Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Pivot Mach 429 (2010)

I had every intention of spending the 2015 mountain biking season with a hardtail. I'd never even ridden a bike with any suspension at all, and thought it would be wise to start in the front and work my way back over time. 

Then I went to St. George, Utah, and rented a Specialized Camber Comp for a week, and had more fun than I'd ever had on a mountain bike. Within three days, I could ride things I never thought possible. When I got back to dear ol’ New England, I broke out the laptop and began shopping for a full-suspension bike. 

I looked at every brand on the market. They were all delicious, and ridiculously expensive. So, I turned to the last refuge of the limited budget: eBay. There I tripped over the Pivot, a company I’d barely heard of. I did some research on company guru Chris Cocalis, a bit of a Steve Jobs figure in the MTB world. He knows a lot about a lot: fabrication, engineering, drivetrain parts, framebuilding, you name it, he’s done it. He co-founded Titus, a once-fabled brand that put out highly-respected machines for the cognescenti. When he left and started Pivot, he got players like Shimano and Dave Weagle (suspension engineer extrarodnaire) to develop parts specific to Pivot's bikes. His designs have the reputation of being painstakingly crafted. The 2010 Mach 429— the bike I saw on eBay—got rave reviews everywhere I looked. 

Sensing a total-package opportunity at bargain-basement prices, I pressed "go" on PayPal, and in a week, I was drooling all over the electric blue paint job and matching spokes (and headset spacers, and hubs, and valve covers; Pivot sweats the details).

Right out of the box, the bike was exciting: gorgeous, well-balanced, responsive. 

Beyond that, it took a while to get the Pivot dialed in. All the bells and whistles on the suspension (especially the adjustable 95 to 120 mm Fox TALAS fork) were a bit much at the start. After a few weeks of fiddling, I got close enough on all counts that the bike began to feel like “home.” Since then, I've fallen more in love with the bike with every ride. My other bikes are feeling very neglected.

Pivot especially prides itself on the lateral stiffness of its machines, thanks in large part to their custom DW Link pivot (bearing Dave Weagle’s initials, of course). The bike is, indeed, stiff as a board laterally. I rode fully rigid all last year, and I know how responsive a mountain bike can feel; locked out, this bike nearly equals that feeling. It seems like all of my effort goes directly into the wheels.

Yet the suspension and overall ride is sublime. Dialed in, it gives me confidence in turns and reasonable comfort over tough obstacles. It has simply intuitive response, and rarely breaks away when I don't want it to, but I can flick the bike more or less as I wish. As an old roadie, I appreciate a suspension system that disappears underneath me, leaving me feeling confident and absorbed in the ride.

Of course, no suspension system is perfect, and I have a few niggles. The TALAS has a reputation for being harsh in small-bump scenarios, and I’ve found that many one-inch roots in rapid succession do yield harshness. In an ideal world, I'd have a straight-up 120 mm Fox fork. I only use the 95 mm setting for long climbs with lots of tight squeezes. Combined with the steep head tube angle, I find steep descents at that setting too dicey. I generally leave it at 120, where it's easy to loft the front wheel over obstacles, yet isn't hard to keep grounded on the steeps. What with the generally short climbs in the Northeast, I don't like reaching down to the fork crown to change the suspension every time the trail turns up or down (especially in addition to adjusting front and rear suspension).

As for the shock, the only adjustment I fiddled with much after getting sag set up is the ProPedal knob. This changes how open the shock is when the ProPedal is on—from fairly stiff to fairly cushy. Though it's true that more efficient pedaling generally brings a harsher ride, I find little compromise in the middle of the three settings. It works so well in so many situations, I often leave it there after a climb, unless the descent will be long and hairy. One less lever to worry about is a big plus.

I don't know if they were original, but the Specialized Captain 2.0 tires the Pivot came with broke away on nearly any challenging terrain, even set up tubeless. It didn’t take long to decide to mount my sweetheart tires from last year’s fully-rigid escapade—Maxxis Ardents (2.4” front and 2.25” back). Suffice to say, I still adore them. The Ardents handle nearly everything with aplomb. If I know the trail will be relatively buff, I’ll bump ‘em up to 30-plus psi; I find them plenty fast in that scenario. 

With pedals and a bottle cage, the bike weighed in at my LBS at 28 pounds, not bad for such a smooth ride, though not the lightest for a cross-country bike at the heady 2010 sticker price of $4250.00. I’m fine with the weight; first of all, it climbs so responsively that I almost don’t feel it. Also, I recently did a couple of runs with the Mach on a fancy bike park downhill trail, and felt confident enough to get air over and over. The solidity of the bike added to my confidence.

Contributing to overall lightness are the 680-millimeter Syntace carbon bars, which sit comfortably between all-mountain-ripper and sapling-squeezer widths. The carbon portions of the DW Link help out, too, and you can subtract a few grams for the unbelievably smooth XTR shifters. Other high-end spec includes Hope Tech brakes and Industry 9 hubs and spokes. If you don't know about these companies, it's worth doing a little research. 

I don’t know if there are many versions of the early Mach 429 on the market, so I can only hope this review will be informative to those considering other years, or even a current model. The closest bike Pivot currently makes is the Mach 429 Trail, with 120-130 mm of travel, a Boost 148 rear hub, and full carbon frame. Anyone who can take a trail bike to its limits should take seriously the claims in the video on this page.

If you're considering a Pivot, know this: I’m falling more and more in love every day with a five-year-old model… which is easily that much ahead of its time.

Maybe Chris Cocalis really is that mad genius in a castle tower on a stormy night...