A big piece of reviewing gear is being on it long enough to forget that you’re on it. That sounds like a stew of hippy-dippy doublespeak, self-delusion and unrefined BS. Trust me, I know it does. However, as a reviewer, I can say that you learn about a new product by two methods and they are both important. The first comes via those early first impressions: Is the bike stiff? Does the lens have sufficient clarity? Does the tire hook up when you lean the bike over? That sort of thing. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. The other big piece comes when you are completely immersed in the ride, hopefully deep in flow, and then the bike or other piece of gear gives you some feedback that is different from your usual experience in some way.
It’s these latter experiences that make being a reviewer rewarding. It’s the toughest but most interesting part of the job.
This afternoon I joined a group of journalists, exhibitor employees and guides from White Pine Touring for a ride from the top of the Deer Valley resort down to the town of Midway. For the ride I was on the new Pivot Mach 5.5, wore the new G-Form padded bibs and downhill kneepads, the Kali Maya helmet, new eyewear from Ryders and a new hydration pack from Camelbak.
When I go to events like PressCamp, we are frequently admonished to respect the 80 Percent Rule, which is to say to dial back some. We’re on a fair amount of equipment with which we are unfamiliar on terrain that is often completely new. The opportunity to misjudge something is enormous.
I’ve ridden a fair amount of the terrain here at Deer Valley, but not nearly all of it and yesterday we took a new trail, Holy Roller, to the W.O.W. trail, which dropped us into the town of Midway. It was an 18-mile ride, give or take, and with stops to regroup took more than three hours; we started at more than 9000 feet of elevation and dropped more than 3000 vertical feet to just below 6000 feet. With the exception of some double track fairly early in the ride, we carved singletrack the whole way down.
I’ve often found wearing pads to be distracting and to limit my movement, so I have usually only ridden them when I know I’ll be in a circumstance when I’ll be taken to the limit of my ability. For a fair chunk of yesterday’s ride, I completely forgot that there were pads on my hips or on my knees. I was truly impressed with how the G-Form pads disappeared from my perception.
Pivot’s Mach 5.5 has gotten a fair amount of attention since its release, and for good reason. It combines a carbon fiber frame with a DW-Link and 140mm of travel with a 150mm Fox 36 fork, and rolls on 27.5-inch wheels with 2.6-inch-wide tires. It’s not quite as massive as the 2.8- and 3.0-inch Plus tires, but the at least some of the industry has decided that’s wider than we really need to go.
So often when I’m on the Deer Valley trails I find myself working just to trust a bike and ride rocks and turns the way I would on my own bike. The Mach 5.5 is the first bike I’ve had that experience with in a long time. Sure, I had some trouble with traction in the dustier turns, but that’s common to my experience. And while I’m not sure it pedals as well as some of my favorite bikes, it was easy to raise the saddle, downshift a cog or two and get back on the gas for a short rise or even a longer climb.
Because where I ride is so rocky and climbing is such an ongoing part of what each ride contains, I tend to default to either 27.5-inch Plus tires, or something in the range of 29 x 2.4. Where I ride rewards a large diameter wheel/tire combination. But for yesterday’s ride, where there was little climbing and the incredible number of switchbacks and constant twists in the trail meant that the bike was nearly always leaned over, I found myself wowed by the Mach 5.5 on the W.O.W. trail.
And here’s where the Mach 5.5 surprised me, despite respecting the 80 Percent Rule, I began noticing I simply didn’t need to brake in some corners and twists. I was sufficiently confident of the combination of my ability, the challenge of the terrain and the capability of the bike that hitting the fun limiters was unnecessary. That’s not to say I wasn’t hard on the brakes in the tight switchbacks, but there came a point in the ride where I rarely hit them in between the switchbacks. I was able to forget about the bike enough that I could focus on the fun.
It’s one ride and I occasionally had to tip the Maya back so that it wouldn’t bang against the Ryders glasses—I’ve no idea yet whose product is to blame there—but the Mach 5.5 gave me enough of what I look for in a mountain bike that I was able to forget about it and focus on the challenges, and as a result, I was able to forget I was wearing pads, in part because they fit well enough and conformed to my body well enough that I didn’t feel like I was in an Iron Man suit.