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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.