The new Liv Hail is one of the most interesting new bikes to hit the market in 2017. With 160mm of travel it's a new addition to the Liv range and features a fully women's specific frame. It has also got a serious rough and tumble spec that's designed to be right at home on technical and demanding terrain
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After an initial ride in rocky and arid Arizona, I took the Hail to the somewhat wetter and colder UK where the trails and downhill tracks of the Forest of Dean, Mendip Hills and a few other locations gave me the chance to test it on mud, wet roots, rocks and frozen ground. Based on its performance to date it loved it all.
Burly, stable, fast and fun
The Hail 1 is an absolute blast to ride. Fun, though it is, on a trail centre track, it's on technical, natural, off-piste terrain that it really comes into its own. A long wheelbase helps the bike feel planted and that reactive suspension system just eats up uneven ground while remaining spry enough to throw it around on the trail.
It's also a bike that likes to jump around when given encouragement and direction. It feels poppy, springing off drops and launches, and lands securely and confidently.
If you're a fan of enduro racing, love a good downhill track but don't want to go for a pure downhill bike or want a beefy bike for properly big and technical terrain, then the Liv Hail 1 is aimed at you.
Serious specs for a well-thought-out set up
From the aggressive tyre choice to the chain guide on the crankset, this is a bike that's clearly been designed for hard, fast and technical riding. It's built around an aluminium frame with a carbon composite rocker in the suspension system, which helps reduce the overall weight. The SRAM X1 crankset features that aforementioned MRP AMG V2 chain guide, to prevent the chain jumping off when riding the rough stuff, and is combined with a SRAM GX and X1 drivetrain and shifters, which have to date performed smoothly and efficiently.
The SRAM Guide RS brakes, with beefy180/200mm rotors, are powerful and provide good modulation for trimming off speed subtly when needed and indeed coming to a dead stop rapidly.
The Giant P-AM2 wheelset is decent for the price and comes with boost spacing, though it's worth noting that they do require an Allen key to remove/replace — I got caught out a couple of times shifting the bike between cars without my multi-tool handy.
A quality choice in rubber sees a Schwalbe Magic Mary Trail Star up front and a Hans Dampf Pace Star at the rear, which gives a satisfying level of grip that's particularly noticeable when cornering combined with a faster rolling rear. These dug in and held gratifyingly well on slick mud and icy ground, without feeling too draggy when climbing or pedalling. An excellent combo in my opinion.
Liv has opted for a dual-position RockShox Lyrik fork with 160mm travel up front, which can be locked out to 140mm to aid climbing. I've only deployed this a couple of times and it's easy to do, but for the riding I've done with this bike so far there's not been a lot of climbing involved, so this is something I'll be coming back to test further.
While I found the small bump sensitivity great with the Lyriks, they did seem to blow through the mid-stroke travel far too rapidly on bigger terrain, drops, etc. Tweaking the pressure has helped and the forks do come supplied with a token, which can be inserted into the forks to address this. Once again, further riding is required to get to the bottom of this one.
On the other hand, the RockShox Deluxe R shock has performed brilliantly out of the box and with very little additional set up required. Combined with the Giant Maestro suspension system, a well-proven and well-regarded suspension linkage platform, the result is a stable and predictable action that soaks up small lumps and bumps without getting hooked up and that reacts smoothly and predictably to bigger hits.
Finally, the bike comes specced with a Giant Contact SL Switch-R Trail dropper seat post with 100mm of travel. Personally, I found this too little. Getting the saddle high enough for a comfortable climbing position meant that it wasn't as out of the way as I would have liked for descents. The dropper seat post options are limited here by the kink in the seat tube, which means you can't fit a very long post.
Isn't this just a women's version of the Giant Reign?
No, it's very definitely a different bike. There's a trend in the world of women's mountain bikes towards unisex frames and women's specific finishing kit. The thinking is that given how dynamic mountain biking is, with riders up out of the saddle frequently, any physical differences between the genders isn't significant enough to require a different frame, just different finishing kit such as saddle and perhaps crank length, bar width, etc.
In Liv's opinion, there are significant enough physical differences to warrant a bespoke geometry. It takes data from a global body dimension database for its design, which is further refined through testing and feedback by sponsored athletes.
In the case of the Hail, a 160mm travel, 27.5 wheel mountain bike aimed at enduro and aggressive trail riding, the equivalent men's (or unisex) bike in brother brand Giant's lineup would be the Giant Reign. This is also a 160mm, 27.5mm travel bike.
But there are significant geometry differences; the Hail has a slightly steeper head angle and seat angle, coming in at 66 degrees and 74 degrees for the Hail respectively, compared to 65 degrees and 73 degrees on the Reign. The reach is shorter and increases by smaller increments than the Reign, too. Wheelbase is also shorter but minimally, within the region of a few millimetres.
Comparing the Hail to what would probably be its closest competitor in terms of purpose, the Juliana Roubion with 150mm of travel, there are a lot similarities in terms of the geometry. Same head and seat tube angles (though the Hail has a longer reach), wheelbase, marginally longer chainstay length and a lower standover.
Further investigation required
This is of course just a record of my initial impressions of the Hail and overall they are very positive. I've really enjoyed riding this bike so far and I've barely scratched the surface of its capabilities. There are also, however, a few elements to the bike that do need more detailed investigation.
Firstly, as mentioned, I've got some work to do with the Lyrik forks to dial in that suspension. The rear feels great, but unbalanced with the front — so more time spent tweaking that should yield some answers.
Secondly, I need to do a whole lot more climbing on it. Since this is a bike aimed at the enduro market where long climbs feature heavily, this is a key part of its performance. The Hail has handled the climbs I've taken it on so far well, though perhaps not quite as efficiently as the Juliana Roubion or more cross-country trail focussed Specialized Camber.
One of the points Liv mentioned during its launch event for the Hail was that the bottom bracket has been raised, which generally bucks the trend for lower bottom brackets. Liv stated that this has been done because women have a lower centre of gravity compared with male riders, which will already effect the way the bike rides — however, if you are standing up on the bike that point may be moot. Liv also said that it allows greater clearance underneath and reduces the amount of pedal strike — it's true, I didn't encounter pedal strike when riding the Hail, but it's also true that the terrain I was riding wasn't the rockiest, so again I'd like to take this somewhere were pedals strikes are more likely to be an issue.
Does the raised bottom bracket help, hinder or make no difference? I plan to find out and if you want to know more about the thinking behind that raised BB read our article on the launch of the new Hail and its sister, the cross-country trail focussed Pique.
Models, price and availability
Globally there are four models available: two carbon-framed Hail Advanced models and two aluminium-framed Hail models. Availability does vary across the regions, but for anyone interested in the Hail 1 happily it is available in the UK, US and Australia.
- Liv Hail Advanced 0: £N/A/ $5,350 / AU$7,999
- Liv Hail Advanced 1: £3,899 / $5,350 / AU$5,699
- Liv Hail 1: £3,249 / $4,200 / AU$4,499
- Liv Hail 2: £2,599 / $3,250 / AU$N/A