With many of the DH guys now switching over to the big wheels, many are thinking 29er’s are the way to go for the fastest bikes. The purpose of this comparison from our French friend Alex Petitdemange is to compare bikes and not necessarily to compare wheel sizes. Wheel diameter, however, is likely to play a notable part of the difference between these two bikes. Or will it? Read on as Alex explains his very interesting comparison.
First off, I think these days the longish travel 29er’s are where it’s at for trail riding and Enduro racing. The Pivot Switchblade (my personal bike) is one of my references for a trail bike, and I figured that trying the latest 27.5″ Pivot Mach 5.5 could be interesting to change up a little bit from the 29er’s that I’ve been riding for 5 seasons now.
On paper, both bikes are very similar in length, angles, travel and even look. The main difference is, of course, the 27.5 wheels vs 29er for the Switchblade. The 5.5 comes with 2.6 Maxxis tires, Rekon and Minion DHF, perfect combination here. I m used to ride DHF up front, and usually Minion SS for the rear tire on the Switchblade, so the rolling resistance was similar.
Both bikes share pretty much the same build kits. 2018 Fox 36 160, Float DPS EVOL, SRAM X01 1×11 ( I don’t like Eagle!), XT brakes, Fox Transfer post and DT Swiss 28 spokes wheels. I transferred a Raceface 35mm stem and 760 Chromag bars I had. It should be noted that the rear shock specs and tune are identical between these 2 bikes.
Immediately, the first thing that was obvious was the fit. The Mach 5.5 felt a tiny bit shorter than my Switchblade, and that’s what I was looking for.
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The bike felt really light and efficient for pedaling. The DT Swiss M 1700wheels were probably a big part of that. Half a pound less in the wheels compare with the same set up on 29er. I didn’t know those 2.6 tires much yet, so I started safely with 26 psi rear and 24 front. By the end of the ride, I ended up lowering them to 22 and 21. My ride was a mix of flowy smooth and rough steep downhills, including Dog Food, AZT, Sunset, Ginger and Rocky Ridge. I like how responsive it was. It didn’t feel like it was too slack or too long and was very similar to the Switchblade feel. I never felt that the smaller wheels were slowing me down or losing momentum on uphill moves. On the downhills, one thing I noticed, it seems that with the 5.5 it was easier to catch my mistakes and get back on the line. With the 29er, you commit to a line and try to hit it at speed. If it goes smooth it’s very fast, but when you get sideways, you might crash or come to a stop to avoid the crash. With the 5.5 I felt like I could recover better from being thrown around, and get back on my line. On the steeper stuff on Ginger, I was comfortable pushing it, and it didn’t feel tiring. It was very efficient at the right time right place.
After the first 2 days of riding that bike, I was really excited with how it performed in the Flagstaff mountain trails.
Back home in Sedona, I decided to give it the ultimate test ride: Triple H. It regroups the 3 famous technical trails in Sedona, Hiline, Hogs and Hangover. They are all connected with various others, making a 30+ miles loop of technical terrain. I hit Brewer to get to Hangover, then Hogs, and finished with Hiline. Brewer was fun, I hit my lines, and I didn’t feel much difference with the Switchblade.
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During the road climb to Hangover again, the bike felt very pedal efficient and climbing was enjoyable. When I got to the first technical traverse I noticed that on the punchy technical uphill sections, it was easier to “crawl” slower where you need a lot of power to punch it with a 29er. The grip of the 2.6 Maxxis (back at 24-22psi) has been very good and a lot of the off camber slabs were ridden without troubles.
I know all the lines and every rock of those trails, and it’s easy for me to know if I can do what I want with the bike. Hangover went well, and I didn’t have to think about being on a different bike. On the Hogs and Hiline however, I found myself in different lines that I usually use, and not for the best. I lost traction or got bounced off rocks, where I usually just go through without issues. On the fast chunky descents, I could feel the bike slowing down on the ledges, and I had to use some pedaling to keep the momentum going when on the Switchblade, I can just pump over and keep the speed. Not a surprise you will say. But, when I got to the steep backside section of Hiline, I was expecting it to excel there, only to find I wasn’t comfortable trying to push it, and it did feel slower. It wasn’t as stable, and not confidence inspiring. I couldn’t jump over stuff, and it just didn’t feel as fun. I finished up the ride going up Old Post Trail and was left a little sour from that last downhill experience.
Overall, I don’t really have anything bad to say. The 5.5 fit is great. It feels fast and light. The pedaling is comfortable on the downhills and in the mountains. It’s a pound lighter than the Switchblade with the same specs. If you live in the mountains or somewhere fairly smooth, you will love it. I really have to think about it to find those details I talked about, and it hasn’t been “bad” anywhere. I’m just very picky with what I like and want. I may just need more time on it to figure out how to ride it on the rougher terrain. Or maybe I need to just keep them both!