What Are the Best Mountain Bikes for Women

What Are the Best Mountain Bikes for Women?

Let’s be honest, I’m not a gearhead. And I get so attached to my bikes that I hold onto them much longer than is reasonable. Until recently I had been riding a 9½ year old, Trek Fuel 70. Yes, I was aware of the changes in bike technology in the past decade, from carbon frames to 29ers to women’s specific designs. So what kept me from making a change? The daunting process of choosing the right women’s mountain bike. But when the guys at the Jans bike shop started calling my old Trek a dinosaur, I knew it was time to bite the bullet.  And you know what? I wish I’d done it sooner.

Option #1 – The Trek Lush SL
My personal women’s mountain bike demo process started with the Trek Lush SL, a women’s specific design made by the manufacturer of both my ancient mountain bike and my significantly newer road bike. Yes, my attachment disorder transcends disciplines.

So imagine my surprise when I hopped on the Trek Lush and didn’t immediately fall in love. Keep in mind that I had been riding a traditional mountain bike for the last decade, which meant that I was used to an aluminum frame with 26 inch wheels. Even though the Lush SL that I test drove was aluminum, it was also a 29er (the Lush also comes in a 26″ model) and the difference between 26 inch wheels was significant. I felt much higher, but wasn’t sure if this was a good thing for me.

Jake Jacobson, Manager of Jans’ Park Avenue, explained the difference to me. “Riding a mountain bike with 26 inch wheels is kind of like driving a Ferrari. The bike has better cornering, but it can be too quick for some people,” he said.  “A 29er has longer rollover with more suspension, so it feels more like an Escalade. It’s a plush ride.”

It turns out that the ride was a little to plush for my liking. While I appreciated how the Lush rolled over rocks and tree roots, I had trouble making switchbacks with the 29 inch wheels and the bike just felt too bulky for me. That said, I loved the women’s specific design elements such as the low step-over height and the seat designed to fit a woman’s body. However, the narrower handlebars felt too short. I preferred the wider bars of a unisex bike. All of these insights begged the question. Was a women’s mountain bike really right for me?

Option #2 – The Santa Cruz Juliana
To answer this elusive question, I tried the Santa Cruz Juliana. This women’s mountain bike seemed like it was right up my alley with 26 inch wheels and an aluminum frame. I was convinced that I couldn’t justify the expense of a fancy carbon frame and the Juliana was intended for women not looking for a high-end bike.

Like the Trek Lush, the Juliana is specifically designed for women. This means a compact handlebar and grip system ideal for smaller hands, bar, stem and crank size tailored to the female anatomy and the crucial women’s specific saddle. And Santa Cruz was expanding their Juliana offerings to create an entire women’s boutique bike line with nine different options. Touted as the “largest women’s bike collection,” by Santa Cruz, the new Juliana line includes a blend of aluminum and carbon frames in 26 inch, 27.5 inch and 29 inch wheel sizes.

My first reaction was that the Juliana didn’t pedal as smoothly as the Trek Lush. According to Paul Boyle, Jans Bike Expert and Jans.com Marketing Specialist, this makes sense. “The Juliana comes with a single pivot design, so it won’t be the best pedaling bike, but the pivot is placed high on the down tube to mitigate pedal bob,” he says. “The Lush uses Active Braking Pivot or ABP, which better separates pedaling forces from impact forces.” The single pivot design, combined with the fact that I was missing the 29 inch wheels and their ability to roll over obstacles and retain speed, pretty much confirmed that the Juliana wasn’t for me.

However, it is an excellent bike for women since the geometry is optimized for a female rider. Jillian Ritter, Jans.com Content Manager owns a Juliana and loves it. “The Juliana is nice since I’m a small person, so the bike isn’t overwhelming. It’s comfortable and feels light going around switchbacks. Even if they’re steep, the 26 inch wheels make the bike nimble so I can still make the switchbacks,” says Jillian.

Option #3 – The Trek Superfly 100 Elite
Hoping that the third time was the charm, I decided to change my strategy. Since I didn’t love the narrow handlebars on the women’s mountain bikes and since I had been riding a unisex bike for years, I decided to try an option that wasn’t a women’s specific design.

So being the loyal Trek customer that I am, I saddled up on the Trek Superfly 100 Elite. Jans doesn’t offer this bike in an aluminum frame for demo, so I just had to try the carbon frame. I figured out it was worth finding out what the fuss was all about.

The minute I started climbing, I was hooked. The Superfly 100 Elite was lively, responsive and nimble, despite being a 29er.  And talk about lightweight. For the first time in my mountain biking experience, I literally felt like the bike was pulling me up the hill. And the Shimano component set, was killer.

Martin Holly, the Jans Bike Expert who got me set up on the Superfly Elite described it this way, “The steeper head tube makes this bike a good climber, yet the lower front end gives it a lightweight and racier feel.” This bike was in a league of its own with top tier components and active braking pivot to avoid brake jack. And did I mention that the 29 inch wheels rolled over rock gardens like they aren’t even there?

The Trek Superfly Elite 100 was the bike for me.  It made me a better rider by giving me more confidence navigating the technical aspects of the trail and I used less energy on the climbs since the carbon frame was so much lighter. I’m not saying that buying a unisex bike is the right choice for all women mountain bikers, but it certainly was for me.

What’s Next?
My boss considers it a crime that I don’t replace my outdoor sporting equipment more regularly and having made the switch from an aluminum to carbon mountain bike, I’d tend to agree. In fact, since I ended up purchasing the Trek Superfly 100SL with the less expensive components than the Superfly 100 Elite, I’m already considering upgrading to the Shimano component set.  Having ridden it during my buying process I know that it makes shifting smooth as silk. Perhaps I am becoming a bit of a gearhead after all.

Liz Yokubison, Senior Editor

Editor’s Note:  Jans.com does not sell mountain bikes online. However all of the bikes mentioned in this blog are available to demo or purchase at any of the Jans retail stores. So if we’ve peaked your interest, perhaps a trip to Park City is in order to really give these bikes a run for their money.

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