Engineered for Efficiency
Striving to design and build a race-ready DH bike takes a serious amount of engineering and R&D time. It’s something many bike companies find to be a monumental challenge not worth tackling. But with a full line of successful DW Link bikes and a knack for meticulously engineered designs, Pivot owner Chris Cocalis views the Phoenix as a natural progression for Pivot’s trail bikes. Moving up the suspension travel ladder, the 207 mm travel Phoenix was the obvious next step after Pivot released its 170 mm Firebird in early 2010.
With six World DH Championships accredited to riders on bikes using the DW Link suspension configuration, it is a proven system, but there are not many DW-equipped bikes to choose from. Creating this race-worthy machine took close work between DW Link engineer Dave Weagle and engineers at Pivot. “Dave (Weagle) has a lot of knowledge in suspension design, and we knew working with him would help us create the best bike possible,” Cocalis said. “We developed the bike with feedback from Kyle Strait and our Pivot/LEX team, giving us great racer feedback.”
Elegant lines, industrial grade linkage and two classy color schemes to choose from (black/green or white/blue) make the Phoenix one of the more visually appealing downhill bikes I have seen. It looks fast just sitting in the garage. But with a bike designed around riding, looks can only go so far, and Pivot certainly created more than just a shiny piece of aluminum with cool graphics.
Crafted utilizing a robust triple-butted hydroformed 6000 series aluminum mainframe, bolted to a one-piece cold-forged rear end, the Phoenix is built on an extremely stiff, bulletproof platform. Coupled with the pedaling efficiency offered by the DW Link suspension design, the Phoenix is built to win races. Four oversized EnduroMax cartridge bearings paired with 17 mm and 19 mm pivot axles help keep flex at the pivots to a minimum; a 93 mm-wide bottom bracket shell continues the trend at the bottom of the bike. The Phoenix is built to withstand the abuses of DH racing over an entire season.
On the trail, the stiff hydroformed frame and DW Link made this bike stand out in a variety of situations. The most noticeable was the Phoenix’s pedaling ability. During the test period, the Phoenix took me to the podium in the Red Bull Final Descent 12-hour downhill race in Winter Park, Colo. This race featured one quick sprint up a climb each lap, which was no problem lap after lap with the Phoenix, and it was surprisingly enjoyable to pedal—hard to come by in a full-on DH bike. Flat sections were also easily negotiated; pedaling with minimal suspension bob kept the Phoenix feeling fast under acceleration.
With a 13.6-inch bottom bracket height—about half an inch lower than most bikes on the downhill market—the geometry keeps the rider’s weight lower on the bike creating a stable feel at speed. This raised my confidence when ripping through wide-open, loose sections. With a majority of the frame’s weight being low and centered, handling was quick and responsive when the terrain tightened: Maneuvering the 39-pound beast through tight trees was relatively easy.
“I asked the guys to take a leap of faith with me on the (very low) 13.6-inch BB height and 63-63 head tube angle,” Weagle says. “Because the DW Link design doesn’t blow into its travel, we can push our DH geometry lower and slacker, yet the bike continues to be rideable anywhere.”
The low bottom bracket, however, did make rocky, flat sections a little more difficult to negotiate, with an increase in pedal strikes under power.
The DW Link also aids in the Phoenix’s cornering ability by keeping the bike’s geometry predictably true as the suspension compresses. As the suspension reacts to obstacles, the position-sensitive DW Link axle path changes to meet the demands of the trail without dramatically changing geometry, creating a balanced and predictable feel as the suspension pushes through its travel. The linkage motion adjusts the rear wheel’s travel path and the actuation ratio of the shock, effectively eliminating brake jack and pedal feedback. The suspension feels bottomless without negatively affecting the geometry of the bike.
“DW Link is, from a physics standpoint, a highly optimized method of eliminating unwanted suspension movement. This unwanted suspension movement manifests due to load transfer (a fancy term for the rider’s weight shifting) during acceleration or deceleration,” Weagle explains. “The heart of the DW Link design is its patented position-sensitive, anti-squat profile, which very precisely counteracts the suspension’s reaction to load transfer.”
Weagle describes three stages of travel with the DW Link system: The first stage sees most small-bump sensitivity with resistance to pedal-induced bob, due to a rearward axle path. A second stage sees the rear suspension work in unison with fork action in a more up/down motion. The final stage sees the leverage ratio ramp up for big-hit absorption.
“With other suspension designs, riders are forced to set the suspension with high levels of spring and damping just to counteract the effects of load transfer because their suspension is not capable of counteracting load transfer effectively,” Weagle says. “Too much spring and damping equals a dramatic loss in traction.”
Adjustability is an important element of what makes the Phoenix unique. Pivot specs the bike with a Cane Creek angleset, allowing riders to dial in the perfect headtube angle for their riding style or terrain. With a stock 64 degree head angle, the angleset allows +/- adjustments of .5, 1, and 1.375 degrees, allowing a rider to try different settings to find the best option.
Another modifiable option the Phoenix offers is found at the other end of the stout aluminum frame: Swappable forged dropouts allow for an adjustment in chainstay length, BB height and wheelbase, creating adaptability for a variety of terrain. Currently, an optional 10 mm longer dropout extends the rear end and allows for increased confidence on steep, nasty terrain by providing more stability. This also leverages the shock a little differently with the extended chainstay length.
Though I doubt riders will be doing much swapping and adjusting once they’ve found their specified geometry, the adjustability does allow that added level of customization that many stock bikes currently lack. This gives the Phoenix more appeal for the tinkerers or riders looking to have the options.
Equipped with a Fox 40 fork, Sram XO 10-speed, Avid Code brakes, DT Swiss wheels, and a full chainguide system, a stock Phoenix will set you back $6,399. It is also available as a frameset.
Pivot Cycles sets the bar high with its first go at a downhill bike. Designed as a technical downhill race bike, the Phoenix offers a solid build paired with the renowned efficiency of DW Link suspension design. It’s a winning combination. –J. Carr