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By Nicole Formosa
By the time I got the ‘assignment’ to build my dream bike in early August, I had already been hounding Juli Furtado to test her new namesake bike for almost three months. Obviously, this would not be a difficult choice for me. Furtado, aka Queen of Dirt, aka badass national and world champion, had recently come back into the fore and out of her comfort zone to promote Juliana Bicycles, a spin-off of Santa Cruz Bicycles. Furtado helped launch the first women’s specific mountain bike in 1999 for Santa Cruz, aptly called the Juliana. That bike hadn’t changed much since then, but it had just gotten a fresh makeover, and gained a few new friends, all with ‘Juliana’ plastered on the downtube.
I was following all of this closely because my first-ever, brand-new mountain bike had been a Juliana, and I had loved that bike. Though I’d had secondhand bikes previously, that was the one that flipped the switch. Aboard my trusty Juliana, I conquered my first ‘long’ ride—a whopping 30 miles on the Colorado Trail—that definitely involved several trailside breakdowns of the non-mechanical variety; gained my first lasting scar thanks to an ill-timed faceplant on the 401 Trail that also left me with years of dental bills; and finally realized my first moments of mountain-bike bliss somewhere between exploring perfect Aspen-lined strands of trails on crisp fall afternoons and endless miles of swooping singletrack on the Monarch Crest Trail.
So, yes, this quest to procure a new version of the Juliana was rooted in nostalgia, most likely reflective of a deeper desire to recapture that initial excitement that is bound to wax and wane during a long relationship with any sport. But, who cares? The new bikes were out, and I wanted in.
This time around, it was the Furtado that stole my heart. It had all the updates from the original Juliana I’d been looking for: a lighter, stiffer carbon-fiber frame, a boost in travel, an upgrade from the single-pivot suspension platform to Santa Cruz’s VPP linkage and 27.5-inch wheels.
This company’s approach to women’s-specific bikes has always been more weighted toward marketing than product. The frames are in fact identical to the men’s versions sold through Santa Cruz, and in this case, the Furtado is actually a 5010 with a specific paint scheme and different head badge. As such, the only truly ‘women’s specific’ parts on the Furtado are narrower bars (stock width is 680 millimeters), shortened stem and cranks, smaller grips and a female-friendly saddle. The compact bar/grip set-up is designed to be more comfortable for smaller hands, but the feel was difficult for me to get used to, and I ultimately opted for a more substantial combination. That said, I would not classify myself as having small hands, and many riders may prefer a lighter touch.
Because this was my dream build, I dressed the Furtado up in a bevy of beautiful flair. I swapped the Shimano triple chainring XT drivetrain for SRAM’s so-hot-right-now XX1 single ring setup. Initially I was nervous that the 32-tooth chainring would be too large to grind up some of the climbs around Laguna Beach, where I ride most often these days, but it turned out to be the perfect size thanks to the 10- to 42-tooth, 11-speed cassette. Shimano’s XTR brakes took the place of the Deore XT set, and a handy Problem Solvers adapter made the lever compatible with the SRAM shifter. Finally, I outfitted the Furtado with Enve’s carbon-fiber all-mountain 27.5 rims, a Thomson all-mountain 740-millimeter carbon-fiber handlebar and Continental’s super-grippy Trail King 2.4 tires, newly available in the 27.5 size.
The Rockshox Reverb internally-routed dropper post comes standard on the Premeiro—a great touch—as does the Kashima-coated Fox CTD 125-millimeter shock, and 130-millimeter 32 Float CTD fork. As built, the medium Furtado weighs just over 26 and a half pounds.
Coming off a 29er, I immediately noticed the smaller wheel size, which made the bike feel fun and playful and quicker on climbs. Its 5 inches of travel is plenty of plush for most all-mountain riding. I even tested the Furtado’s limits on the enduro at Mammoth Mountain this fall, which actually turned out to consist of a few scorching runs on the mountain’s DH trails. Although the course was suited for a bike with a bit more travel, I never found myself in a situation that I didn’t feel confident the Furtado could handle.
Best of all, riding this bike has inspired me to dream about a whole new chapter of adventures. Weeklong bike camping trips, big-mountain explorations, or solo missions all seem possible, and better yet, exciting with the Furtado leading the way.