Pivot MACH 429 Carbon Review
The long awaited review of the Mach 429 carbon is here and it's definitely worth the read. Dave brings up some very interesting things in his review.
Last year Alan brought in a pretty sweet Pivot Mach 429 (aluminum) which I had the great pleasure of riding for the best part of 6 weeks. This year he upped the ante, with its sibling: the Mach 429 Carbon.
I am fairly skeptical of using carbon fibre as a frame material for mountain bikes. It just doesn’t seem like a logical application of this material when you can virtually guarantee rock-to-bike-frame contact at some point. Having said that, carbon trail-bikes have been around for at least half a decade, and have only grown in popularity in recent years, so maybe the threat of total frame failure in a wreck is overstated. Pivot did strategically place a plasticized leather insert on the lower third of the downtube to protect the area most vulnerable against flying trail debris. Additionally, the same protective material was wrapped around the drive side chainstay and a smaller insert was placed on the inside of the seatstay near the dropout (ie. the area adjacent to the cassette). Presumably these were designed to protect the frame from gouging by the chain, although they did not adequately (for me anyway) quell the noise of the chain slapping against the frame in rough terrain.
Carbon fibre opens many doors to bicycle design that just can’t be done by welding bits of pipe together, even with CNC and hydroforming. One of the first things I noticed was the huge amount of rear tire clearance afforded by the sculpting of the rear suspension, specifically the left-offset vertical support strut. Even with marginally shorter chainstays there is gobs more tire clearance on this frame than last year’s aluminum Mach 429. There are a number of other reviews already out there in cyberspace and they all tout the spectacular stiffness of this frame. Pivot claims something in the order of 15% greater rear end, BB and head-tube stiffness over the aluminum version (which was already plenty stiff in these areas). With the caveat that I’m not that big of a guy, I found no difference in stiffness between the carbon and the aluminum versions. There is a huge difference in frame stiffness, however, between either 429 version and my own Ellsworth Epiphany, especially in the rear end. I wonder how much the 12mm thru-axle increases stiffness over a regular 9mm QR axle. Personally I think thru-axles just make plain good sense, front or rear.
The beauty of any bike is subjective, and the 429 carbon is no exception. I’m not going to swoon over its flowing curves, carefully juxtaposed by the numerous angular-looking sections (wait…maybe I just did). I loved the naked carbon color but could have done without the various red and blue shiny bits scattered throughout. I also found that the relatively large size of the frame’s “tubes” coupled with the large hoops generally made the other standard parts (eg. 32mm forks and air shock) look downright spindly in comparison. Fortunately, I am more concerned with function than form and any misgivings I had about how the bike looked completely disappeared once I was in the saddle. My concern that the larger, boxy frame sections would amplify trail chatter, however, was confirmed. This is not a silent bike to ride on rough trails.
The carbon 429 has a number of subtle geometry changes compared to its aluminum brethren. I sincerely wish that I had ridden the bike prior to informing myself about these differences, as I am confident that I could have identified each one by the way the bike handled. The 429 carbon has 8mm shorter chainstays, 2.5 mm lower BB and a slightly slacker head-tube (depending on frame size…the aluminum frames vary from 69.0 to 69.9 while the carbon frames are all 69.3 degrees). According to the specs on Pivot’s website the standover has increased for all sizes as well. These differences were all noticeable on the first ride, though not all in a positive way. First came the pedal-strikes, which were exceptionally rare on the 429 aluminum. One quarter of a centimeter sounds like a ridiculously small difference (the same as going from 172.5 to 175 mm crankarms), but hardly a ride went by that I didn’t whack the pedals at least once, whereas last year I had 2 pedal-strikes over the whole test. One of the standout features of last year’s aluminum 429 was how easy it was to hop up over trail obstacles. I am pleased to report that shorter chainstays on the 429 carbon further amplified this trait making it the easiest to loft full suspension bike I have ever ridden. As far as I’m concerned that’s the final nail in the coffin for the commonly rumor/belief that big-wheeled bikes are harder to loft.
Since the componentry on this year’s bike were almost identical to last year’s bike, I won’t spend much time discussing this aspect. Component highlights include full Shimano XT 2x10 drivetrain (I still love the multi-release on the rear downshifts) fantastic XT trail brakes, DT wheelset, diminutive looking (but plenty grippy for most situations) Kenda Slant 6 tires (same as last year), and 120mm Fox Float FIT CTD fork (with 15 mm thru-axle) and Fox CTD rear shock (both with the slippery Kashima coating). This year’s bike was in the order of half a pound lighter than the aluminum version. Both bikes are several pounds lighter than my trailbike and yes, the difference is noticeable.
While on the topic of suspension, I’d like to emphasize that the Fox Float FIT CTD fork was flawless throughout the test and maybe the best performing Fox product I have ever ridden. The CTD, which is basically a 3-position (Climb-Trail-Descend), trail-adjustable, low speed compression damping system was a highlight for me. In the back end, the CTD shock worked well, but I was unable to feel any difference (either on the trail or in the parking lot) between the 3 levels of compression damping. The RP23 on my friend’s Pivot Mach 5.7 is similar, with no discernible difference between the compression damping settings. According to Pivot’s website, their shocks are specially ‘tuned’ to be optimized for the DW link system. When I contacted Pivot directly about a potential shock malfunction, the rep bristled at my implication that the shock was ‘de-tuned’ (be careful with your wording folks…these people take their suspension designs seriously!). Maybe my needs are different from most; I do a considerable amount of riding on smoother terrain (eg. I’d prefer to riding to the trailhead than drive) and I would have appreciated a higher level of compression damping to further minimize suspension movement. Don’t get me wrong, the DW link is already stellar at limiting bobbing, but if they are going to spec a top of the line shock, why not have all of its features function as they are intended to? Otherwise a simple Float be sufficient (aside from the sex appeal of the CTD)?
My main gripe with the bike, which the published changes in geometry can’t properly account for, is the disconnected feeling that I had whenever the trail got twisty and technical. Last year’s 429 had an almost telepathic quality about it; seemingly reading the trail and just railing it, with minimal rider input. I never felt that effortless flow on the carbon 429, but I can’t put my finger on why exactly… there was just this sense of having to fight with the bike to get it to do what I wanted it to. I also noticed some minor suspension-induced feedback in the pedalling, like there was a slight backwards tugging on the drivetrain. This was only apparent on smoother terrain, when the suspension was not under great stress…that or when my brain wasn’t totally focused on keeping rubber side down. Some simpler suspension designs, like the single pivot, are known to interact with the pedalling, in some gear combinations, depending partially on the location of the pivot relative to the chainrings. This shouldn’t be the case with the DW link and I’m at a loss to explain it. Since it happened in both chainrings, it appeared to be independent of gearing combination. In the grand picture, these are minor gripes. On the trail, the bike rode very well. Despite the diminutive looks, the tires were plenty grippy for most trail conditions and super-fast rolling. Special care was needed in muddy sections, both in getting the power down and maintaining control. The round profile of the tires were also not great on the slick limestone rocky sections that are common in this area of the world (eg. Niagara escarpment).
The real test, at least for me, is how well a bike handles steep and technical climbs. And in this terrain, I was completely blown away at how well the Mach 429 Carbon handled. It was super easy to put the power down to the ground. This is one of the biggest joys of riding a big-wheeled bike; the tires just stay hooked up. No special acrobatics were required to keep the front end planted either on steep climbs….just grit your teeth and, if you have the power and balance, this bike will grind its way up pretty much anything. I nailed one rooty climb at Twin Ponds that I failed at least the last dozen times to get up on my Ellsworth. More than nailed, it was downright easy…and it left me giddy for the rest of the ride! It took several tries, but I also cleaned another climb near Guelph, which I essentially gave up trying on my Ellsworth because it is so steep, rooty/rocky and very washed out. Impressive.
While this is a small point, white grips are never a good idea. Neither are white highlights on a saddle, especially during deer-hunting season. About a decade ago A hunter stopped me on the trail and confessed that he had almost shot me, having noticed the white flash of my saddle bouncing through the forest in a similar fashion to a white-tailed deer. Good thing to keep in mind during those autumn rides.
I’ve been struggling for some time to come up with a positive ending for this review. But the whole point is to give my unbiased impression not a glowing review of Pivot’s sexy new wunderbike. If I had to choose between the carbon or aluminum version of the Mach 429 I would definitely go for the aluminum, even if cost was not a consideration (the carbon frame will set you back about an extra $500). It simply had a more intuitive feel, for my type of terrain and riding style anyway. Results may vary. If you are lucky enough to try before you buy I strongly recommend that you do so. The geometry numbers do not always tell the complete story.