The Back Story
A few years ago the American "boutique" brand was pretty easily recognizable when compared to many of the big brand offerings by the simple fact that domestic builders were literally building one-off frames in limited quantity and assembling them here on domestic soil.
These days the world has gotten quite a bit smaller, figuratively speaking. Many of the names typically associated with custom builds have learned to use the entire globe in their manufacturing process, even in producing bikes that are by all facts and circumstances, born here in the US. Pivot is precisely such an animal; founded by the former headman at Titus, Pivot has gained a domestic reputation coupled to offshore mass production tactics (in this case Taiwan). The result is an interesting blend American sensibility with flawless reproduction benefits of modern Asian manufacturing.
Introduced in 2008, the Pivot Mach 5 was an instant success in the mid-travel trail bike sector thanks to good pedaling performance, a clean, simplified design and the option to run quite a wide variety of compatible components.
For 2011 the Mach 5 has crept closer to 6-inch travel territory but Pivot doesn't feel the need to exaggerate even if it is a meager 3/10 of an inch in question. Calling the new variation the Mach 5.7, we were curious as to whether that bit of additional travel would provide much, if any, variation over the original. Trouble was locking one down for proper testing. Pivot, like most brands forging through this clunky economy, hasn't been overly gracious with getting test mules in circulation and the nearest dealer had no demo models on hand, opting instead to fulfill orders based on individual customer need.
Fortunately a good riding buddy of the mag's decided the curiosity was mounting for him as badly as it has been for the rest of us so he scrounged up $1,699 to pick up a Mach 5.7 frame & shock (discounted from $1,999 MSRP thanks to a Turner Flux frame trade-in) and began the task of transferring all of the components from his couple-season-old Turner to the new Pivot.
There isn't an exact build like this particular Mach 5.7 on Pivot's line even though they do offer eight build kits varying in weight and price from a $3,600 SLX package on up to a shade under $7 grand for a full SRAM XX outfitter.
Our unit would probably come in pretty close to the low end of the spectrum, with quite a few Shimano XT components and a recently upgraded fork (Fox Float RLC). Since the frame kit alone consists of a custom valved Fox Float RP23 air-sprung shock coupled to the dw-link coming in at 5.7 inches of travel, our Mach 5.7 lived up to its namesake despite being a bit of a mix & match build. The aforementioned fork offers a tad bit less squish (5.5 inches) and all told, our medium sized test bike came in at 28.6 pounds.
The Mount Up
Pushing on the seat, leaning an elbow on the top tube and even a brisk parking lot demo will all convince a potential buyer that the Mach 5.7 is pretty darn stiff. In truth, what it really comes down to is a pretty firm pedaling bike even without the shock's 3 pro-pedal settings.
An included sag tool takes the guesswork out of getting her set up properly and we found the recommended settings/ weight chart included are pretty spot on for getting the bike into the sweet spot of pedaling efficiency and terrain absorption.
As it comes set up, rider position is quite neutral between the wheels so getting the fork to balance with the rear end is pretty critical to making the most of the riding experience. We found our own spot by running about an inch of sag in the fork but prepare for a little experimentation here before finding the setting that works best for you.
The 5.7 feels remarkably similar to the old Mach 5 initially. If that means nothing to you, it's a firm, light-feeling snappy accelerator that retains just a hint of flavor of the old hardtail days. However, the effectiveness of the dual suspension design is apparent the moment you start clipping roots, rocks or other trail clutter. Perhaps the most standout feature of the frame design is the rider position. While it's by no means the first mountain bike to place its rider pretty firmly in the middle of the frame, the Mach 5.7's position just feels right. No stretched-out cross country nonsense here but not quite the high command post commonly found on all-mountain bikes of late either. Rather the Pivot provides a pretty natural attack stance where, thanks to a nice dip in the top tube just before it mates with the seat tube, the impression is given that the bike is quite a ways below the operator.
Additional changes over the model it replaces includes a lower bottom bracket (which works by providing more efficient crank rotations at the cost of a little ground clearance) and a weight reduction of a half-pound over its now-obsolete shorter travel sibling.
When really mashing on the cranks, the beauty of the dw-link design starts to reveal itself. The shock remains active at all times even though there isn't much proof of that making its way up to the rider. Rather the pilot feels undisrupted and in control at all times. We were able to find the limitations of the fork on some square-edge chop and fairly large drops, but for a majority of the clutter littering trails around the globe, this spec leaves little to be desired.
Steering is quite light and precise as well, another trait we chalk up to the intuitive rider positioning. The Mach 5.7 never displayed either dreaded sign of improper front end handling (digging in or sliding out)- sure some of this credit belongs to the tires of choice (in our case Kenda Nevegals), the fact of the matter is that rider weight distribution plays a very critical role in the handling department.
The newly relocated bottom bracket goes a long way in making the rider feel inside the bike rather than simply atop it and this coupled to that bit of additional travel results in a bike, when compared to the Mach 5 it replaces especially, that manages to feel ideally neutral.
We should also note that at no point during testing did we find the need to run any of the three ProPedal shock platforms. Even on paved road, there isn't enough bob transferring through the dw-link to justify reaching down and fiddling with the shock controls.
Odds & Ends
While we normally like to spend this section of our reviews discussing the effectiveness (or lack there of) of the bike's multitude of components in action; braking, shifting, potential upgrades and so on, the fact of the matter is that such information is relative in a custom build. Again, Pivot offers eight individual build kits for this particular bike and matching a spec similar to our test unit would come pretty close to the lower end of the price spectrum ($3,600-$4,000). Shimano XTR and SRAM XX builds will, expectedly, weigh less and likely extenuate the frame's natural charms even further.
Interestingly, we have heard of riders who have successfully built Mach 5.7s up for all mountain use by sacrificing a bit of lightness in exchange for longer travel/ burlier components. To that end we imagine the rigid, pedal-friendly design of the frame pays dividends although softening up the shock somewhat would likely be in order to maximize descending capability.
In these tough economic times, $1,999 for a frame (with shock and bottom bracket) is certainly no small potatoes. Even more astronomical of course are the builds that will exceed 7-large after tax. However, there is a lot of truth that you get what you pay for in the Pivot Mach 5.7. The frame has a personality that can be mated to a wide variety of purpose but perhaps even more importantly, one that excels at its intended purpose with composure.
For a rider not quite ready to accept the compromises associated with a 6 or 7-inch travel all-mountain bike, the Mach 5.7 offers up a pretty tantalizing formula. A strong argument could be made that this model represents the epitome of where the medium-travel trail bike is heading and is worthy of its position leading the way.