All photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith

By far the most impressive display of marketing nous I’ve seen from the bicycle industry came at the Liv stand at Eurobike in 2014. Unlike most other bike brands at the show, the Liv stand didn’t actually have that many bikes to look at, favouring instead varied displays of things above a few select bike models that conjured up idealised feminine lifestyle choices: the hipster city-bike girl, with a leather knapsack and owl-print headscarf. The feminist gym junkie, with an ipod full of tunes and hot pink boxing gloves. The glamourous roadie, with reflective eyewear, lip gloss, and sleek full-body lycra. I almost bought a Giant, an outfit, and several tubes of lipgloss myself. Then they trotted out Jolanda Neff, soon-to-be road and CX World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, and Marianne Vos to talk Liv to the enormous crowd that had gathered. Brand Liv is doing well.

Conceived just three years ago, by now everyone is familiar with Liv – fathered by Giant, the world’s biggest bike brand, mothered by the charismatic Bonnie Tu, staffed entirely by women, and marketed cleverly and aggressively to us all. Can Liv deliver on its promises? Can their bikes do it for us as much as their monthly desktop wallpapers?

The Intrigue is one of several women’s bikes that Liv/Giant are importing for 2015. It’s the women’s equivalent of the Trance 27.5 2, which has the same wheel size and 140mm of front and rear travel. The difference between the two is that the Intrigue has shorter reach and a tighter head angle (all making for responsive handling), although it’s also got slightly longer chainstays and near identical standover height.

The women’s trail market is shaping up to be quite competitive, the biggest manufacturers offering at least one model this year in the mid-$2,000 price range. While there is the higher specced Intrigue model available overseas, this Intrigue is the only Liv trail bike for women available here. That’s not to say it can’t please most of the market – $2,799 is getting to the limit of what most of us will pay for a bike, and you could do a lot or riding on the Intrigue before needing to upgrade.

Tester: Imogen Smith

Riding Experience: AMB’s resident women’s bike tester, Imogen has spent her adult life riding and racing mountain bikes.

Generally Rides: Bianchi Methanol SL and Bianchi Methanol FS

Height: 171cm

Weight: 57kg

Bike Test Track: Old Man’s Valley trails, Sydney, NSW.

Three things you liked about the bike:

  1. Plug and play! This bike was ready to go with few modifications and easy to set up
  2. Affordable bike with plush handling
  3. Geometry that enables lighter riders to throw the bike around

Three things you would change about the bike:

  1. Change to stainless disc rotors and run sintered pads – better braking for longer
  2. Tubeless conversion – don’t get stuck on the side of the trail
  3. Add chainguide and single ring for gravity riding (ISCG chainguide mount makes this easy

Initial Impressions

The Intrigue is constructed around Giant’s Allux SL grade alloy frame, with OverDrive steerer, internal gear and brake routing, plus stealth dropper routing (although there are external tabs for this job, too). The frame also sports convertible rear dropouts: spaced for a 142x12 through axle, the Intrigue runs a 135mm quick release fit with inserts so it operates like a through axle.

The wheels are made from Giant brand rims and hubs, which we noted were 28-hole – fine for smaller riders. Before we got testing we converted the Schwalbe Nobby Nic Evo SnakeSkin tyres to tubeless using the easy Stans system (25mm ZTR yellow tape, sealant, and tubeless valves). The tyres and rims sealed beautifully, but the rubber rimstrip kit would be easier if you don’t have access to a compressor. Nobby Nics have a new tread pattern and and ‘Tubeless Easy’ casing and bead for 2015. They were very sticky on sandy hardpack and really performed well on technical, rocky climbs and descents.

The RockShox Revelation Solo Air RL fork features QR15, OverDrive steerer, travel adjust feature to drop movement to 120mm (and also the front end height) while climbing, rebound and compression damping adjustments, and was easy to set up, but for any rider below 63kg (and I’d guess that’s a high percentage of women’s bike buyers) there’s just a suggested pressure rating of ‘below 110psi’. Weighing about 57kg, I settled on 100psi and got on with it, but I do think that, with any standard fork like this, lighter riders don’t have access to the kind of small bump absorption that riders in the more normal weight range (i.e. normal for men, 70kg+) have, unless they’re willing to put up with a lot of sag. This is by no means unique to Liv bikes, and is typical of most suspension brands. If you’re a lightweight MTBer, you may have noticed that your fork only really moves when you hit something big. Outfits like Cyclinic and fork manufacturers themselves can do a custom tune if you want to get a bit more out of it.

It took us a couple of minutes to set up the RockShox Monarch R rear shock using the quick sag guide. The Intrigue offers 140mm of travel via Giant’s Maestro suspension system: it’s active when braking, and while the Monarch R has no lockout, I didn’t miss it much on this type of bike, which pedalled well on seated climbs.

The rest of the componentry is basic but reliable, including highly functional Deore shifters and rear derailleur, which includes a clutch for chain security. The SRAM X5 front derailleur shifts fine on SRAM cranks with an ideal 22/36 double ratio for trail use, where you’ve got to get yourself up hills as well as down them. The rear derailleur would easily cope with a single chainring setup by adding an aftermarket 1x chainring like a Praxis if you wanted to focus on gravity riding. There’s an ISCG chainguide mount, so you could run an integrated bashguard/chainguide as well.

The Shimano Deore brakes with 160mm rotors provided plenty of power, but Deore’s rotors aren’t stainless steel, so you can’t use harder-wearing sintered pads – something to be aware of if you’re likely to be doing a lot of riding in wet or gritty conditions. Consider this easy upgrade once you’ve worn through your first set of pads.

The Giant Contact dropper post worked fine, with none of the alarming machine-gun action that some posts have, plus the internal cable routing is neat and tidy. Like most dropper posts, there was a little bit of movement in it, but nothing I noticed when riding, and the Giant Contact saddle was really comfy, but not too wide or heavy.

On the trail

I was surprised by how quickly I got this bike set up and how quickly I felt comfortable riding it. My first ride was a photo shoot, which usually means cornering as hard as you can, throwing the front wheel, and generally trying to look cool, and I felt comfortable attempting all this on the Intrigue before the brakes wore in.

Sure, it’s not the lightest bike on the market, and many buyers these days are looking for carbon frames, but frame design is more important than frame materials, and with this amount of suspension, and the low tyre pressure I could run with the tubeless setup we arranged, meant that there was little of the harsh feedback that alloy frames might be accused of.

We’re all getting used to the fact that there are two (or even three) different wheel sizes out there to choose from, and it makes sense that a women’s trail bike take 27.5” wheels. They’re manoeuvrable, light, roll well, and keep the wheelbase nice and short.

While the Intrigue is marketed as a general trail riding bike, but with 140mm of travel, its robust frame and some of the upgrades discussed above, it would be a great bike to take to a gravity enduro event, something more and more women are giving a try, recognising that steep and technical isn’t necessarily horrifyingly frightening when you have the right equipment and an open mind.

Our take

This bike’s very short reach places the rider right on top of the action, and even though my biceps are a few centimetres in diameter, The Intrigue’s snappy geometry meant I could throw it around and really push through corners and over obstacles. The dropper worked a treat, too.

Be aware that women’s geometry can have its limits. Tall women with long arms or upper bodies might find themselves sitting up straighter than they might want to, or poking out a lot of elbow (like me, see images). If you’re over about 170cm, I’d suggest giving the unisex Trance a try too – there’s not that much difference in the measurements. The big differences lie in the usual details: the paint job, the saddle, handlebars, and stem, evidence of what Liv markets as 3F (Fit, Form, Function) technology.

The bike has a solid spec for the price point, and while you’ll never use it to race up hills, the Intrigue 2 really lights up when you’re going down, around, and over everything else. With a few simple upgrades it’s the kind of bike you’ll enjoy on your days off for years, especially if you’re looking to challenge yourself on technical terrain and gain confidence with your bike handling.

Technical riding is about grappling with your bike to make it do what you want it to when inertia and centrifugal forces are trying to take over. If they’ve got any substance, women’s specific designs should make it easier for a rider who’s smaller and lighter than the norm to manipulate and overpower the bike. On a good women’s bike you should feel confident, efficient, and in control, and the Intrigue made me feel just that.