Riding, as we all have discovered at some time in our lives, is a healing experience. It could be about finding your strength as you nail a big drop and somehow, riding out, you find that fears and anger have dropped away somewhat as well. Maybe the calming solitude of a picturesque single trail helps ease hard times, or flying down a favourite piece of downhill trail with your friends which leaves you oblivious with excitement. Riding changes minds and therefore it changes lives.

The Liv brand, established in 2011 and dedicated solely to female riders, aligns itself with such inspirational values. In particular, the capacity we have to train our minds to face and overcome challenges on a ride and to take that confidence with us into our everyday lives.

Liv poses women the question: What changes in your life when you tell yourself, Actually, I can!”? Studies show that men consistently overrate their skills, whilst women underrate their own capacities. A lack of confidence in themselves does actually hinder women’s successes in the workplace as much as when they’re out riding a bike.  The point is, Liv approaches the female MTB marketplace seriously. The company proudly stands at the forefront of female specific bike design “from the ground up”. Liv wants to change women’s lives by getting them on the bikes that enhance their experience of riding. To offer women the bikes they want and they deserve.

Liv’s 2017 Enduro and XC models, the Hail and Pique, are both highly desirable bikes in their own right. One, the Hail, designed for soaking up the big stuff, a bike that’ll have you challenging yourself to stay light on the breaks and discover what it’s like to let loose. The Pique, a stunning XC bike which is a serious weapon on steep climbs but with a gutsy RS1 fork, also feels stable and solid enough to negotiate the challenges of all mountain terrain.

I got to know both these bikes last month at Liv’s Global Off-Road Media Event in Sedona, USA, where I joined a crew of about 30 women from around the world. We travelled from as far as Poland and Australia. Liv’s Specialist Marketing team and Liv Ambassadors Leigh Donovan and Lindsay Voreis shared the three days and the two new bikes with us, throughout the technical discussions, on the trails and over the course of a few wine-enhanced evenings. More than just a bike launch, the event was a celebration of women connecting and riding together. It made me reflect on what women bring to riding and how our experiences are tempered by our own feminine qualities. Women connect, we talk, and we encourage and empathise with each other.

Liv ambassador and Women’s All-Ride founder Lindsey Voreis set the tone powerfully on our first morning together with these words, “Women ride together to lift each other up and help each other conquer fear. As women, we tend to get a little chatter in our heads sometimes, that can debilitate us, like you’re not good enough and you can’t do that or you’re not strong enough.. And that’s what I have really seen about this brand, Liv, is they’re not just trying to get you on their bikes. They’re trying to get you to see the magic of biking, and how it can teach you how to train the mind to get those voices in your head to only think thoughts that serve you. If you can conquer something that physically scares you, that could hurt you, why couldn’t you conquer getting that new job or leaving that abusive relationship?”

Since the Liv Hail/Pique launch in Sedona, moments of my Sydney life have continued to remind me about the transformative value of riding for women’s confidence. A few days ago, my nine year old son Bodhi asked me why his friend’s dad hasn’t encouraged her to become a stronger rider. I responded with reluctance, “Because he says he wants her to just be a little girl”. Bodhi’s answer to that was,  “ but there’s no reason a little girl can’t do whatever they want to on a bike, and until she feels what she can do she won’t know what’s it’s like to ride”.. So on point.

Liv’s brand new female bikes, the Hail and Pique have been designed to ease the challenges of female weight and strength distribution, to make her ride as steady, playful and confidence building as possible. For women who have been riding for a few years, as much as women new to MTB, it’s about that confidence in the voice that’s stronger and louder than the talk of our fears and self-limiting beliefs. Each gain in confidence creates another opportunity to bigger, steeper and more liberating things.

So if you could choose a bike that actually helped you #ridelikeagirl, faster and more aggressive both up and down trails instead of a bike that was designed for male body strength, size and weight ratios, why wouldn’t you?

Having never owned a female specific bike before, I asked myself these very questions.

Erin Lamb, Liv’s Global Product Marketing Specialist took us through the technical side of the bikes and clearly, she was the lady primed to share all the answers. What makes a bike female specific? A number of companies market female specific all mountain bikes but Liv Giant really takes female specific design to a different level. Take the all-new 2017 Hail Advanced, the first ever full carbon 160mm travel bike for the gravity-oriented women’s market.

Starting with a blank page, Liv took measures from a global database of female body dimensions to inform the frame design, built from Liv’s carbon composite. The frame has stiffness where it’s needed in the bottom bracket for pedalling efficiency, and has shorter chainstays bringing the back tyre in underneath the seat to improve the bike’s manoeuvrability.

Erin explained that as women, “we finesse, we don’t typically muscle our bike around” so the more the bike moves with us, the better.

Suspension is a key feature of all mountain bikes and you’ll find the tried and tested Maestro suspension system at the heart of the Hail. The Maestro suspension design was developed by Liv’s partner brand, Giant, and is widely regarded as one of the very best performing suspension designs.  The system features the renowned dual link set up with four pivot points. This creates a floating pivot point, and provides braking and pedalling independence. Key 2017 updates to the Maestro suspension design are metric shock sizing and the addition of a trunnion mount. The advantage of a trunnion mount is that it goes through the top of the shock body which allows a longer shock to be mounted within the same space provided by the frame. The shock can then be run at a lower air pressure, which lowers the leverage ratio and enhances the smoothness of the suspension.

With the trunnion mount atop the Maestro suspension system making it possible to run lower air pressures in the shock, the Hail’s centre of gravity is lowered.

Why raise the bottom bracket? The designers raised the bottom bracket specifically for female riders, according to Erin Lamb:

“Women’s centre of gravity tends to be lower than men’s anyway so Liv can make full complete pedals and a smooth ride its priority for women, over lowering the centre of gravity further”

Lindsey Voreis’ excitement over the Hail got my group of ladies pretty amped on getting out there ourselves but we still had a few hours to wait for our turn to hit our first trail.

”I got on this bike for the first time in Sedona, where the climbing is often steep, ledgey and technical. I’m not kidding you, I felt like I was on a small cross country bike, not only because of the raised bottom bracket but it lowered the centre of gravity so you are more compact and manoeuvrable, I can get my front wheel up quickly and my back wheel to follow. It blew my mind”

Luckily for me, the Hail was the first of the two bikes I had to put to the test in Sedona and who better to lead my ride than the super-inspiring Lindsay.

The Mescal trail took us into classic spaghetti western scenery beneath the red cliffs of Mescal Mountain. Here we had a chance to let the Hail loose on some gravelly corners, shale-laden ledges, and some super fun moments of technical downhill.  Lindsay let the group have a rest under a bit of shade, while skilling us up with an impromptu bunny-hop workshop. Let’s just say the donkey kick took on a whole new context for me and my bunny hopping, well…practice and more practice.

When we had a chance to lady-train over a bigger drop for shots with Stirling, we couldn’t stop at just once and the second time around, more girls came on board. That “ if she can do it, I can do it” feeling generated within a group of sweaty ladies, one of the best moments of the day’s ride. Second on our trail menu was the Canyon of Fools, which dropped us into a dry creek bed with walls to lean the bike on and some fun hips and jumps to hit with speed. At 5”6 I found my small frame a blast to ride.

My full-carbon Hail Advanced had the handling and playfulness of a lighter bike, yet it felt stable as the 160mm suspension soaked up everything the Sedona trails had to offer, especially the unexpected wall-rides of the Canyon.

On day two, a small group of us took the Hail out to ride some more chunky faster downhill and this time I took out a medium sized frame. The Hail’s Maestro suspension performed really well on this terrain, keeping me steady and able to hold speed as I did my best to keep up with Lindsay, while on the small but rocky climbing sections, I felt like I could get my weight over the front of the bike to climb without a struggle.

Liv’s bikes are tested by women, for women. The Hail Advanced was refined in consultation with pro female riders. Ex-world champion Leigh Donovan “ was a huge part of the development of this bike”, providing feedback until mid-2016 with one of the final changes being the addition of wider Boost axle spacing to provide increased wheel stiffness.

Leigh told our media group at Sedona that she was really impressed by the performance of the 2017 Maestro Suspension.

“On the pedalling efficiency, compared to previous models where even with the Maestro I noticed a bit of bob, and the same with the Pique, I felt like I was climbing on a hardtail but every time I took a hit I would notice it in the suspension but I wouldn’t feel it through the pedal, and it’s very exciting!”

Leigh Donovan

Out at dinner between day one and two of riding, I had a chance to talk to Leigh about racing internationally in the 90’s, those days when forks broke and carbon bikes came unglued. All too often it was mechanicals, at high-speed, that came between top riders and race wins. New technology was changing fast, and top riders took greater risks running “untested” bikes, but we reap the benefit of those years of innovation through the technology and relative safety of today’s mountain bike designs.

With the Hail’s higher bottom bracket and steeper head angle, 66 degrees as compared to 65 on the Giant Reign, Liv has gone against some current trends in mountain bike design with clearly defined intentions – to provide a smoother, safer, yet more aggressive ride both up and down technical trails. Women generally find lifting the front end of their bike more challenging than male riders, so the steeper head angle, together with the capacity for locking out the RockShox RCT3 Lyric shocks at 130mm, lightweight frame and short head stem makes the Hail nimble and manageable in tight uphill sections. Other high quality features you’ll find on the Hail Advanced are the SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12-speed drivetrain with SRAM Guide Ultimate Carbon hydraulic disc brakes and the new Boost Maxle Stealth through axle. The black, blue and red colour way is refreshingly sleek. Sizing runs from a XS-L which is good news for just about everybody. The Advanced 0 retails in Australia at $7999, pricing for the Hail Advanced 1 and Hail you’ll find at https://www.liv-cycling.com/au/bikes/off-road.

The Pique is Liv’s stylish new cross country bike, designed within the brand’s guiding principle of the 3F’s; Fit, Form and Function. This bike is intended to be ridden by women at the forefront of the trend towards riding more aggressive XC trails at their fastest. We know that women are willing to invest in themselves in buying high-end XC bikes: the top of the range Lust was a very popular bike within Liv’s current range.

Showcasing Liv’s “no compromise“ approach to quality, the stylish top-end Pique Advanced 0 is set up with an enviable 120mm RS1 fork, 120mm RockShox Deluxe RT3 rear shock and SRAM XX1 Eagle 1×12-speed drivetrain.

Leigh runs an RS1 fork on her own bike back home. “It’s the best fork available for XC mountain biking”.  With slightly more stack, slightly shorter chainstays and Boost hub spacing as for all the off road bikes in Giant Liv’s 2017 range, the Pique is more stable and balanced front and rear than its predecessor, the Lust. Built with 27.5 inch wheels, the Pique feels exceptionally fast and responsive, and a bike that’s equal parts finesse, aggression and total playfulness.

A low standover height adds to the safety aspect of high speed climbing and descending, which Erin noted to us as a consideration made for women new to cycling.

Pique shares many of Giant’s 2017 technology updates, including a Maestro Suspension with a trunnion mount and a composite rocker arm made with Advanced Forge Composite Technology, which according to Liv’s engineering team is both 50% lighter and stronger than an aluminium link. With the longer 120mm shock body, Liv was able to lower the air pressure, the leverage ratio, and improve rebound control with better overall shock performance. The new trunnion mounts let Liv raise the bottom bracket on the Pique so the rider can pedal smoothly over obstacles without having to ratchet or lose their speed.

On the terrain of Sedona’s Chuckwagon trail, the Pique ate up the punchy climbs and I was able to keep up speed and really play with the rock steps that came my way. I felt like I was riding a bike with more than a mere 120mm of rear suspension throughout the hours on the trails.  Making the most of my last day on the trails, the Pique let me keep up smooth pedal strokes over many rocks and ledges, with no scraping of the bottom bracket, so I could take on more direct, steeper and faster lines while avoiding spiky cacti positively well. With its plush RS1 forks, Lindsay told us, the Pique “takes the hits like a bigger bike” and this was no false advertising. The Pique felt like enough bike for smaller drop offs and steep sections but at any moment it climbs fast and corners beautifully without having to make any adjustment to the suspension. I loved this bike’s all round versatility and lightness and as a girl who likes to earn my descents, this would be the perfect rig for me. To check out the full Pique range that are available at dealers across Australia hit up:

https://www.liv-cycling.com/au/bikes/off-road/competition-xc

So technical talk aside, did I really feel the differences and advantages of a female specific rig I was expecting to? I would say definitely yes. Both bikes felt like they became a friend,  I felt in control and poised, and I wanted to push them both even further. To take the Pique on a more gruelling longer distance trail ride and really test the comfort of this smooth steed, and to let the Hail loose on a gnarlier downhill trail to get a bit more out of control! The way these bikes shaped up on the rocky, loose and dusty trails of the Sedona desert had me thinking these would both be winning bikes for Australian terrain.

Words // Liz Bennett

Photos // Stirling Lorence