Liv/giant ditches ‘pink and shrink’ approach to building women’s bikes

The line of bikes is designed from the ground up by women, for women

PARK CITY, Utah (VN) — If you follow women’s bike racing, you may have heard of Liv/giant because the brand sponsors Olympic and world champion Marianne Vos. Since its inception three years ago, Liv/giant has worked to raise its profile and has steadily increased its product offerings for women. Last week, Liv/giant introduced five new off-road models designed specifically for female riders.

Liv/giant began as a fashion-focused brand at Giant for the Asian market. At the outset, the emphasis was considerably different from what the brand has now become. Cycling fits into Asian women’s lives differently than it does in the United States or Europe, and Liv/giant naturally reflected their interests. In the United States, meanwhile, Giant sold women’s bikes under the Giant for Women label.

“There was this one show we did, and we had Giant for Women products and we had Liv/giant products,” recalled Abigail Santurbane, the Liv/giant category manager. “And they had done a bike all in Swarovski diamonds. People were so into it. It was really the mindset of the Liv/giant girls — they really wanted to do things differently — that attracted me.”

Three years ago, Liv/giant became a global brand for Giant’s products for women. The entire staff of Liv/giant is women, including the designers, engineers, and managers. Though Liv/giant is not the only women’s brand managed by women, the presence of women at all levels of the brand stands out in an industry that remains, on the whole, run by men.

“Liv” stands for the brand’s determination to help women live the cycling lifestyle. Liv/giant aims not only to sell more bikes and accessories to women, but also to become a resource for women to learn more about cycling.

“The biggest thing about Liv/giant [is that] we really truly are a community,” emphasized Jackie Baker, the brand’s global marketing manager. “We want to be that go-to resource for all women who are into cycling, whether you are Marianne Vos or whether you are on your third day out on the bike.”

Liv/giant is part of an accelerating trend in the bike industry to create products for women and to design those products from the ground up. For women riders, it is an exciting time. There are more bikes than ever before, and the quality and performance of the products coming out of the women’s brands are improving each year.

This pattern is a departure from the past when a company might offer only one or two bicycle models for women. Designers typically started with an existing frame design and made minor changes in the effort to appeal to women. Sometimes that change meant a centimeter cut off the top tube; most of the time, it meant exactly the same bike painted pink.

“I’ve raced road and mountain bikes,” Santurbane said. “I’ve always had the perception [that] I don’t need a women’s bike. Women’s bikes aren’t good enough. And that has been a really big goal for me personally, is changing that perception. It’s not less of a bike.”

During her five years working at Giant, Santurbane has seen an evolution in how women’s products are designed and marketed. When she started, the women’s bikes were a small part of the wider Giant product line. Now Liv/giant has become its own brand with a full range of road, mountain, and lifestyle bikes.

“Five years ago, I fought for every bike I did,” Santurbane said. “Now, they look to us, and say, what do you guys need to be successful? That’s huge. We don’t have to follow what the [main line] is doing. We envision what we need for the women’s market, and then we build it. We start from white paper.”

For 2014, Liv/giant is releasing five new off-road designs, and each will be available at multiple price points. All the new bikes feature the 27.5 wheel size, which Liv/giant designers believe is a better setup for women due to its lighter weight. “The 27.5 gives you that flickability, that playfulness,” Santurbane said. Liv/giant also believes that the smaller wheel size offers better fit options for women than the 29ers.

Liv/giant has two hardtails for 2014. The Obsess Advanced is a lightweight, composite bike designed for cross-country racing. It comes built up with SRAM X0/X9 2×10. At the other end of the price spectrum, Liv/giant offers an aluminum hardtail, the Tempt, aimed at the entry-level customer.

There are three full-suspension bikes designed specifically for women in the Liv/giant lineup. The composite Lust Advanced has 100mm of rear travel and is built up with SRAM XX1 1×11. Liv/giant calls the Lust Advanced the line’s do-it-all bike, because of its combination of light weight and 100mm of travel. There is also an aluminum version of the Lust, which offers a lower-cost option with the same 100mm of rear travel.

The Intrigue is aimed at the free-ride crowd and offers 140mm of rear travel. It features a lower bottom bracket and slacker headtube angle than the Lust in an effort to make the Intrigue more stable on high-speed descents. For now, Liv/giant offers the Intrigue only in aluminum. Santurbane and global product manager Jackie Baker were not willing to reveal whether a composite Intrigue was in the works.

Baker and her team have devoted significant energy to making Giant retailers more welcoming for women customers. They focus on small changes to stores such as re-arranging clothing displays and installing brighter lights to catch the eyes of female customers. They hope to attract women who may not know anything about cycling and may not yet even ride bikes.

“As we make our stores more appealing, as a girl’s walking by, and sees that jersey that looks really cute, [and she thinks], ‘hey, I can wear that anywhere,’” said Baker. “You don’t have to be a cyclist, but now you’re in the store.”

Liv/giant also has two vans that visit local retailers to hold clinics and demo events. They want to build a feeling of community that will encourage women to feel welcome at their local shops and in cycling more generally. The events are intended to offer retailers a chance to draw in new riders from places such as the yoga studio or the triathlon club.

Liv/giant’s overall aim is to bring more women into cycling and to make sure they have a good experience once they get there.

“I just envision all our consumers as women who are motivated to ride,” Santurbane said. “[Maybe] that’s a woman who wants to lose weight or to go crush on the competition on her new carbon hardtail. We have a disparity of skill levels and such a variety of personalities, but we’re all motivated. That’s what I envision.”