Bike Intelligencer » Pivot Cycles All bike, all the time Wed, 13 May 2015 21:53:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Carbon 29er Comparison: Ibis Ripley and Pivot Mach 429 Fri, 26 Apr 2013 16:01:32 +0000

At the recent Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival we had a chance to ride back-to-back the two hottest new carbon 29ers, the Ibis Ripley and Pivot’s Mach 429. We’re attaching our unique “On The Bike Review” videos here but also wanted to elaborate a bit now that we’ve had a chance to think the rides over.

At first glance, you’d assume these bikes are pretty much “carbon” copies of one another. They both spring from boutique backgrounds, they’re produced by two of mountain biking’s leading designers (Scot Nicol and Chris Cocalis), they both feature Dave Weagle’s DW-link suspension and they both aim at the top tier of quality, workmanship, esthetics and, of course, pricing.

What impressed us most about our rides, however, was how different these bikes are.

In a nutshell, the Ripley rides more like a really fast cross-country racer, while the 429 feels more like a ripping trail bike. Both can cross over into other disciplines, of course. But rider orientation is a big deal in choosing which of these bikes to go with.

What we noticed first about the Ripley was its flabbergasting climb prowess. Riding up forest trails, we easily were scaling step-ups, switchbacks and loose stuff that would have stopped us on a standard 26er, no matter how light and stiff. The bike tracked amazingly well, going right where we pointed it and offering effortless control, even when the front end was unweighted on the steeps.

At first we figured we were drunk on adrenaline, riding the cool new Ripley. And feeling really strong that day. Something we had for breakfast, perhaps.

Nope. The bike itself was the difference.

Hands-down, the Ripley is the best climbing bike we’ve ever ridden. There isn’t much more to say.

Part of this is the Ripley’s short chainstay (17.5 inches) and wheelbase (44.1 inches for a Large). Part of it is the DW-link configuration — built right into the frame rather than external. And part of it lies in Ripley’s fairly steep geometry — 70 degree head and 73 degree seat angles. The bike we rode was also pretty light, in the 26-pound range.

The Ripley’s climbing chops wrought an inevitable tradeoff, however.

On the downhill side, the bike felt less secure. It was a bit too upright to really settle down into. Although it cornered well and responded snappily on tight sections, there seemed to be a slight latency on drops, jumps and technical sections. We never were completely comfortable and never felt truly “centered” on the Ripley.

The caveat here, of course, is that we only had an hour on the bike and in no way could say it was completely dialed for our riding. But it’s also true that the climbing DNA of the Ripley may exert a tax on its downhill capability.

Note in the Ripley video that our take was shared by another rider testing out the Ripley whom we ran into heading back to the festival.

Our Ripley impressions also were confirmed by the ride on the Mach 429. While the 429 climbed better than our 26 and was certainly no slouch, it couldn’t touch the Ripley on the ups. A quick look at geometry gives a clue: The 429 has longer chainstays (17.65) and wheelbase (44.96), and slacker geometry (69.3 head, 71.9 seat). Also, as we note in the video, the Pivot’s front end sits noticeably higher, the head tube being 4.7 inches long v. 3.9 for the Ripley.

(All comparisons are for Large size, 120mm of travel and 2.1-inch tires, with similar Fox forks.)

Pointed down, though, the dynamic flipped. The 429 just railed. The cockpit felt immediately comfortable, the bike ate up berms, drops and jumps, and the suspension was supple and responsive. The bike felt more stable at speed and flickable on sketchy sections. Sitting on the 429, you really sink into the suspension, like the feeling you get when you manual a long-travel 26er.

The simplest way of putting it: The 429 was the first 29er we’ve ridden that really “disappeared” under us. We weren’t constantly reminded we were on a 29er. We were just out riding and having a blast.

You can’t go wrong with either of these bikes. But choosing which one may ultimately lie in your riding style and orientation as well as the trails you prefer. There was a time — when we were more racer boy and loved climbing better than anything — that the Ripley would have suited us better. But for all-around trail riding and just plain fun, we’d have to go with the 429. Beyond those two admittedly broad categorizations, the choice is up to you.

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27.5 Shootout: Santa Cruz Bronson and Pivot Firebird Compared Mon, 22 Apr 2013 02:49:50 +0000

At the Sea Otter Classic 2013 we had an opportunity to test ride two new 27.5 bikes: the carbon Bronson — Santa Cruz Bicycles’ latest and one of the showcase bikes of Otter this year — and the Pivot Firebird, modified for 27.5 setup and announced opening day at the festival.

[Note we use the term “shootout” advisedly, given our limited time on the bikes. This was more bb gun than OK Corral.]

At 26 to 27 pounds for 150mm of travel, the Bronson build was impressive, including ENVE wheels and Maxxis Hi Roller tires along with full XTR. Our bike had a 2×10 drivetrain, although the Santa Cruz booth was displaying the same build with a XX1 (1×11) drivetrain on a Medium it said tipped the scales at 26.5 lbs.

We admittedly couldn’t stretch the Bronson out on Laguna Seca’s fairly docile singletrack. But the ride was long enough to tell us a couple of things.

The geometry of the Bronson — 67 head, 73 seat angle on a Large — felt a little more upright than we’d like. This is a personal preference of course, but we didn’t feel like the Bronson would be at its best riding aggro, mountain bike park or downhill. It felt closer to an XC bike. Perhaps that’s the crowd Santa Cruz is aiming at, although the aggressive tires indicated otherwise.

The bike climbed better than a 26-er but not nearly as well as a 29er. It felt as you’d expect, a compromise between the two. Although to our mind it was closer to the 26-inch experience than the 29-inch.

On downhill stretches, particularly fast sections, we wanted more travel out of the Bronson. Weirdly — and this could be related to suspension, the geometry, the amount of travel or just our own head games — we’re wondering if the 27.5 category isn’t better suited to longer travel. Just throwing that out there. It’s not a theory we found support for among a few 27.5 riders we interviewed. But to a rider, they were in the 5-8 to 5-10 height range. We run 6-0 and have long monkey arms.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 7.41.04 PM

To confirm our theory, the Pivot Firebird 27.5 felt more comfortable to us. You sink down in the 6.6-inches of travel as with the conventional Firebird. But the bigger hoops and slacker angles (66 degrees via a Pivot custom angled headset on a Large, 71.5 seat angle) give you a new dimension of versatility, speed and handling. For a taller rider, the Firebird 27.5 actually adds a noticeable degree of stability and centered-ness.

This all held true despite the Firebird being heavier, at 31.5 pounds, and aluminum, not as responsive as carbon. But neither of those factors count for much when you point the rig downhill.

The caveat being that we only rode the thing briefly around the midway, doing mostly stutter stops and starts, wheelies and track stands. Having lots of fun, but hardly testing it. Pivot did not have a build ready to take out on the trails. (Pivot offers an extensive demo program and expects to have Firebird 27.5s ready to roll in mid-May.)

With all that said, we admit to not quite getting the 27.5 category. It feels like half a loaf. If you want the advantages of a larger platform, why not go to 29? The only rationale that makes sense to us is rider height. There may be a sweet spot where 27.5 is just right for the shorter among us who find 29ers too angular. For someone our height, it may not be dramatic enough to warrant the commitment to a whole platform.

For another view on the Bronson, check out Francis’ take on Francis found more plushness to the Bronson than we did. It’s also worth noting he’s 5-8. But he had considerable more time on the Bronson than we did, and puts it in the context of other 27.5 (650b) bikes. (It omits the Firebird, however, having been written before the 27.5’s release.)

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Pivot Mach 5.7 Carbon Test at Sea Otter Classic 2012! Sun, 22 Apr 2012 15:14:35 +0000 In another of our On The Bike Reviews, we put you in the saddle of a new Mach 5.7 Carbon cross country/all-mountain ride courtesy of the Pivot Cycles folks at Sea Otter. It was a gorgeous day, in the low 70s, the singletrack was tacky and packed, and we rode and rode and rode… Enjoy!

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Pivot Firebird Bike Diet: The story so far … Wed, 16 Jun 2010 20:46:35 +0000 As the 2010 mountain biking season started to heat up, we realized our beloved Pivot Firebird had put on some serious grams over the winter.

It was time to do a little paring down.

We took our steed to Adam at the Downhill Zone in Seattle. After going over the state of the art that the industry has to offer, here’s what we came up with to get our bike diet under way.

1. The Bike Diet explained, step by step, component by component. Bike porn at its most tantalizing!

2. The results of a week of Adam’s magic.

3. We sneak a peek at what our prospects are for our target weight by swapping out our wheels in expectation of the Easton carbon Havens, due out this fall.

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Pivot Firebird Bike Diet: Proxy wheels Tue, 15 Jun 2010 06:27:38 +0000 After getting my Pivot Firebird off the scales at the Downhill Zone, I was itching to find out if the sub-30 lb. target was doable.

I took the bike home and slapped on the XC wheels — Chris King, Mavics, tubed Nevies — for a basis of comparison. The wheels themselves are probably a pound and a half heavier than my target wheels — the forthcoming Easton carbon Havens (1450 grams rated). I figure I can get in the neighborhood of the tire weights with 2.3 Conti or Maxxis “lite” UST models. And the ti XTR cassette on my XC bike (an Ibis Mojo) is of course heavier than the hogged-out SRAM (although not by a huge amount).

With a pound and three quarters to lose, it’s gonna be close once I get the Eastons. But see what you think …

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Pivot Firebird Bike Diet: Round 1 Results Mon, 14 Jun 2010 07:04:54 +0000 A week after I checked my Pivot Firebird in to Adam at the Downhill Zone’s mountain bike fat farm in Seattle, he was ready to show me the results.

From the specs and a little guesswork, Adam had predicted a loss of 2.3 lbs. You have to understand that when it comes to rated specs, Adam is a flat-out whack-a-geek. He’s like one of those freaks who can watch a freight train pass by and then recite back, in order, the registration numbers on all the rail cars.

So when the actual scales tally came in at 2.25 lbs., I was like, Adam, you’re practically an ounce off! What happened dude?

Actually Adam’s margin of error was less than the standard deviation for spec versus actual weight. So all was cool.

With the scales weighing in at 31 lbs. 12 oz., my goal of a 30-lb. Firebird seemed not only within reach but flat out guaranteed. Because I still had the wheels coming, and they were big. Not big as in heavy. Big as in way cool. I’ve got the Easton carbon Havens on order — expected sometime this fall. At 1450 claimed grams light, the Havens will crash the 30-lb. barrier like Brian Lopes out of the starting gate.

Adam’s gram-busting component selection included (claimed weights):

    RockShox Lyrik Solo Air fork (replacing Lyrik U-Turn coil). 4.8 lbs.

    Point One Podium platform pedals. Very sweet, strong and tight, plus they’re light: 359 grams. And made in the U.S.A. (San Jose).

    Action Tec 20-tooth ti granny ring. Super light and tough. I’m not saving a ton of weight with it but it’s durable and better suited to complement my other major drivetrain enhancement, the cluster. 20 grams.

    Thomson Masterpiece seatpost
    . 158 grams.

    Selle Italia SLR XC saddle. 184 grams.

    SRAM XG999 9 spd. cluster. 175 grams.

Here’s Adam with the full rundown —

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Putting the Pivot Firebird on a Bike Diet Sun, 13 Jun 2010 06:48:24 +0000 Getting stoked that warmer weather appears to be here and the 2010 season finally will get rolling in a meaningful way, we decided to go on a diet and get in shape for some epic mountain biking.

But at our age especially, losing weight is just too dang tough. And expensive too! Have you seen what it costs to go through those Fat Farm rehabs?!

So we decided to do the next best thing and put our bike on a diet.

We love our Pivot Firebird trail bike. Checking in at 6.5 inches of travel, featuring an ingeniously integrated DW-Link suspension, it’s our favorite of the 7 bikes we own. It may well be the best bike we’ve ever owned.

But at 34 pounds and counting, it was getting a little pudgy around the quick releases.

So we took it in to Adam at Seattle’s Downhill Zone, who’s helped keep our quiver loaded for the past decade, and told him to have at it. Here’s what Adam came up with for our first cut at getting the Firebird in trim for the summer season.

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News Cycle: EMBA’s new ED, Pivot’s new TM, if John Cook only had a brain & more Thu, 25 Feb 2010 14:57:34 +0000 Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance has named Glenn Glover interim executive director, following the departure (as of Mar. 1) of Jon Kennedy for Diamondback Bikes. We’ve sat in on board meetings with Glenn and done trail work with him and feel he’s a great fit. Congratulations to him and best wishes moving the organization forward.

Pivot Cycles has signed the reigning 24-hour-race world champion, Jason English, to its team for 2010. English, an Aussie, rides a Mach 4 that tilts the scales at under 22 lbs. We want that build!

“I don’t believe a bicycle is a transportation device,” stated Fairfax (VA) County Supervisor John Cook. Which might carry some weight except that John Cook’s brain is not a cognition device. (See comments queue.)

Great (reprinted) interview with someone whose brain is firing on all cylinders, mountain biking founding father Charlie Kelly.

And Ned Overend is profiled in the Durango Herald. A seldom noted fact about Nedly: His name is the most perfect mountain biking anagram ever! (That’s right…end over end.)

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Pivot Firebird reviewed by someone who paid for one Mon, 20 Jul 2009 21:13:26 +0000 [Note: Pivot will be bringing its bike fleet to Bothell Ski & Bike on Saturday and St. Edwards Park on Sunday (July 26 and 27) for demo-ing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I bought a 6.5-inch Firebird with the DW-Link in mid-June and have ridden it virtually daily. It confirmed what my Ibis Mojo told me the first time around: Dave Weagle’s DW-Link is the biggest advance in mountain bike suspension technology in years — arguably since the advent of the air shock.]

The Pivot Firebird really resets the landscape for long-travel trail bikes. For the first time you can go with a heavier bike, in the 32-lb. range, and benefit rather than suffer from the weight gain. To be clear, you may not benefit on an epic cross-country ride with steep climbs and smooth trails. You’ll still appreciate your lightweight, 5-inch bike for those rides.

But mountain biking is going through an evolution right now, where trail riding is increasingly a step-up from classic XC to aggressive skills tests. Every summer I head to British Columbia, where trails are etched into steep, rocky, rooty, obstacle-laden and structure-enhanced terrain with jumps, drops and hucks. B.C. is setting the international standard these days, which means its burly kind of riding is already trickling down the ranks to Cali, Colorado, Utah and other MTB haunts. When I spent a couple of months living in the Bay Area recently, I was amazed at the emergence of technical stuff on traditional trails, as well as an explosion in new trail building aimed at upping the X-factor. Many of these trails are off the radar, but the groms can’t wait for red tape and process. They want to ride now.

I’d be reluctant to take my 25-lb. Mojo on these routes. The Mojo is air only, has a 4-lb. carbon fork and 717 Mavic wheels. It’s set up for all-day mountain epics or simple low-country trail riding unencumbered by chutes ‘n ladders. I realize Brian Lopes rides a Mojo in downhill dual slalom events. But he’s got a coil shock, beefy wheels and other tweaks, and he doesn’t have to pay for his bike. Most of all, he’s Brian Lopes. And you know what? The rest of us are not.

So where you benefit with a step-up to the Firebird is in confidence. And confidence, these days, is a big factor in how fulfilled you feel riding a mountain bike. Maybe you can do small jumps but not doubles. Maybe you can do 3-foot drops but not 5-footers. Maybe tabletops intimidate you. To take that next step you need a bike that will do what you want it to do, will follow where you lead, and will bail you out when gravity gets the better of you.

And that’s where the Firebird enters in.

The love that dare not spoke its name

The love that dare not spoke its name

I’ve ridden 6-inch bikes since converting my Ventana Salt (El Saltamontes) to a 6-inch kit five years ago (we didn’t know about geometry so much back then). I had a Turner 6-Pack for a bit, then went to an Intense 6.6. All good bikes, all increasing my skillz. But this year I knew I wasn’t advancing with the trails, and needed something more.

I almost went for a Santa Cruz Nomad. But its suspension technology, the VPP, is the same as the Intense, and I was itching to try something different.

The Firebird caught my eye immediately for two reasons. First was the presence of Chris Cocalis, formerly the head guy at Titus. I bought a Titus ti HC hardtail from Roaring Mouse Cycles in San Francisco seven years ago (which also, no surprise, carries Pivot today) and it hasn’t missed a day from downtime. I still ride it almost every day for my around-town bike (modified only slightly for street use), and will take it on the trail where the ride warrants. It’s crashed many times and even got hit (nudged) by a car on my van’s rear rack one time. Didn’t even bend the chain stay. With the ti, of course, its finish looks brand new if you swab it up with a little steel wool.

Cocalis knows his stuff, takes pride in his work, builds bikes to last and stands behind his product. Since he founded Pivot I’ve been waiting for him to come out with something I wanted. When he hit the streets with the DW–Link, I sat up straight. The Mach 4 or 5 did not make sense because I already had the Ibis. The Firebird, though, made sense.

I should say something here about elevated expectations. Mountain Bike Action‘s RC (Richard Cunningham) doesn’t put his own name on many bike reviews, but he did it for the Firebird. His online posting was a 5-star gobsmacked rave. RC is usually pretty reserved in both praise and criticism, so his unabashed love letter to the Firebird was a marked departure. It did, however, goose the buzz meter on the Firebird.

By that time I knew I was going to Sea Otter this year, and that Pivot would have Firebirds available for test rides. Sure enough, they had a size Large available in the booth when I walked up. They set me up and told me to go play, I could take as much as two hours on the bike.

I headed for the test track and then the XC course to put the Firebird through its paces. And wow, was I shocked. The bike was just ordinary. It felt harsh, unbalanced and unresponsive. Going over the track jumps I was always too far forward or too far back. Climbing up the singletrack my front end wandered. I couldn’t figure this bike out!

At the Pivot tent we’d spent at least 5 minutes getting the suspension dialed for me…or at least I thought. Setting the rear shock (the Pivot comes with either RP23 or DHX 5) is crucial. You want 30 percent, or 3/4th of an inch, not significantly more even though you might be used to setting sag lower. Everything else seemed in order.

But out on the trail, the Firebird just wasn’t doing it for me. Hugely disappointed, I went back to the tent and thanked the guys, making mental plans to order a Nomad the next day.

As it turns out, luck was with me. My LBS, the Downhill Zone in Seattle, could not obtain a Nomad in the color I wanted. I was forced to wait. And it gave me time to think.

My test ride was so at odds with everything else I’d read and heard about the Firebird, and I trusted Cocalis’ judgment so much, that I figured I should give it a second chance. Because it was the beginning of the season, my worst-case scenario in getting a Firebird would be to use it for a few weeks, then sell it. I’ve done this before with high–end bikes. It’s like renting for a summer for a couple hundred dollars.

Fortunately, the second wave of Firebirds was just coming over on the boat from Taiwan. When I put in the order, I was just a few days from getting the bike.

Adam weighs my Firebird outside the Zone: 7.62 lbs

Adam weighs my Firebird outside the Zone: 7.62 lbs

And here’s what happened. Adam at the DHZ set it up almost perfectly, nailing stem length, saddle position, bar width and on down the line. Adam knows me and my riding style and is a master at tailoring the ride to the rider. My riding weight with a pack is about Adam’s riding weight light, so he could dial the shock settings.

I took it out to Tiger Mountain, my favorite Seattle-area trail network, and thought in the parking lot that the shock, in my case the RP23, was a bit harsh. I fiddled with the air pressure, rebound and compression till the settings felt good. But Tiger starts out with a fairly steep fire road climb, and I was getting a bit too much depth on the travel ring. So I upped the air pressure just a hair…back to where Adam had it set in the first place!

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

At that point the DW-Link took over. For years the industry and media have talked about no-bob shock technology. For years we know what the truth has been. The DW-Link finally solves the bob prob (Weagle’s expression is “anti-squat”). Somehow on the Firebird it solves it even better than on the Mojo, although I’m not sure why that might be (the Firebird’s rear end may have more lateral stiffness).

Intriguingly, the harder you push the shock on a climb, the more the DW-Link kicks in. You can stand on the pedals and whale away without feeling any wallow or give. Particularly on a steep climb, with maybe a switchback or two thrown in, DW-Link saves the day. Your rear end just bites into the trail, even on loose stuff, and moves you forward as though you were riding asphalt. I know this sounds like reviewer hype, but trust me, I’ve been there. Even when you hit a rock or root going up, it doesn’t impede. The rear wheel rolls right over it almost unnoticeably. I’ve found it’s better to keep the rear wheel weighted, in fact — counter-intuitively so, where I’ve ridden before and always had to thrust my torso forward or stand or otherwise maneuver to get up over a rise or obstacle.

I admit to some trepidation at how well the Firebird climbed, because my experience is you get one or the other: A great climber or a great descender.

Once again, the Firebird blew away my expectations. Going downhill was like being a kid again, where your reflexes are firing and you’re totally sync’d with the bike and you think there’s nothing you cannot do. I did a couple of log rolls I’d always had trouble with so smoothly that I wished they were bigger and harder. I glided over a rooty boneyard like a bearing over glass. I banged down rocky creek channels and went airborne from ledges further than I’d ever done before. At the bottom I was sucking wind, not from wrestling with the bike but from pinning it to the max the entire way.

On the Firebird, 35 pounds (in my case; my setup could be lighter) just disappears beneath you. When you land, the suspension cushions you like you barely left the ground. In France they used to (and may still) have a car called the Citroen with air suspension. Landing with the Firebird is like shutting down the Citroen, where the air squooshes from the suspension, giving a float-down feel, like an elevator settling at the floor you want. Even on off-balance or fork-first landings there’s never a hint of fish-tailing or stutter-bumping. At least, there hasn’t been for me so far. I keep going bigger on the Firebird, though, without getting in over my head.

That first ride I had planned to go out for my usual two-hour spin. I wound up spending nearly five hours on the mountain. Each time I headed back to the van, I could not face putting my bike up. I had to do one more leg. Even at the end, I didn’t feel tired. I just ran out of daylight.

So I guess the moral of the tale is: The Firebird rules! Try to take a test ride, but remember, it may not be the best guide. Find a buddy with a Firebird you can try out; he’ll be able to help you get it dialed. Go to a Pivot Demo Day and talk it over with the bros.

I’m not going to say this is my one do-everything bike because I don’t believe in such a thing, or even want there to be such a thing (I like all my bikes).

OK…maybe I will say it. So far, I haven’t wanted to touch my Mojo again. Yeah, I guess I have to: If you want just one bike for all your riding, the Firebird is it. The ride does not lie.

Pivot Firebird notes:

Floating front derailleur. It really works. Front shifting snaps back and forth like an internal hub, there’s no chain lag, cable pause or brrrttt. I have tried every trick to throw the chain on a front shift. Does not happen. You also don’t get that little kak that most long-travel bikes give you when the suspension suddenly decompresses.

How big can it go? With proper transition and flow, the bike will handle most situations. But it’s not a big jump or huck bike, so use common sense. From a personal standpoint, I haven’t yet over-stretched the bike’s capacity. It’s the other way around, the bike keeps stretching me.

Go coil? I’ve used coil in all my bikes at this travel, but so far see no need with the Firebird (I haven’t touched the rear shock since that first ride). The RP23 is right on; word is that the DHX gives you more tuning options, but is trickier to dial for that reason. Pivot ships with DHX 5.0 air shocks (or RP23). If you go to coil, Pivot is devising an aluminum upper link (to replace the carbon) for better clearance.

Setup, weight: I’m at 34.5 lbs. with a coil fork (Lyrik U-turn), UST Mavic 823 rear rim (Mavic 521 front), Hadleys & Nevegal 2.35s, Chris King 1.5 headset, Thomson stem & post, Louise brakes, XT cranks, otherwise SRAM shifters and drivetrain. I could get the bike down to 32 pounds easy and am aiming at that. If lightness changes the handling, though, I’m going back to the heavier build!

Colors: Ano Black and “Root Beer” brown, which NOTE looks a lot better in person than photos.

Price: $2200 for frameset. High end of spectrum, but worth it.

Firebird Web page

Chris Cocalis gives the full Monty on the Firebird (video)

Cocalis discusses the DW-Link (video)

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