An Irish, Dutch, American and Australian woman walked into a pub. They all had one thing in common. They loved cycling. It was July 2014, and they had been called to Pitlochry, Scotland for the unveiling of something very exciting in women’s cycling.
Over the past few years, attention to the female cyclist has been ever increasing. This has been brought about by the efforts of some amazing people involved in the industry. One of the biggest landmark moments to date would have to be ‘Le Course’. For those of you who have been living under a rock, this was a circuit race contested by just under 100 of the top international female cyclists. Racing 13 laps of the final 6.85km section of the Tour de France course in the heart of Paris, it was scheduled on the last day of this year’s Tour. Having it prior to the men’s event presented the perfect opportunity to showcase the talents of top international cyclists. The winner of this inaugural event and key player in its existence was Rabobank Liv rider Marion Vos. Her timing could not have been better!
Stepping up to the Line
With a stand-alone brand 100% committed to female cyclist of all levels, Liv is now independent from Giant. Originally marketed as LivGiant just on two years ago, all Giant branding has now been completely removed from bicycles, apparel and packaging. Such a bold move only shows that the passion to involve more women in cycling is great. Besides, there aren’t many women out there who would like the word ‘Giant’ emblazoned across their behind.
So now Liv and Giant are brother/sister companies. Everyone associated within the Liv brand is female – from engineers to marketing and all the way down the line. The bicycles are even built by women, which in most cases is also true of men’s bikes and components
Liv’s ethos is to grow the sport and give women the confidence to continue their interest in cycling for the rest of their lives. By offering a bike for every woman at every level, along with an attractive range of apparel, they have covered all the bases. What woman (or man for that matter) doesn’t want to look good on the bike? Liv’s range includes several options of matching bike and gear choices. With the equation that looking good equals feeling good, the outcome can only mean an increased number of women riding bicycles, keeping fit and having fun.
The Liv brand is made stronger by a supportive community of ambassadors. And they range from the big names all the way to everyday people. At age 27 Marion Vos already has 13 world titles to her name, along with two Olympic Gold medals, and her aforementioned LeCourse win. This cycling superstar has worked closely with Liv to develop the Envie Advanced, a bike that has brought her across the line first many times over.
Then we have 21-year-old Jolanda Neff. Already donning a rainbow jersey she is a two-time under 23-year old world champion. Riding a Liv Obsess Advanced, she is inspiring young women in the XC mountain bike scene.
A champion of a different kind is Shannon Galpin. An avid mountain biker, her bravery and determination can only be admired in her endeavour to break down gender barriers in Afghanistan, a country where the culture doesn’t allow women to ride bikes. In 2009 Shannon became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan. She now leads a non profit organisation supported by Liv, called Mountain2Mountain, and aims to improve the lives of women and girls in regions of conflict. Shannon recently made a delivery of bicycles and gear to help the Afghanistan National Road Cycling Team realise their Olympic Dreams.
As corny as it sounds, cycling allows us to discover something new in everyday life, no matter what your gender. Whether it be your first 20km, your first race or even the commitment to make cycling part of your fitness regime, cycling can help you discover who you are and what’s important. Members of the cycling community are regularly organising group rides of all levels. The best place to start is at your local bike shop. Or if you’re into instagram you can check out #livbeyond
About the Bikes
Female specific lines have been on the scene for quite a few years now and several prominent brands are pushing ahead with high-end choices for the cycling enthusiast as well as apparel and gear choices to suit all levels. There is some dispute as to whether female specific geometry in cycling is necessary. I guess it’s a case of one bike not suiting all. And given the extensive research that has been conducted by Liv and Giant, and feedback from elite female cyclists, there are several valid points for having the option to ride a female specific bicycle if you choose. There are probably a few men out there who would be better suited to this geometry given their body type. It is a known fact that most women carry their weight lower than men and draw most of their strength from the lower body. So it makes sense that modifications in frame design can optimise your performance. Without going into specific figures, it’s about a head angle that delivers an agile response. Steering is precise, but not twitchy. The seat angle takes into account a woman’s lower centre of gravity over the bottom bracket and allows for more efficient pedalling. On a more superficial level the design range is very appealing, and no one wants to ride an ugly bike.
Avail Advanced SL Series
In conjunction with the launch of the Liv brand, the 2015 range of all-new endurance road bikes was put in the spotlight. A totally revamped Avail collection was up for testing and the testing grounds could not have been more suitable. Along with ‘Wilderness Scotland’ and the combined launch of the men’s 2015 Defy range, a solid two days of testing was scheduled in the Scottish region of Perthshire.
To test an endurance bike properly, you really need a long hard ride on rough roads in challenging conditions. Tick, tick and tick. The bike I tested was the top of the line Avail Advanced SL 0.
The Proof is in the Pudding
At less than 900grams, the Avail Advanced SL 0 is the lightest road frame in the Liv 2015 range. But contrary to what a lot of people think, weight isn’t the be-all and end-all of a bike’s worth. It’s really about a balance of weight to power transfer. And a lot of work goes into getting this recipe right. Combine this with the need for an endurance bike to ride comfortably for an extensive length of time, and you have the Avail Advanced SL.
I found the women’s-specific endurance geometry of the Avail Advanced SL 0 made for a very comfortable ride. But most importantly the comfort factor doesn’t come at the cost of performance.
The roads this bike was tested on were varied, but it was on the first long and fast decent that it showed its true colours. The road was scarred with potholes. Sections had been freshly resurfaced which made for loose gravel. Then throw in a couple of blind corners and bicycle bombing sheep. At the base of the descent I had to pinch myself to realise that this bike had handled as well as it had.
Quite often you hear the word ‘compliance’ in a bike’s description or design features. The Avail Advanced SL 0 is one of them. The frame absorbs vibration well, so the harshness of bumps encountered along the way isn’t transferred up through the frame to your hands or lower back. The addition of the D-Fuse integrated seat post and ultrathin seat stays is largely responsible for this. They flex slightly on rough terrain, which absorbs the bulk of vibration so you can ride for longer more comfortably and use your energy efficiently over longer distances.
Not being a big fan of hills, I’m reminded of something a fellow cyclist once said to make me feel better. ‘What goes down must first go up’. So as much as I love descents, there’s only one way to get there. So up I went. This is where the overall bike weight is most important in my books – it means I can eat that extra pastry. Being one that has more of a turtle than hare approach to climbing, I found the Avail Advanced SL 0 was my friend on the hills. Having said this, I also witnessed my media colleagues sprinting up the hills like their bums were on fire. This is a bike for everyone.
What’s on it?
The addition of Shimano hydraulic disc brakes made for efficient and more comfortable braking. There was no gritting of teeth or grip-of-death braking required in the rain. I’m a big fan of this.
Having not ridden electronic gears for some time, I was a bit rusty. But after a few gumby gear changes, I was soon reminded of the precision of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and was buzzing through the gears like a pro.
The Avail Advanced SL 0 comes with a Fizik Vesta saddle. Most of us are pretty fussy when it comes to saddle choice, but I found this one quite comfortable. And given that both days were of reasonable distance, it says a lot that I had no post ride issues. Hallelujah!
The introduction of Liv into the cycle scene is very exciting. As is the increased options for female cyclists at all levels. More and more we are seeing the balance of attention shifting. And even though it’s taken a lot of baby steps to get to where we are, I feel that this has been a giant leap forward.
Bike Specifications for 2015 Liv Avail Advanced SL 0
Sizes: XS, S, M
Frame: Advanced SL grade composite, integrated seatpost
Fork: Advanced SL grade composite, full composite Overdrive 2 steerer
Handlebars: Giant Contact SLR Composite, 31.8mm
Stem: Giant Contact SLR Composite, 8 degree
Seat Post: D-Fuse ISP
Saddle: Fi’zi:k Vesta
Shifters: Shimano RS785 Di2
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2
Brakes: Shimano RS785 disc, 140mm
Brake Levers: Shimano RS785, hydraulic
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace, 11-28T, 11sp
Chain: KMC X11 SL
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace, 34-50T
Bottom Bracket: Shimano press fit
Wheelset: Giant P-SLR0 disc carbon WheelSystem, Fr: 20H, Rr: 24H
Tyres: Giant P-SLR1, front & rear specific, 700 x 25c