The Best Trail Mountain Bikes for Women of 2018
Ever wonder if a women's mountain bike is right for you? Four professional women testers ripped three popular ladies' bikes around for six weeks to help you find out. We pushed these whips to the limit, pounding out the Sierra Mountain miles and running through 67 time trials. They're good. The Juliana Furtado is a particularly well-rounded trail bike. We also appreciate that all three feature shocks tuned for lighter riders. To be honest, though, we've ridden more innovative and exciting unisex models. Companies don't make as many women's specific bikes, leaving ladies with fewer options. The takeaway? Don't pigeonhole yourself. Women's models are an option, but certainly not the only one. If you'd like to survey a wider variety of bikes, check out our full trail bike rundown. Our budget hardtail review also provides excellent options for those looking to simplify or not yet fully MTB obsessed.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
Displaying 1 - 3 of 3
≪ Previous | View All | Next ≫
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Women's Specific Trail Bike
Juliana Furtado R 2018
The Juliana Furtado rallies. The raspberry blue machine is a versatile bike with a lively feel that remains composed under pressure. More than willing to play around at high or low speeds, the Furtado charges downhill and then heads right back up to do it again. The bike provides a balanced and comfortable cockpit that sets you up for all your trail biking needs. It's our first choice in the test for every type of ride, especially the long hauls. Minimal body language is required to pilot this bike and hopping over obstacles is an easy affair. It does find its limits at high speeds and trails hedging into enduro-grade terrain, where it is quickly shaken. The Fox 34 Rhythm fork and 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHF front tire make us happy. The somewhat harsh-riding rear end isn't as blissful but gets the job done.
Composed under pressure
Playful at high and low speeds
Comfortable and efficient climber
Twitchy on the toughest terrain
A higher-end rear shock could offer a smoother ride
Read full review: Juliana Furtado R
Most Playful at Slower Speeds
Liv Pique SX 1 2018
The Liv Pique SX is a joyful bike that can get rowdy when piloted by an experienced rider. But it's a tricky bike to pin down. It all but demands play at slower speeds on moderate trails. The bike encourages even less experienced riders to toss the rear wheel around and pop off every rock in sight. It's like training wheels for aggressive riding and is fun enough for our experienced riders to enjoy in mellow terrain. The bike sets the rider up for easy climbing, with a 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and a comfortably upright cockpit. The positioning makes it easy to loft the front end over obstacles. The tricky bit is when you are searching for an aggressive attack position on the downhill. The short reach means that the bottom bracket is further forward in the wheelbase than the other bikes. This places your feet further in front of you than expected, forcing you to shift backward to get low and balanced. This design works, but it's not a confident position, and you need some skills to pull it off. The build spec on this burnished aluminum bike is stellar.
Inspires even timid riders to toss the bike around
Comfortable cockpit for easy riding
Cockpit forces awkward position on descents
Difficult to balance over at speed
Read full review: Liv Pique SX 1
While the Furtado is the easiest bike to recommend for all applications. Here's a quick primer for where each bike excels and where each struggles.
Juliana Furtado R — A steady climber that is up for all-day adventures, the Furtado is a beginner friendly bike that's impossible to outgrow. The most fun on flow trails and in the rough, this bike is a great daily driver for the masses. Responsive, precise and easy to loft, the Furtado is capable of clinging tight to your line or simply airing it. All of our test riders have a blast aboard this bike, though they would prefer a nicer rear shock.
Liv Pique SX 1 — Super fun on gently graded singletrack, the Pique SX's suspension can also gloss over rocks. It's cockpit sets you up better for the former than the latter. Steeper terrain and higher speeds require a rider experienced with finding their balance point over a bike. The Pique SX could work as a playful addition to a quiver or for a timid rider that is unlikely to want to tackle tougher descents for a few seasons. A killer build spec and a hardy aluminum frame add great value.
Specialized Women's Camber Comp 650b — The Women's Camber is appropriate for mellow trail rides that last a few hours, max. The comfort factor isn't high enough for longer rides. It can take bigger impacts on tougher trails, but consecutive hits shake the confidence of even experienced riders.
A Note to Newbies
Better bikes make mountain biking more fun. If you know you love riding, invest as much as you responsibly can in your bike. Don't worry about getting the highest end fork, rear shock, wheelset or drivetrain. Those can all fall into the functional category for at least a few seasons. Shoot for a high-quality frame. We recommend getting a bike that is in the upper reaches of your skillset to give you room to grow.
Women's Versus Men's or Unisex Bikes
Any body can ride any mountain bike out there, and the great majority of bikes made are considered unisex models. That said, the average mountain bike buyer has skewed male in the past. As a result, the forks and rear shocks on unisex bikes are tuned to accommodate the weight of the average male rider. Juliana found that the average male weighs about 30 pounds more than a woman of similar height, according to their own study and US anthropometric data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When a 130-pound rider gets on a bike tuned for a 160-pound rider, she or he will struggle to find an air pressure that allows the suspension to activate with small impacts and use all the travel available on big hits. For example, our hardest-charging tester weighs 100 pounds. In the past, she has had to put so little air in a unisex fork that it doesn't have enough pressure to extend back to its full travel after an impact.
Luckily, more women are out on the trails than ever before. Mountain bikes, public lands, freedom, and fun are most decidedly #FerdaGirls. As a result, the industry is trying to figure out how to make bikes that work for women.
Women's mountain bikes are part fluff and part substance, with a steady march towards the latter. It's also part marketing, but that's not such a bad thing. People are more likely to enter a sport where they see themselves represented. Showing more women on bikes — fixing bikes, whipping bikes — makes it obvious that this is a space that women are welcome to occupy. Arguably, the two most charismatic women's bike companies, Liv and Juliana, were created and pushed forward by women who weren't finding what they needed and wanted to create it. Jen Audia, US Marketing Manager for Liv, puts it this way, providing women's bikes helps ladies look up at trail strewn mountainsides and say, "this is my treehouse."
Brass tacks. Almost all women's bikes get women specific touch points — i.e., women's saddles for wider sit bones, shorter cranks for shorter riders, grips for smaller hands, and shorter handlebars for narrower shoulders. It's nice to have a better-suited bike out of the box, certainly, but the saddles are still subpar stock versions, shorter cranks seem unnecessary, handlebars are easy to cut down (but you can't extend ridiculously tiny 720mm bars), and grips, meh. This is nice, but fluffy, usually pink or purple fluff. Grr. Now for the substance.
It's All About Small Sizes and Shock Tunes
The most helpful steps a manufacturer can take to get a smaller, lighter rider on the right bike is to make more bikes in small sizes and with lighter shock tunes. (The same goes for the biggest, heaviest riders. They need big frames and burly tunes.) Right now, women's specific brands are one of the easiest places to find softer tunes. Our women testers range from 5'3 to 5'5 and 100 to 135 pounds. They all found it easier to dial in shock pressures on these three women's mountain bikes than the unisex models that they own. This allowed for easier activation on smaller bumps and full travel utilization in the rough.
Aside from women's specific brands (e.g., Juliana and Liv) and big brands that make women's bikes (e.g., Specialized), a few other companies consciously make space for smaller riders. Trek makes women's bikes but only offers differing contact points. The shock tunes are the same for women and men. Ibis offers a Roxy Tune for lighter riders on the Mojo 3, but only on that bike. Pivot offers an excellent array of small and extra small frames but no women's specific shock tuning. This brings us to, the rub.
There aren't as many women's mountain bikes as there are unisex bikes. To enjoy a wider range of bike innovation as a smaller rider, you're still going to have to deal with shocks that are too stiff for you on average. Many of the frames available will be too large as well.
Women's Specific Geometry
While women's mountain bikes used to offer unique geometry regularly, most companies shifted to providing unisex frame geometry with women's specific components. Santa Cruz and Juliana for instance, use the same frames with different names, colorways, and components. (Note, a men's small is not a different size than a women's small. A small is a small. A medium is a medium, and so forth.) One holdout from this overall trend is Liv, a lady-centric spinoff of Giant Bicycles.
Liv's website and US Marketing Manager, Jen Audia, explain that a global body dimension database shows that women have longer legs, shorter torsos, a lower center of gravity, and more leg strength than arm strength when compared to men. (In contrast, Juliana's website notes that the CDC data shows no discernable body pattern difference between the sexes.) As a result, Liv makes bikes with shorter reaches, more upright cockpits, and higher bottom brackets. They claim this is to reduce back and neck pressure caused by stretching over a longer cockpit and to decrease pedal strikes, reasoning that women have lower centers of gravity and won't benefit as much from a lowered bottom bracket.
To us, this looks like regressive geometry, resisting the trend of longer, lower, slacker bikes that we've come to appreciate. It is important to note that the 2018 Pique SX is slacker than its 2017 predecessor. They made this change in response to user feedback, a good sign.
That said, the Liv Pique SX cockpit is pretty darn comfortable, and the bike performs very well. Still, all the women we know like the grounded feel of lower bottom brackets, and the more aggressively configured Juliana Furtado cockpit won out in performance metrics across the board. We chalk women's specific frames up to another direction of MTB innovation that we are excited to benefit from.
Analysis and Test Results
We've put high-end enduro, trail bikes, and hardtails through their paces. Recently we took a good hard look at consumer direct MTB options. Now we're checking out three women's mountain bikes. To do so, we ran the credit card for a small 2018 Liv Pique SX 1, Juliana Furtado R and Specialized Women's Camber Comp 650b. We rode them for six weeks and rated them on how much fun they are to ride (worth 35%), their climbing and descending skills (25% each), and the quality of their components (15%). See the summary of results in the table below. Keep reading to find out how they perform out on the trail.
How We Test
We rounded up a team of four bike-obsessed women to ride these bikes for six weeks. Testers took the bikes on 10-mile rides and ran them through benchmarking time trials to get quantifiable speed data. Then we compared our riding experiences against the hard-data to bring new perspective to our opinions.
We time the bikes to double check our impressions about how fast or efficient a bike feels climbing and descending. Three testers took four laps on each bike. Two testers took them on four descents each.
The Climb — A smooth, sandy singletrack with a 10-foot rock slab right in the middle of a stack of switchbacks. The uphill course took an average of 3 minutes and 28 seconds.
The Descent — The downhill course is full of twisting rock notches, fast sandy straightaways, jostling and precise rock gardens and sudden switchbacks. There are some rollovers and a big slab thrown in for good measure. The course took an average of 4 minutes and 4 seconds.
The Juliana Furtado came out ahead in the downhill test due to its confidence-inspiring performance. The other two bikes tied. Read all about our testing methodology in the How We Test article.
Mountain biking is pretty much always fun. In that sense, all of these bikes guarantee a good time. Only the Furtado and Pique SX elevate the experience with their performance. The Women's Specialized Camber doesn't rise above routine. This metric counted for 35% of the final scoring.
The Juliana Furtado came out gunning for the top spot in the party category. The bike shows up to every occasion with a hard-working attitude and handles pressure with grace. It's also ready to let loose at all times. The Furtado pops and hops down the trail at low speeds and is willing to air over any unnecessary roughness. The balanced geometry allows the rider to easily access aggressive positioning for descents. However, given its trail bike design, the Furtado does have a limit on highly technical terrain. Easy to climb and a blast to descend, we reach for this bike every time.
The Liv Pique SX doesn't handle speed or the steeps as well as the Furtado. When rolling along at a comfortable clip, the Pique SX is puppy-playful. Both of these bikes transform the trail. Instead of avoiding trailside rocks, you'll be looking for anything you can boost. The Pique SX is a bit more beginner friendly, with a cockpit setup that makes the bike exceptionally easy to toss about. It also has the plushest rear suspension in the test, allowing you to float over obstacles. Tricky balance points, however, lower confidence and fun levels alike.
The Juliana Furtado won the fun competition with a 9 out of 10. The Liv Pique SX comes in just a step below with an 8 for a fun personality that works on a narrower range of terrain. The Specialized Women's Camber earns a 5 for average fun levels.
Trail bikes are built to balance downhill skills with climbing abilities. These bikes do their jobs, but only the Furtado offers consistent and confident performance on the descents. We work harder to get the Pique SX and Women's Camber to navigate the trail. Meanwhile, the Furtado responds to the trail on its own, allowing us to set up in one position and stay there. The first two bikes force you to finesse through the rocks. The Furtado can take them head-on.
The Furtado's nimble handling and curt, but competent, suspension offer confidence to push your speed. The bike feels aggressive, and the cockpit is ready for the descent, no dramatic body adjustments required. The suspension design and Fox Float Performance DPS shock offer a nice trail feel while keeping the harshest impacts from rattling up to your bones. We could do with a softer feel, however. While it is the most aggressive descender in this test, the Furtado is still a fairly conservative, 130mm trail bike. It has a speed limit. When the going gets chunky its head tube angle, measured at 66.9-degrees, and less than plush rear suspension limits the bike's composure. This effect increases with speed. The Pique SX is shaken earlier, the Women's Camber earlier still, forcing more tentative line choices.
The Pique SX picked up more downhill focused features in 2018, with a 140mm travel RockShox Pike RC fork and a slacker head tube angle. Measured at 65.7-degrees, it is the slackest in the test. The 332mm bottom bracket is still higher than the other two test bikes. More importantly, it's also further forward in the wheelbase, creating a short reach measurement at 388mm. The combination sets the rider up further over the front of the bike, disrupting proper weight distribution and stability. At a slower pace, it works much better and invites play.
The aluminum Pique SX came outfitted with a stellar build kit, including an excellent fork and shock. They combined to provide a plush feel over rocks. Despite this, the poor body positioning causes the bike to feel twitchy and untrustworthy at higher speeds on rougher terrain. We found a balance point that counteracted the effect and opened up the possibilities of the bike. Once you hit the right spot low and behind the saddle, the bike performs. Still, it's tiring to hold your balance over such a confined location while reacting to the trail. This takes a fair bit of rider confidence and skill.
The far steeper angles on the Women's Camber make for an upright cockpit that's not conducive to getting rowdy. The 68.1-degree head tube angle and 75.1-degree seat tube angle set you up on top of the bike. This keeps your weight high and feels unsteady on descents. The suspension can take an isolated hit but offers a rough ride through the consecutive shocks of a rock garden. All told, this bike just doesn't like going fast. The 28-tooth chainring does not offer sufficient power at speed.
Downhill Handling and Cornering
The Furtado has the most consistent handling in the test. It is a simple matter to get this bike to your line and stay on it. Though it's the longest bike in the test with a measured 1118mm wheelbase, the Furtado works around switchbacks with ease and is a pleasure to pump through berms. This balanced beast lays over with far more authority than the Pique SX or Women's Camber. It's good enough to let 'er loose in the turns. The only hitch in its cornering skillset is the rear tire, a 2.25-inch Maxxis Crossmark II, and relatively narrow 25mm rims. Everything would be better with more traction.
Handling is sharp enough aboard the Pique to feel skittish at times. That's the paradox of its playful nature, it'll rally down the trail, but suddenly shudder under speed over technical features. It's harder to find your balance properly over the cockpit on rough terrain. The Pique is excellent in the corners and pumps through berms and switchbacks. Maxxis Highroller tires, a 2.4-inch up front and 2.3-inch out back, grip the dirt nicely. We could do with wider rims than the 23mm spec'ed on this ride.
The Women's Camber handles sharply enough but doesn't offer much in the way of personality. The narrow 720mm bars make the bike seem like it doesn't take itself or its riders that seriously. This makes the bike hard to hold steady. All of our testers frequently ride unisex bikes and are used to wider bars in the 760mm to 780mm range. In berms the Women's Camber can feel like it wants to stand up, perhaps due to the on top of the bike feel of the cockpit. The bike's 29mm rims are the widest in the test. The 2.3-inch Specialized Purgatory and Ground Control tires are less inspiring.
Due to its confident handling, the Furtado won our downhill time trials, as you can see in the chart below. The Pique SX and Women's Camber tied.
We scored the Furtado a 9 of 10 on the descents for its ready and willing nature. The Pique SX earns a 7 for being plush and as capable as its captain but less user-friendly. The Women's Camber earns a 5.
None of these nimble machines is piggish on the climbs. All of them have an efficient feel when headed uphill.
The Furtado matches its descending prowess with climbing proficiency. The comfortable cockpit makes it a simple matter to move up out of the saddle to hammer when necessary or to settle down and spin it out. While it has a solid feeling pedal platform, the Juliana is not a zippy accelerator. This bike can feel a little dead when trying to amass speed in a hurry. Once you've got momentum, it's a straightforward matter to keep it going. The 30-tooth chainring and 42-tooth cassette create the stiffest climbing gear in the test. The heavy gear makes the Furtado the fastest climber in our timed testing. This speed does require effort and may wear you out faster than bikes with lighter gearing.
The Liv Pique SX is an easy pedaler due to its 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain. The bike's cockpit positioning is more comfortable when climbing. When you stand up to pedal, it does feel like you are unusually far forward over the front wheel, but we did not find it to be detrimental to performance. If you stay seated when the going gets steep, the front wheel can start to drift skyward. Again, finding the right balance takes a bit of practice, but it is nothing extreme.
The Specialized's 28-tooth chainring makes it a similarly easy bike to spin up a hill. Unfortunately, the front ring is so small that the chain line runs across the top of the chainstay when in a high gear. We don't love that. We can't get over the stiff and uncomfortable feeling of the cockpit. The bike has a pleasantly light feel however and a solid pedal platform.
Climbing Handling and Cornering
The Furtado tracks well on the climbs, and it's easy to pick the front the wheel over obstacles. The 760mm handlebars with a 35mm clamp transfer power directly when wresting the wheel up. When trails get trickier, and you need to keep momentum up over a set of rock stairs the front wheel can get stuffed on the second or third strike. This didn't seem to be a problem with the Liv Pique.
The Pique SX is incredibly easy to punch over obstacles. We notice that the bars feel less substantial than the Furtado when we yard on it, however. The bike tracks well but the front wheel can wander a little on the steepest climbing pitches if you stay seated, standing up is a quick fix.
While it pedals nicely, the Women's Camber doesn't track as well on the climbs as the other bikes. The uncomfortable, stiff feeling cockpit and narrow 720mm bars produce an unsettled feeling that doesn't lend itself to settling in for longer climbs.
The Furtado finished first in our climbing time trials, likely due to a combination of its comfortable pedaling position, consistent tracking and the stiffest gearing in the test. The Pique SX's eagle drivetrain offers more pleasant gear options than the other two bikes, which hurt its time trial performance. It finished last. The second place Women's Camber's drivetrain falls in between the other two. While the Furtado may get you to the top first, the other two bikes, particularly the efficient Pique SX may leave you with more energy when you get there.
The Pique SX's excellent pedaling and handling balanced the always comfortable climbing position of the Furtado and they tied with an 8 of 10. The mannered but uninspired climbing of the Women's Camber rates a 6.
The Liv and Juliana builds both give you bang for your buck. We found the women's tuning on all three bikes easier to dial in for our female testers than the stiffer tunes on unisex bikes.
At $3,700 the Pique SX 1 is the least expensive bike in the test and has the best components by far. It also has the only fully aluminum frame in the test, which likely frees up some budget for all the high-end parts. The bike doesn't suffer from an overwhelming lack of stiffness or extra heft. A 140mm RockShox Pike RC fork and RockShox Super Deluxe RCT rear shock offer a plush suspension system. The much-lauded SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain speaks for itself. Hub engagement on the Giant XC-1 Disc wheels isn't stellar, and we could use rims wider than 23mm. The 2.4/2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller tires front and rear are fine. SRAM Guide RS brakes with 180mm rotors are excellent.
Juliana built the carbon Furtado R with a less impressive spec. Still, it is a step above the comparable build for the Santa Cruz 5010 R at the same price point. We enjoy the supportive 130mm Fox 34 Rhythm fork with its GRIP damper. The Fox Float Performance DPS is dutiful, but we'd like to try a higher-end, more adjustable rear shock on this bike. A SRAM NX drivetrain with a 30:42-tooth climbing gear works well in a range of situations even if it doesn't offer the crispest shifting. The Furtado's Novatec D642 rear hubs provide better engagement than those on the Pique SX. The 25mm rims are narrow for our tastes, and while the 2.3 Maxxis Minion front tire is faultless, we're not fans of the rear Maxxis Crossmark II. SRAM Level T brakes are uninspired but functional.
The Women's Camber Comp Carbon 650b has a carbon front triangle and an aluminum rear. Our loudest complaint about the bike's build kit is its 130mm travel RockShox Reba RL fork. When combined with the 24 spokes on the front wheel, its 32mm stanchions create a notably less stiff feel for the front of this bike. The Fox Performance DPS and FSR suspension combined to offer a rough ride, and we aren't fans of the Specialized Purgatory or Ground Control tires. We did appreciate the pleasant SRAM GX drivetrain, wider 29mm rims, and slightly higher end SRAM Level TL brakes.
As the below chart so clearly shows, we ranked the excellent Pique SX build at a 10 of 10. Our very first test bike to top out the build metric. The okay Furtado spec ranks a 7 and the Women's Camber a 5.
We bought all three bikes in size small. It is important to note that there is often a misconception in mountain biking that a women's small is a different size than a men's or unisex small. That is not the case with our test bikes. The small Juliana has the same frame as its size small men's/unisex counterpart, the Santa Cruz 5010.
Juliana Furtado — This bike has the longest wheelbase, top tube, and reach in the test and offered a comfortable cockpit for all trail situations. The extra space allows riders to spread out on the climbs and puts them in an aggressive descending position. Our most aggressive rider felt like the bike would be too small for a taller rider, she is 5'4".
Liv Pique SX — The Pique SX cockpit offers a low standover and plenty of clearance for a range of riders. The short, 388mm reach feels comfortable on moderate trails but is disconcerting in challenging terrain. Though the Liv website recommends a size small to fit our 5'3" to 5'5" testers, the medium bike has numbers more in line with the more commanding Furtado. We will try to get on a size medium and see if the bike behaves differently.
Specialized Women's Camber Comp 650b-- Though the reach is reasonable, measured at 401mm, the top tube is shorter than the other two bikes at 557mm. Between that and the narrow 420mm handlebars, the cockpit felt uncomfortable, but it seems to be more of an issue of geometry than fit.
Finding your bike among the rows of shiny new machines can feel like a paralyzing task. There is no denying that the wrong choice can be costly. With the Juliana Furtado you can rest assured that you aren't missing out on any aspect of trail performance. A light and snappy feel will satisfy both well-trailed riders and beginners. The Liv Pique SX is a bit more of a risk, as it's a bit of a puzzle to unlock its descending skills. If you're up for a unique feel or likely to keep things mellow, it's got a twinkle in its eye that could suit you. The Specialized Women's Camber Comp 650 has their nifty SWAT storage system in the downtube that truly makes a practical difference out on the trails. This bike is most at home on mellow trails, however, even though it can take an isolated hit.
Our testers are bike shop mechanics, racers and lifelong lovers of all things bi-wheeled. Racing backgrounds help moderate speeds for time trails, mechanic skills help us dial in the bikes perfectly for each rider, and trail crushers have a way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. These ladies put in all the hard work to help you find your ride.
Height and Weight: 5'4" and 100lbs, prefers small frames.
Height and Weight: 5'4" and 120lbs, prefers small frames.
Height and Weight: 5'3" and 130lbs, prefers small frames.
Height and Weight: 5'6" and 130lbs, prefers medium frames.
— Clark Tate, Tasha Thomas, Brie Hyslop, Sally Hunter, Pat Donahue
You Might Also Like