As soon as Liv Cycling took the mid-travel 27.5 Intrigue out of its line two model seasons ago, the void it left behind became apparent.
"We realized we needed something in between the Pique and the Hail," Erin Lamb, Liv's global product manager, tells me halfway into a three-hour slog into the Whistler backcountry, referring to the gap between the 120/130-millimeter-travel Pique and the 160 Hail.
At that point, the Liv product team immediately started revamping the 140-mil Intrigue with two main priorities: upgrade to a carbon frame and modernize the geometry.
Two years later, the result is here, and Lamb is leading me out for a test ride on Whistler's now-classic Lord of the Squirrels loop--a massive valley-to-alpine ride that serves up at least one of everything off the trail-testing menu: tight switchbacks, sustained, steep climbs, slow-speed rock-and-root gardens, rock rolls and high-speed, root-infested descents weaving underneath a forested canopy.
Lamb put me on the highest-end Intrigue, the Advanced Pro, which at $8,000 comes with a carbon/aluminum-rear-triangle frame, with suspension duties handled by a custom-tuned 150-mil DVO Diamond fork and a 140-mil trunnion-mounted DVO Topaz T3 shock that powers Giant's Maestro suspension platform. The parts have been beefed up to reflect a more aggressive slant: Maxxis High Roller 2.5-inch-wide rubber mated Giant's 30-millimeter rims, to appropriately wide 780-mil carbon TruVativ bar/50-mil stem combo (a 760 bar is specc'd on sizes XS and small) and 180-mil rotors for added stopping power from the Guide RSC brakes, a SRAM Eagle X0 drivetrain. The frame can fit up to 2.6-inch tires, an added bit of versatility that will be beneficial as that width of tires becomes more prevalent, and it can accommodate a side-swing front derailleur, an increasingly rare attribute. The build is spot-on, and the only change I'd consider is a swap to the more powerful Code brakes.
The bike's geometry has also been re-worked to appeal to a more aggressive audience, with a 66.5-degree headtube angle, 74.5-degree seat tube angle, 432-millimeter reach (size medium), a low bottom-bracket and reasonable 17.2-inch chainstays. With seat angles inching up into the high 70s on some bikes, the Intrigue's angle initially struck me as a tad too slack, but I never gave it a second thought while I was on the bike.
One thing Liv didn't change is the Intrigue's wheel size; it still comes only as a 27.5. After several years of solely focusing on the smaller wheel size, Lamb tells me that Liv is considering making 29ers--something its parent company, Giant, recently recommitted to with the new Trance 29--but felt like other bikes in the line ranked higher in priority for bigger hoops. Personally, I hope that means the Pique will be first in line, a bike I felt begged for big wheels when we tested it at the 2018 Bible of Bike Tests.
We’re still climbing when Lamb talks more about the Intrigue's development. These days, most brands have settled on different paint schemes and branding, lighter shock tunes and shrunken-down components built around unisex frames as the formula for women's-specific bikes, and it seems to work. But Liv remains steadfast in its commitment to investing in separate molds for women's-specific frames, develops them from the ground-up with a dedicated team of engineers, athletes and product managers and offers frame sizes from XS to large. Although other women's brands may market their bikes better, no brand is more committed to actually producing bikes that appeal to a wide range of women than Liv.
The Intrigue is not based on the Trance, Giant's 140-travel trail bike, Lamb tells me, but developed using its own market research and also worked with its suspension partners to tune the shock and fork specifically for women. Not just a 'lighter' tune, but a different tune altogether, one that emphasizes pedaling efficiency.
That’s something I had ample opportunity to test as I sweated up 4,000 feet in elevation over 5 miles into the alpine. The climb trail contains several sets of repetitive switchbacks, as well as ultra-steep pitches that require a shift in body position to weight the front end of the bike. My fitness was a far bigger issue on these sections than my ability to maintain traction and keep the front wheel planted, which I had no trouble doing with the Topaz clicked all the way over to the ‘Pedaling’ compression setting.
After nearly three hours of climbing, we'd more than earned our turns and it was time to cash in our chips on a 4.3-mile descent, dropping 3,000 feet in elevation. The Lord of Squirrels descent starts in the alpine, winding around small lakes before dropping into the sub-alpine on a series of rock rolls . By the time you dip into the trees, the trail has turned loamy and rooty. Momentum is key in many spots on the trail in order to float up washing machine-sized rock faces and roll down the other side or to heft over uphill root sections squeezed between trees, and I didn't get hung up on any of these technical moves with the light weight of the carbon frame and wheels no doubt assisting in ease of moving the bike around. And while the Intrigue is sure-footed and maneuverable, it doesn't feel quite as playful as a shorter-travel 27.5 like the Juliana Furtado, which loves to be thrown around and responds almost-effortlessly to body English, though I’d be curious to ride the Intrigue on wide-open, flowy berm trails as opposed to the raw, tight terrain of my test lap to see if it livens up.
The Intrigue has evolved a lot in the five year since it first came out, and this latest version hits the sweet spot for a do-it-all trail bike. The best part is you don't actually need to drop $8,000 on one. For my money, the top value would be the Advanced 1, which comes with the same frame with the same carbon wheels, and uses Fox's excellent 36 Fork and DPX2 piggyback shock, for $5,300.