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Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe that Pivot has been around for less than 10 years. After a surprise launch at Interbike in 2007, in the words of founder Chris Cocalis, the brand has seen hugely exponential growth in a very short period of time. Compared to two other brands launched that very same year (Tomac and Corsair Bikes), Pivot has manufactured their own success through extremely tight tolerances.

Of course, that’s no accident. Pivot is far from Chris’ first venture into the bike business. While many may know Cocalis from Titus, his roots go even deeper back to the days of the Sun Eagle Bicycle Works Talon. Founded by Allen Vaughn in 1988 after he created an off road trailer, he would later focus on frames which led to the Talon mountain bike with elevated stays. After Vaughn taught Cocalis to braze, Sun Eagle Talon #2 (above) was born which was made by Allen with some help from Chris. Vaughn would only make around 20 of the frames, but it was enough to be named one of the “Bikes of the future” in 1988 by Mountain Bike Action.

Little did everyone know that Cocalis really would go on to create his own bikes of the future…

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Looking positively archaic by today’s standards, the Sun Eagle Talon was one of the bikes in 1988. Including features such as a built-in Hite Rite tab (the original dropper post), Zefal pump tabs, and elevated chain stays, the frame design was drawn up on paper and then built out of PATCO 4130 tubing that was shaped with a Home Depot tubing bender. Looking back fondly on those days, Chris chuckles as he remembers how many tubes he went through to get each radius just right and the amount of work to cut all of the tubing with nothing more than hand files and tin snips. Of maybe 20 that were ever built, this is the only one Chris has left which is bittersweet since he was taken out by a car while riding the bike in 87/88. It apparently never rode the same after that.

After starting Titus Bikes in 1989, it was incorporated in 1990 and grown until 2001 when Chris merged the company with Viatech Composites. A smaller but still competitive alternative to Easton at the time, Titus worked with Viatech on the carbon front triangle and Titus provided the aluminum rear end. At the time Viatech was responsible for a lot of composites construction including the carbon legs for Amp forks, but due to a series of poor business decisions Viatech eventually ran out of capital and Chris wasn’t able to buy Titus back from the company. In 2006 Chris was bought out of Titus and then took a year off while working with the parent company of Fork Ups.

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The very first Pivot Mach 4 hangs on the wall of the machine shop. Above, the very first Pivot advertisement.

After regrouping and the initial launch at Interbike, Pivot bikes rolled out to the world in 2008. Pivot #1 still hangs on the wall in the machine shop which was assembled with tubing cut completely with snips and a die grinder harking back to the days of Sun Eagle. That first bike took 3 months to dial in, but today Chris thinks he could do in in about an hour. Cocalis points out half jokingly, half lamentingly that Pivot started with the Mach 4 and Mach 5 which used one wheel size, one triple crankset, one front derailleur, and came in your choice of black or blue. Compare that to today with 13 different models, multiple wheel sizes, and 6-7 build options per bike. And those numbers continue to increase rapidly.

One of the few constants through the Pivot line is the use of a PF92 bottom bracket (everything except for the cross and fat bike) which Pivot co-designed with Shimano. Cocalis is quick to point out that the pressfit bottom bracket is a solid design – the issues in the industry arise from poor quality control and sloppy tolerances which are both things that clearly drive Chris wild. If there is one thing you pick up on after touring the facility, it is how dedicated Chris is to maintaining the tightest tolerances throughout the entire process. Factory in Asia is struggling with alignment? Chris bought the exact frame table and brought it in house to perfect the process. Hardware isn’t meeting spec? Make it in house. Down to physically teaching their frame builders how to properly weld the frames, each Pivot is painstakingly created to Cocalis’ exacting standards.

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All Pivots start with a concept where Chris will play with the basic design and layout. After he’s happy with the idea, the design will then be sent to Dave Weagle for the DW Link pivot placement based on rider size, wheel size, etc. From there three engineers at Pivot will finalize the rest of the frame and begin the prototyping process which is all done in house. Sometimes the design process doesn’t pan out as expected like the Phoenix Carbon DH bike that started with a two wheel size concept. Through the prototyping and R&D, the choice was made to stick with 27.5″ wheels only – though Pivot’s sponsored athletes are given exceptions. Since very few of us need to be able to backflip a 70 foot canyon gap at the Redbull Rampage, 26″ dropouts for the Phoenix are pro-only.

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Manufacturing all of the prototypes in aluminum, Cocalis points out that all of the aluminum prototypes are made to carbon standards with the same stiffness and very similar weights. However, these one-off prototypes take a huge amount of machining time to produce and therefore aren’t able to be produced on a large scale which is one of the advantages to carbon. Above, the aluminum prototype of the Mach 6 Carbon sits next to the production carbon bike.

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Sometimes bikes can take up to 5 rounds of prototyping with each prototype estimated at 200-300 hours of machining time according to production manager Bill Kibler. Individual parts like the bottom bracket assembly above can take 5-6 hours or more to machine and are usually machined in two or more pieces then welded together. The production quality on pieces like these is nothing short of impressive.

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With a full machine shop at their disposal, Pivot goes through a lot of aluminum. Like any good machine shop, Pivot manufactures most of their own fixtures including pro-style customized work stands for their employees.

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The shop also turns out its own hardware for certain instances using machinery like the broach above.

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Other hardware Pivot has developed include pieces like these suspension pivot inserts which were designed to keep from rotating in the carbon, but still allow perfect alignment in the molds.

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Just like any bike company, sometimes something pops up on a bike after it’s already in production that leads to further development. That was case with the “Lawwill Link” which got its name after Joe Lawwill. A Master’s World Champion and current MTB Marketing Specialist at Shimano, Lawwill knows his way around a bike and is also a big guy that as Cocalis puts it, “thunders through corners.” After voicing his opinion that he felt the rear of the bike flexing under hard cornering, Pivot created a new link that was quite a bit stiffer. After a string of prototypes, the final forged link is at least 25% stiffer but does come with a small weight penalty. Lawwill links will be available as an aftermarket item for any Mach 6 carbon in the future.

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No stranger to developing their own processes to obtain the desired result with a bit of a MacGyver flair, Pivot has gone as far as using toaster ovens to cure rubber molds or a propane grill to anneal aluminum (apparently when combined with the Arizona summer heat the grill’s temperature is sufficient).

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After owning his own machine shop and working with Chris on Titus bikes, Kibler was convinced to come work for Pivot where he oversees the incredible machining. ‘Old Man Kibler’ is also a bit of a tinkerer as it turns out, evidenced by this custom built “street quad” sitting in the parking lot which is the answer to – “what do you get when you cross the body of a Honda Pacific Coast motorcycle, a custom trellis frame, Miata suspension, and wheels from a car?”

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Over on the other side of the prototyping facility lies the welding station along with the exact frame table you will find in Pivot’s Asian factories. The area also houses one of the first carbon frame molds for display and testing jigs for frame stiffness and other measurements. Pivot performs their own stiffness testing in house since it turns out to be quicker and easier for them to do it themselves, but they partner with a test lab in California for other proprietary testing. Many of the processes that Pivot uses to ensure perfect tolerances of their frames are trade secrets but we can tell you that they involves lasers and 1:1 blue prints. While we aren’t allowed to show you some of the proprietary the tools, seeing them in person left us feeling confident in the final product.

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Over the years Pivot has also become a firm believer in the use of 3D printing for prototyping needs, especially since they machine parts for the manufacturer of their printer. In a bizarre arrangement, Pivot machines parts for the company that makes printers that can make many of their own parts. Someday 3D printers will just print other printers in a never ending cycle.

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The sum of all of the different parts equals the printer that was on display but Pivot is in the process of helping to create a much larger printer that they hope will be able to print an entire front triangle. This will be a huge improvement over ordering ABS models like the hard tail above which are extremely heavy, fragile, and very expensive. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but that base for the new printer leaning up against the wall is about 2.5-3′ in diameter. Compare that to the base of the current printer on the table which is no more than a foot wide and you get start to get an impression of just how big the new printer will be.

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Operating for the first 5 years in a 7,000 square foot building, Pivot recently moved to their current space which was quite an upgrade at 27,000 square feet. Even so, they’re already almost out of space. Which brings up an interesting point – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at Pivot’s Tempe, AZ headquarters. As with most of the big players in the bike industry the majority of Pivot’s bikes are made overseas so what would we find inside? A surprising amount, actually (including the Cocalis family’s new puppy).

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In addition to all of the design, engineering, prototyping, and machining, all Pivot bikes are assembled, packaged, and shipped from the warehouse. Bulk storage is housed in the warehouse next door from which parts are pulled to stock the cage over by the builders’ work benches. This warehouse also serves as storage for the demo fleet, vehicles, even the photo studio.

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How sweet are those personalized work stands? Kenny in his element building someone’s next bike.

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Complete build kits are pulled from the cage piece by piece and assembled into kits which are lined up to be built. Pivots are shipped out 75% assembled which allows better shops that are Pivot dealers to put their own finishing touches on complete bikes.

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Going back to creating processes, the color matched fork program was a hit with consumers but Pivot had to figure out a way to quickly and precisely apply their own fork decals. That meant the creation of machined aluminum fork fixtures that allow each decal to be perfectly applied to the lower, one by one.

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The whole process ends here, with finished bikes awaiting their departure in their temporary cardboard homes.

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Perhaps just as important as what’s inside Pivot is what’s around Pivot’s headquarters in Tempe, AZ. After falling in love with the mountains after growing up in Illinois, Cocalis has been a resident of the desert ever since. Just a short drive from the office are world class trails in the form of South Mountain. After getting up pretty early in the morning to avoid the heat, we were treated to an amazing ride which included some of the best techy downhills the National Trail has to offer. Riding the chunky, techy rock sections, it’s easy to see the inspiration behind bikes like the Mach 6.

I imagine that riding a Mach 6 carbon fully decked out with XTR and Reynolds carbon wheels at South Mountain is similar to something like driving a Ferrari at Monza. There is just something so special about riding a bike that was built with so much passion at one of the very trails it was conceived for with the guy who designed it. The next time you’re out riding South Mountain keep your eyes peeled – you never know when you’ll catch Cocalis out testing the next Pivot.

pivotcycles.com

30 COMMENTS

  1. I have owned an alloy Mach 429 and currently ride a Les 29. I love them both. Though I understand their reasons for PF92, I still wish they would go back to the threaded BB like Santa Cruz. Even so, I’m a Pivot fan for life. The customer service of this company is top notch, and the bikes are fantastic.

  2. Matt, if you look at their website they do actually have a 27.5 option available for the 5.7C. It reduces the travel to something like 5.2″ though. I have a 5.7C w/ 26″ wheels and would recommend just sticking with those. That bike is absolutely perfect if you ask me.

  3. Ha, yeah I got my bikes and cars mixed up. To be fair I’ve worked on a lot more Miyatas in my life then Miatas.

  4. Bikerumor..or Zack, you may need to get your facts straight. While I cannot vouch for the validity of the rest of the article. But in the article it states “That 20mm fork mount adaptor you have in your garage, there is a good chance that you have Cocalis to thank for that”, NO! I designed the 20mm Fork Up back in 1996, several other models soon followed. I have the patent( patent # 6036069) on them. While Chris is a nice guy and his bike designs are outstanding, he had nothing to do with the design of the Fork Up products. I sold the company to Allied Manufacturers back in 2003 and Chris did briefly work for them in 2006, I did go back to Hurricane after Chris left. I was responsible for designing the highly successful 15mm Fork Up, as well as a few other current models.
    While I’m on the subject of design contributions, I was also the first to produce the first modern dropper seatpost( the Elevator Shaft back in 2000 and slightly shown at Sea Otter in 2001). My wife getting pregnant in 2002, put the project on hold, so there was very little production of the ES.

  5. @Mike A., you’re right, thats why I responded, just credit where credit is due….update, Zack emailed and apologized….

  6. Thanks jeff, I always wanted to know who patented that adaptor. I can now die a happy man after a fulfilling life.

    p.s. If you get a chance can you please post more of your career history to make us groupies happy.

  7. “Little did everyone know that Cocalis really would go on to create the bikes of the future…”

    Does he really? He certainly has competitors whose products have merit and some of those don’t need to contract out their suspension designs to a third party. I’d say Pivot is just one of many manufacturers of fine bikes.

  8. Thank you Chris for fixing my tire on my Firebird at national trail. Cant get any better service than that!! Mach 6 will be next.

  9. As the former Japanese distributor of Corsair and Tomac I would like a time machine, and a second chance I would of chosen Pivot.

  10. Pivot is the bike everyone now buying, a few years ago people would say who is Pivot? Yes they need a 140mm 29er and I need a second bike to add to my 429sl, great bike and great company to deal with. Please add the Pike to your options!!

  11. Good god could we stop having a cry about press fit 92 bottom brackets. I just talked to a Mach 4 alloy owner today who has owned his bike for 5 years now and replaced his bottom bracket for the first time. I also talked to a Mach 5.7 owner who got 3 seasons out of his bottom bracket. PF92 does not suffer the same issues that BB30 and PF30 does. It actually has an excellent track record for longevity and durability! Just because certain magazine reviewers have poo pooed on any bottom bracket that does not thread in doesn’t mean they suck. Not all press fits are created equally. Pivot got it right and their manufacturing process and quality allows them to run the pf92 with better longevity than most of your threaded bb options out there! So please, again, just stop with the crying already!

  12. craigsj- Chris has mentioned in other articles that when designing the first Pivots, his short dual link designs were coming close to intruding on DW’s patents, so instead of trying to fight it out he recognized a good partnership and decided to work with Dave. Not only that, he is very involved in the design process (not a buy and forget like other patent licences). I just want to point out that licensing a patent sometimes gets a bad rap.

    Quality companies do it all the time, and I’d rather someone use a great idea than make one for the for the sole purpose of “originality”.

  13. As a matter of record and accuracy, Chris did not design the Pink Talon Cycles bike pictured above.
    I am the designer and builder of the frame and built this one for Chris. Such a nice guy!
    Chris did help by burning the silver solder on 2 of the water bottle braze-ons which I fixed later after he went home. Chris never could handle a torch. Lessons learned.
    Alan Vaughn

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