Written by Kristin Butcher
The Santa Cruz Juliana, a lightweight single pivot design available in smaller sizes and designed with women in mind, was originally introduced in 1999. Named for legendary pro-racer turned Santa Cruz Bicycles’ renaissance woman and design-maven Juli Furtado, the bike was one of the first women-specific models on the market and came along when the only answer to many small riders’ sizing issues was slamming the seat post and swapping to a shorty stem.
Nearly 15 years after the Juliana’s debut, Juli Furtado is back. And this time, the queen of the dirt brought a whole line of bikes with her.
Santa Cruz Bicycles is spinning off Juliana as its own distinct brand, complete with four models of bikes and three wheel sizes that cover a wide swath of riding styles. The line utilizes Santa Cruz Bicycles’ proven VPP and single-pivot suspension designs, but in a departure from Santa Cruz’s “choose your adventure” style of selling frames and component kits separately, the Juliana models will be sold as complete bikes that range from entry(ish) to swanky(er).
The Juliana line’s resident 29er hardtail is the Nevis, offering a lightweight aluminum frame, interchangeable dropouts for single-speed compatibility, and sizing selections that fit riders from around 4’8” to 5’9” in height. Riders who fall into the XS sizing category (from 4’8” to 5’1”) may be dismayed to see that the smallest Nevis comes with 26-inch wheels. Juliana accepts that 29-inch wheels aren’t necessarily the best choice on tiny bikes, so they don’t make any bones about not offering that combination. While that may upset some riders, I respect the value placed on ensuring each bike, in each size, offers the best ride possible. That said, I would have liked to have seen 27.5” wheels on the XS.
Complete Nevis prices range from $1,650 to $2,099.
Next in the line is the bike that started it all—the Santa Cruz Juliana. Now renamed the Juliana Origin, this model still offers the combination of features that made this bike a classic, including the low-maintenance, single-pivot design, 100 millimeters of rear travel, and a lightweight aluminum frame. For the new line, the Origin has evolved to run 29-inch wheels in all but the XS size, which gets a pair of 26-inch shoes to avoid toe-overlap and an overly long wheelbase.
The Origin ranges from $1,999 to $2,399.
Now’s where the Juliana line gets exciting with the introduction of two (very) different Virtual Pivot Point bikes each available with a carbon-fiber option. The Joplin is a 29er 100-millimeter travel, full-suspension bike designed around Santa Cruz’s efficient and capable VPP suspension. Though I’ve only thrown a leg over a handful of 29er bikes, I was surprised at how quickly I felt as one with the bike. The Joplin climbed well and the larger wheels gobbled up all the ledgy rocks and bad line choices I could throw at it.
The Joplin is available at three price points, ranging from $2,599 to $5,399 for the well-equipped carbon-fiber frame.
With the final bike in the Juliana line, it seems that the Santa Cruz Bronson and Blur had a baby that is unlike anything Santa Cruz’s current lineup. Named after the matriarch of the Juliana line, the Furtado offers 125 millimeters of supple VPP suspension, trail-hungry geometry, and 27.5-inch wheels. There’s also a carbon-fiber frame option for those into high-zoot scoots. When I first threw a leg over this bike, I was convinced that 27.5-inch (a.k.a 650b) wheels were a marketing gimmick meant to extract more money from my already-light wallet. A few hours later, I was a convert.
Switching from one bike to another usually requires a bit of transition time for adapting to the feel of larger (or smaller) wheels, different suspension, slacker/steeper geometry, etc. Within the first mile on the Furtado, I felt like I’d been riding this bike all my life. It retained the nimbleness I’ve come to expect from my quiver of 26-inch-wheeled bikes, but gobbled up technical sections with the finesse I normally don’t achieve until midseason. The only downside I noticed was my pedals clipping a few more rocks than normal, presumably due to the lower bottom bracket. However, the low center of gravity and fit of the bike felt so perfect, it’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make. Many riders might find themselves priced out of the Furtado line which only offers two price points, $3,299 followed by $5,999 for a carbon-fiber frame and dropper-post equipped bling-machine.
Juliana bikes come with shorter 170-millimeter cranks (on XS and Small-sized frames… Medium and Large frames get 175-millimeter cranks), narrow-diameter handlebars, women’s specific saddles, and very low stand-over heights (a convenient feature for anyone with a crotch). The most noticeable of all these features is the handlebar that isn’t just fit with thinner grips, but actually reduces in diameter at the handlebar ends. I’ve never considered my hands particularly dainty, so I was wary of the narrow gauge bar. After 20 years riding standard handlebars, at first I felt the way Andre the Giant must have felt when holding a can of beer. But after a few rides, I forgot about the handlebar altogether. Instead, what I noticed was that the ache I get where my thumb and forefinger wrap around the handlebar never materialized. I’d like a few more rides before I run out and switch all my bars, but there may be something to this smaller-diameter handlebar. So far, my less-than-dainty hands agree.
There was no mention of sit-bone measurements or incessant references to the differences between men’s and women’s proportions as bikes were rolled out and described during the press camp. Instead, the women-specific focus was on the contact points—our hands are generally smaller, our shoulders a bit narrower, we tend to be shorter, and our crotchal region is all girly and crap.
There’s a simple beauty in Juliana’s approach. The bikes aren’t overworked. They aren’t given super short top-tubes and painted to look like doilies under the pretense of meeting women’s needs. Instead, the Juliana line is comprised of damn good bikes shifted down the size spectrum.
If you’re big enough to ride rollercoasters but under six feet tall, regardless of whether you were born with an innie or an outie, you’d be remiss not to throw a leg over one of these bikes just because they carry a woman’s name.