For the better part of 2015, I viewed the Pivot Les Fat as a type of white whale. Although I did not actually obsess over it to the point of it nearly destroying me, I did devote much time to learning how Pivot designed it and if it was a “Jack of all trades, master of none”, or a really good, lightweight all-day, endurance-oriented, adventure-ready, multiple-season, multiple-tire sized framework on which to plan my future outings upon.
Before this past weekend, I had not been able to even see one in person, let alone ride one, and yet at the same time it seemed to be the ultimate “swiss army knife” bike with ability to accommodate all wheel sizes, Swinger dropouts and reversible headset cups maximizing versatility by changing geometry to suit the application/wheel size, and built up upon a lightweight, yet famously durable Pivot carbon frameset. Either it was really popular and flying off the shelves, or local Pivot dealers decided not to stock it.
Although I hadn’t necessarily traveled far and wide to specifically seek out the Les Fat, mostly due to the price point inhibiting my desire of actually owning one (the frameset alone retails for $2699), every person who had purchased one, from what I read or heard, had a difficult time finding one for a test ride, let alone sourcing one in stock to buy it.
The shop closest to home for me, aka my LBS (local bike shop), Black Mountain Bicycles, hosted a Demo Day this past weekend, where Specialized, Pivot, and SRAM came with their latest offerings. Weeks prior, after finding out that my schedule was clear for that day, I asked my friend at the shop if he knew about the lineup Pivot would bring, specifically if they were bringing a Les Fat. I hadn’t seen one on the showroom floor at the LBS, so I was curious about seeing one in person and possibly riding one on my local trails.
Before going to the Demo Day, I already knew quite a bit about the Les Fat from studying up on it earlier this year.
The ability to run a set of 29+ wheels and tires (or any other size you like) on a high quality frameset was a little bit rare, but to be able to adjust the geometry accordingly while keeping the bottom bracket height the same was beyond rare. Not only that, but the bike has the clearance for up to 5 inch tires and yet they trimmed down the Q-factor tremendously, apparently “a full 15mm narrower than other cranks designed for 197mm rear ends”. They internally routed the frame for a dropper post, shifter cables, and hydraulic disc brake hoses as well.
I could go on and on about the specs, but you can read all those on Pivot’s website, (http://www.pivotcycles.com/bike/les-fat/). You should probably click that link, it will open it in a new tab, and then you can toggle between my initial impressions review here and the Pivot website. Thats what I would do. 🙂
Let’s not beat around the bush too much, how about we get right to what I did and did not like? Sound good? Great! Read on…
What I liked.
1. The look.
Sleek for a fat bike, not over the top on color or graphics (Salsa has rainbow sherbert colored Beargreases for 2016, which some adore, but I abhor), and nicely shaped tubing, the downtube is thick in all the right places, but doesn’t look overly beefy from the profile view.
2. Cornering and trailbike prowess.
The first trail taken was a downhill with many banked switchback turns. The Maxxis Mammoth 26×4 tires were interesting. On my primary bike, I have been running a 29×2.4 Maxxis Ardent on the rear that had a similar tread pattern for the most part to the Mammoth, but more evenly spaced knobs without so much space between the center knobs and side knobs. This space between the center and side knobs could be advantageous or horrendous, depending on your riding style. I quickly found that I was able to really trust the side knobs, particularly on the front tire, but when braking would break loose the rear tire VERY easily for such a high volume, large contact patch tire. It broke loose much easier than the 2.4 Ardent. Both front and rear tires were holding approximately 8psi. While this rear tire breaking loose was annoying to me initially, I learned to use it to my advantage and drift the corners that resulted in VERY fast turns. The side knobs were there for me too when I leaned the bike hard. The lower bottom bracket and slacker headtube angle of 69 degrees really helped make this fatbike feel like a capable trailbike. (I did have a significant pedal strike on one turn, likely due to the lower bottom bracket.) I was smiling all the way down those 6 bermed switchbacks. I came to a bridge with a slight lip up to it and gave it a quick bunny hop. Although the wheels and tires felt a little heavy, it was nimble in the air and sailed easily over the bridge, adding more trail bike confidence for me. I felt like I was already familiar with how this bike handled in what was less than a mile of riding and I was ready to really push it to see what it’s limits were.
I have ridden Surly, Salsa, and Borealis fatbikes previously and after riding my primary bike everyday, which is a 29er with a 73mm bottom bracket , I dramatically notice the difference in Q-factor when my cranks are spread out to 132mm and I feel like my legs are really bowing out on each pedal stroke. Yeah, you get used to it to some extent, but I always look at bikes with the intention of riding them of all day and multi-day rides. A large Q-factor always seems like a bad idea for endurance riding to me, even though I admittedly have no first hand experience riding all day in the saddle on those types of bikes. Another bike I was able to test and review this year was the 29plus Trek Stache 9, which did not have a high Q-factor, but had short chainstays and wide seatstays. I found myself rubbing my calves, particularly the right calf on the seatstay numerous times while climbing and moving my body around to stay balanced up technical climbs. It only had a 148mm rear hub. The Les Fat has a 197mm rear hub. The Q-factor is 120mm, which is apparently 15mm narrower than all the other 197mm rear hub fat bikes on the market. On the Pivot Les Fat, I did not notice the Q-factor much, if at all and my calves rubbed on the rack mount bolts maybe two times while balancing up technical climbs, but that was just barely noticeable, not like the Trek Stache 9.
Three waterbottle cage mounts! Rear rack mounts! Phenomenal. Many kudos to Pivot for including these. Most carbon frame manufacturers try to avoid excessive mounts because they want their carbon frames to be uber light. Not sure why they didn’t choose to also include mounts on the fork. That would have made it even better for a multi-day, exploration, endurance rig.
What I didn’t like.
Climbing was a chore. This was likely the combination of a slacker, 69 degree headtube angle, and heavy wheels and tires.
The front end wandered. It felt like I was having to significantly restart the momentum with each pedal stroke, even though I was clipped in, smoothly and continually turning the cranks with lots of wattage. The wheels weighed in at 4.96lbs (the lower build with Sun Mulefut rims apparently are 1lb heavier) and the tires are almost 3lbs each. That is much more that I am used to and more than a 29er or even 29+ set of wheels and tires would weigh. The frame, at 3.5lbs and fork at 1.7lbs are much lighter than my steel frame and fork however.
I would have loved to try it configured differently (see dislike # 2). After the initial downhill with bermed turns, I was very much hoping that, with the carbon frame and rigid fork, I would be able to fly on the uphill that was next. I gave it all I had as this climb was not too steep, but long enough at over a half mile and one of the best short sprint barometers for my fitness.
After pushing hard for half of it, it was obvious that this carbon frame and carbon fork were not as easy to climb as my steel frame with steel fork. I figured that something was significantly different, but was ready to ride the rest of the 10 mile loop I had planned to figure out what it might be. After descending another tight turning, flowy, downhill singletrack section that I had ridden every Monday all summer, I felt like this bike was fast again. I was right. Strava said it was my personal record. 15 minutes into a ride, on an unfamiliar bike is crazy to be getting a PR on a trail I have ridden so often, but it really inspired confidence in the turns. I then hopped on the road a bit. The geometry of the medium frame was very neutral, allowing a comfortable, upright riding position, which was likely due, at least in part, to the 70mm stem. I typically run a 100 or 110mm stem on my 29er. The bars were also very wide. This is the short stem, wide bar trend that everyone seems to love right now, but I have been reluctant. It’s what I rode from 2004 to 2010, but I no longer find it advantageous. More on that in a future article. On the road, needless to say, I tried getting down closer to the bars and extention my torso out toward the front end more. Putting my forearms on the grips into a pseudo aerobar position tended to help, but the wheels felt a little more difficult to keep up to speed, maybe because the rims and tires weigh so much more than I am used to. Regardless, I then bombed down a fireroad with brand new waterbars to either slow down for, or bunny hop. I confidently did a mix of both and got another downhill PR on this bike. Phenomenal. Then came the climb. Yeah, not so good. A wandering front end that wanted to lift up, the fact that I couldn’t keep my weigh over the front end and stretch out like I did on the road, and the rear tire slipping out when I was on a 10 to 15% grade left me very frustrated.
2. Internal Cable and Hose Routing
Rattled loudly and continually on every downhill. That is all. I would otherwise find this to be very beneficial.
3. Stiff Carbon
Though the fat, 4 inch, tires took a lot of jarring out of the trail from their high volume and low pressure, I could tell that the carbon fork and frame did not seem to be very forgiving. This was especially evident when dropping off curbs, either as a wheelie drop or each wheel separately. Going up the curbs was a breeze either way. Bunny hopping was easy too. The bike feels very easy to manuveur. It did feel abrupt and stiff compared to steel however.
4. Lack of complete build options.
This was one of the biggest let downs for me. Somehow I had hoped that Pivot had brought additional wheelsets with them that fit the fat bike width drop outs, but fit different sized tires like 29×3.0 or 27.5×3.0. They offer two build packages, but they are both spec’d with 26×4 tires. If you designed it to run alternate wheel sizes, it would at least be nice to test ride it with one or more of those setups as well. The differences in geometry are only listed for a few of the combinations, but it should give you an idea of how the wheel size changes the geometry. It doesn’t change much, but could be just enough to make you prefer a certain setup. With no way to test a configuration that I may prefer, quite possibly 29×3.0, I was left cautiously curious.
$2599 for the frameset
$4699 for the lower end “Les Fat X01” 26×4 build with rigid fork and Mulefut wheelset.
Currently, I don’t see the higher end “Les Fat XX1” 26×4 build available. Anywhere. I believe the Pivot rep that handed me the bike (it was this build which I test rode) said that it’s MSRP was $5399. I can’t easily find the high end build MSRP, but will edit it once it shows up.
Overall, I really, really wanted to like this bike, despite the larger “pay to play” ratio than I would normally consider. I actually think I may have enjoyed this bike tremendously if it had a 29+ setup with lighter wheels like Velocity Duallys and Maxxis Chronicle tires upon them. Unless I build up a set of 150/197mm spaced hubs, throw on my own cassette/rotors/tires, and ask the Pivot dealer if I can throw them on the test bike at the next demo, I don’t see myself ever finding out. I like the idea of having a fat bike at my disposal, even if I live in sunny San Diego. It would be fun to throw some 5 inch wheels/tires on and take it to the beach or desert, and of course up to the mountains where we get snow for a few days per year. I did get my fastest downhill times on a few familiar segments…I have always wanted another bike…I would have to trade my car for it. And then I would only have a frame. It was fun Les Fat, but I don’t see us meeting up again down the road.
Thanks for reading.
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