Each week our homepage is flooded with head-turning, longer-slacker-do-everything, singlecrown fork bikes. Bikes in the 120-170mm travel range are becoming increasingly more capable, blurring the lines between each other as they can climb anything and rip most descents. Having multiple, uniquely different bikes that suit specific terrain seems like a distant memory, and, frankly, we couldn't be more stoked about how our beloved sport has evolved.
We spend our time like the majority of riders, spinning circles on trail and enduro bikes, going up, down, and sideways on the trail. But if the excitement stirred up from the first two World Cups is any indication, our roots and passion still burn deep for the niche category of downhill bikes. Long travel, aggressive geometry, dual crown forks, and burly tires. No matter how much time passes, the potential for endless speed and getting away with trail murder that downhill bikes provide is an experience we will always crave.
After a few years of hiatus, we realized we are way overdue to toss on a full-face helmet, jump on a chairlift and see what a group of modern downhill bikes can accomplish. To keep consistent with our past, we will be conducting a multi-bike shootout with two formidable testers. At the end, a favorite will be picked based on speed, capability, fun, and rider preference. Not everyone wants a bike park bike, nor does everyone want a full-on race machine. Our goal is to sample a little of everything and see where each bike shines.
We will be kicking out a downhill bike review every other week as part of Vital’s Summer of Downhill. Luckily, we had five bike companies step up and send us one of their current downhill bikes for us to smash as we please and provide a broad take on each bike's overall performance. To kick things off we have been spinning laps on the bike that has taken Bernard Kerr to the top step of Red Bull Hardline and graced multiple podiums under Emilie Siegenthaler: Pivot’s Phoenix 29.
Pivot Phoenix 29 Highlights
- Full carbon frame
- 29-inch wheels (no mullet configuration option)
- 190mm (7.5 inches) of rear-wheel travel // 203mm (8 inches) fork travel
- DW-Link suspension design
- 62.5-degree headtube angle
- 443mm chainstay length
- Fully internal cable routing
- FOX Factory 40 fork
- FOX Factory Float X2 rear shock
- Shimano Zee drivetrain and brakes
- 29x2.5 Maxxis Assegai, 3C, Maxx grip, DH casing front and rear
- Super Boost plus 157mm rear hub (157mm rear hub spacing)
- Integrated fork bump stops
- Threaded bottom bracket with ISCG-05 mounts
- Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 36 pounds (16.3kg)
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large (Accommodates riders from: 5' 4" to 6' 7")
- MSRP $6,999 USD (Race Zee Build)
Phoenix 29 Overview
Pivot launched the updated Phoenix 29 almost two years ago with a more compact DW-Link rear suspension design built around 29-inch wheels. Designed and tested with their Factory Team at the World Cup level the Phoenix 29 is no doubt a downhill race bike first and foremost. The frame is fully carbon with most of the frame weight low and center for improved stability at speed. Frame details include 190mm of rear-wheel travel, integrated fork bump stops, internally routed cables, threaded bottom bracket, and 157mm rear wheel spacing. Up front, the Phoenix 29 has a 62.5-degree head angle matched with a fairly low 337mm bottom bracket.
In an effort to make the Phoenix 29 fun and flickable in bike park environments, Pivot chose shorter 443mm chainstay lengths across all sizes. The reach on our large test bike is 460mm, which did create this snappy, flickable feel Pivot claims to have been aiming for. It is worth noting for riders choosing a small or X-large frame that the rear end could feel long or short relative to reach. Some of the other downhill bikes being tested in our Summer of Downhill do offer size-specific chain stays to match size-specific reaches. With the goal of offering riders a bike that is more fun to toss around or jump, the Phoenix 29 in size medium or large will likely live up to this hype the truest.
For our test, Pivot provided its Phoenix 29 Race Zee build. This is Pivot’s lowest-cost complete build option for the Phoenix 29 but still comes in at $6,999 USD. Build spec is highlighted by a FOX Factory 40 fork, FOX Factory Float X2 air shock, Maxxis Assegai Maxx Grip tires front and rear, and Shimano Zee drivetrain and brakes with Race Face Atlas alloy cranks. Two higher-end builds do exist, with the Pro build kit retailing for $7,999 USD and the Pro build kit with Reynolds carbon wheels retailing for $9,349 USD. Two frame-only options exist, with shock-only build at $4,299 USD and shock-and-fork build for $6,099 USD (only $900 less than our complete with the same suspension #headscratcher). Our Pivot was the highest-end bike in our test pool with the nicest parts, and we enjoyed getting to see if the grass really is greener when some extra dough is spent on a build.
Piloting our Phoenix 29 test bike was Vital MTB Tech Editor, Jason Schroeder, and long-time contributor, Sean “Griz” McClendon. Both have an extensive history within the mountain bike industry. First between the tape followed racing DH at the national and World Cup level followed by years working within the mountain bike industry. With a decade age gap and a few pounds between them, they each have their own unique preferences and riding styles.
Setup, Fitment and Suspension Settings
We tested Pivot’s Phoenix 29 with the parts that come stock on the $6,999 Race Zee build kit. We realize that cockpit parts can be swapped but want to provide our insight for riders who also buy a complete Phoenix 29. Pivot recommended a size large frame to best match our test rider heights of 5’ 10” and 6’ (177 and 182cm). Despite the popular trend of longer bikes, the Phoenix 29 lands pretty middle-of-the-road with a 460mm reach and overall wheelbase of 1278mm. Stock cockpit components include an 800mm wide, 20mm rise Pivot handlebar with an adjustable 46-49mm Pivot direct-mount stem. Our bars arrived cut to 780mm, however. Pivot provides a helpful Suspension Setup Guide on their website which explains setting sag for various bikes. There is also a FOX suspension tuning chart that provides Float X2 settings based on chosen air pressure. Pivot recommends around 30% sag (21mm) for the Float X2 air shock to best match the factory air spring curve. They also recommend running the Float X2 with more rebound damping and less compression damping than is recommended from FOX.
Sean’s Phoenix 29 Setup
At 5’10” the large Phoenix 29 fit me perfectly! I ride with a moto-inspired, head-over-the-front-wheel attack stance, and never felt cramped or unbalanced over the bike. The option to adjust stem length from 46-49mm was subtle, with no real noticeable change when riding. The same goes for the 10mm headset spacer that did not really change how I fit on the bike. From the get-go, I didn’t feel either adjustment was needed to be comfortable on the Phoenix 29. My preferred bar width is 780mm so the trimmed length we received was spot on for me. The grip diameter was thinner than I prefer, so I opted for a thicker grip to suit my preferences.
FOX Factory 40 Fork
FOX Factory Float X2 Shock
Due to the limited feel/function in my right foot, I’ve adopted using minimal low-speed compression to help minimize feedback into my feet from chatter. This helps me keep my feet secure on flat pedals. (Editor's note: Griz is one badass MF who will forever downplay the racing injury he sustained a decade ago. His recovery is always ongoing but his ability on a bike remains timeless, injury or not.) I opted to run high-speed compression almost completely closed based on previous experiences with DW-link suspension systems which seemed to blow through the final 20% of travel. However, I didn’t get the impression that the Phoenix 29 blew through the final 20% of rear travel like previous DW-Link experiences. Nevertheless, my settings worked well for me. That said, on most suspension platforms, I tend to run more high and low compression damping unless I’m riding flow trails and bigger jumps – then I’ll add some low-speed compression support. Rebound settings are within the recommended FOX settings and I found this tune to be ideal for bike park riding or technical trails. Sag was set to the recommended amount. For race settings, I could see myself adjusting to firmer pressure, less low-speed compression, and likely speed up the low-speed rebound to help the bike track on brake-bump-infested ruts.
Jason’s Phoenix 29 Setup
Pedaling around the parking lot the Phoenix 29 cockpit did feel a tad cramped for my liking. While I typically enjoy riding trail or enduro bikes with a reach in the 460s, I would prefer a few more millimeters of reach on a downhill bike. I feel the extra cockpit room better matches the speed at which obstacles are hit on a downhill bike. An X-large Phoenix 29 frame has a 485mm reach and if paired with a 30-40mm stem I believe I’d be a happier camper. For those reasons, I ran the stem in the 49mm length option to stretch it out. The front-end height was lower than I prefer due to the flatter stock bars. Dropping the fork stanchions in the crowns by 5mm aided in raising the front end without raking out the fork too much. The stock 800mm bar width is what I prefer for DH use, but the 780mm cut of our bars left me a bit less confident at higher speeds. I didn’t get along well with the thin, stock grips, and in the long term would swap to thicker grips with more padding to handle the shock of DH riding.
Fox Factory 40 Fork
Fox Factory Float X2 Shock
Whenever I set up suspension I’m particular about a balanced bike. However, I know my riding position locates my weight more rearward than most. To counter this weight offset, I will sometimes run a bit more low-speed compression damping in the rear shock to help keep the rear end supported. The low bottom bracket and bottomless feel of the DW-Link suspension did cause me to close compression damping more than recommended on the Phoenix 29. I also ran a bit more pressure which resulted in only 19mm of sag but the bike remained planted and responsive on trail. My rebound was also set faster than recommended but this is simply personal preference. I enjoy pumping my weight into the bike and feeling the responsive push back less rebound damping provides. In the fork, I did only run 70 psi when I would typically run 74-76 psi in the FOX 40. This drop in pressure was in response to getting the bike to feel balanced. A few runs into testing the Phoenix 29 I kept finding the front wheel getting away from me in corners and my weight sinking into the rear travel more than desired. Ultimately, a decrease in fork pressure and increase in shock pressure shifted my weight more forward while maintaining my slight rearward center of gravity preference.
Bike Park Ripper or Race Day Winner? Phoenix 29 Says Both
All testing on our Phoenix 29 was split between The Basin Gravity Park and Tamarack Ski Resort. Both bike parks are close to our home base of Boise, Idaho, and offer a variety of trails between them. The Basin is mostly machine-built trails with countless flowing berms and jumps with an average higher speed. In contrast, Tamarack is mostly raw, single track with limited built-up features. It offers some proper rough, technical, and rocky descents. Summer weather brings dry, dusty mountain soil so the Phoenix 29 should have felt right at home with most test days reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fun, confidence-inspiring, and playfully agile to ride. To date, the Phoenix 29 has been my favorite wagon-wheeled machine for any type of riding! Its slender weight has the unique ability to cater to hard-charging race environments and be enjoyable for relaxed ‘party laps’ in the bike park. Weighing in at 36 pounds I found the Phoenix 29 had a light, responsive feel which made moving the bike around less difficult than anticipated. The bike offers ample pop on bike park jumps as well as natural terrain style trail gaps. Big berms felt great thanks to the mid-stroke support and I was able to press into berms with confidence and leave with exceptional exit speed. The low center of mass does a great job of keeping the Phoenix 29 incredibly stable across rough terrain.
I also enjoyed the combination of a stiff carbon frame with Sun Ringle's compliant aluminum wheels. Together, the overall ride quality was planted yet playful. Riders that keep their weight over the front – moto attack style – will be right at home on the Phoenix 29 as this is the technique the bike requires. With a 17mm longer reach than chain stay length paired with a slack 62.5-degree head angle and 330mm static bottom bracket height, the rider balance point is forward-center. When cornering, I felt best leading with my head, chin over bars, and weight over the front axle. Initiating all corners with the front wheel and using the saddle as a reference point, I could drive my inner thigh into the bike to help commit to leaning in corners. Additionally, when blitzing rock gardens my intuition was to stay centered on the bike between the front and rear axles while aiming to avoid buzzing my butt on the 29-inch rear wheel. I did not feel any bike feedback that demanded keeping my weight back and therefore tried to maintain this forward, attack position.
The rollover capabilities with 29-inch wheels are of course incredible and decrease feedback to the rider. The shorter chainstays did make the bike impressively nimble for making micro-adjustments in line choice or when navigating tight corners. With a short rear-end you also bump up the fun factor with the ability to really blow up some corners when you’d like! The only situation where I felt a suspension adjustment could be warranted was on high-speed, grass ski turns. I poached a few laps on the NW Cup racetrack at Tamarack and noticed with the tune I was running, the bike wanting to dance around in the chattery ruts. I suspect this feeling could be simply remedied though if I were to run less low-speed compression and rebound damping.
The Phoenix 29 definitely ticked my boxes for an agile, snappy, and controlled downhill bike. The low bottom bracket matched with a low center of mass really set my weight into the bike. When sections of trail had multiple large compressions or when pumping through berm corners the bike maintains great composure. In rougher situations, the overall lightness of the Phoenix 29 was both beneficial and unwanted at times. The majority of the time the ability to make quick, micro-line adjustments or shift my weight to influence the bike was wonderful. Some carefree lines were definitely taken on the whim! However, on some really chattery sections of trail where the bike was bouncing around, the stiff carbon frame matched with lower overall weight made it difficult to keep exactly on my line. Some of this feeling I chalked up to the DW-Link suspension platform. While great under braking in really any situation, when repetitive compressions were met it felt like some mid-stroke support was needed. The Phoenix 29 rear suspension does feel oftentimes predictable but part of that predictability was knowing it might get overwhelmed in really dicey situations.
My only other gripe with the Phoenix 29 was how low the front end was out of the box from Pivot. Dropping the stanchions 5mm did help but didn’t fully resolve the issue for my 6-foot build. With such a low front end I felt a limit in confidence that I wasn’t able to surpass. Dropping in on bike park jump trails, the Phoenix 29 really stood out with how much damn fun it provided. The shorter chainstays were a good call by Pivot as I didn’t feel any negatives on the technical trails and could really whip the Phoenix 29 around in corners. A few foot-out inside corner drifts may have been taken during my testing and I’m not sorry. When hitting jumps it did not feel like I was trying to lug a beefy downhill bike around to get sideways. There is a reason you see the Pivot Factory Team having no problem making all kinds of shapes on the Phoenix 29. Poppy, lively, and ready to roost any corner.
Rear Suspension Performance
While the Phoenix 29 may not handle square edges as effortlessly as a high single-pivot bike due to the nature of its linear wheel path, the DW-Link platform made for a smooth, consistent ride across roots, bomb holes, and hucks-to-flat. My personal favorite parts spec on the Phoenix 29, the FOX Float X2 air shock, blew me away with its supple small bump compliance. I cannot praise its performance enough. It is to the point where I want to buy one for my personal downhill sled sometime in the future. The mid-stroke support was amazing when pressing into berms and managing large compressions as I noticed great exit speed in both situations. Under braking in rock gardens or small bumps, I did not notice any negative feedback into my feet or any unsuspected kickbacks. The suspension definitely felt like it remained active under braking which made for a very confident feeling platform in most situations. I may not be able to fly at the acrobatic level of Bernard Kerr or Eddie Masters but I loved how much pop and mid-stroke support the Phoenix 29 had riding jumps. For sure my favorite bike so far for riding bike parks!
There is no doubt the FOX Float X2 air shock is insanely capable and I loved getting to tinker with its numerous adjustments. Mounted to any bike it definitely represents the peak of shock performance in this day and age. However, I found the rear suspension on the Phoenix 29 as a whole to not be as supportive as I’d like during high-speed compressions. During large drops or carving through big bowl corners, I had the tendency to push through travel with no feeling of leverage ramp up. When we opened the shock up it only had two air spring volume spacers. With a max limit of five spacers, the addition of a few more would likely improve support. To compensate, I resorted to running more compression damping and slightly less rebound damping which seemed to do the trick. Overall, the DW-Link suspension design feels very comfortable and planted to the ground. Whether it was hauling ass down a fire road or grabbing a fist full of rear brake going through braking bumps, the rear wheel tracking was impressive. Compared to a more rearward axle path design it wasn’t quite as quick to respond when things got really chunky. It did still carry good speed without getting too hung up though. I also had no issues with my feet getting rattled off the pedals on exceptionally bumpy sections of trail. During those moments, the Phoenix 29 had a nice bottomless feel that really ate up initial to mid-stroke compressions. On bike park jump trails the Phoenix 29 was hands down one of the more fun bikes to ride! I could mindlessly pump off lips knowing the suspension was going to remain composed without throwing me any unexpected curveballs.
Phoenix 29 ‘Race’ Build Kit
Sean's Standout Components: Sun Ringle SD37 Wheels, FOX Factory Suspension
Sun Ringle is an underrated wheel brand in my opinion, and I was very happy with the performance of their Duroc SD37 Expert wheels. The 32mm internal width worked great with the Maxxis Assegai tires by giving them a mildly rounded profile. This helped the tires maintain the “channel” between the intermediate knob and side knobs for a predictable feel. Their flex profile and compliance also complimented the stiffness of the Pivot carbon frame nicely. After my best attempts smashing rocks and launching to flat, they have yet to show any signs of wear. As expected from my notes above, the other stand-out component on the Phoenix 29 was the FOX Factory suspension. The FOX 40 fork and Float X2 air shock both have impressive small bump sensitivity and mid-stroke support. With a wide range of rebound, compression, and air spring rate adjustment the adaptability of both is endless.
Sean's Least Favorite Components: Phoenix Cockpit
The cockpit is really the only spec on the Phoenix 29 I would swap out to meet my personal preferences. While there was only one 10mm spacer mounted under the upper fork crown, I typically prefer having my crown slammed against the upper headset cup. By switching to my usual higher rise handlebar I could move the spacer above the fork crown. The actual length of the stem was fine for me but the ability to reach the crown bolts was quite frustrating when adjusting the stem length. While I didn’t necessarily dislike the mushroom pattern of the Pivot grips, the diameter was on the thin side and I’d have to swap out a thicker option to make it through a summer of downhill laps.
Jason's Standout Components: Shimano Zee Groupset, Maxxis Assegai Tires
A workhorse of a groupset, I often forget about Shimano’s Zee line of brakes and drivetrain components. Sure, you don’t get the shiny gold details of higher-end Saint components and might gain a few grams but the performance remains with Zee. Throughout testing, the brakes performed flawlessly. They maintained that nice Shimano bite while the drivetrain shifted smoothly and effortlessly. For being the cheapest build option Pivot offers, Shimano Zee bumps up the value you receive. The other build spec that stood out to me was the Maxxis Assegai tires front and rear in 3C, Maxxgrip compound. Nothing is worse than the capabilities of a bike being held back by tire performance so it’s awesome having premium, appropriate tires come stock on the Phoenix 29. Personally, I’ve enjoyed the Assegai in intermediate, dry conditions which is mostly what we ride in Idaho.
Jason's Least Favorite Components: Phoenix Cockpit, Phoenix WTB Race High Tail Saddle
I’m not really sure why Pivot specced their Phoenix 29 downhill bike with a low-rise handlebar. For a descent-focused bike, most riders should be riding a handlebar with some rise. For my height, I typically run at least 30mm rise bars but with the short head tube length of the Phoenix 29, I would likely opt for 38mm rise handlebars. The stock Pivot stem functioned fine but the design makes reaching the crown bolts difficult with a typical Allen key. The stock Pivot grips have a decent pattern but the overall diameter is much too thin for the abuse your hands take while riding downhill. I would likely change to grips in the 32mm diameter at least. Lastly, the stock WTB Race High Tail saddle has two pointy back corners (explains High Tail name) that are impressively uncomfortable to sit on. Sure, seat time on a downhill bike is limited but for those who spend time in lift lines, you might want to consider another saddle.
Noise and Maintenance
Overall, the Phoenix 29 is almost completely silent with just a few standout noises. The chain slap protector on the swingarm didn’t completely get the job done and left a vibrating noise echoing through the frame. This was not a huge issue, as some added protection could easily reduce any clanky chain noises. In the future, we would like to see a more robust or ribbed chain protector come stock on the Phoenix 29. Another area of noise was where the brake housing and shifter cable exited the frame near the bottom bracket on the non-drive side. The port guides do a nice job of sealing up the hole around the cables and hold them nice and tight. However, the exposed cables do rattle against the frame where they are exposed. Again, an easily solvable noise that some rubber mastic tape along the frame would likely deaden.
The derailleur hanger on our Phoenix became mangled after the derailleur mount bolt came loose. This allowed the derailleur to rotate and the built-in stop on the Zee wore out the soft alloy hanger. While still functional, a replacement hanger is necessary and keeping an eye on the derailleur mount bolt is always a good idea with Shimano.
The Phoenix 29 ‘Race’ build we tested retails for $6,999 USD. For the price, Pivot is offering riders a full carbon frame with top-tier FOX suspension and Maxxis tires along with bulletproof, mid-tier Shimano Zee drivetrain and brakes. However, when compared to both consumer-direct brands and standard, dealer-based brands the price tag is on the higher side. For riders who choose the complete ‘Race’ Phoenix 29 build kit, they will undeniably receive solid components ready for multiple seasons of shredding. While you will be paying more for what you receive component wise, the value lies in the engineering and performance of the Phoenix 29 frame and suspension platform. Riders will have to weigh out if the Phoenix 29 performance outweighs other complete build options available. For those looking to save every penny on their build, Pivot does offer frame-only options. Build tiers include a FOX Factory Float X2 air shock for $4,299 USD or a FOX Factory 40 fork and Float X2 air shock for $6,099 USD. Some used parts might have to be used, but an overall cheaper cost should be achievable going this route.
What's The Bottom Line?
For riders looking to pick up a race-ready downhill bike that will be competitive between the tape and excel when flying off jumps and slapping bike park berms, the Phoenix 29 is a killer option. Pivot’s choice to shorten the chainstays provides a snappy, maneuverable bike that still maintains exceptional stability at speed. The DW-Link suspension platform paired with FOX Factory suspension is both adaptable and tunable to any rider's preferred riding style. With a build kit that hits the marks in the right spots for a reasonable price, Pivot’s Phoenix 29 will be right at home on any race track or flow trail riders put in front of its path.
For more information on the Pivot's Phoenix 29, head over to www.pivotcycles.com
To view key specs and compare bikes, head over to the Vital MTB Product Guide.
About The Testers
Jason Schroeder - Age: 26 // Years Riding MTB: 15 // Height: 6' (182cm) // Weight: 168-pounds (76.2kg)
A once-upon-a-time World Cup downhill racer turned desk jockey, Jason has spent years within the bicycle industry from both sides of the tape. A fan of all day adventures in the saddle or flowing around a bowl at the skatepark, he doesn't discriminate from any form of two wheel riding. Originally a SoCal native now residing in Boise, Idaho, you can find Jason camped out in his van most weekends at any given trailhead in the greater Pacific NorthWest.
Sean McClendon - Age: 36 // Years Riding: 21 // Height: 5'10" (177cm) // Weight: 190-pounds (86.2kg)
"Griz" is a battered veteran of MTB gravity racing. Following a major crash during the 2010 USA National Championship Pro downhill race, he put in the hours and fought his way back to health and the fun that is two wheels. Griz has ridden for a number of the USA's top teams throughout his racing career, testing prototype frames and components along the way. Currently managing US Dealer sales and the Fresh Blood amateur development team at DEITY Components, he remains motivated by the mantra "whips don't lie." You'll often find him perfecting his high-flying sideways aerial maneuvers while living the #pinelife in Idaho.