The subject of women’s specific bikes is certainly a controversial one, particularly at the moment, with some brands touting ‘gender neutral’ designs and others pushing for women’s specific construction. But regardless of which side of the fence you sit, it’s hard to ignore the commitment of Liv to providing the full spectrum of bikes to the female market. In the year in which Liv celebrates its 10 year anniversary, they are launching not one, but two, women’s full suspension trail e-bikes.
The two models are; the The Intrigue E+ Pro, which is a more premium performance bike with a Maestro suspension chassis and 140/150mm travel; and the shorter travel 120/130mm Embolden E+, which is aimed at the rider who prefers less extreme terrain and may feel the Intrigue E+ is simply too much bike.
At this point in time, we’ll only be seeing the Intrigue E+ in Australia. You’re correct if you think you’ve heard the Intrigue name before – it was popular 140mm trail bike, the sister to Giant’s Trance if you will. There are two versions of Intrigue E+ available, but it’s just the less expensive (and lower spec) Intrigue E+ 2 Pro that will be making it to our shores for $5999.
There’s no doubt in our minds that e-MTBs are going to be the ticket into the sport for a lot of new female riders, and so full credit to Liv for helping drive this.
Launching two e-bike platforms for women is a big investment in what is surely only a small market segment. Erin Lamb, Liv’s Global Product Marketing Lead, explained that it’s in response to the explosion of e-bikes globally, and that while “The women’s mountain bike market is a small slice of the overall market now, it’s rapidly growing compared to the other segments, and so that’s why the goal in general is to inspire women to ride – to keep that growth going.” There’s no doubt in our minds that e-MTBs are going to be the ticket into the sport for a lot of new female riders, and so full credit to Liv for helping drive this.
So what’s women’s specific about it?
The LIV approach is not just about sticking a wider saddle on and calling it a women’s bike. You can delve into the detail here (or read more about it in our Liv Hail review) but everything from component choice, to frame geometry and suspension tune is different to what you’d find on the equivalent men’s model in the Giant range. The geometry design for Liv e-bikes aims to have the riding position and experience as similar as possible to a non-pedal assist equivalent, and there are four frame sizes from XS to Large available.
So, let’s take a look at it!
Looks good, huh? Let’s be honest, many e-bikes are pretty fugly, and Giant (Liv’s brother company) were one of the worst offenders with their Giant Full-E+ Pro. We are stoked to say that the Liv Intrigue E+ is a genuinely good looking e-bike – a rare thing indeed! The paint jobs are top notch as well. Even the cheaper Intrigue E+ 2 Pro which is coming to Australia has a lustrous finish of a striking gloss black with metallic red highlights.
Let’s start with familiar territory for those not well acquainted with e-MTBs, the suspension. The Intrigue E+ 2 Pro features the Maestro suspension platform with a trunnion mounted Fox Float DPS shock providing 140mm of travel and a 150mm SR Suntour Aion 35 up front. It’s the same suspension configuration that’s served Giant and LIV well for many years, albeit with longer chain stays to fit in the motor and deliver better climbing traction.
Battery integration is the new frontier for e-bike design and the new downtube integrated Liv EnergyPak really does looks sleek. Its 500Wh capacity theoretically provides a distance range of between 110km (eco mode) and 45km (full power mode).
What about the motor?
The pedal assist is courtesy of the SyncDrive Pro motor, powered and co-developed by Yamaha, which is not a motor system we’ve ridden before. It provides five modes up to 360% power, and a “walk assist” mode for when pushing is the only option. The brain behind the motor is the PedalPlus 4-Sensor technology, with a barrage of sensors claiming to replicate a natural feeling pedal response on all types of terrain.
The charger is very fast, the battery can be boosted to over 60% of capacity within one hour and full within approximately 3.5 hours. The smart charger also monitors the health of the 40 individual battery cells and continuously adjusts the charge output based on the battery condition to maximise the battery efficiency and life-span.
We like the fact that Liv have opted to ditch a bulky display unit, just using the minimalistic RideControl ONE module mounted to the left side of the bars, with buttons to switch through support modes and an LED display showing what mode you’re in and battery level. Everything has an App now (hell, our local pizzeria has one) and due for release in September 2018 is the Liv E-Bike App which will enable the rider to tune motor settings and support ratios.
What about the ride?
What better place to launch an e-bike (or two) than the stunning Venosta Valley in Northern Italy’s South Tyrol. A lush valley of apple orchards nestled between towering peaks through which an extensive network of mountain bike and hiking tracks weave. It is in this type of terrain that an e-bike really shines, with the pedal assist making light work of road and access trail climbs, giving quick and efficient access to the singletrack.
Our strong first impression was of the responsiveness of the bike and its motor. Many e-bikes suffer from a laggy motor response to pedalling at lower speeds, and this can make slow, technical climbs hard work. But the Liv felt great in these situations, making those techy climbs where you need to ratchet your pedal stroke much easier than we’ve experienced on many e-bikes. Once rolling, the power transfer is smooth and does feel pretty natural.
Descending on the Intrigue E+
On the descents this bike is incredibly confidence inspiring. Its weight and stiffness combining with the impressive Maestro suspension to provide a seriously stable ride, with minimal deflection helping forgive any poor line choices. Ample stopping power was provided by the Tektro four piston brakes with 200mm rotors, which is so important with the extra weight of an e-bike.
What surprised us was how manoeuvrable and agile the bike felt for its weight and long wheelbase, particularly in terms of front end weight, without a feeling of having to significantly increase input to clear obstacles at speed. It was also unexpectedly nimble through tight downhill switchbacks. What we noticed and appreciated about the bike was that it simply felt lighter on the trail than expected, which contributed to its willingness to leave the ground. We never felt like a passenger.
Liv opted for 2.6″ tyres, rather than 2.8″ or 3.0″ rubber. When bombing through more open terrain or cornering at high speeds, the 2.6” tyres offer great support and cornering stability, without any vagueness that can plague bigger Plus sized rubber. The flipside of course is that on loose, steep climbs you do miss the extra grip of a 2.8″ or 3.0″ tyre.
Easy there, tiger!
That same responsiveness we noted above does require a gentle touch sometimes, especially when starting on hill, to prevent the bike surging away. Remembering to lowering the power mode and starting with gentle pressure on the pedals was the solution to this.
Speaking of pushing the bike, the walk assist mode is a great feature for the smoother climbs but we found it not terribly useful for pushing the bike up rocky terrain. The button was tricky to hold down whilst wrestling the bike uphill, and the torque being applied through the rear wheel meant it would break traction as we were trying to lift the front wheel up and over an obstacle.
The Intrigue E+ is a great trail weapon, we had a lot of fun on this bike and loved the way it shredded the steep rough terrain of our testing grounds. While Liv say it’s designed to appeal to the more experienced rider, we wouldn’t shy away from recommending it to someone getting started in the sport too, or simply any women wanting to ride further, get to their favourite trails quicker, having more fun along the way.