Juliana Juno Primeiro £2699

The thinking woman's trail bike

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

The Juliana Juno – a Santa Cruz in all but name – is  a rough, tough trail machine for wilder female mountain bikers.

If you’re wondering who Juliana is, it’s Juliana Furtado, the US racer who dominated the early years of World Cup and World Championship cross-country and downhill. After racing for Yeti and then GT, she became marketing director for Santa Cruz bikes – and launched the original Juliana female-specific bike in 1999.

Frame and equipment: closely linked to the Santa Cruz Bantam

Now, 15 years on, there’s a whole new line of Juliana bikes. Like the original (which was essentially a reshaped Santa Cruz Superlight), the latest models are all very closely linked to their Santa Cruz brothers. In the case of the Juno, that sibling is the new Bantam.

That gives us the basic stats of 125mm of rear wheel travel and 650b wheels. However, it’s the way the Juno rides, not how it reads on paper, that makes it a good choice for aggressive trail riders who don’t think everything female-specific should be fairy pink and flyaway in weight.

Will Ockleton from Santa Cruz says: “Any alteration to the geometry, tubing or shock tune of the Bantam to become a Juno would be tantamount to dumbing down the design. Sure, perhaps a slightly-tweaked shock tune or slightly lighter tubeset on the Juno might bring some benefits for the very lightest of riders.

"But our experience from demos and speaking to women riders is that they’ve never had a problem setting up a Santa Cruz bike in the past, so long as they’ve been steered in the right direction with the air pressure, rebound settings and so on. The women’s-specific part of it comes down to the finishing – saddle, grips, bars, alternative paintjob...

“We fully accept the argument that some of this is down to subjective preference, and not necessarily gender-specific (we’ve even had guys asking about non-Juliana branded narrow grips). But it allows Juliana to go off on completely its own path, with female riders having the main voice and choice on what kit, positioning and overall attitude the Juno has. We want the Juliana range to have just as much capability as any Santa Cruz.”

So the Juno is more solid suffragette than kitchen-tethered kitten fusser, with a 6.5lb frame for the size small we tested – with XT rather than Deore kit – putting complete bike weight near 30lb with pedals.

Even with a smooth-rolling Maxxis Ardent tyre out back, that’s going to get your calves working hard to get Juno jiving, particularly if you’re heading uphill. This puts it at odds with other similar-travel bikes such as the Scott Spark Contessa 700 and Giant Lust 27.5, which are more cross-country oriented.

Ride and handling: own the trail

The advantage of the Juno comes when the trail lets you start to throw that weight around. It’s an exceptionally stiff frame, particularly in the compact small size.

While the size-specific Juliana bars are narrow and relatively low on leverage, the steering responds with an outstanding accuracy through the Fox 32 fork fitted – standard bikes have a RockShox Sektor, which is a good, stiff chassis too.

There’s a decent amount of authority added by the 68-degree head angle, which is neither very steep nor slack, although it’s not as self-straightening as some when things get sketchy. The payback is less wander and flop than slacker bikes when you’re grunting it back uphill or trying to hook it round a tight hairpin, and the Juno gets a big dose of stability when it comes to weight positioning.

The bottom bracket is dropped half an inch lower than most bikes and the standover clearance of Santa Cruz’s small is significantly lower than the extra small in most other companies’ women’s bikes.

This puts both rider and bike weight a lot lower to the ground (especially if you slam the Reverb seatpost down). Add that superlative stiffness to usefully broad and stable wheels – complete with Juliana-branded WTB rims – and this is one sweet chariot when it comes to swinging low and hard. It’s as happy railing through dusty desert turns as trail centre berms and slippery, rooty woods terrain back home.

The more we ride 650b wheels the more we’re learning you can push them significantly harder, and trust them to stay straight longer under high side-loads than 26in wheels.

If your drifts were previously dodgy, waving-foot embarrassments featuring locked-up back brakes, you’re in luck; this bike seems happy to slide round with a big roost tail spraying out behind and both feet still clipped in. You may also be surprised how long the Ardent tyres stay hooked up in slippery conditions compared to the same tread in 26in.

Helping keep everything controlled, predictable and intuitively interactive is the simple swingarm suspension. After riding a ton of different linkage systems with enough shock rate, pivot point and wheel-path cleverness to make your brain ache, the single-pivot Juno is a blessed relief. It’s like a really good homemade vanilla ice cream after an over-fussy meal.

Power hard and the suspension stiffens up to drive the rear wheel harder into the dirt. Back off and it relaxes, sags and lets the front wheel come up easily. There’s some kickback and bob occasionally, but it’s the sort that lets you work with the trail, rather than completely obscuring the details you need to work with.

It’s all proven tech too: easily-serviced, lifetime-warrantied collet bushings; the tough, stiff, 142x12mm-axled swingarm of Santa Cruz’s Heckler; and the same 52mm-stroke shock as the Superlight, but tuned with a big volume spacer for a more progressive feel.

The only slightly frustrating part is that it’s only being sold with basic Deore stop-and-go and a RockShox Sektor fork – the kit options only start if you trade up to the VPP suspension-equipped Furtado.

 This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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