Katie Zaffke, Juliana Bikes - interview

The inside story on the brand that's leading the way for women's mountain bikes

Juliana Bikes is one of the few mountain bike brands focused solely on women's bikes. The original Juliana model was created in 1999, by Santa Cruz Bicycles and multiple world champion Juliana Furtado. It's now a fully-fledged women’s line within the Santa Cruz family, offering five full sus and one hardtail designed specifically for female riders.

Katie Zaffke is Juliana Bikes' brand manager. BikeRadar recently caught up with her in Santa Cruz, California to get the lowdown on Juliana Bikes' goals and ambitions, what the brand means for womens' cycling and following its sister brand Santa Cruz's lead on more affordable carbon.

BikeRadar: How did you end up at Juliana bikes?

Katie Zaffke: I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have scored this job! I’ve got a great crew of ladies and men who I work with to run the brand day to day. But, my story is: I got my start in the bike scene about eight years ago when I started working for the NorCal High School Cycling League. I put in a good number of years with the NorCal League, became the director of another non-profit organisation called Project Bike Trip and had one year of teaching crazy middle schoolers life science. Most recently, I started my own clothing business that I ran for about a year, before scoring the job at Juliana.

When Juliana Bicycles first launched, I started riding a Joplin – someone at Santa Cruz decided that I was worthy of becoming a Juliana Ambassador in the early stages of the brand. While I loved the Blur XC I was on at the time, I was excited to be moving on to bigger and better things. I desperately wanted to see the brand succeed, I knew that the brand had more potential than just offering bikes to women. I remember thinking, 'I sure hope they do this right'.

Then the job opportunity came up. So I went for it. And then I remember thinking, 'I sure hope I do this right!'

Nine months later, the brand is killing! From racer Anka Martin, to demo coordinator Kathy Pruitt and the rest of our Juliana crew, we have a great group of ladies representing the brand, and shredding and shralping on our bikes.

Zaffke says she feels
Zaffke says she feels

Katie Zaffke first got involved with Juliana Bikes as an ambassador. Now she's the brand manager, working hard to create mountain bikes at the forefront of women’s cycling

Who is Juliana Bikes aimed at?  

Juliana Bicycles is aimed at serious women mountain bikers. The brand is a means to differentiate the female customers who originally may have identified with Santa Cruz as a brand.

We understand that some women will still identify with Santa Cruz, and that’s okay – but more and more women are starting to identify with the spirit of Juliana. We are here to do what Santa Cruz didn’t have the resources to do in the past – support, promote, and encourage female mountain bikers. For now, our range of bikes will stay the same. We create mountain bikes at the forefront of women’s cycling, and we plan to stick to that plan.

Santa Cruz has a cool scene going on. Why do you think there is such a bike industry presence in the Santa Cruz area?

We have a cool scene, amazing trails and a great location on the coast of California. We can ride most days of the year and hang out on the beach most days out of the year too. What more could a girl – or guy – want?!

If you weren’t based in Santa Cruz, where would be a good enough location for you?

Good enough is not good enough when you live in such a great place. I frickin’ love living and working in Santa Cruz! I love the trips I’ve been on to New Zealand and France, Scotland, Moab and Sedona – but, man, Santa Cruz is it.

I have a three-minute pedal to work, a five-minute pedal to our local world class trails, a seven-minute pedal to the beach, and good friends, food and beer within blocks.

Zaffke became a juliana ambassador in the early stages of the brand – now she's the brand manager: zaffke became a juliana ambassador in the early stages of the brand – now she's the brand manager
Zaffke became a juliana ambassador in the early stages of the brand – now she's the brand manager: zaffke became a juliana ambassador in the early stages of the brand – now she's the brand manager

Why does Zaffke love Santa Cruz so much? Beats us…

Juliana bikes seems to make a big statement about the growing female MTB market. Are you seeing a major growth in woman mountain biker numbers?

Yes. Our sales have definitely increased from last year. I’m seeing more and more women out on the trails.

NICA (National Scholastic Cycling Association) has more and more high school girls joining the high school mountain biking movement here in the US. From what I’ve read and heard, women are the fastest growing demographic in [US] outdoor recreation. People are noticing this, and bike companies and dealers are catching on.

Women want to relate to a brand and the women involved. They want the look and spec of the product to be appealing and for the product to have tangible performance benefits that exceed other female-targeted offerings.

They also want to have a positive experience at a demo, clinic or race, for the price to be competitive, and to be able to easily choose the most appropriate model for them.

How did you carry out your market research?

We use focus groups for feedback and input on design and testing, and direct input from our family of female Santa Cruz athletes and friends.

How important is the Juliana brand? What do you see as its real merits over Santa Cruz?

Uh, super important, duh! But more specifically: Juliana Bicycles was created as a means to differentiate our female customers and target our marketing and offerings towards them. It’s a banner to rally under for our female athletes, ambassadors and friends, and an opportunity to tailor our hard and soft goods to be more appealing to women. It’s an investment in the growth of discerning female bicycle consumers and a more approachable face of the company for women.

For bike dealers, Juliana is an opportunity because Santa Cruz is investing in women’s cycling to encourage incremental purchases by woman, and by men for woman. Our products are handbuilt, use the same proven designs, suspension technology, materials and lifetime support as Santa Cruz.

Zaffke's juliana joplin: zaffke's juliana joplin
Zaffke's juliana joplin: zaffke's juliana joplin

Zaffke's own Juliana Joplin

It really is a fresh talking point in the industry that's engaging female consumers and we have some of the highest performing bicycles in the women’s-targeted market. Women-specific stories of achievement on Juliana Bicycles is creating a reputation for certain models in their own right.

Will Juliana bikes be taking advantage of the cheaper carbon production that Santa Cruz bikes now offer?

Yes. We already do for our Joplin and Furtado models. The Roubion is next up in the queue for the lower-cost carbon.

Related: Juliana Roubion first ride

Where would you like to ride tomorrow, and who would it be with?

I have all kinds of places running around in my brain right now. I’d love to get back to the Nydia Track in New Zealand where I went to ride with Anka and Sven Martin.

Related: Juliana Bikes New Zealand adventure - video

I'd love to go back to the Southern French Alps where I went last June to ride with Julia Hobson and Ash Smith, and I have to go back to Torridon, Scotland, to meet back up with Aneela and Andy McKenna. I just got back from Moab and realised that I need to do more riding around there and in Fruita. It’s not that far away – why has is been so long since I’ve ridden there?

The one very important person that was missing from all of these trips was my husband, Dain Zaffke. So, to answer your question, I’d like to time travel from place to place with my main riding buddy (Dain, of course) to meet up with my other riding buddies in every place I just mentioned. That’s doable, right?!

This article is the fourth in a series of interviews with key players of the Santa Cruz bike industry. Watch out for the final interview soon, and read the previous interviews below:

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