Pivot Cycles Phoenix Review 2012 Downhill Bike

words: Toni W.

Pivot Phoenix Review – Part 3

After a short and rather uneventful winter in Utah, we went right into a great early spring where I logged more early season riding than I have in years.  Fast forward to September and I’ve blown through a pile of tires and brake pads logging one of my best season’s worth of DH saddle time in a while.  Thinking back over this rather epic summer of shred, some of the first thoughts to mind about the Phoenix are playful, stiff, low, and snappy.  The rest of the adjectives that jump quickly to mind are mostly positive as well.  You’d be right in getting the gist that we got on rather well, but let’s dig in a little and flush out the details.

Earlier in our review, I mentioned how over-built the Phoenix appeared in the work stand.  Out in the wild, that initial impression held true.  Over the course of several months I had zero issues with pivot bolts loosening, creaking, or really any other mechanical troubles with the frame itself.  I’ve noticed several mini-link based frames using grease ports to keep their bearings running smoothly, something Pivot chose to omit on the Phoenix.  I did wonder a bit about this but the bearings stayed completely quiet and smooth without intervention.  I would really like to see integrated fork bumpers since Pivot is making use of thin, hydroformed tubing around the head tube.  However, my frame is dent free after a full hard season including a few good offs perhaps partially due to the ODI fork bumpers that align easy and stay put .  One area of the frame that I was particularly impressed with was the dropout and axle configuration.  The dropouts are replaceable, but unlike many similar designs, the hanger is still a separate, inexpensive part.  If you bend your hanger, no need to replace an expensive drive side dropout.  The rear axle is a totally simple affair, one big axle bolt with no pinch bolts.  The head of the axle will accept an allen or a spanner making removal in the field quick and easy.  Despite the lack of pinch bolts I had absolutely no issues with the axle loosening.  One nitpick I noted is that this frame was a bit vocal when going down the trail.  I loaded it up with rubberized mastic tape to ease the chain slap but I never did achieve anything that I’d call “quiet”.  I’m thinking a clutched derailleur may help solve my woes but I haven’t tried one out on this bike.

The Phoenix is in it’s element hopping and skipping from one trail feature to the next.  It’s definitely not a plower. It rewards a more carefully chosen line but can pump the back side of a natural roller or pop off a rock lip with the best of them.  Lateral stiffness out back is impressive with no concerns for deflection; lock in on a line and hang on. The low BB is hugely confidence inspiring and integral to the character of the Phoenix.  The low center of gravity feeds high corner exit speeds straight into pumping and popping through chunk without the need to be constantly pedaling.  Part of the idea behind the low BB is that the DW link suspension design should ride high enough in it’s travel to allow for pedal strokes without excessive strikes.  In practice, I found it a bit tricky to get strokes in rocky sections, especially on flat pedals.  As I write this, I wish I had spent a bit of time clipped in, but I’m not convinced this is the best platform for the rider who’s constantly trying to get strokes in.  But let’s not make too much of this, some of my favorite passing spots were more fun than ever on the Phoenix.  Because, when you do get on the gas, there’s little bob and heaps of forward momentum.  Snappy.

I tend to like the feel of the Fox RC4 on a wide variety of suspension designs.  So it’s not entirely surprising that I liked it on the Phoenix since the folks at Pivot designed the Phoenix to get the most out of the RC4 damper.  And the Phoenix definitely shines in the way it’s matched to the Fox damper above any other frame I’ve ridden.  Specifically, rather than being that then end of any given range of adjustment, the RC4 seemed to work well for me right near the middle of it’s tuning range.  I ran the bottom-out resistance about 2 turns in and boost around 170-180 lbs for most of my favorite tracks.  The remaining compression and rebound adjustments were also right around the middle of their range.  This gave me a firm feel with a lot of pop but it still tracked small bumps well as long as my speed was up.  This is very significant as it allowed for plenty of range to further firm things up for jump line riding or soften things up for low traction conditions.  In fact, you can dial the boost and bottom-out settings back near their minimum along with backing off compression and achieve a very linear feel that results in gobs of traction in the mud.  From a practical standpoint, I admittedly left my settings mostly setup firm.  However, this range of tune ability is key for the racer trying to get the most out of his ride.

But why not mess with a good thing?  In addition to the RC4, I also ran a CCDB-Air for part of the season.  The nature of the air spring provided just enough of the required bottom-out control to match the Phoenix’s suspension rate and my style.  Meanwhile, the range of compression and rebound adjustments are sufficient to suit most any rider.  I did have to log several days of riding with the Cane Creek tool, making small adjustments run after run to get it right but it really came together nicely.  I wound up running this damper firmer than the Fox and used it primarily for smoother courses and jump line riding.  That’s not to pigeon-hole the CCDB-A as a jump line shock only, quite the opposite, it was a solid performer in the chunder.  Rather, I simply used the CCDB-A for days of jump-line riding and swapped in the RC4 for tech days.  Pivot was kind enough to design the Phoenix with easy access to the shock mount bolts and therefore damper swaps take only a minute or two.  The shock dials may not be as accessible as other designs, but they were acceptable. All of the adjustments are easy to reach with the shock in place, even with gloved hands.  The weight savings of the air shock was a nice bonus on the work stand but I’d be hard pressed to feel any difference on the trail.  That said, everyone who took a test spin on my rig came back noting how coil-like the Cane Creek felt.   I’d say it’s not the first air shock that I’ve felt on a DH bike that has felt reasonably good, but it is the first that has lasted a full season and the first that really felt up to the task of racing rough tracks.  If you held my feet to the fire, I’d have to give the overall nod to the RC4, but I’d rather not choose, each damper shines in its own way.  Depending on your riding style, the verdict could easily go the other way.

I went the route of a BoXXer World Cup fitted with a new custom Fast Suspension damper cartridge (previously branded under Elka) to match the rear end dynamics.  The Fast Suspension setup is a sealed cartridge that completely replaces the internals of the right leg.  It boasts high speed compression set internally via shims and low speed compression and rebound adjustable externally.  The BoXXer WC performed quite well as long as the lowers and air spring were serviced on a regular basis.  For most of the season, the Fast Suspension cartridge performed well, providing just the right amount of high speed compression for my style.   Back to back with the stock damper, I felt that in most situations the performance was fairly close with the Fast Suspension cartridge providing a slightly firmer and more consistent feel.  Perhaps the biggest advantage in the Fast Suspension unit was that it needed no ongoing service throughout the season to work its best which is a nice time saver.  Unfortunately, near the end of my season the Fast Suspension cartridge did fail prematurely due to a leaky seal.  In the mean time I went back to the stock damper which also failed due to a faulty rebound circuit shortly there after.  Fortunately, both items are being repaired under warranty but I suppose the take away here is, DH riding is hard on parts and spares are good to have.

Crabapple - Whistler (Photo: Adam Riser)

Rounding out the rest of the build, certainly the Enve DH wheels were standout items.  I only had them for a few weeks but they left a hell of an impression. The combination of precision and acceleration that results when carbon meets rims is stunning.  I really had a hard time grasping this concept until I rode them, but now I have two sets of carbon wheels in the garage on my own dime.  If I had one nitpick with the Enve’s it would be with the lack of easy tubeless setup and recessed spoke nipples.  I run tubeless most of the time these days and so I find this rather unfortunate.  Other standouts were the Race Face SIXC cranks which took day in and day out beatings and show no signs of failing after a full season of DH.  The crank arm boots did a great job of protecting the most exposed area of the crank down by the pedals and the BB still spins like new.  I suspect that I’ll get several seasons of use out of these cranks.  I had a bit of trouble keeping the chain in place with the Straitline Silent Guide even though I’ve used them with success on several other bikes over the past few seasons. The Formula RO brakes were notably powerful and are without a doubt, true DH stoppers.  As an experiment, I fitted front and rear 180mm rotors in place of my typical 203/180 setup and wound up leaving it that way for the entire season.  Even on the biggest descents I had no immediate issues with heating up or fade yet the smaller rotors provided a small weight savings and a significant boost in modulation.  My front brake master cylinder did fail near the end of the season but the folks at Formula had it rebuilt and back to me in a couple days time, all under warranty.  The rest of the build quietly and perfectly did it’s job.  The Point 1 Podium pedals are still as tight as and grippy the day they came out of the box.  The Enve carbon bars provide some additional damping for my hands and the Enve seat post did a fine job for the limited time I was actually on the saddle.  All in, very few issues considering the number of days I logged this season aboard the Phoenix.

Conclusion
My overall impression of this bike was extremely positive and for once, I experienced minimal lift-line envy this season.  Notably, the frame it’s self was completely reliable and required zero maintenance for an entire season of hard charging.  I did run into a couple issues with the fork and brakes but unfortunately, that comes with the territory when logging gobs of vertical.  I’d sure like the Phoenix to be a bit lighter, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t buy it again or recommend against it because of this.  It’s overall chassis dynamics far outshine the few extra grams.  I especially appreciate the angles that Pivot chose to stick with.  It makes the Phoenix a great all-around platform rather than a one-trick pony only suited for true WC tracks.  If you are a serious racer, the flexibility of the included Angleset, the optional extended dropouts, and tuning range of the RC4 do provide the opportunity to tune to any track.  More than these general thoughts of reliability and functionality, I loved the snappy nature of this bike.  It practically begs to be pinned and rewards hard pedal strokes and aggressive pumping with forward progress like few other 8″ bikes I’ve ridden.  Like to hang off the back and ride lazy?  This is probably not your bike.  Like to work the trail for every last bit of speed?  Pull up a chair.  Me, I’m right at home, and I plan to keep this one around for a while.  That is, until Pivot releases a carbon version?  Come on Pivot, pretty please?

The Good
Excellent pedaling charateristics
Low BB for excellent cornering manners
Dialed geometry with adjustable chain stay length and head tube angle (via included angle set)
Simple rear axle, no pinch bolts, never came loose
Bomber construction, no creaks, squeaks, or broken parts after a full season of abuse
Fits a variety of shocks

Worth Considering
No XL size offering
Integrated Frame bumpers would be a real nice addition.
There’s a bit of excessive chain slap on the top side of the chain stay. I’d suggest a Type2 or Shadow Plus derailleur
The stock decal kit might be a bit over the top for some but it does provide good wear protection
Mud can pack in around the lower opening of the shock tunnel
The Phoneix frame could stand to loose some weight – 300 or 400g

Pivot Phoenix Review – Part 2

Since it was the dead of winter when I took possession of my Phoenix frame, I had ample idle time to concoct an elaborate build scheme of sorts.  The white powder coat as delivered from Pivot had little to no flaws, but I had it in my mind that this frame would look great in raw with its stock polished links, and black hardware.  So, right away I pulled the frame apart, had the powder removed (~170g saved with no power coat / decals) and then cleaned it up with a 3M Scotch Brite pad.  Pivot provides a lot of extra decals with the Phoenix frame so I came up with my own, slightly toned down scheme.

I like to run a baseline wheel and tire combo to make it easy to separate chassis from wheel flex and tire performance.  My current baseline is Industry Nine’s alloy DH spokes laced to Enduro rims setup tubeless with 2.35 Schwalbe Muddy Marrys in DH casing and Trailstar compound.  This particular wheel setup is the I9 Black Eye edition where every part, including the free hub body is anodized black.  It’s a very trick looking wheelset and they ring in at just under 1900g. They’re also nearly effortless to setup tubeless with just a couple wraps of Gorilla tape and a Stans universal valve stem necessary.  Pictured below, I’m also testing Enve’s carbon DH rims laced to Chris King hubs with DT Aerolite spokes.   The ENVE’s are setup with tubes and 2.4 Maxxis High Roller 2′s in DH casing.  These tires did not have a durometer indicated on them but I’d guess they were the 3C MaxxGrip compound.  Consistent with a wheel set retailing close to $3000 USD, the Enve wheels weighed in at an almost unbelievable 1808g with rim strips. While this weight is certainly achievable with a lightweight metal rim wheelset, the ENVE setup does feel stiffer.

There’s gobs of rear tire mud clearance inside the Phoenix chain stays.  2.4 Maxxis High Roller 2′s mounted Enve DH rims yielded plenty of room.  Fans of high volume tires will have no trouble fitting tires here.   Also of note here is my current favorite chain stay protection, 3M 2228 Mastic tape.  It’s a cheap solution that adheres wheel and provides some sound dampening in addition to protecting against chain slap.


Up front I’m running a 2012 BoXXer WC with Fast Suspension’s latest damper cartridge.  The cartridge is a sealed unit and completely replaces the internals of the right damper fork leg on the BoXXer.  Fast Suspension is a suspension specialist shop out of France and is the manufacturer behind the fork damper that Elka Suspension was previously distributing in North America.  As Elka no longer supported the cartridge out of their facilities, Fast Suspension was more than willing. I also installed ODI fork bumpers.  The ODI units are easy to install and adjust so that the bumper hit just the right spot on your frame every time.  They also include number plate attachment points for a slick number plate setup.  As a bonus, these make it quick an practical to pull your stanchions out of the crowns for service. ODI also makes these bumpers for FOX 40 series forks as well so if you want to ensure your bumpers don’t move, ODI has an elegant solution.

Enve DH carbon bars at 800 mm wide with a 25 mm rise, ESI Chunky grips, and Formula Oval brake levers round out the forward cockpit.  The line trim and bleed process is straight forward with the Formulas and the now included FCS adjusters allow riders to fine tune a lever engagement point closer to the bar for those that like a little more free stroke. The new Oval’s provide a good feel as well as more power compared to the One’s.

After a few years running my bars really low via a drop stem, I decided to go back to a zero-rise setup.  The Point 1 Split Second direct mount stem makes for a very light option as well.  The Phoenix frame includes a Cane Creek AngleSet but I decided to go with a simpler and marginally lighter Cane Creek 40 series headset.  My head tube angle is measuring in just shy of 64º with the fork stanchions clamped about 5mm over the upper crown.


A Selle Italia SLR TT saddle perched atop an Enve carbon post and held in place with a Chromag clamp keeps the mass located up high to a minimum.  I’ve noticed a slight improved feel when flicking through chicanes when running an ultralight saddle, post, and bar setup.  I’ve had no issue with durability running these saddles, maybe I’ve just been lucky, but clearly they’re not designed for repeated hard hits.  Saddles are personal so run what you feel most comfortable with.

Race Face SIXC carbon cranks at 170 mm, a Straitline Silent Guide,  36t Chromag chainring and Point 1 Podium pedals all work in harmony to motivate this build with authority.  I generally find that I’m fairly comfortable with either 165 or 170 mm cranks but with a 13.5″ bottom bracket height, this could get interesting.  After spending a season with the 73mm version of the SIXC cranks on a free ride bike with a lot of bike park hours, I have nothing but confidence in these cranks.  Suspension wise, I’m spending time on this build with both the stock Fox RC4 damper and the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air pictured below.  With the CCDB-A oriented as shown, all adjustments are accessible with the shock installed on the bike which is a nice bonus considering the shock tunnel was designed specifically for the RC4.

The oval piston Formula RO’s got the call to generate the stopping power required to properly reign this rig in.  Formula claims the RO’s to be 18% more powerful than the One’s and are positioned as a true DH brake.  With this increase in power in mind, I decided to see if I could get away with lighter 180 rotors front and rear.  I went for 2-piece rotors which further reduce weight, and improve rotor stiffness due to the alloy carrier between the rotor mount and braking surface.

A SRAM RED cassette in 11-23 provides 10 super tight ratios and is incredibly light at 151g.  It’s worth noting that the RED cassette has limited mud shedding capabilities which could be an issue in some situations.  This is my second season without an issue but those who ride in a lot of mud might be safer with a traditional MTB cassette or other road cassette.

An XO short cage rear derailleur guides a SRAM PC 1091 chain through the gears.  Vanity got the best of me and I tracked down a leftover 2011 in blue to complete my color scheme.  The shifter cable feeds in nice and clean to stay out of harms way.


All in, with the Industry Nine wheel set, DH casing tires and a FOX RC4 w/Ti spring, my build is just under 35.5 lbs.  No where near the lightest rigs that are being built today but there is not a single part that I’m worried about lasting through a few seasons of abuse within reason.  Part 3 of our review will be up soon where we’ll give a full ride report.

Pivot Phoenix Review – Part 1

I’ve had my eye on the Phoenix ever since the first spy shots were released.  As one of only two DH bikes on the market right now using the DW link suspension design, I’ve been doubly keen to throw a leg over one.  Luck was on my side this winter as my local shop, Go-Ride, picked up the Pivot line making acquiring a new Phoenix all too easy.  For a bit of background, the Phoneix is Arizona based Pivot Cycles entry into the DH race market.  Pivot has been turning out top-tier frames based around the DW-link suspension design for a few years now and the Phoenix looked to be a promising platform for a 2012 DH ride.

Taking a closer look, the first thing that comes to mind is that this frame is beefy.  It’s really hard to convey in photos just how robust everything is on this frame.  Monstrous hydro-formed tubing, over-sized pivots, big thick dropouts, every part looks set to survive the apocalypse. Or, at the very least, several years of hard riding.  It’s refreshing to see a design that’s not overly heavy but clearly built to last several seasons of hard riding.  By the numbers this frame has all the makings of a World Cup contender at 8.15″ (207 mm) of travel, a 13.5″ BB height, 17.25″ chain stays, and a 1.5″ head tube set at 64º.  And, while not out to win the weight weenie wars, our medium frame came in at respectable 4215g.

The white Phoenix frame ships with blue stickers applied and two extra sets of stickers in both green and orange allowing the owner to customize the look.  The Phoenix is also available in black.  Included in the box is a Cane Creek angleset with 1º cups,  a 150 mm x 12 mm rear axle, and a QR seat post clamp.

The 1.5 head tube is indexed to make the installation of a Cane Creek angleset quick and easy should the stock 64º angle not suit your style.  The head tube and BB were both cleaned up and clear of all manufacturing debris when the frame arrived. This frame is full of small details and nice touches that make it easy to live with.

The Phoenix ships with a Fox RC4 damper in size 9.5 x 3 for which it has been optimized.  My medium frame arrived with a 350 lb steel spring installed which I swapped for a 400 lb Ti spring to suit my weight.  The Phoenix has been designed to place its mass low and centered.   The shock tunnel positions the Fox RC4 as low as possible yet still allows access to all of its adjustments without removing it.  The over-sized lower link pivots on beefy 17 mm axles and the links themselves are thick and beautifully machined.  Note that the rear-triangle side pivot threads from the non-drive side so that it can be torqued without removing the cranks, a thoughtful touch.

Lower Link (click to enlarge)

The rocker link pivots on 15 mm axles and the shock mounts with M8 hardware at 22 mm wide at both ends.  The 22 mm hardware allows for removing the spring without removing the spacer hardware, another nice touch.  The seat tube is interrupted at the upper pivot point but there’s still plenty of room for adjustment over the range that any DH rider will require.  For those considering the Pivot as a free ride bike you would likely need a height-adjust post to get full extension for seated pedaling.

Upper Link (click to enlarge)

The replaceable dropouts are available in two lengths, stock and +10 mm.  The derailleur hanger is actually a separate piece from the dropout making a bent hanger a quick, low cost repair. Plenty of well placed cable guides are provided to route shifter and brake lines under the top tube and down the top of the seat stays cleanly.

dropout (click to enlarge)

Looking down into the shock tunnel, rebound, boost pressure and bottom-out resistance are all easily accessible on the Fox RC4.  The design of the tunnel means that careful measuring for clearance is in order if you want to try a different shock.  At this time we’ve confirmed that the FOX RC4, Vivid, Vivid-Air, Vector HLR Air, Cane Creek Double Barrel Air, and the Rock Shox Kage all fit.  As we have a chance to test fit other shocks we’ll update later in the review.

A cut out on the bottom of the shock tunnel gives direct access to the high and low speed compression circuits.  The shock appears recessed enough to avoid a direct hit but I do wonder about mud and debris packing in.  From this angle you can also see size of the massive down tube as it connects into the shock tunnel.

The rear 150mm axle threads into the dropouts with either an 8mm allen or a 17 mm wrench.  I like the simple threaded axle with no small pinch bolts to strip or loose.  Just torque it down and ride.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on it later in the test to see if it stays tight.  The Phoenix uses standard IS tab rear brake mounts and accepts an 8″ rotor as expected.

Axle (click to enlarge)

Below you can see that Pivot has thoughtfully placed the lower shock bolt in a very easy to reach spot.  By placing the head on the non-drive side of the frame there is no obstruction and shock removal takes only a moment.

lower shock bolt (click to enlarge)

We have some big plans in the works for this frame and lot of trick components to create a highly refined package.  Keep an eye out for the build to be posted along with the full review soon.

Extra Details:

  • 207 mm (8.15″) travel
  • 83 mm bottom bracket
  • 150 mm x 12 mm rear axle
  • 1.5 head tube
  • 31.6 seat post
  • replaceable dropouts available in stock and +10 mm
  • Adjustable head tube angle to 0, and +/- .5, 1.0, or 1.375 degree settings with Cane Creek angle set

Geometry:

Gallery:

2012 Pivot Cycles Phoenix