Fun, playful, stable and capable of more than the travel might lead you to believe, the Joplin R is the alloy-framed short-travel 29er trail bike in the Juliana stable. It’s also BikeRadar's 2018 Women’s Trail Bike of the Year.
- The Juliana Joplin R is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
Juliana Bicycles, based in Santa Cruz, California, is the sister company of Santa Cruz and produces a select range of mountain bikes and is something of a boutique brand.
As a boutique brand, you do pay a premium for a Juliana or Santa Cruz bike. Juliana bicycles are built around unisex Santa Cruz frames with women’s specific contact points and colours, and the Joplin uses the same frame as the 110mm travel Santa Cruz Tallboy.
But there’s more to it than just that. There’s a dynamic to the ride quality that adds a certain playfulness and capability to the bike, due to Santa Cruz’s VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension system, which gives the Joplin abilities beyond the limits you might suspect a short travel shock and forks would place on it.
This is the alloy model, which Juliana started producing again after a short stint of only making carbon frame versions of its bikes, and it brings the price down to a slightly more accessible price point, which may still seem hard to justify if you look at the spec sheet alone. But the Joplin has far more to offer than a good-value list of parts.
Juliana Joplin R frame
While this version of the Joplin is based around an alloy frame, Juliana also produces two more versions with different carbon layups: the C and the premium CC.
Despite being on the more XC end of the spectrum, the Joplin benefits from a slightly longer reach (430mm) than the other size medium women’s trail bikes tested as part of Bike of the Year. This helps add to a more stable feeling, particularly on technical terrain and on descents.
There’s good news also for those who like to travel without a pack as there’s room for a bottle cage within the frame, something which isn’t seen everywhere.
You can of course swap over later if you like, though you’ll have to invest in the extra set of wheels, tyres and cassette. Switching between wheel sizes requires a quick flip of a geometry adjust chip in the upper rocker linkage, as the differing wheel sizes have slightly different rolling heights.
You’re getting a good quality alloy frame for your money that will last years with a bit of care and attention, and some wise upgrades.
Juliana/Santa Cruz also offers a lifetime pivot bearing warranty, so when those finally begin to give the cost of the replacement part will be zilch, though of course you’ll have to pay for labour unless you’re doing it yourself.
Juliana Joplin R spec
There are two different builds available on the alloy version of the Joplin, and the one tested here is the pricier version of the two, coming in at £3,299 / $3,299 / AU$TBC.
For that you get Fox Rhythm 34 forks with 120mm of travel (if you get the 650b+ version, the fork travel is 130mm) and a Fox Float Performance DPS shock, which controls the frame’s 110mm travel.
The Rhythm 34 forks, at 120mm of travel, are a good choice for this bike. For lighter riders, the fork provides a smooth ride with great damping, and while the GRIP damper within this fork is the basic model, in reality it performed fine.
That said, heavier riders or those who like to ride aggressively, or indeed those riders who know they’re going to spend a lot of time on techy terrain might just start to get to the limits of the chassis. Adding a spacer will help, which will add progression later in the stroke.
The shock, working in conjunction with the VPP suspension system, was easy to set up and felt good from the get-go. I like a ride feel that lets me know what the trail is doing under tyre, which the system on the Joplin does without feeling rough or fatiguing.
While the result may be a composed feeling on trail, it’s by no means dull. Put a little work into it and you’ll be rewarded with a sprightly, lively feeling that will have you dancing smoothly from rocky drop to tabletop, accumulating speed and air as you go.
To help you keep control and shave off that speed when you need to, the Joplin R is fitted with SRAM Level T brakes. They’ve been reliable so far, but the relatively basic lever only offers reach adjust with a fiddly bolt behind the lever, and all-out power isn’t quite as good as the Guide brake you might see on other bikes in the test. It is, however, a good upgrade over the standard Level brake found on the base model.
The other advantage to opting for this build is that it includes the RaceFace Aeffect dropper. The action on the remote lever is floppy, and thanks to a reasonably tight cable run, when adjusting the height of the post it's important to make sure the outer is pulled through the frame properly. This avoids the dropper’s inner and outer cable being out of sync, which leads to a dropper not operating as it should.
A SRAM NX 1 x 11 speed groupset with an upgraded GX 10-42t cassette and RaceFace Aeffect 30t crankset provides plenty of reliable gear options, though I did miss having that extra range on the back you get with Eagle for very long climbs and steeper inclines. This is another area for potential future upgrades.
WTB rims on Novatec hubs make for a decent set of wheels. I did notice some flex which can happen with cheaper 29er wheels due to the size, but didn’t find it insurmountable. It’s another area for upgrade, and a slightly stiffer set would give a more placed, sure feeling with less deformation noticeable on rocks and in corners.
Juliana has also specc’d a decent set of tyres with a grippy Maxxis DHF Exo up front and a faster rolling Maxxis Crossmark 2 at the back, and the whole package comes set up tubeless from the shop.
Finishing kit includes RaceFace Ride handlebars at 760mm wide plus a 50mm stem, Juliana lock-on grips and a Juliana Segundo women’s specific saddle.
Juliana Joplin R ride impressions
This bike is an absolute blast to ride. My riding style favours a composed yet playful bike rather than a sled-like monster or a super-flickable, agile ride, and for me the Joplin has pretty much the perfect balance.
The Santa Cruz suspension system provides a taught, feedback-rich feeling. It encourages you to work the bike more, pushing into the suspension and pumping the terrain, and when you do, the result is fun. I found myself popping off rollers and zipping off drops whenever the opportunity arose.
Do that, and you’ll also find out that you’ll pick up a lot speed on the way, which is also due in part to those 29er wheels.
Yes, there’s a trade-off with big wheels; you’ve got to overcome a certain amount of inertia to get them rolling and they aren’t quite as nimble. But once you do get them rolling they keep their momentum, and are noticeably faster on climbs. That bigger size doesn’t get hooked up on rough surfaces as much, which has a similar effect on the descents as well.
The Joplin has a wonderfully smooth, poised feel when cornering, holding a line securely to the extent that you don’t have to manhandle the bike around the corner and can focus on looking to your exit and getting set up for the next section of trail instead.
The ride feel is smooth and deceptive. Such is the effectiveness of the suspension and those 29er wheels that I caught myself out the first few times coming into corners too hot. Essentially, the bike is faster than it feels, the ride is so stable at speed that you don’t realise you’re hooning down a trail faster than usual.
Even on steeper terrain — and one of our testers took this bike down some downhill tracks in San Remo, Italy — it has a composed feeling that gives you the confidence to push the bike beyond what you’d expect a 110mm-travel bike to be capable.
Obviously, it’s not as much a plus on this terrain as a longer travel bike, but it’s able to deal with it better than many of the other trail bikes I’ve tested.
Don’t let the short travel put you off, this bike can handle a lot more than you think.
There is a touch of flex in the wheels, which can be felt over rough terrain, so a future upgrade to something a little stiffer may improve the ride feel.
At 14.22kg for a size medium it’s the heaviest trail bike reviewed as part of the 2018 Women’s Trail Bike of the Year test, but surprisingly didn’t feel that heavy in action, even on long climbs.
All in all, this bike is everything you need for 90 percent of the riding most people do most of the time. It’s composed yet fun, faster than you think, as smooth as you like, though with enough feedback to feel the trail, climbs brilliantly and descends amazingly.
In short, it’s a clear winner for the BikeRadar Women’s Trail Bike of the Year Award 2018.
Juliana Joplin R pricing, sizing and availability
The Juliana Joplin R with 29er wheels is available for £3,299 / $3,299, Australian pricing is TBC.
There is a cheaper model available, the Joplin D 29er and D+ 27.5 plus bike. It's available for £2,699 / $2,699 / AU$TBC and has a lower spec RockShox Recon RL fork and Level brakes, and no dropper seatpost.
- BikeRadar would like to thank Life Cycle Adventures, Sanremo Bike Resort, MET Helmets, Bluegrass Eagle Protection, Mercedes Benz and Brittany Ferries for their help and support during our Bike of the Year test.
If you're in the market for a bike and want to know what else is on offer, have a look at the following list of tried, tested and reviewed options.
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- Canyon Spectral WMN CF 9.0 SL
- Cannondale Habit Women's Carbon 2
- Specialized Women's Camber Comp 650b
- Scott Contessa Spark 910
- Liv Pique SX 2
- Yeti Beti SB5 C-series
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