Fresh Product: Specialized Rhyme, a Women’s Specific 150mm Trail Bike

The expanding lineup of women’s specific bikes at Specialized is testament to growth in demand, but there are few brands out there that offer women’s bikes and product on such a complete level as the crew from California.

For 2016 we will see an entirely new women’s trail bike, with 150mm of generous travel on 650b wheels – the Specialized Rhyme, which will come in both regular and 6Fattie (3-inch tyres) versions.

Rhyme 2016 3 Stumpjumper 2016 6

While Specialized have been a leader in women’s bikes for a long time, a longer-travel bike was noticeably absent from the range. More aggressive riders were served well by the Rumor Evo (which we tested here) but if you wanted a little more travel, or didn’t want a 29er, you were out of luck. The Rhyme solves both of those issues, with a 650B wheel and 150mm travel.

Front to back – from the size specific components to the Women’s specific suspension tuned rear shock, the Rhyme is dialled.

Highlights of the new Rhyme:

 – 150mm travel front and back.

 – 650b wheels.

 – SWAT Door technology on carbon models, internal storage inside the downtube.

 – Exclusive Women’s Rx Trail Tune FOX rear shock. For lighter riding styles, the rear shock will use its full travel more often.

 – Narrower handlebars than men’s models.

 – Size specific components, smaller size Rhymes will use shorter crank arms, stem length, and travel in the adjustable seatposts. 

 – Women’s specific Specialized Myth saddle.

Rhyme 2016 3
SWAT Door storage space under the bottle cage, and a women’s specific rear shock tune.

For more details on the frame construction head over to our in-depth review of the 2016 Stumpjumper from Rotorua, up on Flow now.

Rhyme 2016 2
Leave the backpack at home, put what you need in here.
Rhyme 2016 1
The stunning Rhyme FSR Expert Carbon 650b

Stay tuned for more, as we plan a proper test on one of these, very soon! The Rhyme will be available July/August, in three spec levels with regular and 6Fattie version in each. At each equivalent spec level, the 6Fattie variant will set you back an extra $500.

  • Rhyme Comp 650 / 6Fattie: $3999 / $4499
  • Rhyme Comp Carbon 650 / 6Fattie : $5499 / $5999
  • Rhyme Expert Carbon 650 / 6Fattie: $7999 / $8499

 

 

 

Flow’s First Bite: Specialized Women’s Rumor Expert Evo 29

Mountain biking is undergoing an explosion at the moment. There are more bikes to chose from than ever before, and the number of riding destinations and trail types is growing faster than people can accrue the annual leave to ride them all. In terms of bike purchases versatility is becoming increasingly valued over things like race speed, weight and the amount of carbon squeezed into a single package.

The Specialized Women’s Rumor Expert Evo has versatility written all over it. With a long wheelbase, stable angles, 29” wheels and 120mm of plush travel it’s hard to find a trail out there that you can’t confidently descend. At 12.65kgs and built around Specialized’s FSR suspension platform it’s also hard to find a hill out there which you can’t climb when on board. Skills, of course, make a big difference as well, but these are a lot easier to develop when you’re not compensating for the pros and cons of the bike.

Specialized Rumor Evo 11
How’s this for low stand over height! And thoughtful spec saves riders a lot of extra cash adapting a unisex bike to fit.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time testing the Specialized Rumor Comp last year. The Expert Evo uses a modified linkage at the back to fit a 120mm custom tuned Fox Float CTD Factory rear shock (with Autosag), and runs the buttery smooth 120mm RockShox Pike RC fork up front. The longer fork slackens the angles a bit for improved handing in gnarly terrain. A higher performing parts list adorns this model as well.

The parts list is very similar to the no-nonsense 2014 model Camber Expert Carbon Evo, but with some necessary mods that we’ve seen other ladies make to this bike so it’s better matched to a women’s physique. These include a 30 tooth single ring up front (rather than the musclier 32), Shimano XT brakes (which are easier to dial in for small hands), slightly narrower bars, and a women’s specific seat. We’ve been testing Specialized’s new women’s Myth saddle separately recently, so keep an eye on Flow for a separate review on this too.

Specialized Rumor Evo 6
Incidentally, the 2015 Camber Expert Carbon Evo is specced with XT brakes and a 30T front chain ring as well, once again pointing to the value a lot of male riders are placing on versatility and tried and trusted components too.

The biggest downside of the Rumor is that it still isn’t available with a carbon frame. We’ve been riding the Camber Carbon Expert Evo a lot lately and are keen for the direct comparison this will allow for assessing the performance difference of the women’s specific alloy Rumor frame as a result.

Specialized Rumor Evo 9
The EVO badge stands for ‘Heck yes, lets rip!’

Our first impressions confirm that the different geometry makes for a more intuitive ride feel. We don’t have to push so hard to maintain an optimal ride position, we’re simply in it. The lower standover makes it easier to get on and off the bike but also allows us to squish down more on technical descents. In short, we don’t feel like we’re fighting the bike as much which makes us more confident in pushing it’s limits on all sorts of trails. In terms of set up, the only change we made was adding sealant to the tyres.

Specialized Rumor Evo 16

On our very first ride we were able to comfortably descend parts of the Smithfield World Cup downhill and cross-country tracks, and get there via a climb so steep it has been cemented. In order to really put the versatility of this rig to the test we’ve chosen it for riding the first two stages of the upcoming Crocodile Trophy while we’re up in Cairns as well. Sure, we could ride a whippety XC hardtail in this event, but the appeal of the Rumor Evo is the trail riding and holiday experiences it allows alongside the odd long ride and marathon as well. In any case, this upcoming adventure is sure to put the versatility of the Rumor to the test.

The Rumor Evo's first ride was a baptism of fire, down some of the roughest trails in Cairns at the final round of the Australia Gravity Enduro Series.
The Rumor Evo’s first ride was a baptism of fire, down some of the roughest trails in Cairns at the final round of the Australia Gravity Enduro Series.

Tested: Specialized Women’s Riata and Cascade Shoes

I remember my first set of mountain bike shoes. I picked a ‘best guess’ size and special ordered them from my local bike shop. There were a men’s design, fitted well enough, and worked well in the face of no other wildly different options that small or at that price point. I’ve had knee niggles ever since, a likely outcome given over training, under stretching and my feet swimming around in my shoes.

Specialized have developed research, training and design systems that eliminate experiences for female riders like the one above. Like the women’s saddles we tested recently , our women’s shoe test also began by meeting with Lyndell van de Walle at Cyclery Northside, getting fitted for two new offerings from Specialized: The Riata MTB shoes and the Cascade XC shoes.

[divider]Finding your fit[/divider]

The fit process for a pair of Specialized shoes takes into account two important measurements. The first is a rider’s size, the second is the amount of contact their foot has with the sole of the shoe.

A heat sensitive device measures the two in one go. This limits the fussing around with special ordering and multiple shop visits if the first size isn’t right. (Although, due to brand’s reputation for excellent fitting women’s shoes most shops stock a good range of sizes and styles.)

Behold, the arch-o-meter.
Behold, the arch-o-meter.

Our foot contact measurement indicated a high arch. This signalled that extra support inside the shoe would provide additional stability, an improved pedal stroke and better power transfer.

Three different innersoles, or footbeds, are available as an add-on to a shoe purchase for riders who want to address this area of fit and performance. In our case, we were supplied with innersoles that support a higher arch, which stopped our foot collapsing during the pedal stroke.

The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
The underside of the original footbeds (left) and the ones with increased support (right). The green material is designed not to collapse adding to the longevity of this add-on.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.
Side view of the different footbeds. You can see the extra support along the midline of the foot.

The built up footbeds have led to much better tracking of our hips and knees, to the point where knee pain on the bike and was far more responsive to stretching and maintenance off the bike. The difference is so pronounced we want to put these in our regular shoes as well – except that they’re carefully designed for a pedal stroke, not a foot step.

With size and arch support taken care of, what would the shoes offer on top of this?

[divider]Specialized Women’s Riata MTB Shoe[/divider]

The Riata MTB shoe is an entry level mountain bike shoe. At $129.95 it retails at a price you’d expect to pay for a reasonably supportive running shoe.

Like a similar level of running shoe, the Riata is constructed out of well-researched features delivering fit and performance without going over the top with bells and whistles.

We can't say enough good things about the Riatas - especially for riders new to the sport or who don't want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.
We can’t say enough good things about the Riatas – especially for riders new to the sport or who don’t want to remorgage their home for a new pair of shoes.

The sole provides reasonable traction. There are no studs or softer compound materials to add extra grip, but we didn’t miss this. In fact, we preferred the durability of the more basic sole that is less affected by walking on scratchy surfaces.

Specialized shoes are built up a little along the inside middle of the foot. Whether you buy additional inner soles or not, riders will also benefit from the ‘metatarsal button’ which helps to keep the toes feeling relaxed and ‘longitudinal arch’ support. Again, great for the demands of long rides and a cycling pedal stroke.

The sole of the Riata has a ‘stiffness factor’ of six. This means it’s stiff-ish without being so light, hard and power transfer-y that Specialized would want to use similar materials for Tony Martin’s next time trial bike.

The more basic sole provides ample traction.
The more basic sole provides ample traction.

Of the two pairs of shoes we tested we preferred these for trail riding and gravity enduro – ride days where we valued the flexibility of the sole for extra pedal feel and subtle manoeuvres through the feet. We also preferred the Riatas for these rides as we’re more off and on the bike as they’re better suited for walking. Our heel tended to slip a little but not in a deal breaker way.

We were very impressed by the fit, feel and value for money of these shoes. They offer new riders an affordable, stylish and very functional package.

We were blown away by how far they’ve come from heavy, ‘unisex’, box-like designs of the past.

[divider]Specialized Women’s Cascade XC Shoes[/divider]

There aren’t many companies offering a high end women’s specific XC shoe. The carbon soled, fancy-strapped, shiny, pro-looking Cascades are in fact a model down from the even more blinged out Specialized Women’s S-Works race shoes.

We were excited about testing them, but then devastated when they didn’t seem to fit. They’re so snug, stiff and efficient that, at first, matched to our broad feet they just seemed to cause blisters and cramps.

The women's Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.
The women’s Cascade XCs. Sleek, supportive, fast.

We were surprised about this given our success with other models in the Specialized range, but soon realised it wasn’t the shoe that was causing the problem, but the shoe combined with our broad, high arched feet and the extra bulk of the add-on green footbeds we’d inserted.

After a month of breaking in the shoe with the original, less built up footbeds we were able to switch back to the support of the green inserts and have blissfully remained blister and cramp free since. In fact, the Cascades now feel akin to a pair of stylish, powerful slippers. Cinderella eat your heart out.

The Cascades do away with some of the extra material that adds room and bulk in the Riatas. Two Velcro straps and a replaceable ‘Boa S2 Snap’ dial pull the top in nice and close.

The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.
The Cascade XCs bascially wrap around your foot.

Test Specialized WMNS Shoes 3

A carbon sole adds stiffness and shaves weight. The sole also has more traction than earlier women’s shoe designs from Specialized, a welcome addition given they are made for mountain biking after all. Like the Riatas, we were really pleased to see these shoes come in a practical black.

With a stiffness index of 11, five more stiffness-es than the Riatas, these shoes are the pick for transferring power to the pedals. They hold the feet in place well eliminating extra movement and energy loss, but are still as comfortable at the end of an all day ride as they are at the beginning (after that initial breaking in period for our test feet).

A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.
A carbon sole positions these shoes at the serious end of the market.

Like the name suggests, they’re best suited to XC and marathon. We also used them a lot on the road bike during the test period. They’re light, efficient and we prefer the extra float on MTB pedals compared to some road brands. Plus, if we were to spend $350 on a pair of shoes, we’d want to be using them every chance we could!

The Cascades are more than twice the price of the Riatas. In the absence of many competitors on the market, they’re a worthwhile investment for women wanting a high performing, injury reducing, snug fitting pair of kicks.

[divider]Overall[/divider]

We were obviously impressed by these two women’s offerings from Specialized. While some brands still only make a token effort in the women’s shoe department, it’s impressive to see such a comprehensive, innovative and extensive range coming out of this company for female riders at both ends of the sport.

Specialized's womens Riata MTB and Cascade XC shoes.

The fit process reflects the research findings from the design team and adds to the pleasurable ride experience both shoes provide. The impact of a good fitting pair of shoes on injury reduction is something we can’t emphasise enough making either pair a valuable investment if you find yourself riding regularly.

We were surprised by the initial tightness of the Cascades, but it was in fact the fit process that made us think it was worthwhile trying them a little longer – and given how comfortable they became, we’re certainly glad we did.

 

Racing: Dirt Maidens Challenge

They may never be the big names in the sport, and they may not be the most ‘sik’ or ‘shred-ready’ riders on the trails, but they know how to get involved and support one another in taking up a new sport.

Dirt Maiden Challenge

Riders from as far north as Port Macquarie and as far south as Phillip Island gathered with new friends at the starting line, which appeared as a sea of stripes, stars and spots- girls dressed in theme to identify them to their team. Over 35 Jindabyne girls signed up, many for their first ever mountain bike event, as the sport amongst local women has grown at an unprecedented rate.  With a large number of girls entering the event alone, these teams were successfully designed to encourage inclusiveness and also spark a little competitive rivalry between friends. Magnificent costumes and vibrant colours wound their way through the flowing trails; fast and fit, or slow and steady- the event catered to all levels of riders.

Dirt Maiden Challenge

Dirt Maiden Challenge

With an all-male volunteer crew spicing up the trails, pink bunting and cheeky signage around the course, and a relaxed and social atmosphere created by sweet tunes and a charismatic MC, there was nothing for competitors to do but smile, ride, and enjoy themselves. Rolling Ground Jindabyne showed their support with professional timing and the setup of a sensational course, leaving the girls raving about the trails and keen to come back for more. Beers for every rider, courtesy of local sponsor Kosciusko Brewery, were well received on completion of their final lap, as was the free yoga session for riders to stretch out their weary muscles.

This was all followed by presentations, a mouth-watering meal and rad live music where participants, volunteers and spectators could socialise and enjoy the balmy temperature in a perfect setting for an after party on site at Bungarra.

Prizes were in abundance, thanks to our generous sponsors, and as well as prizes for the fastest in the XC and gravity events, prizes were awarded for a number of other achievements. The ‘Iron Maiden’- was awarded to those that battled on despite crashes, mechanicals and lack of experience, ‘Mini Maiden’- for the youngest rider, and the ‘Maverick Maiden’- which is awarded to the token badass that turns up with a bmx, a hangover, or in this case-no bike at all.

Dirt Maiden Challenge

Dirt Maiden Challenge

The following day, after a cruisey morning exploring more trails in the area, a large crew of girls gathered in Thredbo to show their support to one of our sponsors, and to our local gem and downhill legend, Tegan Molloy- who also generously donated a horde of prizes. No one was disappointed by the show she put on, as she hit the last jump and got bigger air, and applause than most of the lads.

For a first time event, with no marketing budget and no reputation to precede it, the first ever Dirt Maidens Challenge has been hailed a great success. With nothing but positive feedback, there appears to be a large number of girls who will be back- with a posse of friends in their wake. This means we will also be looking for more sponsors to make the event even better, and more volunteers of the (single) male variety to come along and support the girls, and spend a weekend riding in the beautiful Snowy Mountains.

Tested: Juliana Joplin Primeiro

As a general rule, women mountain bikers hate sissy looking bikes. We like to ride hard and we want a bike that looks like it’s up to the job. Nothing insults us more than being directed to the latest in a women’s range of bikes and seeing that it’s about as pimped out as a garden variety Toyota Camry.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 23

Big wheels, carbon frame, high-performance build, women’s specificity – the Juliana Joplin Primeiro is no Camry. She’s way more bad-ass. The Joplin takes on our rockiest local trails like the Batmobile takes to Gotham City.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 11

The Build

Juliana was originally a women’s line of bikes within the Santa Cruz range. They’ve long been one of very few bikes that are confidently recommended to women below 5’3” who are looking for a mountain bike that fits and performs. As more women are riding, and the Juliana range has extended to encompass as wider range of bikes, it has since become a brand in it’s own right.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 26

We were consequently surprised to learn that the Joplin shares the same frame geometry as the Santa Cruz Tall Boy. Guys talk about the Tall Boy sizing as being on the small side, meaning it does boast features that certainly justify extending the frame to the women’s market.

The original Tall Boy was only available in sizes down to medium, but a fine-tuned rear suspension design has freed up space where it matters allowing for a small size to be fit in the range without compromising anything major. The head tube is short (at 90mm in the small size) as is the top tube length. The stand over height is reasonably low too, both feet can touch the ground when off the front of the saddle, a tell tale Santa Cruz look.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 19

In comparison to the medium sized Specialized Rumor Comp we tested recently, the top tube length is 17mm longer, and the seat angle is 2.4 degrees more relaxed. This puts the saddle further back over the bottom bracket making for a roomier ride. Good for riders at the taller end of a specific size, less good for riders who prefer their weight more aggressively toward the front of the bike.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 8

The Santa Cruz VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension has long been a favourite of many riders due to the nice balance of pedal efficiency and sensitive suspension. The updated design on the Joplin/Tall Boy has been achieved by changing the location of the pivot points, with fine refinements to suit the style of the bike. This makes for an improved pedalling action with less bobbing and a more linear, plush feeling cushion throughout the 100mm of travel.

We’ve become so used to 2x10 and 1x11 set ups lately, which made it look a little doudy and seem a bit like riding with a piano accordion out on the trails.
We’ve become so used to 2×10 and 1×11 set ups lately, which made it look a little doudy and seem a bit like riding with a piano accordion out on the trails.

Paired up with no-nonsense, kashima coated Fox Float CTD front and rear shocks, the VVP rear end provides a ride feel so buttery smooth that inexperienced riders will miss how exceptional this suspension is. We left the rear shock in descend mode (less Propedal or lockout) most of the time for a plush and comfortable ride without noticeable pedal bob, which we don’t often get to do with many bikes. Trail riding bliss.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 25

The decorative elements, to their credit, caused a number of riders to stop and chat to us about the Joplin who had read our First Bite or seen images on our Facebook page. She certainly is a head-turner.
The decorative elements, to their credit, caused a number of riders to stop and chat to us about the Joplin who had read our First Bite or seen images on our Facebook page. She certainly is a head-turner.

The carbon main frame is one carefully moulded piece of the carbon stuff. You don’t even need to take this bike to the trails to know that it’s going to be stiff and stick to its line with no shuddering flex while providing a very absorbent and compliant ride feel as a result. The care that has gone into the design of the Joplin takes the ride benefits of a carbon frame to another level.

The Parts

Adding to the allure of the frame is the fact that the Primeiro is the highest specced of the three Joplin models available. It’s not so blinged out you’d be afraid to ride it in the mud, but it’s built with performance, class and many hours of happy and versatile riding in mind.

A Shimano XT group covers this rig from front to rear. This is particularly nice to see given how many brands are speccing brakes that have neither the reputation of Shimano stoppers nor the service support in Australia. The XT brakes have a crisp and reliable ride feel and are easy to look after. The reach can be adjusted without fiddling with tools so you can set them up quickly for small hands.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 12
We swapped the (surprisingly long) 90mm stem with a 70mm substitute for better control on the trails.

A triple chain ring on the front is matched to a 10 speed 11-36 cassette on the rear. Paired up with 29” hoops, the 42 tooth big ring made the bike feel over-geared for trail riding in typical Australian conditions, especially for women. We only reached for it very occasionally on road commutes to the dirt.

On more technical trails we tended to look down and find the chain frequently in the granny ring. Aside from the bad chain line in this gear, it also accentuates the subtle ‘pull’ of the VPP suspension on the chain (it lengthens the chain as it pulls back at the beginning of its travel).

Class all ‘round. There are no down-specced parts hidden anywhere on this bike.
Class all ‘round. There are no down-specced parts hidden anywhere on this bike.

Maybe we’re just being snobby, but we feel a 2×10 set up would make this bike a lot sexier, quieter and be the final touch of awesome that is missing from a build that means business.

In terms of women’s additions to the Joplin, these extend to the bars, the saddle and the crank length. The 690mm wide, Juliana branded bars are thinner under your hands than regular bars at the grips. In theory this reduces arm pump and increases control. They felt weird at first, but they fit nicely in the palm and, like the saddle, quickly became an unconscious contact point when riding. We’d recommend these as an aftermarket purchase to ladies with smaller hands riding with other bikes too.

 The thinner grips fitted to special thin bars (note the decrease in diameter between the brake lever mount and grip) were nice to ride with, but they’re not enough to sell us on the women’s specificity of the Joplin. Lucky the rest of the bike rides so well!

The thinner grips fitted to special thin bars (note the decrease in diameter between the brake lever mount and grip) were nice to ride with, but they’re not enough to sell us on the women’s specificity of the Joplin. Lucky the rest of the bike rides so well!
As a light weight rider, it’s so nice to get full travel out of your suspension, and not something that always works as well as it should. The 120mm Fox 32 Float fork and 100mm Fox Float rear shock used every mm to make our ride even sweeter.
As a light weight rider, it’s so nice to get full travel out of your suspension, and not something that always works as well as it should. The 120mm Fox 32 Float fork and 100mm Fox Float rear shock used every mm to make our ride even sweeter.

The rest of this shining blue performer is adorned in classy parts you’d expect given the price point that also comes attached. Juliana branded WTB Frequency Team i19 rims are laced to DT Swiss 350 hubs for a light wheelset that you wouldn’t want to swap out after taking the bike home.

We found the saddle quite comfortable for all-day rides, although it’s better suited to a more upright riding position.
We found the saddle quite comfortable for all-day rides, although it’s better suited to a more upright riding position.

The frame includes routing for a dropper post, but a Thomson seat post with a quick release collar adds a style of its own to Joplin as well. The external cable routing is nice, neat and points toward the easy serviceability of the Joplin, although we’re not sold on the tight line of the cables around the biddon cage area.

We tore a sidewall on the Maxxis Tubeless Ready Ikons on the very first ride on a debris filled, unused trail. It sealed up quickly and we thanked the sealant gods for being so amenable.
We tore a sidewall on the Maxxis Tubeless Ready Ikons on the very first ride on a debris filled, unused trail. It sealed up quickly and we thanked the sealant gods for being so amenable.

The Ride

As boasted by the marketing for the Joplin, she really is the queen of rocks and roll. The big wheels and buttery smooth suspension meant we pointed her at the steepest, most technical, rocky, straight-line descents we could find. She tackled them so capably we stopped checking for lines before dropping in.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 3

The same can be said for rocky climbs. The big wheels allow for extra momentum on rocky ups and the suspension soaks up the rough terrain nicely so you don’t get spat around or thrown off line. This not only saves energy but does wonders for confidence in the face of technically challenging trails

Long, open, flowing descents with big wide berms were another type of trail where the Joplin really excelled. Get this bike up to speed and it’s only your eyes that will confirm the speed of the trail passing underneath you, such is the stable and compliant trail feel of this bike.

The massive gear range also points firmly to the versatility of the Joplin. With big wheels, and plush, efficient travel, the Joplin is a handy ‘do everything’ bike. Throw on some bigger rubber and shred the more technical trails, or stay with the racey Maxxis Ikons and take confidence in how capable this machine would be in a 100km marathon.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 6

At 164cm tall, two centimetres above average for an Australian female, our tester was boarderline between the small and medium sized frames. The slacker seat angle and the longer-than-preferred 175mm cranks on our medium test rig kept us positioned too far back from the front of the bike. This impacted our ability to really muscle the bike around on technical trails and keep things balanced and in control when chasing a rider in front at speed.

This served as a timely education in how fatiguing it can be for women riding bikes that are on the big side. Always check your size when in the market for a new bike and take a few for a test ride if you’re not sure how the numbers translate.

175mm length crank arms were specced on the medium frame, but we found this to be too big for ladies at the lower end of the size chart for this rig.
175mm length crank arms were specced on the medium frame, but we found this to be too big for ladies at the lower end of the size chart for this rig.

The small sized frame is designed to be suitable to riders down to 5’1” tall. Riders needing an extra-small frame size will need to stay with 26” wheels in the Juliana line up for now – which is not necessarily a bad thing. A good fitting frame gives you a hundredfold more advantages to your confidence and riding ability than the size of the wheels underneath it, beautiful as a bike like this one may be.

Overall

At 11.7kgs the rock-dominating Joplin is a tidy and high-performing all rounder for the type of riding the majority of women are doing on Australian trails. As a carbon-framed, immaculately finished dual suspension 29er, it’s great to see the choices it opens up for women who want more than middle of the range running gear or an alloy or flowery looking frame.

This rock-dominating weapon of a ride holds its speed, feels incredibly stable and rewards you for every obstacle you hop, pump or lean into.
This rock-dominating weapon of a ride holds its speed, feels incredibly stable and rewards you for every obstacle you hop, pump or lean into.

While it’s still a rarity to find a women’s bike designed from the ground up, a little more care in the spec for the Joplin could make it hit the mark even better in this way. That said, if you don’t like the cranks or the stem length, it’s nice to know there might be other options specced with the Tall Boy if you want to swap out the seat rather than the extra gears.

Test_Santa_CruzJulianaJoplin 5

At $6,780, the Joplin Primeiro is not on the cheap side, but the unique and boutique finish, is certainly part of this bike’s appeal. We can only think that the reason for the different paint and its own marketing campaign is to reach a group of women who may not otherwise consider what is an excellent and versatile bike.

The symbols mean ‘Powerful, Beautiful, Natural.’ Now go dance your way through that mean looking rock garden.
The symbols mean ‘Powerful, Beautiful, Natural.’ Now go dance your way through that mean looking rock garden.

Tested: Specialized Rumor Comp

When Specialized’s new women’s 29er trail bike arrived at the Flow office, we were so excited we ate lunch sitting on the floor next to it. You can’t ride on an empty stomach and we didn’t want to waste any time getting to know this new machine.

IMG_0387
A Specialized Camber with just the right amount of a female twist – the Rumor.

As we rolled the mid-range Rumor Comp out the door we already had two questions begging to be answered: How would a women’s specific design, in both frame and component choices, add to our trail riding experiences? And in what ways does the design reflect the relationship between research into high level women’s racing equipment and bikes at the entry to mid-level of the market like this one?

Finding out was both a pleasure and a privilege. The size of a set of wheels is one thing, but it’s new technology and manufacturing practices that continually redefine the ride experiences they offer. Lucky our lunch was a big one.

The Design

Specialized found that a lot of their female consumers were gravitating toward their Camber model, so they set about making a women’s specific version of this popular 110mm travel trail bike.

The biggest difference is the standover height and a women’s specific part selection. The geometry and handling characteristics of the rear end are very similar. This what we found when we recently reviewed the S-Works Fate Carbon 29 – a female version of the Stumpjumper 29” hardtail.

Low enough standover height for a bike with 29" wheels is a tall challenge.
Low enough standover height for a bike with 29″ wheels is a tall challenge that Specialized has stepped up to.

The V-shaped top tube, which utilises a combination of aluminium forging techniques, is key in allowing shorter female riders to pilot a 29” dual suspension trail bike. This means the frame can do away with all the extra material we see around the same area of the Camber, saving a good amount of weight.  It also stops the top tube from collapsing like a beer can under your shoe at a party.

Subtle graphics with real style.
The standover is not only low, but low where it counts – where you will be positioned if you have one or both feet on the ground. In fact, the stand over is so low, it only grows a small 3.7mm between all frame sizes (from 707.3mm in the small frame to 711mm in the large).

The technology isn’t available yet to achieve this using carbon fibre, but you can bet people are working on it. In addition to the ride experiences this design affords shorter riders, it’s a powerful example of how women’s frame designs are not just adapting existing technology, but really driving it.

Another area where we can see small frames driving new technology is at the head tube, which is a short 90mm in the small sized frame. In order to fit front suspension with a tapered steerer to a bike with a shorter head tube, Specialized have asked RockShox and Fox to redevelop this part of their forks (it helps to have massive buying power). The end result for users is improved frame geometry, snappy steering and reduced need for stems so bent you can’t read your Garmin.

Aside from a low top tube, a short head tube is imperative for good standover height.
Aside from a low top tube, a short head tube is imperative for good standover height.

Because of the smart engineering discussed above, the bike as a whole fits 29” wheels and 110mm of front and rear suspension without looking compromised or squished. Long chain stays (449mm) and a low bottom bracket height add stability. The minimal looking FSR suspension design and internal cable routing provide a sleek, uncluttered finish.

The Gear

Another area where this bike is exciting in terms of innovation and usability is due to the addition of ‘Autosag’ to Specialized rear suspension for 2014. We talked a little bit about this in our recent review of the Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon. The Rumor also shares the use of a block mount, which integrates the shock to the frame with a simple elegance.

The biggest benefit of Autosag is that it takes the confusion out of suspension set up for riders who haven’t gone to tech school. You can set and forget, and get stuck into the trails. Some riders may want to tweak this based on personal preference, but it isn’t necessary for a great ride feel.

We found the Autosag valve on our RockShox Monarch RL air shock tended to rattle loose while riding, and would dump all the air from the rear shock if we bumped it. Keep an eye out for this on the first few rides and do it up nice and tight.

Specialized proprietary technology here, the Autosag. This make setting up the bike for your weight so very easy.
Autosag (grey coloured valve) is basically a very clever hole. Pump the rear shock up to 275psi (for the Rumor), sit on it in all your riding gear, and depress the Autosag valve. This sets the sag and air pressures for an optimal ride experience based on your weight. The shock simply depresses until it covers this hole. It’s delightfully simple.

The Rumor Comp boasts a incredibly well thought-out part selection for female riders; Women’s Enduro lock-on grips that suit smaller hands, custom tuned RockShox front and rear suspension, a Specialized Body Geometry Jett saddle, narrower bar width and appropriate length cranks and stem. Refer back to our review on the Fate for the impact this has on ride experiences and budget.

The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch RL rear shock was nicely paired with a RockShox Reba RL up front to provide a consistently smooth ride feel. We also appreciated being able to comfortably move through all the travel without having to send them off for post-purchase tweaking.
The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch RL rear shock was nicely paired with a RockShox Reba RL up front to provide a consistently smooth ride feel. We also appreciated being able to comfortably move through all the travel without having to send them off for post-purchase tweaking.

We are also impressed with the high performance of the moving parts given the sub $3000 price point of the Comp. A 2×10 drive chain is specced to provide ample gearing across all terrain types. A SRAM X9 Type 2 rear derailleur keeps the chain silent throughout the ride and provides smooth, snappy shifting. A X7 front derailleur was ample on the front. We never dropped a chain during the test period.

The Avid Elixir 5 SL brakes provide strong stopping power. The reach is easy to adjust to fit any hand shape on the fly allowing quick and simple set up. Paired up with 680mm bars and a stable, manoeuvrable frame geometry, we found the Rumor enabled exceptional error correction skills if we took a bad line or went into a corner a little too fast.

The very popular Jett saddle is standard.
The very popular Specialized Jett saddle is standard, winner!
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We can’t overstate how highly we rate a user-friendly spec for female riders of all types.

The Roval 29 wheelset matched to Specialized Hi Lo hubs is also well-specced for the intended use of our test rig. We found they tended to drift a little wide entering corners but we quickly got used to this after a couple of rides and it was no longer a problem.

This may discourage some women upon test riding the Comp, but our advice would be to stick with it for a few rides, then upgrade to a lighter wheelset if it still doesn’t feel how you want it to. It’s not a reflection of the bike, it’s just a weight thing, or a 29” wheel thing.

A winning combination of playfulness and confidence-inspiring stability allowed us to milk our favourite trail networks as the playgrounds they are.
A winning combination of playfulness and confidence-inspiring stability allowed us to milk our favourite trail networks as the playgrounds they are.

With the addition of a dropper post and a lighter, higher spec all ‘round, the $4199 Rumor Expert is worth the extra cash if these are upgrades you’re considering from the outset.

A small rubber stop under the down tube prevents the forks bumping the frame under load, or the bars twisting and scratching the top tube in a crash. And even the smallest size frame fits a full size drink bottle. Usability is important, and key to this bike’s appeal.
A small rubber stop under the down tube prevents the forks bumping the frame under load, or the bars twisting and scratching the top tube in a crash. And even the smallest size frame fits a full size drink bottle. Usability is important, and key to this bike’s appeal.

On the Trail

Web_Test_Specialized_Rumor-5

Hitting up some familiar trails, the Rumor felt comfortable and instinctual. The low standover and balanced design of the bike meant we assumed a natural riding position without even thinking about it. We didn’t have to force ourselves to keep our weight where it mattered for maximum traction or stability. It rolls so quickly over moderately rough stuff we were off the brakes a lot more often as well.

Web_Test_Specialized_Rumor-2

For us, the only drawback to the stable, confidence inspiring build was the Specialized Ground Control 2Bliss Tyres. They’re great on loamy trails and we like that the bike is specced with a fatter 2.3” tyre on the front and a 2.1” on the rear. We found them a little skatey on grainy over hardpack surfaces like Stromlo and Bruce Ridge in the ACT. They also didn’t offer much traction on uphill sandstone obstacles around Sydney.

While playful descents were a highlight of our rides on the Rumor, we were impressed with its climbing characteristics as well. Not only does this mean more confident descending, but you don’t get any sensations of lost energy while climbing.

Web_Test_Specialized_Rumor-1

At 12.9kgs (with pedals), the Comp is reasonably light for a bike of this spec, but it is always going to be slower up the hill than something more whippety. But it never ‘felt’ slow. The weight was only noticeable on more technical climbs making us more deliberate in the way we muscled the bike around.

As for smaller obstacles like logs and small rocky ‘ups’, the large wheel size of the Rumor rolled over these easily with a bit of leg strength alone. We constantly meet women in skills clinics whose main aim is to clear this type of obstacle on the trails. Not because they want to cameo in the next Danny MacAskill video, but because it’s preventing them from holding on to a group on social rides.

The great thing about the Rumor is it allows these women to enjoy a wider variety of trails with increased enjoyment from the outset. This would be our main reason for encouraging this type of rider to consider the Rumor over a bike with 26” wheels or the mid-size 27.5”.

Web_Test_Specialized_Rumor-6

Overall

The Rumor puts women on a level playing field with guys who are able to jump on a trail bike and confidently ride it from the shop door to exciting trails without having to tweak a thing.

The stability of this 29” trail bike, combined with the thoughtful, robust spec make it a great value option for new riders. It gives a real boost to the variety of trails these ladies can enjoy, providing a great platform for discovering how much fun mountain biking can be. A base model Rumor has just been realised for $1999 as well.

The other rider type that will enjoy the Rumor are women who just want to cut loose and play. The low standover means you can really throw the bike around and the long wheelbase, wide bars and powerful brakes help to keep you out of trouble if you botch a landing or mis-judge a corner. This bike begs you to have fun whatever ability level you bring to it and is guaranteed to help you lift your skills to the next level as a result.

It’s exciting to think that more girls will discover mountain biking through a rig that caters for them as well as this one does. The mind boggles at the ways future bike designs may also be impacted by this rapidly expanding section of the market as a result.

Web_Test_Specialized_Rumor-4

THE TEST:
Test rider: Kath Bicknell, our test rider for this review, is 56kg and 164cm tall.
Suspension: 20% rear sag and around 15% up front.
Tyre pressure: 22psi rear, 20psi front.
Test conducted: Locations included Stromlo Forest Park and Bruce Ridge, ACT, Manly Dam and a few secret trails in and around Sydney.
Other notes: Autosag doesn’t set rebound for you. Take your time to wind the rebound dial to each extreme, ride a rocky section of trail to learn what it does, then find a middle ground that suits the ride feel you enjoy.

Fresh Product: Liv/giant Unveils World’s First Full Range of Women’s-Specific 27.5 Bikes

Liv/giant, the cycling brand dedicated to female riders, today unveiled the world’s first full lineup of women’s-specific off-road bikes featuring 27.5-inch wheel technology. With new XC, trail and enduro bikes, in both composite and aluminum frame options, Liv/giant is making a major commitment to helping female riders enjoy a better fit and superior performance on the trail.

Obsess_Advanced_1.
Obsess Advanced 1.
Lust_Advanced_0.
Lust Advanced 0.
Intrigue_1.
Intrigue 1.

For 2014, a total of five new Liv/giant series and 13 global models feature 27.5-inch wheel technology. Each of the new bikes has been in development for the past two years, and several have already been ridden to major race wins by Liv/giant athletes who played key roles in developing them.

“Our research led us to believe that the 27.5-inch wheel platform offers an ideal way to reduce overall bike weight, improve efficiency, and deliver better control for female riders,” said Liv/giant product developer Abby Santurbane. “We worked with a team of pro riders who confirmed those benefits and more.”

When combined with Liv/giant’s 3F (Fit, Form, Function) women’s-specific fit geometry, the 27.5 bikes—each of them purpose-built for a particular terrain and riding style—grant the traction and stability of 29er bikes but without the compromises in fit and weight. The new 27.5-optimized frames offer more stand-over clearance and a shorter wheelbase to improve a rider’s control and confidence.

One of the athletes riding an early prototype model was road and cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos, who is racing select XC events this year in a build-up to the 2016 Olympic Games. Vos rode a prototype Obsess Advanced model—the world’s first women’s-specific XC-focused 27.5 composite hardtail—to wins in XC and short track at the Sea Otter Classic in April.

Obsess Advanced 2 ($2799 RRP)
Obsess Advanced 2.

“Some of my teammates had been racing on 29er bikes, which offer some added stability, but for many women riders the large wheels present a challenge,” said Vos. “The 27.5 feels just right. It’s quick and light the way I want it to be, but also has better control and stability than the 26-inch-wheel bikes I’ve ridden. I don’t have to put as much effort into going fast on my 27.5-inch bike. It’s effortless.” Along with Vos, U23 XC World Champion Jolanda Neff has also played a major role in helping test and refine the 2014 Obsess Advanced.

For more technical XC terrain, Liv/giant developed Lust Advanced, the world’s first women’s-specific, full-suspension composite 27.5-inch bike. The Lust Advanced is Liv/giant’s flagship bike, designed for the most discerning XC and trail riders. It features an Advanced-grade composite frame and Maestro Suspension technology with 4 inches of travel. The Lust series is also offered in a lightweight ALUXX SL aluminum frame.

List Advanced 2 (3499 RRP).
Lust Advanced 2.
Lust 2 ($2499 RRP).
Lust 2.

 

For aggressive trail and enduro riding, Liv/giant is introducing Intrigue, which features 5.5 inches of Maestro rear suspension technology and an ALUXX SL aluminum frame. Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Kelli Emmett helped develop both the Lust and Intrigue platforms, and she has been competing on both at XC and enduro events.

“The difference with 27.5 is really incredible,” said Emmett. “In both the Lust and the Intrigue, I can immediately feel the boost in quickness and my ability to maneuver the bike. For XC racing with Lust Advanced, the fit and acceleration is so much better than a 29er. And for enduro racing with the Intrigue, it’s a perfect blend of stability, control, and agility to easily handle any terrain on the course.”

In addition to all the new performance models, Liv/giant makes 27.5 technology available to more women riders with a full line of 27.5 aluminum hardtail bikes called Tempt. The Tempt series is ideal for beginning and sport-level mountain bike riders, and features a low standover height and excellent fit.

For 2014, Liv/giant is offering the following off-road series with 27.5 technology:

Obsess Advanced (Advanced-grade composite hardtail XC)
Lust Advanced (Advanced-grade composite full-suspension XC)
Lust (ALUXX SL aluminum full-suspension XC)
Intrigue (ALUXX SL aluminum full-suspension trail and enduro)
Tempt (ALUXX aluminum hardtail XC)

The 2014 Liv/giant 27.5 off-road bikes will be available later this summer through Giant and Liv/giant retailers.

Fresh Product: Liv/giant Unveils World's First Full Range of Women's-Specific 27.5 Bikes

Liv/giant, the cycling brand dedicated to female riders, today unveiled the world’s first full lineup of women’s-specific off-road bikes featuring 27.5-inch wheel technology. With new XC, trail and enduro bikes, in both composite and aluminum frame options, Liv/giant is making a major commitment to helping female riders enjoy a better fit and superior performance on the trail.

Obsess_Advanced_1.
Obsess Advanced 1.
Lust_Advanced_0.
Lust Advanced 0.
Intrigue_1.
Intrigue 1.

For 2014, a total of five new Liv/giant series and 13 global models feature 27.5-inch wheel technology. Each of the new bikes has been in development for the past two years, and several have already been ridden to major race wins by Liv/giant athletes who played key roles in developing them.

“Our research led us to believe that the 27.5-inch wheel platform offers an ideal way to reduce overall bike weight, improve efficiency, and deliver better control for female riders,” said Liv/giant product developer Abby Santurbane. “We worked with a team of pro riders who confirmed those benefits and more.”

When combined with Liv/giant’s 3F (Fit, Form, Function) women’s-specific fit geometry, the 27.5 bikes—each of them purpose-built for a particular terrain and riding style—grant the traction and stability of 29er bikes but without the compromises in fit and weight. The new 27.5-optimized frames offer more stand-over clearance and a shorter wheelbase to improve a rider’s control and confidence.

One of the athletes riding an early prototype model was road and cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos, who is racing select XC events this year in a build-up to the 2016 Olympic Games. Vos rode a prototype Obsess Advanced model—the world’s first women’s-specific XC-focused 27.5 composite hardtail—to wins in XC and short track at the Sea Otter Classic in April.

Obsess Advanced 2 ($2799 RRP)
Obsess Advanced 2.

“Some of my teammates had been racing on 29er bikes, which offer some added stability, but for many women riders the large wheels present a challenge,” said Vos. “The 27.5 feels just right. It’s quick and light the way I want it to be, but also has better control and stability than the 26-inch-wheel bikes I’ve ridden. I don’t have to put as much effort into going fast on my 27.5-inch bike. It’s effortless.” Along with Vos, U23 XC World Champion Jolanda Neff has also played a major role in helping test and refine the 2014 Obsess Advanced.

For more technical XC terrain, Liv/giant developed Lust Advanced, the world’s first women’s-specific, full-suspension composite 27.5-inch bike. The Lust Advanced is Liv/giant’s flagship bike, designed for the most discerning XC and trail riders. It features an Advanced-grade composite frame and Maestro Suspension technology with 4 inches of travel. The Lust series is also offered in a lightweight ALUXX SL aluminum frame.

List Advanced 2 (3499 RRP).
Lust Advanced 2.
Lust 2 ($2499 RRP).
Lust 2.

 

For aggressive trail and enduro riding, Liv/giant is introducing Intrigue, which features 5.5 inches of Maestro rear suspension technology and an ALUXX SL aluminum frame. Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Kelli Emmett helped develop both the Lust and Intrigue platforms, and she has been competing on both at XC and enduro events.

“The difference with 27.5 is really incredible,” said Emmett. “In both the Lust and the Intrigue, I can immediately feel the boost in quickness and my ability to maneuver the bike. For XC racing with Lust Advanced, the fit and acceleration is so much better than a 29er. And for enduro racing with the Intrigue, it’s a perfect blend of stability, control, and agility to easily handle any terrain on the course.”

In addition to all the new performance models, Liv/giant makes 27.5 technology available to more women riders with a full line of 27.5 aluminum hardtail bikes called Tempt. The Tempt series is ideal for beginning and sport-level mountain bike riders, and features a low standover height and excellent fit.

For 2014, Liv/giant is offering the following off-road series with 27.5 technology:

Obsess Advanced (Advanced-grade composite hardtail XC)
Lust Advanced (Advanced-grade composite full-suspension XC)
Lust (ALUXX SL aluminum full-suspension XC)
Intrigue (ALUXX SL aluminum full-suspension trail and enduro)
Tempt (ALUXX aluminum hardtail XC)

The 2014 Liv/giant 27.5 off-road bikes will be available later this summer through Giant and Liv/giant retailers.

Tested: Specialized Women’s S-Works Fate Carbon 29

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Specialized S-Works Fate Carbon 29

As a female rider, the most frustrating part of the 26” vs 29” debate has nothing to do with the pros and cons of wheel size. It’s the part where people rave about the benefits of 29ers, then conclude with some kind of comment about how they’re not suited to smaller riders. Or women. Then tell you to wait another year or two so you can reap the benefits of the 27.5”/650B wheel instead.

When a bike does hit the market with a female friendly geometry, the spec is all too often mid-range or man-shaped. Tweaking the bike with high performance in mind blows the budget or means compromises are made in areas of weight, fit, performance and sex-appeal. It does feel a little unfair.

Specialized, however, have been ahead of the market in women’s design innovations for a long time. The S-Works Fate 29 we reviewed demonstrates the exceptional ride experiences that are possible when you build a race-ready hardtail around women’s needs at the top of the game. We were curious to learn more about the choices that had been made in femme-ing up the Fate and how these translated to the trails.

The Design and Construction

The key design difference between the Fate and the men’s equivalent – the Stumpjumper – is standover height. Aesthetically we see this with the big dip in the top tube, and the extra triangle near the seat post. This allows for production of the Fate in a size suited to female riders of below average height. The 15” model has a stand over height of 715mm and top tube length of 545mm, which will be music to the ears of riders who find a standard 16” frame devastatingly big.

The big dip in the top tube allows for better standover height.
The big dip in the top tube allows for better standover height.

In most other areas, the geometry of the Fate and the Stumpjumper are not that different. In several places where female riders benefit from a smaller, tighter design to boost bike handling and performance, Specialized see the advantages of this in unisex designs aimed at the cross-county and marathon racing market, too.

Basically, the lower standover has been achieved without compromising the fit and performance of the bike everywhere else. We like that. It keeps the Fate racy and familiar, not relaxed and upright, as is often the trend in recreational women’s rigs.

A low bottom bracket height keeps the centre of gravity low and adds to rider stability on the bike. The chain stays and wheelbase are shorter than average, which adds flickability and snappy handling.

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A low bottom bracket and short chain stays gave the Fate a more playful ride.

The head tube is quite short and coupled with an 80mm-travel RockShox SID World Cup 29 Brain fork to keep the bars nice and low. The fork is an interesting number; it uses Specialized’s Brain damping (developed in conjunction with FOX) bundled into the chassis of a RockShox SID World Cup fork. The shorter fork reduces the need for awkward looking negative rise stems – or increases their impact for riders who want the handlebars closer to the ground.

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The RockShox SID World Cup with BRAINs.
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The short headtube helped get the correct fit without the need for a big negative rise stem.

When we jumped on the Fate it felt instantly ‘right.’ The frame design, as a whole, felt balanced and responsive, and meant we could really throw the bike around the trails as a result. This is not just due to the geometry, but the smart choices made in the build.

The Gear

At a quick scan, the Fate glitters with top of the line bling. It runs a Shimano XTR group with custom SRAM XX chain rings attached to Specialized S-Works OS cranks. This is matched to Roval Control SL 29” Carbon hoops; a higher-end model of the Roval Control 29’s we reviewed recently. We expected to see through-axle skewers here for extra stiffness and were surprised to see Titanium quick releases instead. That said, the Roval hubs use oversized axle end-caps that Specialized claim make the fork just as stiff as a bolt-through setup.

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Straight off the shop floor the S-Works Fate comes with all the bling you’d ever need.
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Roval Control SL 29” Carbon hoops.

Looking closer, everything we’d normally change to adapt a high-end unisex XC rig for female use had been done for us: A light weight women’s Jett Expert Gel saddle (with Ti rails), a slightly shorter Syntace stem (75mm on the Medium frame), and 660mm S-Works Carbon XC flat handlebars that are two centimetres narrower than those specced on the Stumpjumper.

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Syntace 75mm stem and light weight saddle (with Ti rails) are just some of the features that make the S-Works Fate a top-of-the-line model.

The Fate runs slightly easier front gearing than the Stumpy (36/22 compared to 38/24). And we really liked that the crank length changes with each frame size and seem rider appropriate.

We felt very cared for by this build. It does the thinking for riders who don’t know which changes will increase comfort and performance, and, more subtle adjustments aside, takes the pain out of additional ordering for women who do.

On the Trail

You know that feeling when Christmas arrives and Santa has delivered twice as many gifts as you hoped for? That’s what riding the Fate feels like. It’s snappy, playful, lightening fast in response to each pedal stroke and blew our best times up climbs out of the water. We missed rear suspension on some particularly rocky tracks, but it responded so well as we pumped, leant and pushed it through a variety of terrain that it made us fall in love with riding all over again.

Our first adventure was the three-day, 265km Sani2c stage race in South Africa, an event that was sure to put the bike’s racy aspirations to the test: Fast fire roads, buff, twisty, singletrack, floating bridges, long mud bogs, long gentle climbs, steep technical ones, a long run of river stones and fast, furious descents.

The Fate sunning itself in the afternoon glow of South Africa.
The Fate sunning itself in the afternoon glow of South Africa.

The compliant carbon weave, along with thin tubing for the seat stays and directly below the seat post, absorbed the varied terrain exceptionally well. The stiffness-to-weight ratio of the frame, and the fast-rolling, carbon wheelset meant every pedal stroke was rewarded with motivating forward momentum. When competitors booked massages for sore legs and backs between stages, we lubed the chain, checked the tyre pressures and hung out in the food hall.

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Some thinner tubing in the right spots gave the bike a more comfortable compliant feel.

Curious to push the Fate through more technical terrain, our next stop was some popular race loops back in Oz. Instead of really working the bike through corners like we’re accustomed to, this one held its speed effortlessly, exiting familiar corners far quicker than we expected given that this is an area where some 29ers are prone to struggling. In tight, twisty sections of the track, the dialled geometry of the bike really stood out, out-performing the high-end 26” duallie we’ve used on these trails most recently.

The wheelbase on the Fate is in fact shorter than that of the 26” bike we’ve been riding recently, which goes a long way to explaining why we didn’t have to consciously adjust line choices or cornering technique. We found ourselves eagerly looking up the calendar just to see what this bike could do in race conditions and what we could do on it, as a result.

The light weight and soft compound of the S-Works Fast Trak 2Bliss ready rubber made for excellent, grippy traction, and was particularly noticeable as we mowed down technical sandstone climbs. These treads are well suited to typical Australian loose-over-hardpack conditions, although thin sidewalls make them best reserved for special occasions.

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Good rubber makes a big difference to your ride and the Fast Trak’s were spot on for traction and control (just be careful on rides with sharp rocks).

Given that after bike fit, getting suspension dialled is the next difficult issue for female riders, we had high expectations of forks. The 80mm of travel worked well for the Fate’s intended use and we never found ourselves wishing for any more. Unfortunately, our 55kg tester was unable to set it up to provide for a plusher, more responsive ride feel as we’d hoped. They performed well in smooth terrain but were harsher than expected along smaller bumps and braking ruts. This poor small-bump compliance meant we never really engaged the Brain damping, running the fork in its ‘full open’ setting the whole time during our test. If this were our own bike, we’d be investigating some ways to get some internal tweaking done to make the fork more reactive on small bumps.

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If you’re a light person we recommend you spend time with your local bike shop to get the forks dialled perfectly.

The only other negative we experienced was that the enamel was prone to chipping, something that appears to be an anomaly of our test rig. This was aggravated by changing the seat height during transport and by using tape or stickers to attach spare inner tubes or course profiles to the frame. While these reservations are important to mention, neither would be deal breakers if we were looking to buy the Fate.

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We noted some enamel chipping – maybe caused by us, but something to keep your eye on.

Overall

Instead of burning energy constantly playing catch up, the Fate allows its pilot to pick and choose where and when to play her cards. Energy expenditure is rewarded rather than wasted, allowing for smart, strategic racing, better recovery, and the confidence that comes with both.

The biggest market for the Fate is obviously the women’s XC and Marathon racing scene. It is equally suited to riders who enjoy the feel and manoeuvrability that comes with using technology and design innovations that are at the top of the game. If you rely heavily on suspension for confidence on technical trails, it is probably not for you.

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Due to the absolute lack of competition for a women’s specific, race-ready build straight off the shelf, we see the Fate as a being a bike that disrupts brand and shop loyalties as well.

In terms of price, $7999 is what we’d expect for a bike at this level. It’s almost justified by the motivation the Fate adds to your hunger for riding and the hundreds of dollars saved by not having to radically alter the cockpit and contact points. ‘Expert Carbon’ ($3,999) and ‘Comp Carbon’ ($2,999) models are available for women wanting to reap the Fate’s rewards for a more modest spend.

THE TEST:
Test rider: Kath Bicknell, our test rider for this review, is 55kg and 164cm tall.
Suspension: 75psi front
Tyre pressure: 22psi rear, 21psi front.
Test conducted: Locations included Stromlo Forest Park and Bruce Ridge, ACT, Yellowmundee NSW and through the rocky, sandy, thorny and varied terrain of South Africa.
Other notes: The fact that the Fate climbs so blindingly fast and accelerates without hesitation meant we often wished for slightly harder gearing on fire roads and descents. Whether this is a product of years of riding harder gears stocked on unisex bikes is hard to tell.

 

Fresh: Specialized Unveils Full Suspension Women's 29er

Specialized Bicycle Components unveils the much-anticipated Rumor ‐ their first full‐suspension women’s 29er.

Built with Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry, the Rumor is created from the ground up to be one of the lightest weight and best fitting full-­‐suspension 29ers for women.

“We built a full-­‐suspension 29’er because we have seen how much fit and 29’’ wheels enhance confidence and stability for women out on the trails,” said Women’s Product Manager Erin Sprague. “Our product testers are around five feet tall and their trail experiences have improved dramatically on this platform. We believe that this bike is a game changer, and women’s mountain biking is the next big thing,” she added.

The Rumor is available in three model levels and offers the latest available technology for women’s 29er riders. The all-­‐new Women’s M5 Alloy frame features Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry and tube sets, 110mm front and rear travel, a tapered head tube for precision handling, internal cable routing, ultra-­‐low stand over height and unlike its competitors, water bottle clearance on all sizes.

Specialized was able to achieve this by designing the bike from the ground up, with a two‐piece top and shock carriage. This enabled the team to create in­‐line suspension and reach all 29er design targets in terms of stand over, ride quality and bottle clearance. The Rumor offers custom tuned suspension, appropriate for female riders. Extensive field‐testing and research on women’s center of gravity and weight distribution helped to determine the optimal spring rate for female riders. By designing the bike and suspension in tandem, Specialized has been able to achieve completely balanced performance that is appropriate to the female rider.

Specialized Autosag suspension tuning is available on the comp and expert level models. Autosag automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock, providing a quick and simple adjustment for optimal suspension performance.

To use Autosag, a rider sits in the saddle and pushes a specially designed transfer port on the shock to release air pressure until a set level, which is based on the rider’s weight. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves ‘perfect sag’. Perfect sag allows for any rider, regardless of mechanical experience, to properly set up the rear suspension of their bike to ensure a comfortable trail experience.

Women’s Body Geometry data was used throughout the development of the Rumor. The Jett saddle, Women’s Enduro grips and size specific components ensure that female riders get the best fit at every contact point. Everything from small diameter grips to size-­‐specific crank lengths are optimized for female riders.

Please visit specialized.com to learn more and experience the Rumor, the most stable and confidence‐inspiring women’s full‐suspension 29er on the trail.

Fresh: Specialized Unveils Full Suspension Women’s 29er

Specialized Bicycle Components unveils the much-anticipated Rumor ‐ their first full‐suspension women’s 29er.

Built with Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry, the Rumor is created from the ground up to be one of the lightest weight and best fitting full-­‐suspension 29ers for women.

“We built a full-­‐suspension 29’er because we have seen how much fit and 29’’ wheels enhance confidence and stability for women out on the trails,” said Women’s Product Manager Erin Sprague. “Our product testers are around five feet tall and their trail experiences have improved dramatically on this platform. We believe that this bike is a game changer, and women’s mountain biking is the next big thing,” she added.

The Rumor is available in three model levels and offers the latest available technology for women’s 29er riders. The all-­‐new Women’s M5 Alloy frame features Women’s XC Trail 29 Geometry and tube sets, 110mm front and rear travel, a tapered head tube for precision handling, internal cable routing, ultra-­‐low stand over height and unlike its competitors, water bottle clearance on all sizes.

Specialized was able to achieve this by designing the bike from the ground up, with a two‐piece top and shock carriage. This enabled the team to create in­‐line suspension and reach all 29er design targets in terms of stand over, ride quality and bottle clearance. The Rumor offers custom tuned suspension, appropriate for female riders. Extensive field‐testing and research on women’s center of gravity and weight distribution helped to determine the optimal spring rate for female riders. By designing the bike and suspension in tandem, Specialized has been able to achieve completely balanced performance that is appropriate to the female rider.

Specialized Autosag suspension tuning is available on the comp and expert level models. Autosag automatically sets the proper sag and air pressure in the shock, providing a quick and simple adjustment for optimal suspension performance.

To use Autosag, a rider sits in the saddle and pushes a specially designed transfer port on the shock to release air pressure until a set level, which is based on the rider’s weight. This equalizes the positive and negative chambers and achieves ‘perfect sag’. Perfect sag allows for any rider, regardless of mechanical experience, to properly set up the rear suspension of their bike to ensure a comfortable trail experience.

Women’s Body Geometry data was used throughout the development of the Rumor. The Jett saddle, Women’s Enduro grips and size specific components ensure that female riders get the best fit at every contact point. Everything from small diameter grips to size-­‐specific crank lengths are optimized for female riders.

Please visit specialized.com to learn more and experience the Rumor, the most stable and confidence‐inspiring women’s full‐suspension 29er on the trail.

Nzo Scuffers Women’s Trail Shorts

Nzo’s original Scuffers impressed the pants off many a rider. And with extra stretch and an updated look, the latest version Scuffers stick to the body like quality tyres to sweet Rotorua trails. [private]

Nzo’s 2012 Scuffers retain many of the original version’s well-loved features.

Velco waist tabs offer approximately 8cm of adjustment, to cater for a wide range of body shapes. Deep hip pockets and a zipped side pocket allow you to securely carry your goods. An elastic back panel moves effortlessly in response to riding position.

Knicks are BYO: the Scuffers are unlined but cut to fit your favourite pair of seat-padders, should you choose.

In the new Scuffers, Nzo’s new heavier, stretchier main fabric, NzoFlex’, and an extra panel on the inside leg are the most noticeable updates. These two features keep the shorts securely in place while you’re riding and put an end to any swishing or vertical movement mid-pedal stroke.

The elastic properties of NzoFlex allow for unrestricted movement, freeing you to give your full attention to the trail ahead.

The only drawback was they felt a bit hot at temperatures above 30°C. After a few months of use it’s hard to tell our test pair of Scuffers from a new set.

With their versatile cut, which will suit a range of body shapes and riding styles, and their secure trail-fit, Nzo’s Scuffers are easy to recommend.

They’re built for riding, but we expect to see them off the bike too. [/private]