By Karen Brooks. Photos courtesy of Santa Cruz.
One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to meet those athletes or personalities who have inspired me in my own struggles to be a better mountain biker. So when I got an email from mountain bike legend Juli Furtado—one of my heroes from way back in beginner days—inviting me to a press camp to introduce a new brand she’s spearheading, I stared at the computer screen for a while in amazement. Juli Furtado! Wow!
In case you are not familiar, Juli Furtado earned legend status by absolutely dominating the XC (and sometimes DH) race circuit in the early-to-mid-90s. She was forced into an early retirement in 1997 after being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus and has remained largely out of the spotlight ever since. Serendipity landed her in Santa Cruz, Calif., and she got a job organizing sponsorship for Santa Cruz, the bike company. She also inspired the very first women-specific mountain bike model, the Juliana, which has been steadily selling since its debut in 1999.
Now she has decided to step back into the spotlight with the debut of an entirely new brand of women’s mountain bikes bearing the same Juliana name. The bikes will be built using Santa Cruz’s proven designs and manufacturing, but Furtado herself has taken the reins to insist upon details that she considers important to giving women the “comfort, performance and beauty” they deserve.
“I want women to feel like queens on the bike,” she said. Fitting for the Queen of the Mountain herself to head up this project.
I was part of an all-female group of journalists who got to ride the new Juliana bikes in some primo locations around the company headquarters in Santa Cruz.
The Juliana line is made up of four bikes, all featuring signature components and smaller sizes designed to fit women better, plus graphics that are feminine without being girly. Each bike has three stylized icons on the top tube: a flame, a lotus flower and a wolf, symbolizing powerful, beautiful and natural, respectively. This may seem silly to some, but it’s just the kind of thing that could inspire me to keep truckin’ up some godawful climb, or find the cojones to tackle that nasty downhill.
The most exciting model is the Furtado, a new flavor of bike that doesn’t yet exist in a Santa Cruz mens’—excuse me, "uni-sex"—model: a 27.5-wheeled trail bike with 125mm of Virtual Pivot Point travel.
Its geometry is designed for ruling the mountain just like its namesake. We rode the $5,999 Primeiro build kit, a carbon fiber frame decked out with Shimano XT brakes and drivetrain, plus a Fox 32 Float 130mm fork and Float rear shock, both sporting the silky-smooth Kashima coating. It’s also available in the Segundo kit, based on an aluminum frame, for $2,999. This was a rippin’ fast bike, perfect for shredding the famed Mailboxes trail, among others, at UC Santa Cruz.
The Furtado has nifty internal cable routing for a dropper post, which is included in the spec.
The Joplin, “Queen of Rocks and Roll,” is akin to the Santa Cruz Tallboy and also rocks VPP suspension. The Joplin’s top build kit mirrors the Furtado’s for $5,399, and it comes in two others built on aluminum frames, the Segundo for $3,099 and the Terco for $2,599.
The original Santa Cruz Juliana has been updated and folded into the new brand as the Origin, a single-pivot model. Here it is in the “Persimmon” color that Furtado wanted to match the California poppies that grace the landscape around the town.
Not pictured, there’s also a Nevis aluminum hardtail offering starting at $1,650.
The Origin and Nevis feature 29-inch wheels for the medium and small sizes but 26-inch for the extra-small, to fit the suspension into the smaller geometry, plus crank lengths tailored to each size.
Juliana components, which will also be available aftermarket, are designed for comfort and fit for women. The highlight of the components is the Compact Mountain handlebars and grips, with a smaller diameter at the grip area. This combination made it easier to hang on and brake in more technical stuff, particularly the monster berms and rollers of the Flow Trail at Tamarancho State Park.
All Juliana models share geometry with Santa Cruz bikes—no women’s specific geometry, just smaller sizes. The real difference in this women’s line is the high-end emphasis, female-friendly interface parts spec, and a marketing effort that obviously treats women as serious riders. Is that enough to attract female customers? In my opinion, it will. The passion behind this brand is obvious, and with the design and marketing know-how of Santa Cruz behind the scenes, expect the to see plenty of fast ladies tearing it up on Julianas very soon.