Liv Embolden Trail Bike: $2,300 and Fully Capable

Liv Embolden trail bike

At this point most everyone is familiar with the sister brand of Giant, Liv. Founded in 2008 as part of Giant Group, Liv is dedicated to creating innovative bikes to “empower all riders from beginners to pros,” and the Liv Embolden 1 certainly fits that mold.

The Embolden is a 120mm/130mm trail bike that is moderately priced and spec’d with decent components that make sense in the cost department. It is an extraordinary option for those looking to make a first bike purchase without going bankrupt, truly in a class of its own.

Prior to actually riding a Liv, I was skeptical about bikes that claim to be made for women.  My advice to girlfriends looking for a bike was: “Get the correct size fame (i.e. make sure you can stand over it and reach the handlebars without completely straightening your arms), get a bike fit and make appropriate tweaks to fit your body type.” That’s all well and good, and for the most part I still believe this is decent advice. However, there is something nice about a bike that is designed specifically for women based on both data and rider feedback. Liv says the Embolden 1 can “conquer tricky climbs, rowdy descents and chunky rock gardens with confidence,” and I’m here to say, they’re not wrong. I rode this bike on some of the most technical climbs and rowdiest descents I could find, and it did NOT disappoint.

Liv Embolden frame specs and geometry

Liv originally launched the Embolden in 2016, providing an entry-level, full-suspension trail bike for new riders who weren’t necessarily ready to drop copious amounts of cash on a boutique bike. The frame is made from ALUXX aluminum, a proprietary alloy that is said to be both stiffer and lighter weight than traditional alloys. I can’t say I noticed the additional stiffness over traditional aluminum, but this statement makes me feel better about it. The Embolden 1 build weighs 32.5lbs with pedals, which is in-line with or slightly lighter than other aluminum trail bikes.  

The second generation Embolden 1 comes in two colors: Matte Black and Gloss Sparkling black. While I appreciate a good glitter dusting, it’d be cool if these “colors” were actually on the color wheel somewhere. That being said, the all black color scheme has the aesthetic of a higher-end bike and it looks sharp.

Liv Embolden mountain bike

The Embolden 1 is also available in two wheel sizes: 27.5” (sizes XS-M) and 29” (sizes S-L). Unfortunately for the petite women in the crowd, a smaller wheel is the only option, but rest assured the geometry is tried and true and literally made for you. The rear triangle has been updated since its inception, now featuring 148mm Boost hub spacing with a 12mm through axle on both the 27.5″ and 29″ models. Tire clearance has also been increased, fitting up to 2.6-inch tires on 27.5” models and 2.4-inch tires on 29” models.

I tested the second-gen Embolden 1 in the 29” wheel option. I am 5’5”, a solid “schmedium” in most frames, so I had to give the geometry chart a hard read through before determining which size was right for me. There seems to be a large jump in reach from small to medium so I decided to go bigger or go home; ultimately my wingspan determined the correct size.

The reach on the medium is 430mm with 438mm asymmetrical chain stays across the board. The head tube angle on the 29″ Embolden 1 sits at 67°, not as slack as some trail bikes, but definitely within the range of normal and certainly aggressive enough for a trail ride. As an added bonus, Liv utilizes a standard tapered head tube, which allows for a fork switch-a-roo if desired, which was not an option on the Gen 1 Embolden. The seat tube steepens to 76° on the 29” model, compared to 74 degrees on the 27.5” version, which is somewhat conservative, but geometry nonetheless.

Liv Embolden 1 build components

Starting close to the ground level, the hub engagement on the Giant-branded wheels lagged a bit too much for my taste. However to be fair my “daily driver” is an Industry Nine Hydra, so it’s a cake to casserole comparison. I’d venture to guess a new rider or someone who hasn’t had the pleasure of running Hydras wouldn’t be as persnickety about the engagement, if they noticed it at all.

The Embolden 1 comes standard with Giant’s own Crest 34 SL RCL 130mm fork and a Giant Contact Switch dropper post. This is the first time I have ridden Gian-branded components. I found the Crest 34 SL to be a similar ride to the typical RockShox or Fox forks spec’d with entry-level bikes. There’s nothing notable about the dropper, other than it functions appropriately and without issue.

The Crest 34 SL RCL is an air spring fork that features 34mm stanchions and a compression adjustment dial on top. As with many mainstream air forks, Giant says volume spacers can be added to alter the spring rate if necessary or desired.

The Embolden 1 utilizes a 1×12 SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain and is equipped with Tektro Hydraulic disc brakes and 6 pin bolt rotors (though my test bike was spec’d with Shimano BR-MT420 hydraulic disc brakes). The front rotor measures 180mm and the rear is 160mm. While I’m glad the brakes are disc (as they should be at this point in time), I’d love to have larger rotors on front and rear. If I’m being nit-picky, one of my only complaints about this build is its braking capabilities, or lack thereof. The Embolden 1 felt a bit dicey on long, tricky descents. For those of who ride more aggressively, it’d be ideal to have more precise slowing and stopping power. However, the intended consumer of this particular bike model will likely not notice.

It’s possible that some of my braking issues can be attributed to tire selection. The Maxxis Forekaster is tubeless-ready and spec’d on both front and rear of the Embolden 1. The Forekaster  29×2.35  is an appropriate tire for an XC, trail, or downcountry bike build. Due to its narrow width and lower profile tread, it rolls faster than the coveted Minion and Dissector, and I certainly noticed that on XC trails. However, it feels less predictable overall when braking and cornering. Suffice it to say, the Forekaster would not be my first tire choice, but this is easily remedied at your local bike shop.

Suspension

The Embolden utilizes a single-pivot ‘FlexPoint’ suspension platform to deliver its 120mm of rear travel. The stays are designed to flex, and this type of suspension design is ideal for shorter travel bikes because there is no mechanical rear pivot point, it’s durable, notably lighter, and less complicated than the Maestro suspension found on other Liv models.

Liv Embolden trail impressions

In order to accurately test this bike I had to first put myself in a new rider’s shoes and ride the most gentle trails I could find. Not because the Embolden 1 can’t handle rocks and drops, more so in an effort to mirror a new rider’s natural trail progression.

I live in an area where arduous climbs are a must and long descents are the reward. The trails here aren’t considered cross-country, but most of them don’t require more than 140mm of travel either. The trail near my house is what I like to call a “hot lap” in that it’s not extremely technical and has plenty of opportunity to pedal. The Embolden 1 is the correct bike for this type of riding.

The first notable attribute of the Liv Embolden is how well it fits. It’s clear that Liv spent time designing frame sizing specifically for women. The 734mm standover height and 430mm reach are just right for my 5’5” frame, making me feel like a part of the bike instead of a top seat passenger. My second observation is the speed at which the bike rolls, especially on pedal-y trails with a little flow mixed in. I don’t ride many short-travel bikes, so this was particularly noticeable coming from 147mm/160mm travel. As previously mentioned, the Embolden is spec’d with the Maxxis Forekaster tire, and though it’s not my favorite when more traction is required, it is XC-oriented which certainly helps maintain rolling speed. Less suspension coupled with less knobby tread is “my jam” for XC rides.

Maxxis Forekaster tire

The FlexPoint suspension also aided in the smooth and fast ride as it soaked up small bumps and rocks, making for an extremely effortless and comfortable ride. The custom-tuned RockShox Monarch R shock and Crest 34 SL RCL fork are pleasantly firm, with ample small bump sensitivity, perfect for fast pedaling and smooth rolling.

Climbing with the Liv Embolden

As test time progressed, I upped the ante and selected trails with rougher, steeper climbs, rock gardens, and technical obstacles. In this type of terrain the Embolden 1 performed well most of the time.

Climbing miles of loose rocks isn’t pleasant on any bike, but I can confidently say it’s a little more pleasant on the Embolden 1. The Liv Sylvia saddle is comfortable to sit on for longer periods of time and the shorter travel and supportive suspension keeps pedal bob to a minimum allowing for a steady uphill cadence. However when taking a millisecond pedal break uphill, or standing to pedal, there is a noticeable lag in hub engagement, which I find extremely annoying. After a few miles climbing (yes, MILES!), the Embolden 1 did start to feel its weight, which is the only time I noticed it.

Bringing it back to the cons of the tire choice, while the Maxxis Forekaster rolls fast and is great for XC, there isn’t much for grip on loose uphills and small rock step ups; I also noticed unexpected slips through otherwise grippy rock gardens.

Descending

I can hear a lot of you saying “FINALLY, get to the most important part of the review!” I agree, so let me get the obvious out of the way; the Forekaster 2.35 isn’t my cup of tea. It doesn’t provide adequate surface contact or grip down steep, loose, corner-laden terrain.

Aside from the tires, which I obviously have a love/hate relationship with, the Embolden 1 is fast, nimble, and relatively playful for a 29er. SURPRISE! It’s also a bonafide shred sled when pointed downhill. I’ll be honest, I was nervous to take the Embolden down some of the local chunky, techy, gnar trails. I wasn’t certain the suspension would be adequate for larger drops and I preemptively winced before a few jumps because I was scared to hear the fork bottom out upon landing. To my very pleasant surprise, the Embolden jumps just fine and the Crest 34 ramps up nicely and never bottomed out. The rebound on the Crest 34 is dialed, and it never felt too compressed to easily stay on course, steer, and corner after each hit.  

Most of the hits on the particular trail I’m referencing lead the rider straight into more rocks, rock rolls, rock drops, loose corners and/or all of the above. The modest entry-level Embolden 1 seemed to whisper “I got you girl” and take it all in stride. The weight of the bike helps it feel planted, and I felt confident on the sketchiest of trails with this sassy lil’ lass. It’s impressive that such a short travel bike can take on beefy trails and constant chunder. Though I did opt to put a tad more air in the rear shock afterwards.

The few items on my wish list for a more enjoyable descent are larger rotors with more stopping power and more advanced brakes, both of which would increase the cost. As previously noted, the average customer purchasing this bike probably won’t notice, or doesn’t actually need that. The build is adequate for the price point and it still charges downhill like thoroughbred.  

Closing thoughts

Liv has done an excellent job designing a fast, affordable, full suspension entry level mountain bike specifically for women. The Liv Embolden 1 is a great short travel option for riders just entering the mountain bike scene or those on a budget. It is fun, capable of handling techy terrain even with minimal travel, and is decidedly enjoyable on the XC trails it’s designed for.

There are components I would swap if I had my druthers. However, swapping components also increases the cost and most entry-level riders probably won’t feel the need. In a way I think Liv has created a niche of its own: offering a fully capable, women’s specific entry level bike at a price point people can stomach. There aren’t many full suspension bikes that retail for $2,300 or less. The Embolden 1 is a steal. Liv nailed it. It’s hard to admit, but I found myself reaching for this bike over my personal bike on many occasions.

  • Price: $2,300
  • Available at Liv and Giant dealers.

Party laps

  • Affordable full suspension
  • Quality entry level components
  • Sizes designed for women
  • Fully capable

Pros and cons of the Liv Embolden 1

Dirt naps

  • Heavy
  • “Meh” tires
  • Poor hub engagement
  • Small rotors resulting in less-than-ideal stopping power