by Mark Alker
August 8, 2013
The Pivot Les (see what they nearly did there?) is partly here to show that a fixed blade fork can be plugged into any hardtail. Okay, the Les isn’t just any hardtail. It’s the first cross-country trail hardtail produced by Arizona suspension masters Pivot Cycles.
The Pivot Les (see what they nearly did there?) is partly here to show that a fixed blade fork can be plugged into any hardtail. Okay, the Les isn’t just any hardtail. It’s the first cross-country trail hardtail produced by Arizona suspension masters Pivot Cycles. This also happens to be the same lightweight carbon frame and fork combo that round-the-world record-breaker Mike Hall chose for the Tour Divide. Lots of long haul trail specialists prefer fixed blade forks to suspension due to their low weight and reliability.
The Les comes as a frame alone, and an expensive one at that. UK importers Upgrade equipped this one, and the one Mike Hall is riding, with their Kinesis IX carbon fork. It costs £275 on its own and is designed specifically to plug into frames made for 100-120mm suspension forks. It weighs just over 1.3lb and exhibits a smidgeon of vibration absorption within its carbon structure: big lightweight tyres are crucial here to maximise any tiny advantage of shunning suspension. If you like the theory but cringe at the idea of shedding £1875 on a frame and fork, you could save £1200 by going for a Kinesis FF29 aluminium frame with this fork. So, what’s so special about the Pivot Les frame?
The Les is light. A claimed sub-2.5lb bare frame could easily be the basis of a sub-20lb bike if you threw unhinged ambition and lots more cash at it, but our test bike was built with normal use and durability in mind. It tipped the scales at 22.3lb. Pivot’s ‘hollow box high-compression internal moulding’ build is said to result in “greater compaction and smoother internal walls” which results in a “lighter, stronger, highly optimized ride tuned frame”. Pivot’s Chris Cocalis has previous carbon composite form from his work with Titus and BH. Finishing detail here is subtly beautiful, with internal gear cable routing easily accessed via a cap under the bottom bracket and a very clever bolt-on dropout system to suit a 12x142mm through-axle or the optional extra ‘Swinger’ configuration that lets single sprocket riders tweak chain tension with indexed adjustment.
- Frame: Pivot Les carbon composite
- Fork: Kinesis IX carbon composite
- Hubs: Kinesis Maxlight
- Rims: Kinesis Maxlight
- Tyres: Kenda Slant Six 2.2in
- Chainset: Shimano XT double
- Front Mech: Shimano XT
- Rear Mech: Shimano XTR
- Shifters Shimano: XT
- Brakes: Shimano XT hydraulic disc
- Stem: Syntace
- Bars: Kinesis Strut carbon 760mm
- Grips: Pivot lock-on
- Seatpost: Syntace
- Saddle: WTB for Pivot
- Size Tested: Medium
- Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL
- Weight: 22.3lb (10kg) without pedals
The Pivot Les 29er is claimed to be a frame that offers the perfect balance of stiffness, tuned compliance and performance. Well, we appear to have heard that before, but the shapes and figures look promising. The massively profiled down tube, the brawny 92mm press-fit bottom bracket and the way the skinny seatstays flow around the sides of the seat tube to brace the top tube all tend to promote obvious in-line stability, so we weren’t too surprised to find that the compliance and performance claims rang true too.
As the frame is designed to be at its best with a 100mm suspension fork, the rigid Kinesis IX 29er fork looks lanky, but a short tapered head tube stops the front end from feeling gawky once you’re on board. The carbon monocoque fork structure offers superb tracking, nicely meshing with the instantly obvious torsional rigidity of the frame. While carbon structures like this frame and fork are good at absorbing a moderate amount of trail buzz, they’re in need of big tyres to stop rough terrain from becoming unreasonably punishing. The test bike has 2.2in fitted, but we habitually fit 2.4in to bikes like this.
By halfway through the first outing we’d become totally tuned in to the flighty, initially almost nervous, ride personality of the Les and we soon grew to love it. It flounces, flutters, flirts and squirts along every trail like a beautifully petite but disarmingly muscular ladyboy. You need to run big tyres softish to prevent forearm abuse if you’re opting for the fixed blade fork, but the beauty of a fully rigid approach is that it emphasises the incredible stability and floaty ride feel of the frame structure itself. Climbing is just a breeze.
From the purely practical point of view, the Les has two sets of bottle bosses, loads of standover clearance and a direct mount front derailleur with a clamp bracket that you can cover up if you prefer a single ring. Very short chainstays mean the back end feels more like a 26in-wheeled bike when it comes to climbs or carving your way through twitchy singletrack and we love the fact that there is still enough mud room for the biggest tyres. We actually did part of the test period with the Surly’s 29x3in front wheel plugged in, just because we could.
Putting a fixed blade fork on the Pivot Les is a less clear-cut kettle of fish. It’s a beautifully built frame that’ll appeal to more competitive riders, racers or not, who need to juggle the purist appeal of minimalism with the comfort of being able to slam through stuff harder and faster. We couldn’t find a single fault in the handling feel and build quality of the Les, and its flirty floaty flow on all the best bits of singletrack was a real joy. But there’s really no getting away from the fact that what you gain from 22lb of finessed stability on climbs and flowy stuff, you might lose again when the going gets really rough. There again, for those who choose rigid rather than the more rational 100mm suspension fork, you’ll stand to gain an immense sense of pride… and those Popeye arms.