Mountain Biking

Pivot LES SL Mountain Bike Review: Near-Perfect Pure Race Hardtail – GearJunkie

I received the “Team XTR” version of the Pivot LES SL. And befitting the fanfare and race bike status, the rig weighed a scant 20 pounds as shipped, without pedals.

I tested it for the entire summer and fall. It endured dusty, hardpacked, uber-tight circuits and limestone-ridden and hilly singletrack around Austin, Texas. I also enjoyed a short stint on it across various types of trails in Bentonville, Ark.

In short: The Pivot LES SL is indeed a hardtail race bike — incredibly light, responsive, and efficient. But it also possesses compliance, handling traits, and component performance that make it almost perfect. But it’s pricey.

Pivot LES SL drivetrain
(Photo/Seiji Ishii)

Pivot graced the featherweight frame with an all-star componentry list on the Team XTR build. Here’s the rest of the stellar lineup:

  • Colors available: Black Sunset, Blue Ribbon
  • Crank: Race Face Next SL 34t
  • Seat: Post Phoenix Team Carbon
  • Handlebar: Phoenix Team Flat Carbon – 760 mm
  • Stem: Phoenix Team XC/Trail
  • Saddle: Phoenix WTB Team Volt (narrow width)
  • Tires: Maxxis Rekon Race 2.4″ TR, EXO, 120 TPI
  • Headset: Pivot Precision Sealed Integrated Cartridge
  • Grips: Phoenix Factory Lock-On

Oh, That Frame

My tester Pivot LES SL had the mostly nude, Black Sunset finish (it weighs 50 g less than the Blue Ribbon finish), which made it look even lighter than it was. At a claimed weight of 895 g for the L size, it’s among the lightest MTB frames available.

The seat stays were hard to ignore. I have pencils that are larger in diameter. And I couldn’t help thinking that there’s no energy-absorbing suspension to save them from any stress. I did take solace that famed bike designer Chris Cocalis knows what he’s doing. And that maybe they would be incredibly compliant.

Following the lines of the frame and noting the complex blending of shapes, all I could think was, “no waste.” The vertically thin top tube runs straight into the seat stays. All the tubes blend into the bottom bracket with little excess bolstering material. Even the rear dropouts screamed “minimalist.”

Yes, compared to full-suspension mountain bikes, hardtail frames naturally give off a minimalist vibe. But the details on the LES SL frame furthered the Spartan ethos.


Pivot LES SL specifications
(Image/Pivot Cycles)

Pivot specified a longer reach and slacker head angle on the LES SL, claiming these attributes would increase capability and aggression in the XC category. Those of us used to race hardtails see the head angles and elongated reach and wonder if there’s a downside like reduced flickability or responsiveness to cornering inputs. The “new-school” racing geometry on a hardtail was new to me on this bike.

The top tube running straight into the seat stays not only looked efficient but also produces a low standover height.

Pivot LES SL Ride Review

Fox Factory Stepcast 32
(Photo/Seiji Ishii)


The “direct drive” feel of a hardtail was refreshing, as I’d exclusively been on fully suspended rigs for a while. What was surprising about the Pivot LES SL chassis was it didn’t transmit the harsh feeling that other carbon hardtails delivered. On fast, hardpacked trails embedded with small rocks, I didn’t feel the chatter that I expected. I had to put that on the impossibly small seat stays and the 2.4-inch tires. I couldn’t stop thinking, “warp speed without a warped spine,” LOL.

After gaining confidence in how the chassis handled, I started pushing a larger gear on the faster sections of the local trail I know best. The efficient power transfer to the rear wheel was apparent. The bottom bracket was laterally very stiff, and I didn’t feel much off-plane twisting of the front triangle when forcing the front down between rocks.

The rear triangle was similarly rigid laterally and torsionally. When powering out with the frame diagonally stressed between roots or gaps between rocks, the back end felt extremely solid. I knew that the lack of suspension pivots caused some of the sensations, but there was no doubt the rear triangle was inherently laterally rigid.

Pivot LES SL rear triangle
(Photo/Seiji Ishii)

In slower sections that utilized low cadence and high torque pedaling, the efficient feeling was multiplied. I started gearing up to take advantage of unloading the front more via pedal strokes versus the bars. I also felt during these times that the seat tube angle and chainstay length put me in the correct position when I was really powering down. I could keep traction in demanding conditions but keep the front down without issue. Even in the harsh transitions coming out of gravel-laden creek beds, I didn’t have to dial back the torque or force my head way forward.

One of my local areas is hardpacked dirt with little debris or rocks. The trails are well-maintained, and I can ride many of them on a gravel bike. They are extremely twisty, and many sections have berms. The Pivot LES SL tracked like it was on rails here. It was super fun. I could go as fast as I desired, and the sensation reminded me of riding a sport bike. Flick right, flick left, put down the power and rocket out of the turn. Man, so fun.

My steering inputs elicited immediate chassis responses. The excellent XTR brakes and the predictability of the FOX Factory fork made scrubbing speed but sticking the line so fun. And for hardpack, the Maxxis Rekon Race tires not only felt like Velcro, but they also made the appropriate sounds as they grabbed and relinquished adhesion. They also felt supremely efficient rolling, and they never felt squirmy while on lean.

At the end of my test period, after at least a decade of telling friends, “there’s no need to consider a hardtail; XC full suspension bikes are so good right now,” I asked Pivot if I could buy the LES SL based solely on handling characteristics.

Component Function

Pivot LES SL controls
(Photo/Seiji Ishii)

There’s not much to say about the drivetrain other than it’s excellent. In the current day of electronic drivetrains, I never missed it with the cable-actuated XTR derailleur. The Shimano XTR system never mis-shifted or dropped the chain. Yes, if I had my way, XTR would be electronic. But, again, I never missed it.

The Reynolds Blacklabel wheels not only looked the part, but their performance was also top-notch. With relatively low pressures for rocky conditions (in the low to mid-20s), the wheels felt lively and somewhat springy in the vertical plane. There is less for wheels to hide behind on a hardtail chassis, and the 309/289 XC (the numbers refer to the different front and rear rim widths) wheelset shrugged off torsional and durability challenges. The front wheel didn’t falter when I had to torque it to jump out of a gap between rocks. The rear tire bottomed out, bombing into rocky creek beds, but the rim emerged unscathed.

Reynolds outfitted the wheels with proprietary hubs, and they utilized Industry Nine Hydra internals. The 0.52-degree engagement angle reinforced the immediacy of the “direct drive” transfer of power of the hardtail frame.

After bedding in the brakes and adjusting the levers to my liking, braking became an unconscious activity. The progressiveness was 100% on point for me. My effort at the lever produced an entirely predictable response at the wheels, and one finger was all I ever needed. Of course, the Maxxis tires had a lot to do with this, and as stated earlier, on hardpack, they were amazing.

All the other componentry was legit; I never noticed any shortcomings as far as performance. I personally would trim the 760mm wide bars down. And I feel strongly that adding a dropper post would not only make the bike more usable, but I think it would also make it faster as a race bike on modern XC race courses. Given the flyweight status of the Pivot LES SL, there’s less reason to not add a dropper relative to other bikes.

Pivot LES SL Conclusions

Pivot LES SL
(Photo/Seiji Ishii)

For racing XC or fast riding when the terrain allows, it’s hard to fault the Pivot LES SL. I asked myself repeatedly how I could make the bike better, and other than a dropper post, I never mustered a solid answer.

The handling was incredible, and the components performed undeniably well. And the lightness of the package couldn’t be ignored when accelerating or climbing. Indeed, the lightness amplified all the great handling and performance aspects outlined in the review.

Aye, but I forget about the financial side until I write. And I ask myself, would I pay retail for the bike? At an MSRP of $8,399 as delivered, the Pivot LES SL seemed pricey for a bike without rear boing. There aren’t that many hardtail XC race bikes with the highest spec componentry these days. And of the ones I found, the Pivot was at the high end of the pricing scale.

And that’s the one nick I could identify for the Pivot LES SL. It’s expensive, period. But if the ultimate in race performance is a priority for you, and your budget allows, this is a rare bike where improving the package would be difficult.