A Pair of Long Travel Trail Bikes

It wasn’t all that long ago that you would have had a very difficult time convincing me to ride anything with six or more inches of travel uphill for any distance. Fortunately, this new wave of six plus inch trail bikes is a whole different breed.

Pivot Firebird
Garnering its fair share of trade show buzz this year is Pivot’s new 167mm DW-link Firebird. Chris Cocalis, head guy behind Pivot, doesn’t seem to sit on his laurels for long, following up each project with something even more ambitious.  Hence the design details of the Firebird, such as the “floating front derailleur” that actually moves with, but is not directly mounted to, the swingarm.  The idea is to keep the chain within the sweet spot of the front derailleur throughout the travel range; and yes, the patent is pending.  The Firebird’s DW-link suspension design is also different from the other Pivot models in that the lower shock mounts directly to the suspension’s lower link.

Other notable features include a 1.5″ head tube, which allows Pivot to spec Fox’s new tapered E2 steer tube. Unlike the other Pivot models, the Firebird uses a traditional 73mm BB shell to allow for chain guide compatibility. For further technical details, check out Speedgoat’s excellent in-depth Fireblade report here.

Well, by now, I’m sure you’re wondering how it rides? In short, it rides like a bike.  And, I mean that in the most complimentary sense. I’m always impressed when I can hop on a bike with little to no learning curve, and the Firebird certainly didn’t disappoint. This bike pedals uphill better than quite a few 3-4″ travel bikes I’ve ridden, no joke. I’m still amazed how well this bike pedaled, finding little need to switch on the ProPedal. Point the Firebird downhill and things are very well damped and controlled. Geometry felt like a good compromise between downhill stability and climbing efficiency for a 6.5″ travel bike with enough weight over the rear wheel to inspire confidence descending, while maintaining enough weight on the front wheel to keep it from going skyward with each pedal stroke while climbing.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the Firebird is its ability to absorb bumps large and small while still communicating what’s happening at your contact patches.  This ability to communicate has a great deal to do with the confidence inspiring nature of the Firebird.

Although I’ve only had one relatively short ride aboard the Firebird, I’m pretty convinced we have a winner here. The Firebird climbs like a short travel bike, descends like a long travel bike, doesn’t weigh a ton, and inspires confidence in its rider­–sounds a bit like everyone’s dream bike, eh?

Kona CoilAir

Kona first introduced their Magic Link concept on the CoilAir last summer, but I’ve not had the pleasure of riding one of these bikes until this year’s Dirt Demo. I’ll let you skip over to Kona’s website for the full details behind the Magic Link.  They explain things far better than I can, but in a nutshell; pedaling forces pull the Magic Link forward, which steepens the bike’s angles and shortens travel to six inches, while braking and bump forces pull the Magic link rearward, which in turn slackens the angles and extends travel to a whopping 7.4 inches of travel. All of this pushing and pulling, combined with ever changing head and seat tube angles certainly had me wondering just how this bike was going to feel on trail?

I’m happy to report that, in my brief ride, there was no unsettling change in the handling, quite the contrary, in fact.  The CoilAir rode consistently and predictably, I was only able to actually feel the Magic link doing its thing in abrupt g-outs, where the rear wheel seemed to hang back.

Climbing on the CoilAir was, once again, a pleasant surprise. With the Magic Link forward the bike’s angle were steep enough for comfortable uphill pedaling for those that like to earn their keep. Pointing the CoilAir downhill, it quickly because obvious that this bike is built for some gnarly terrain. With a 67º head tube, this bike certainly prefers to be pointed down something steep, and the faster the better.
Only took one short ride to realize the CoilAir means business. This bike is built for some serious downhilling, and can be comfortably–if not quickly–pedaled back to the top.

Comparing these two bikes might be fair in that they both cater to a gravity-oriented crowd that doesn’t mind also pedaling uphill. In all fairness, however, I think these bikes represent the different directions the all mountain/freeride market has taken.  On one hand, you have a light 6.5″ travel bike that pedals nearly as well as it descends, while maintaining almost cross-country handling characteristics.  On the other hand, you have a bike that varies travel from 6″ to 7.4″ and handles more like a dedicated downhill machine with slacker angles.  Like everything else in the bicycle industry there’s no right, or wrong, answer here, but rather simply picking the bike that best fits your needs and riding style.  We’re lucky to have so many excellent choices.