155mm of travel due to its plush ride, long front center and slack head angle. It did feel a little sluggish on more xc trails (like all the bigger enduro/AM bikes we rode, but we felt that it climbed and pedaled a bit more briskly than the Rocky Mountain.
The carbon frame was fairly light and laterally stiff and there was little noise or commotion while plowing over rocks and chop. The size large frame fit me very well at 5’11.5″ and it did not complain at the more pedaly ride I took it on. In fact, the seated pedaling position felt pretty upright and comfortable though maybe not quite centered as the Slayer.
Overall, I liked this bike quite a bit though it didn’t do anything outstanding to really set it apart from the crowd. I could certainly live very happily with the Patrol as a bigger, do-all enduro crushing steed, but would I spend my hard earned money on it? That’s the question we all have to answer. Go ride it if you have a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Both the Patrol and the Slayer ran on these new Flow 3 alloy rims from Stan’s. They are wide at 28.5mm internal width and felt stiff. They gave the tires a nice wide print and a little more rounded profile without taking away from the intended shape and cornering edge of he tires. The low profile helps avoid rim strikes.
Guide brakes are an acquired taste…. and after riding nothing but Shimano XT on my personal bikes it takes awhile to get used to the more gradual engagement of the Guides. The Pike and Fox 36 forks felt relatively equivalent this year. Both very good. I good easily live with either. Loved the all black with flo blue highlights.
Stay tuned. There’s more to come. I rode 14 bikes in all. Ben rode another 6-8 that I didn’t.