The Takeaway: With dual 27.5-inch wheels and 140mm travel dw-link suspension, the Pivot Shadowcat trail bike inspires confidence on technical descents while remaining a poised and capable climber.
Price: $9,900 (as tested, Team XTR build kit)
Weight: 27.7 lbs. (Large)
- 140mm travel, full carbon frame
- 160mm Fox 36 fork on all models
- Four frame sizes (XS-LG)
- Complete builds starting at $6,300
The “Trail Bike” category covers the broadest range of mountain bikes. To some, a trail bike is little more than a cross-country bike with additional travel, while other riders might consider a trail bike to be an enduro race bike without the number plate or timing chip. But the key attributes that unite all trail bikes are the need to pedal with some semblance of efficiency and the ability to inspire confidence when the trail slopes down. Pivot’s Shadowcat nails both.
In the winter of 2001–2002, I was the first person in the world to throw a leg over a dw-link bicycle. The original 120mm-travel prototype, twenty six-inch wheeled bike was pretty rough and pieced together with an assortment of parts available to me on short notice. But the design’s potential was evident from the first stretches of suburban New York City singletrack I pedaled it down. I still recall the giddy giggles the bike induced in me on that initial ride.
Twenty years removed from that experience, turning the cranks of this Dangerfruit-flavored (a.k.a. magenta) bike on some of those same trails elicited the identical emotions as my first rides on that prototype: wide smiles, joyous cackles, and the feeling that I was riding something special. The Pivot Shadowcat sports 27.5-inch wheels, 140mm of rear travel, 160mm up front, and is endlessly more capable than that prototype from a distant time.
Named after the initials of its inventor, Dave Weagle, the suspension system launched in mid-2002 and was licensed to several brands (Ibis, Turner, and Iron Horse). Pivot has used dw-link on its full-suspension bikes since the brand’s start.
dw-link was the first of Weagle’s now several suspension designs. Over the past two decades, it was followed by Split-Pivot (used by Salsa), DELTA (used by Evil), Orion (used by Esker), and DW6 (used by Atherton Bikes). And we can’t leave out the Trust linkage suspension fork Weagle developed.
With dw-link, Weagle tunes the level of anti-squat (the resistance to rear suspension compression caused by mass transfer during acceleration) through the bike’s range of travel to reduce pedal-induced suspension bob. Simultaneously, the design minimizes suspension stiffening under braking, allowing the rear wheel to maintain traction.
Build Kits and Sizing
Replacing the old Mach 5.5, and now sharing a vertical shock layout with other Pivot models, the Shadowcat carves a unique niche in the brand’s full suspension line-up. The 27.5-inch-wheel-equipped, 140mm-travel Shadowcat sits alongside the 29-inch-wheeled, 120mm-travel 429 as models that Pivot labels as trail bikes. Compared to the enduro-focused Mach 6, the Shadowcat is lighter and more versatile while giving up only 18mm of rear-wheel travel.
Pivot offers the Shadowcat in four frame sizes (XS, SM, MD, and LG) and two paint colors (Dangerfruit and Blue Mirage). There are six build kit options to suit a range of budgets, all with Fox suspension and dropper posts. Plus, there are optional upgrades to carbon wheels and/or Fox Live Valve suspension on several models. Pivot's site has full component details of the build kits and upcharge pricing.
- Ride SLX/XT - $6,300
- Ride GX/X01 - $6,800
- Pro XT/XTR - $7,700
- Pro X01 - $8,500
- Team XTR (tested) - $9,900
- Team XX1 AXS - $11,900
For sizing, Pivot claims the Shadowcat fits riders as short-statured as 4-foot-11 (size XS). At 6-foot tall, I very comfortably fit the LG size frame. The large has tons of standover clearance, creating the illusion that the frame is a smaller size. But once I got my saddle height and bar position dialed in and sat on the bike, it felt sufficiently roomy. However, if you're upwards of 6-foot-2, or prefer bikes with really long reach measurements, perhaps try to sit on Shadowcat in person before hitting the “Buy Now” button.
Riding the Shadowcat
In the two decades since dw-link’s introduction, a lot has changed in mountain bike tech beyond the nuances of the suspension systems used. New wheel sizes took hold, 1x drivetrains and dropper seatposts became the norm, fork and shock performance improved, and geometry changes swept across all subsets of mountain bikes. While perhaps visually similar, the trail bikes ridden today are vastly superior in almost every aspect to the bikes considered cutting-edge when Weagle cooked up dw-link.
This brings us back to the here and now. Does dw-link still matter when so many competing designs on the market perform at an exceptional level? Simply put, yes. At least on the Shadowcat it does, as this bike absolutely rips—both up hills and down.
In the past few years, most trail bikes I have ridden pedaled pretty well. Some were better than others, but none felt like the suspension system was holding me back. So, I was certainly curious to see if this dw-link-equipped Pivot would perform to any greater degree than competitors’ similar bikes.
The moment the trail pitched upward, any thought I carried that dw-link was past its prime was quashed. Even with the Fox DPS’s compression adjustment in the full-open position, the Shadowcat calmly sat into its travel. The suspension movement never hindered me on climbs, it just soaked up the small bumps as I pedaled along. The bike feels reassuring when climbing. It’s not quite as firm as cross-country-specific bikes when smashing on the pedals up a climb, but it’s far more poised than other trail bikes of similar travel and weight.
The Shadowcat’s ascending prowess is due in part, but not entirely, to its rather low overall weight. The Shadowcat’s steep 76-degree seat-tube angle also helps to keep your weight forward on the bike and over the taller height of the 160mm-travel fork.
The test bike I rode weighed just over 27-½ pounds, with Pivot claiming a frame weight equal to that of the shorter-travel 429 model and only 45 grams heavier than its cross-country-focused Mach 4 SL. While the Shadowcat is not XC bike-light, it has a lot more travel than those race-bred machines.
I never sensed that the Shadowcat gave anything up on short-to-medium-length climbs versus shorter-travel, 29-inch-wheel-equipped trail bikes. Compared to the Trek Fuel 9.8, the Shadowcat was more composed. And it felt on par with Ibis’s Ripley (also dw-link), despite the Pivot’s extra weight.
When the trail points down or twists and turns, the Shadowcat’s 27.5-inch wheels really make the bike come to life. And the smaller wheels, combined with the reasonable weight, make it easy to place on your chosen line. The dw-link system helps the bike feel poppy off every little lip on the trail, while the relatively slack head angle and low-slung bottom bracket encourage laying off the brakes and riding a little out of your comfort zone.
On everything from buffed-smooth XC trails to rocky singletrack chutes, the Pivot’s suspension managed bumps and hits and still provided ample support when pushed hard in corners. The Fox 36 fork was more than up for the rowdiest trails. The stock Fox DPS damper proved fine for most trail-riding situations, though it was overtaxed on long, rough bikepark descents.
While the brakes were the four-piston XTR models, the 180mm rotors simply couldn’t manage the heat of continuous braking on downhill runs and suffered some fade. Luckily, the Shadowcat frame can fit coil-over shocks and 203mm rotors if you plan to occasionally shuttle or ride at bikeparks.
27.5 Ain't Dead
With 29ers and mixed-wheel-size bikes currently being all the rage, one can easily forget there are still some stellar 27.5-equipped bikes on the market. While some brands relegated 27.5-inch wheels to gravity-oriented rigs or their smallest-sized frames, Pivot put them front and center on the Shadowcat, with excellent results.
There is not one mythical mountain bike that excels on every terrain, but bikes like the Shadowcat might be as close as you’re going to get. Its weight and pedaling efficiency make it capable enough on climbs. The Shadowcat’s dialed geometry, excellent suspension performance, and smaller-size wheels make descents fast and fun. Unless you frequent buffed-smooth trails, regularly ride extremely long and rocky downhills or are planning to race a lot at a high level, the Pivot Shadowcat proves that 27.5-inch trail bikes ain’t dead.
As Deputy Editor, Tara Seplavy leads Bicycling’s product test team; after having previously led product development and sourcing for multiple bike brands, run World Championship winning mountain bike teams, wrenched at renowned bicycle shops in Brooklyn, raced everything from criteriums to downhill, and ridden bikes on six different continents (landing herself in hospital emergency rooms in four countries and counting). Based in Easton, Pennsylvania, Tara spends tons of time on the road and trail testing products. A familiar face at cyclocross races, crits, and bike parks in the Mid Atlantic and New England, on weekends she can often be found racing for the New York City-based CRCA/KruisCX team. When not riding a bike, or talking about them, Tara listens to a lot of ska, punk, and emo music, and consumes too much social media.