I’ve never really considered myself a “tomboy” but let’s face it, I’m not really a “girlie girl” either. As far back as I can remember, my choices in bicycles have always been based on a combination of performance and cool factor. This has always translated into riding a boy’s bike. My first bike crush (oh come on guys, you know you’ve all had them too!) was in 1970 at the tender age of nine years old. The boy next door got a Schwinn Lemon Peeler for Christmas. It had a 20” slick back tire and 16” front tire, front and rear caliper brakes, chrome springer front fork, racing stripe on the seat, and a 5-speed gear shifter. Now that was cool!
That same Christmas, my parents bought the JC Higgins (Sears’ finest) version of a Schwinn girl’s Stingray. Being child number 5 of 6 kids, I know that’s probably all my parents could afford at the time. Although I loved the cool factor of the sparkly silver banana seat, the plain 20” bike tires, non-descript rims, and coaster brake left me wanting for more. I learned at that very early age, you had to carefully balance performance, cool factor, and cost in order to get a bicycle that meets your needs.
Over the years, it’s been a difficult task for me to balance each of these factors when purchasing a mountain bike. I’m sure all you cycle-gals out there will agree: if you wanted a cool mountain bike to meet your performance needs, it certainly wouldn’t be a girl’s bike! Therefore, out of pure lack of availability and sheer love of the sport, I started my cycling life riding men’s mountain bikes. I became accustomed to my stretched out body position due to the longer top tube and standard stem on most bikes. I really didn’t think that it affected my riding at all. The taller top tube geometery tended to be more of a problem, because at a height 5’ 5” I really had to pay attention to the way I dismounted my bike… lest I risk an injury to my very sensitive hooha area. Believe me, no girl wants to experience that!
Just like in the movies, great love affairs always seem to end tragically. One day while riding with Gary, I hit a large rock while coming down a steep incline. I felt something compress in my fork, and not rebound like it should have. My body position on the bike felt weird, and I knew something was very wrong. After limping back to my car, being more worried about my bike than the road rash I had just received, I rushed Gary into my local bike shop. The diagnosis was terminal. To my horror, I found out that I broke the front shock and cracked his frame. I’m not ashamed to say, I did the “ugly” cry right there in the middle of the bike shop. While wiping away my big crocodile tears and using a dirty shop rag to wipe my dripping nose, I came to the realization that I would have to buy a new bike.
After a suitable mourning period, I began the process of putting my mountain bike life back together and started test riding bikes. I realized that in the 12 years since Gary and I met, a lot had changed in the mountain biking world. At the first shop it was abundantly clear to me that a 26” mountain bike was no longer the standard. There were so many choices out there. Did I want a 29er, or how about a 27.5” bike? And the brands–wow, they were never ending! To me, riding a mountain bike is an intimate experience, and choosing the right one deserves my utmost attention to detail. I test rode just about everything that I could find–Trek, Specialized, Giant…you name it! Nothing seemed to be the right fit for me.
One day, my husband suggested that we take a drive toward San Diego and find a shop to test ride a Santa Cruz. He had been riding a Heckler for a number of years and he couldn’t say enough about how much he loved it. Why not? Everything I’d ridden so far wasn’t working for me.
We stopped at a shop in Escondido, CA. You know that bright flash of light and that high pitched chime of angels’ chorus that everyone envisions they’ll experience when they get to heaven? Yep, I actually felt it when I walked into this bike shop. I had never seen so many mountain bikes crammed together, and all for sale in just one shop! They were even hanging from the rafters, as if they truly were descending from the great beyond!
The salesman that came up to help was extremely knowledgeable and had a laid back style. He was not pushy, but offered a lot of advice. The first of which was: “With all the changes in the industry, perhaps you may want to test ride a women’s mountain bike.” I’d been down this road before with many sales people. I attempted to explain to him that I was an avid mountain biker and not just the little lady taking her pretty in pink bicycle down the level bike path to get a froo froo latte at the local coffee shop. With a big grin on his face, he told me, “I have just the bike for you!”
In a matter of seconds he had reached up to the rafters and pulled down a Juliana Segundo. After checking all of the vitals such as tire pressure and setting up the seat height and pedals to fit me, I rolled the Segundo out the back door for a test ride. Once I got on the bike, I had that weird sensation you get when trying on a new pair of shoes. It just didn’t feel the same, but I had to admit, it did feel kinda good. The 27.5″ wheels were somewhat larger than those on my 26″ Fisher, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable to me. The length of the top tube was noticeably shorter, which meant that my body was in a more upright position. The narrower handle bars placed my hands closer to my body than what I was accustomed to. That combination felt just plain weird. On the positive side, the Fox Float rear shock felt amazing from the first minute I put my full body weight on the bike. It had enough travel when I jumped off curbs and onto a couple of large boulders to provide an absolutely pleasant ride. Could it be possible that a suspension system could be both stiff and soft at the same time? I don’t know how, but this one sure felt that way. The Deore disc brakes were another nice addition to the package, and I could feel myself grinning with amazement at their quick and non-skid stopping power. I’ve always been a big fan of Shimano components, and so I was ecstatic to see that this bike had the SLX groupset.
It didn’t take me too long to figure out that the Juliana Segundo had ALL THREE of my requirements of performance, cool factor, and at a cost of $3,300, which was well within my price range.
So my love affair with mountain biking continues. My Gary Fisher will always hold a special place in my heart. But I can already feel my heartstrings singing every time I just look at my new Juliana. I’m looking forward to many years of pure joy with her.
Carol Ellsworth is an avid cyclist who enjoys all forms of cycling, whether it’s long distance road riding, mountain biking, or a leisurely pedal on a beach cruiser. She resides near Temecula, California.