Why We Like The Switchblade 29 Pro XT/XTR Live Valve Mountain Bike
In the last five years mountain bikes have progressed so rapidly that we've reached a point where most high-end bikes are a pretty solid choice, and it's hard to find one that rides poorly. That means that when shopping for our next rig we try to look for qualities that help a bike stand out from its peers, and after our first ride on the new Pivot Switchblade, it was clear this bike is a cut above the rest. Masterful suspension performance, an industry-leading carbon frame, dialed geometry, and eye-catching looks characterize this versatile steed. 142mm of rear travel paired with a 160mm fork place it in the aggressive trail/all-mountain category, meaning everything from all-day trail rides to enduro racing and even bike park laps are within your realm. And with Pivot's unrivaled commitment to quality and meticulous attention to detail, you can expect to get the best possible experience out of every ride.
At first glance you’ll notice that the new Switchblade looks very different than the previous generation. The clean lines and fresh colorways are aesthetically pleasing and are sure to draw looks when you're unloading the bike at the trailhead. You'll also notice that the shock is now positioned vertically and driven by a rocker-style upper link rather than the previous generation’s horizontal clevis design. This allows for a stiffer, lighter, and more compact frame while freeing up room for a full-size water bottle on all frame sizes. The rocker-style linkage also decreases the load on the shock and offers a more progressive leverage curve along with coil shock compatibility. Rear travel is boosted from 135 to 142mm for a little more forgiveness when the going gets rough, and every build kit comes with a 160mm travel, 44mm offset Fox 36 that brings comfortable handling and precise steering to the equation.
The Switchblade V2 geometry moves to a slacker head tube angle, a steeper seat tube angle, longer reach figures, and a shorter seat tube that accommodates longer dropper posts than the previous model. The 66-degree head tube and 75.5-degree seat tube may not go as far into the slack-and-steep realm as some other bikes in this category, but these numbers are thoroughly modern and hit a sweet spot that makes this bike a joy to ride on any trail—bet it tight and technical or fast and flowy. A two-position flip-chip lets you adjust the bike's geometry to suit the terrain at hand, but also allows you to switch between various wheel configurations including 29 inch, 27.5 Plus, and mullet (29” front/ 27.5” rear).
Perhaps the primary factor contributing to the Switchblade's positive ride quality is the DW-Link suspension platform. DW-Link’s position-sensitive anti-squat virtually eliminates unwanted suspension movement while pedaling, preventing your hard-earned energy from being lost to the suspension. On descents, the suspension has an active feel that maintains sensitivity when braking, and the slightly rearward axle path goes a long way toward smoothing out chunky descents and square-edged bumps. DW-Link bikes also ride high in the travel, reducing pedal strikes and keeping the geometry figures consistent for a predictable feel on the trail. Accompanying the DW-Link design is a Fox DPX2 with custom valving that's exclusive to Pivot. Pivot worked with Fox extensively to get the exact ride feel they were looking for on this new shock, namely increased support, greater responsiveness, and enhanced rear-wheel traction.
Balancing the suspension with materials that can handle the terrain, the Switchblade is crafted from a painstakingly precise mix of composite fibers and resin, then meticulously laid to create a frame that finds the happy medium of strength, stiffness, and weight. The chassis itself benefits from Pivot's hollow-core internal molding process for uniform, controlled wall thicknesses and material distribution. This process virtually eliminates inconsistencies and resin pooling, increasing structural integrity while targeting areas for weight loss. In addition to hollow-core molding, Pivot implements size-specific design and ride tuning on their frames. In essence, the carbon lay-up, tube thicknesses, and tube shapes vary a bit between sizes in order to maintain a consistent ride quality across all frame sizes. Simply put, it's the best way to make a strong and lightweight carbon frame with excellent ride feel.
Other details that set the bike apart from the previous Switchblade include removal of the front derailleur mount in favor of 1x drivetrains only. This allows for cleaner internal cable routing, and also a wider lower link that bolsters frame stiffness in this critical area. The new frame saves roughly 1/4lb over the previous model yet has increased torsional stiffness in the rear triangle and a higher overall stiffness-to-weight ratio. Other details include full integration with Fox Live Valve on top-tier build kits, mounts under the top tube for on-bike storage options, and a new chainstay protector that keeps the distracting sound of chain slap to a minimum.
Pivot equips their flagship Switchblade models with electronically-controlled Fox Live Valve suspension, this particular bike included. Electronic suspension has been around for years in automotive racing, but it's a pretty foreign concept in mountain biking. While some riders may be skeptical, we take peace of mind knowing Fox spent three years developing and testing Live Valve before they released it, making sure the performance and reliability were on target. The Live Valve system uses accelerometers on the fork and rear triangle to sense impacts and changes in trail gradient, with a microprocessor (Fox calls it the Controller) mounted near the rear shock that houses the third accelerometer along with the rechargeable battery. Using these sensors, the Controller measures the terrain at a rate of 1000 times per second and activates solenoid valves in the fork and shock that respond to terrain changes in just three milliseconds.
The default setting for the solenoid valves is the closed position, which is the equivalent of running your fork and shock in the firm pedaling mode. When the system senses an impact it opens the valves for maximum bump absorption. After a preset timer, the valves return to the closed position to regain pedaling efficiency. Each bump resets the timer, so when you're charging through rock gardens or sustained sections of rough trail the suspension stays in the open position to better mitigate impacts. The accelerometers also sense when you're going downhill, so if the bike is angled more than 6-degrees downward both the fork and shock remain open. When climbing, the Controller will open whichever suspension component feels the impact first, and then return to the firm position immediately afterward unless another impact is sensed. On flat terrain, an impact opens both the fork and rear shock, with a delayed timer to account for successive impacts, but not so long to cause the bike to wallow in its travel when you start cranking hard. Should you go airborne, the system opens both the fork and shock to absorb the landing, returning to baseline once the bike is rolling smoothly again.
Fox claims you can get about 16-20 hours of ride time from the Live Valve system. If you run out of battery while riding, the system opens the valves so you can use all the travel without getting beat up. It's important to note that Live Valve only affects the low-speed compression circuit, changing the overall stiffness of your suspension. Rebound settings and air pressures are not affected, so you set your sag and baseline settings in the same manner as normal forks and shocks. If you're still skeptical about Live Valve, there's always the option of shutting off the system entirely, rendering your suspension the same as a standard setup. With a minor 260g weight penalty for the full setup, the only hurdle is the price.
- The legendary Switchblade gets a fully modern makeover
- Travel is increased to 142mm rear and 160mm up front
- Progressive geometry with slacker head tube, steeper seat tube
- Vertical shock orientation now accommodates full-size water bottle
- Custom DPX2 shock offers improved support and bump-absorption
- Hollow-core molding process delivers a stiff and lightweight frame
- Size-specific design means every frame size handles superbly
- Electronic Fox Live Valve delivers unrivaled suspension performance