New bike? Yup, good day! Yet, both the path and result have things to think about. From the perspective of an engineer who does work in the bicycle industry, this is a review of both the bike, a Pivot 429 Trail, and the journey.
This is the journey, including the purchase experience, decisions, and rough spots on the way. It is also a review of the Pivot 429 Trail, as a bike, from a technical customer perspective, written both for interested potential customers, and for the bicycle industry. The joy of a new bike is more than just the bike, it's the experience.
Starting The New Bike Journey
The motivation. I love the old bike, maybe too much, but it's breaking. Not completely broken, but 2 major cracks are growing. See the two cracks in the photos with the arrows. (One crack now has a repair (see below), which slows down the growth, but it's not "fixed".)
Anyway, it's time for a replacement.
Truly, buying a new bike is a super personal endeavor, so I won't bore you with search details. It will suffice to say, after a lot of reading, reviews, and talking, I settled on 2 main Mountain Bike choices to try.
My top picks are the Trek Top Fuel and the Pivot Mach 4. The Trek because of so many raving reviews. The Pivot because I rented one, for 6 beautiful hours hammering the desert rocks. What can I say . . . I was loving every minute.
The Purchase Experience
Every bike shop has a personality. I recommend finding one that values knowledge, and minimizes sales pitch. Find a salesperson that is not afraid to talk up brands they don't carry, and is honest about disadvantages of the bikes you are discussing. (That's really rare.) Fortunately, I have built friendships with a few bike shop owners, and they treat me with that kind of respect.
Yes, respect. If a salesperson lies, misleads, or pushes, then they don't respect you. Move on. But, I diverge.
I looked high and low for the 2 bikes of choice. With pandemic pressures, it is hard. I found a super high-end Pivot Mach 4 (in Denver), but I didn't want that much. (Live valve and all the extras are cool, but very expensive.)
One day I walked into a local bike shop and found an XL version of the Trek Top Fuel. That's a little big for me, but a quick ride would certainly tell if it was still top of the list!
Wow, I was impressed. Trek did a good job with the Top Fuel.
I found another, size M, at a different shop when traveling, but it is a little small. Oh well.
I went back to see the Trek Top Fuel XL, and what did my wondering eyes behold? A Pivot 429 Trail, size L, sitting lonely in the back corner. I guess it was ordered for someone, but after a super long wait, they didn't want it! Such great luck! It's not the Mach 4 I was looking for, but it's a lot like the 429 I just retired.
Trek Top Fuel v. Pivot Trail 429
Of course, you can't be too serious testing a bike at the shop, but I did ride them both for an urban assault. Stairs, big landscape rocks, curbs, neighborhood streets, a little dirt, etc.. I like the look of the Trek better, and I loved the performance of both.
It was a hard decision, but I finally chose on the Pivot Trail 429. Perhaps familiarity and right size of the Pivot won me over? Though I really like the Trek Top Fuel, the Pivot checks that one more "it fit better" box. Even if it is more expensive.
My wife says I need to look at cost per use. I rode the previous Pivot 429 for 10 years — about 21,000 miles — dozens of epic trips — at least one week in Moab each year. So many great memories. I wonder how many smiles?
Yup, I got my money's worth, so Chris earned a strong second look.
Review Of The Purchase Experience
The bike shop, Ascent Cycling in Colorado Springs, is wonderful. They answered questions, called for needed info, fiddled with adjustments, and gave me space to choose. I'm super happy with Ascent and that part of the purchase experience.
I'd love to say the whole purchase was perfect and smooth. It was not. Because I broke the previous Pivot 429, I requested a "Broken Fame" discount. The shop owner was happy to request it from Pivot.
Back up just a bit. In 2019, the frame of the old Pivot 429 cracked in the rear triangle. I contacted Pivot, but no replacement parts, so they offered a "Broken Frame" discount.
At the time, we were paying on some huge medical bills, so I didn't have money to buy new. Since I couldn't replace the part, I decided to try a fix.
The fix looks tacky, but it worked, for 3 more years and another 6,000 or so brutal miles. Well, the frame also cracked in more places, and unfortunately, I can't repair those.
Now Fast Forward
The monster medical bills are now paid, and I've saved my extra pennies, so I'm ready to buy. However, this time Pivot denied the discount. After offering it previously, they denied it now. That was a huge turn-off for both me and the bike shop owner.
I almost walked away. Not because I don't like the bike, but because it feels like really poor customer care.
After a bit, I decided I was not going to let their repugnance spoil the experience, so I went to buy it anyway.
The shop owner was also miffed at Pivot, so he gave me a big discount of his own. He thought it was quite rude of Pivot to not stand behind their policies and previous offers. Chalk-up one Very High Mark for Patrick at Ascent Cycling (that's a super stand-up thing to do). Oh, and one Black Mark for Pivot. I'll be less vocal in praise for Pivot in the future.
(As a side note, I will not buy Specialized. I like their products, but dislike their actions, so I refuse to support them with dollars. I won't buy Specialized bikes, tires, shoes, helmets, etc.. Pay attention companies! Customers care about how they are treated, and how you deal with the world. Enough said.)
Personalizing The Pivot 429
The bike is here! Now it's time to make it perfect. Yup, customizing is also a big part of the fun with a new bike. So, what did I change?
First, a Wrap.
I demand a lot from my bikes, and I tend to keep them for a long time. So, a professional bike wrap is the first order of business. After speaking with several people about DIY wraps, I decided to go professional.
I stripped the bike of anything in the way of a super clean wrap — took off the wheels, chain, derailleur, cranks, and extras. Then, took it to someone who specializes in bike wraps. I had him put super thick film on the areas of most abuse, then thin wrap on the rest. He did the full frame, fork and handlebars. Excellent job!
Change the Saddle.
Saddles are very personal, so I purchased another of my favorite - WTB Volt. Now the bike is much more comfortable for long rides. And, it saves some weight. More on that below.
Trim the Bars.
The handlebars felt a little wide, at least for me, so I trimmed about 25 mm from each end. Cleaned the cuts real nice, and put the bar ornaments all back in place. Now I'm not reaching for the grips.
Seat position, Sag, Bar position, angles, and all the normal bike fitting bits. If it thought felt good before, dialing it in is the icing on the cake.
What to do about the 1-by?
The trend to all 1X in the MTB industry alienates riders like me who ride more than just mountain trails. I ride to the ride, and live in a hilly area, so a 1X setup, well, sucks. I have had 3 other 1-by bikes, and have found them all frustrating.
1X is great for many people, and for that I say "Awesome!" But, making it the only option is short-sighted.
Of course, the new Pivot Trail 429 only comes as a 1X, and they offer no way to improve it. It comes with a 32T ring, and say max size is 34T. That is pretty ridiculous.
So, it took some effort, but I finally settled on a solution. See the solution in the 1-By section below. I have to say, it is much more involved that it should be, and I'm pretty disgusted by the blinders of the bicycle industry in drinking the 1X Kool-Aid so completely. Seriously, who decided it's such a bad idea to pedal when the trail slopes down slightly?
Add Cable Liners.
At purchase the bike was kind of noisy. Riding around even the urban assault there was something rattling. The internally routed cables are the culprit. The bike shop said they'd fix that, so they installed some foam housing liners to damp the noise. Now it's quiet.
This may be a little picky on my part, but it seems a pretty small thing to install it at the factory. Rattling makes the bike feel "cheap" somehow. Whether the cables are inside or out, they should be properly retained. Anyway, it was an easy fix.
Get Rid of the Dropper.
I really tried to like the dropper post, but couldn't find anything to ride with it that I wouldn't ride without. Goldbar Rim, and the Whole Enchilada included. 1.5 lbs of extra baggage is a lot extra to carry for a little bolt-on courage. Replaced it with a nice carbon post. Easy decision that definitely improves the bike.
The need for this modification was not immediately apparent. I don't know how this goof got past the Race Face folks. Yet, it ended up costing a lot of blood and pain. I have always loved Race Face, but I'm pretty disappointed with this crank. Had to modify it (after cleaning off the blood). Now it works better, but I still wonder how they missed such a simple user interface peril. See below.
I really like Pivot Trail 429. It rides like a dream. While the 1-by issue is not yet resolved, stay tuned. I am a bicycle drivetrain engineer, so I'm working on a cool solution to correct that too.
Pivot Trail 429 - Loves and Disappointments
I could go on for a long time with what I love about this bike. It rides super well, and is very predictable. It is also quite forgiving of little bobbles. The function is so smooth and (now) quiet. Build quality is great. There is a lot to love.
While I really like the old 429, I think this new Pivot is overall a great step up. I really like it.
Bikes are very personal - what we like, what we don't, how it fits, riding style, etc.. That said, the Pivot Trail 429 fits me (after the adjustments) very well. I feel totally comfortable on it, even for day long rides. After a week in Moab, riding many of the big ones (full WE, full Mag 7, etc.), I have found a new best friend.
Because the bike performs so well, it makes the disappointments stand out all the more stark. The items below may feel like a bash, or that I don't like the bike, but that is an erroneous impression. Yes, I'm passionate about making things work well, and I've made a career in engineering details. I will admit that one of my OCD's is system performance, perhaps summed up in this post about quality and cars.
Anyway, there is probably room for the bicycle industry to learn in the following "disappointments" because some of them are head slappers.
Pivot 429 Weight
A real surprise for me was the weight of the new Pivot Trail 429. My old bike, (also a Pivot 429), 10 years old, aluminum, with extra parts like a bell, extra water bottle cage, GPS, seat bag, chunks of material for repair, etc.. The new carbon bike with nothing extra is 1.1 lbs heavier! We're not talking a few grams here, it's pounds.
In the bicycle world, with 10 years of development and improvement, that's piggy.
As a comparison, the old bike has a lighter drivetrain (the old triple is lighter than the new 1X). The dropper is a lead weight. Tires on the new bike are slightly bigger (2.4 v. 2.25), so that's something. A little larger fork. Humph. 10 years of new technology and we're getting heavier?
Again, it's a disappointment as I was expecting the XTR build to be lighter, not heavier. Fortunately, after the changes, it did lighten up some. Now it is lighter (a little) than the old bike, but I'm still surprised.
The Crank ??
This one was not obvious at first, but it's probably the biggest disappointment of all. Modifications of the Race Face crank were required because someone didn't do their homework.
The problem with the crank is really a compound issue. First, Pivot has increased the width to the BB area - for wider tires, stiffness and Boost. It culminates with a significant increase in Q-Factor. Well, my knees don't like the wide pedal stance, so I guess I ride a little duck-toed. That in itself is not such a problem, nor is the wide Q-factor, or strange crank-arm - by themselves. However, add them together, plus a sharp edge, and it's a problem.
I tore open my ankle on the edge about 2 weeks after getting the bike, in an awkward techy bobble. After, I tore it open again, twice, in the 2 weeks leading up to the Moab trip (even with bandages), and again on the trip. I bandaged it super well for support, but by this time it was so painful, even touching it made me queasy.
OK, I accept responsibility for continuing to ride with the sore ankle, but this design is terrible.
Q-Factor is the first contributor. Crank arm shape is the second. Take a look a this crank arm comparison. The left one has a 'swoop' for ankle clearance. The crank on the right is on the new Pivot Trail 429. Not only is the BB wider, the straightening and thickening of the crank arm creates an environment for contact.
Should we look at more crank arms? Even the non-drive crank arm of the new Pivot Trail 429 has good ankle clearance. Why not the drive side?
Why is there more ankle clearance with 3 chainrings than with one?
If shape is not bad enough, the edge of the crank (where ankle contact occurs) has an abrupt edge. While it does look nice with an edgy feel, it's a User Interface faux pas. To fix it, I filed the crank arm edge to a radius. It doesn't take much to soften contact. The sharp edge is now gone, and it won't tear the skin on my ankle again.
After 3 weeks of continual re-injury, it was so sore I had to ride a different bike.
Perhaps I should have looked closer much earlier. I thought I had hit my ankle on the chainring because of the way it cut the skin. Hard to believe I was twisting enough in the pedals to hit the chain, but it certainly tore the skin. It was not until later when examining the bike I found the crank arm issue. When I felt the edge, I understood the culprit.
I have loved Race Face cranks in the past. I have them on many of my bikes. This is obviously not characteristic of the quality I have come to know from Race Face, so I hope they read this and make changes. Maybe educate their new crank engineer and get him riding what he's designing 😉
As a side note, I don't really like the wide Q-Factor of the bike. I understand why Pivot did it, and I can't argue with some of the benefits, but Q-factor is not the bright spot of the design. Obviously, not a show stopper, but also not a highlight.
And, the wide Q-Factor of the Pivot 429 contributes to the ankle and crank problem above.
Even now, after 4 months, riding hundreds of miles, it still feels awkward when I first get on. Perhaps there is a better balance in the trades for Q-Factor?
Chubby 1X Rear Shifting
I understand the limitations with big steps in rear shifting for 1X. As much as I want to love it (because there isn't much choice (see below)), the rear shifting is not as good for the new 12-speed as with the old 10-speed. I guess I expected more from XTR.
After a lot of fiddling, it's a little better, but still not as good as the old 10-speed.
Please don't misunderstand. It's great by many standards. It works as it should, and it's not objectionable. Yet, I'm an engineer, and I have done a fair amount of engineering for bicycle drivetrains, so I notice little things. This problem is totally from the bigger steps of this massive cassette. Again, a point where technology is not improving.
Gear Choice — 36T Chainring
Continuing the drivetrain theme, gear choice was a big hassle. The bike came with a 32T chainring. I've had bikes with 32T, and they are a frustration to me. No problem, I thought, I'll just change it. Ah, but the dealer told me I can't use anything larger than 34T or it will void the warranty. — What???
Prior to even starting to look for a new bike, I calculated a bunch for gear ratio. Using other bikes, I tested ratios by limiting rides to specific gears. Eventually I concluded a 36T or a 38T would work. It will make steep climbs a grunt, but it will keep me pedaling (mostly) on the down slopes.
Again, I ride to the rides. It's free bike time to get there, and it saves gas, carbon emission, wear-n-tear, and pollution. I like to train on the way, which usually includes roads and paved trails. Spinning out while training is a huge frustration.
Anyway, I contacted Pivot and asked about ring sizes. They said I could fit a 36T ring with 5mm offset. Whew, the voided warranty story is untrue. That's good.
Oh, but finding one . . . Wolftooth has 36T rings for Race Face cinch, but not for 12-speed. I could not find one. Well, that's easy enough — Buy the 36T ring and an 11-speed chain. Works perfect.
Note: Shimano wants us to believe the 12-speed cassette and derailleur are not compatible, but that's nonsense. The difference is 0.2 mm which is about 2 hairs width. In an environment of dirt, dust and grime, the tolerance defined handles much more than this difference. So, 11-speed chain on 12-speed gears, and it works perfect. Yes, on the XTR 12-speed kit.
I would actually argue that the 11-speed chain improved the chubby 1X rear shifting, just a little.
Rant About 1-By
I did not go in blind. The whole industry has become drunk on the Kool-Aid, so there are no good offerings for those that use a mountain bike for more.
You can't buy a good bike with front shifters, so you have to compromise on range. I've had 1X's in the past, and didn't like them. Spin-out going down, and/or grunt going up — your choice. 1X is great for many, but not for all. Since I frequently ride to the ride in a hilly area, 1X doesn't work well for me. (My old Pivot 429 is a triple - special order - and I still love it.)
Sure, I know. Many people don't know how to adjust front derailleurs. However, that's not because it can't be done. It just takes a few minutes to learn.
It's also because companies like SRAM couldn't make a good front shift and spent millions convincing the world that the 1950's were better. They sell 1X like it's a new invention, but it predates anything that shifts.
Unfortunately, the fallacies supporting 1X don't hold water. They said it would be lighter. It's not. They said it would be simpler. It is, sort of. They said it would not sacrifice riding, but it does, immensely. A ring that works well for streets doesn't work for steep trails, and vise-versa. They went from 42 to 50 to 52 on the cassette trying to get it right, but still not. With bigger and bigger shifting steps. Now it's a dinner plate, much bigger than mountain front rings ever got.
They brag 500% or 520% range as if that's great. Hey, I have 640% on my retiring Pivot 429. And, new 1X components are a lot more expensive because they are bigger and more complex - cassettes and derailleurs especially. Cassettes, because of complexity in trying to keep the weight down. They are monsters.
Don't drink the Kool-Aid, because the justifications are so misleading. It's like listening to politicians.
IMHO, there are too many sacrifices when an industry decides all customers are too dumb to figure it out. I don't dis anyone's choice to ride 1X - just like I don't criticize single-speed. It works for them, and I think diversity and choices are good. Why then is it wrong to want the option for more range? To say they 'can't' is only an admission of purposeful intellectual poverty.
A few years ago I won a couple races simply because I had the ability to pedal down the hill. I was not the best rider, I just had the range. It's not just about riding in town.
I'll leave it there. I'm working on a way to shift this Pivot 429 trail, which they will probably claim violates the warranty, but seriously, if they can't figure out . . . .
At the risk of being lambasted for my opinion . . . I think droppers are a waste of time. Some time ago, the editors of one site claimed the dropper was the best tech improvement on the bike (or something like that). They rated it #1. I fell off the chair laughing.
While I've heard many people talk about how great a dropper is, I don't see the joy. I've ridden bikes with them many times and don't find a purpose. This time, I decided to really give it a go. After riding it for a couple months, on plenty techy stuff, I still disagree. It's just bolt-on courage - like a thumb and a blanket.
I don't consider myself a great rider, but I don't shy away from much. There are things I won't ride (like the snotch). I also don't fly much (big air jumps), so maybe I'm just not good enough to appreciate it. Anyway, I love the big rides too, like Goldbar Rim, the WE, and Monarch, yet still I find very little value in a dropper.
I'd much rather have the performance improvements of a front derailleur than the faux courage of a dropper. So, off it came.
1.5 lbs of extra baggage gone, and the bike rides better. On the Pivot 429 it now also gives another water bottle spot for medium length rides without needing a backpack. Sweet.
Onward! With The Pivot 429
Again, I love the bike. Please don't be distracted too much by the rants above.
Pivot has done a great job with the Trail 429 overall. I think anyone in the market for a good do-it-all trail bike should give it a try. While I fully understand no one bike is right for everyone, and we all have different geometry and preferences, I'm impressed enough with the Pivot 429 to recommend it.
Yes, there are some disappointments, but most are easy to change. Customizing is part of the fun with a new bike, so make it yours. When the fit is perfect, there's nothing quite like it. And, that goes for any bike that meets your sweet spot.