This review on my new race rig has been long overdue. However, it was not only until last week that the final part of the puzzle, Shimano’s latest Deore XT Di2 groupset was delivered to the magic hands of my dedicated mechanic, Irvin Tan of Trail+.
So now, courtesy of the good guys at Shimano Singapore and Trail+, I present to you my new race day XC weapon, Scarlett.
With my previous XC race rig, Niner Jet 9 RDO aka Keiko already 3 years old and showing signs of wear, I began shopping for a new race rig a couple of months back. Trail+ came forward and volunteered to build a new bike for me. I could choose any frame I wanted and he would help me to acquire it. After much discussion with my mechanic, I finally set my eyes on the Pivot Mach 429SL Carbon and a new build was commissioned. As the National XC championships were right around the corner then, the bike was assembled with my old Shimano Deore XT M785 groupset.
If you are familiar with Pivot’s history, you would know that the Mach 4 was how it all began. Nine years later, the Mach 4 of the yesteryears had evolved into a full family of bikes – the Mach 4 Carbon, Mach 429SL Carbon and the Mach 429 Trail. Despite all this time, the Pivot Mach 4 series of bikes still retained their distinctive, extra-low, curved top tube.
Pivot is a licensee of the patented DW-link suspension, and this system is found on the 429 SL. The DW-link system is well-known for its anti-squat properties which helps eliminate pedal bob, while still being able to handle big hits and provide additional traction. More on suspension designed here.
The stiffness of the bike was the first thing I noticed during the parking lot spin and on my ride home after picking up my new toy. The massive tubes of the bike certainly were not for show. The DW-link and the custom-tuned Fox Float DPS shock definitely played a part as well. I was most impressed at how the bike felt like a hardtail during the long-ride home with the shock set to climb mode.
Compared to my previous rig, the Pivot Mach 429 SL has a longer effective top-tube length while having a shorter reach despite stem length remaining the same. This is due to the slacker head-tube and seat-tube angles. While seated, my body is in a more forward, XC-ish position, but in the attack position, the bike feels smaller and nimbler.
Last month, I began my exchange programme in Barcelona, Spain. Over the past 2 weeks, I have managed to put in a couple of rides on the transformed Di2-equipped Scarlett and these are my thoughts:
I am still a fan of double chainrings. I always believed that it is always useful to have that smaller chainring in case of ‘emergencies’. After all, this race bike is really my one bike quiver. It had to be ready for race days as well as day-long all-mountain rides. With technical ascents here in Spain hitting more than 20%, I found myself using the small chainring quite frequently.
Now here comes a little problem. I needed a dropper post to help me handle the unfamiliar Spanish terrain. Further, I also had a remote lock out for my RockShox SiD World Cup XX. All that cables meant my cockpit was going to resemble a plate of pasta.
Fortunately for me, the geniuses at Shimano had 2 brilliant innovations – the Tharsis cockpit which is Di2 ready, and the M8050’s Syncroshift. (Here’s an in depth article about the all mountain version of the Tharsis cockpit in detail by Shafudin)
The M8050’s syncroshift function meant that I could operate both front and rear derailleurs with a single shifter unit. I also really loved the tactile, mechanical-like feel of the shifters. There are distinct and loud ‘clicks’ whenever the levers were pushed, resembling the index-clicks of a mechanical shifter.
My only criticism is that while effort had been made to design the M8050 shifters to resemble mechanical shifters, the position of the shifters does feel strange for someone who has been using Shimano mechanical groupsets all his life. I pushed the wrong lever many times during my rides, and that proved to be problematic on technical uphills! (This was also noticed by Shafudin during his long-term Shimano XTR review, and you can find out how to re-program the shifters here)
However, that’s how it is with learning new things. It is only a matter of time before I get used to the slightly different position of the levers.
Throughout my rides, I found the gear combinations selected by the CPU to be sensible. There was never a massive jump or drop in gears even when there was a change in the front chainrings.
A burly M8050 rear derailleur performed its duties flawlessly, shifting the chain from 11T to 42T faster than you can say D-Aye-Two. My new Spanish friends were fascinated and completely won over by the addictive “zhing-zhing” sound the rear derailleur makes as it shifts the chain dutifully.
The 42T dinner plate combined with a 28T chainring helped me climb the steepest of climbs with relative ease. I definitely observed a large improvement in climbing performance, coming from a 26T-36T granny gear on my previous set-up!
Using only one shifter meant that I could use KS’s Southpaw lever to operate my KS Lev Integra dropper post. As it resembles a shifter lever, it is highly ergonomic and easy to use while blasting down the trails. I would even stick my head out and say that the Southpaw lever is the best way to operate a dropper post.
Di2 wiring is neatly hidden in the Tharsis XC cockpit. What was once a messy plate of spaghetti is now just 4 exposed cables.
Neat and tidy cable routing and wiring courtesy of Irvin Tan of Trail+. The junction box is stored within the stem of the 80mm Tharsis XC stem. Here, you can see the wires exiting the junction box from behind the faceplate, underneath the stem.
The Pivot Mach 429 was also specially designed to be equipped with Di2 components. Specially-made grommets were provided to guide the Di2 wires seamlessly into the frame.
A battery door is also located on the belly of the frame. The battery is stored right in front of the bottom bracket to literally keep the weight low in the bike which improves the bike’s stability. The large battery door also helps to make all the internal wiring and routing accessible and simple.
The trails here in Spain being more natural and rough compared to Singapore (I had a puncture after a technical descent on my first ride in Collserola Nature Park. I weigh 56kg and was running 28PSI in the rear, tubeless), I could really put this bike to the test.
After a weekend of riding in the North of Spain, San Sebastian, and another 80km of trail riding this weekend here in Barcelona, I really appreciated the slacker, trail-bike feel of this XC bike. The locals were surprised at how well this bike (or I) handled the technical descents – they were riding AM bikes!
The DW-link soaked up the bumps perfectly while maintaining superior traction over the rough and loose bits. The low stand-over height, combined with my use of the KS Lev Integra dropper also meant that I could move over the bike more easily, helping me to throw my weight in all the right places as I descended Barcelona’s coastal ridgeline.
When I look for a bike, I don’t just look for a light and fast race-ready bike. I’m looking for a bike that’s game for race day as well as some hard, all day, all-mountain riding; the Pivot Mach 429SL fit the bill perfectly.
Willy’s Pivot Mach 429SL “Scarlett”
- Frame: Pivot Mach 429SL Carbon Red/Black, Size Small
- Shock: Fox Float DPS Kashima
- Fork: RockShox SiD XX World Cup
- Headset: Chris King NoThreadSet
- Rear Deraileur: Shimano Deore XT Di2 RD-M8050-GS
- Front Deraileur: Shimano Deore XT Di2 FD-M8050
- Shifters: Shimano Deore XT Di2 SW-M8050-R (Right only)
- Brake Levers: Shimano XTR BL-M9000 (R)/ M987 (L)
- Brake Calipers: Shimano XTR BR-M987 w/ Kool-stop Alligator pads
- Cranks: Shimano Deore XT FC-M8000-B2 38x28T
- Cassette: Shimano Deore XT CS-M8000 11-42T
- Chain: Shimano XTR CN-HG901
- Bar: PRO Tharsis XC 720mm
- Stem: PRO Tharsis XC 80mm -6
- Grips: ESI XC Fit
- Seatpost: KSI Lev Integra 100mm w/ Southpaw lever
- Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Flow Ti Team Edition
- Rims: ZTR Arch EX 29er
- Hubs: DT Swiss 240S 32H
- Tires: Schwalbe Rocket Ron Evolution Snakeskin 29×2.25