Juliana Strega – Review
Last weekend Mr Betty’s bike was at Ilkley Cycles as it was having the Rockshox Monarch replaced for the second time under warranty. Out of curiosity we travelled across the Yorkshire border into the wild, untamed land of Cumbria in order to test out the latest from the Santa Cruz and Juliana fleet. Biketreks were hosting a great demo event at their beautifully designed bike store in Ings. Jungle Products brought the Santa Cruz and Juliana demo fleet fleet, spent a lot time talking through options with the attendees and led us out on a couple of 1-2 hours loops into the hills around Ings and Kendal. For me the main reason for attending was to check out the newest addition to the Juliana fleet; the bewitching Juliana Strega.
The Juliana Strega was launched this summer as the women’s bike with the most amount of travel available on the market at the time. Strega in Italian means ‘Witch’ which seems to go very well with the ‘Wicked’ green colour of the bike. I was curious whether the bike lived up to the hype as an enduro / bike park bike that could would also be pedalable enough to take around the trail centres.
The introduction of the Strega to the range of bikes aimed at women to date is, in my opinion, significant. The number of 160mm travel, enduro-ready trail bikes for women has slowly increased over the past few years but the Strega is the first bike to break that barrier, which suggests bike manufacturers consider there to be demand from the ladies out there. With enduro events, trail centres and 160mm travel bikes becoming increasingly popular and a number of riders opting to use the longer travel enduro bikes at a number of Downhill events over the last year, you could be forgiven for thinking that the traditional downhill bike’s days are numbered.
I can’t help thinking that Santa Cruz and Juliana are hoping that they can mop up the seemingly ever increasing pool of riders who split their time between trail centres and bike parks / DH uplift days. Those riders are probably finding that their trail bike can handle pretty much anything they can throw at it, but they also dabble in DH uplift days and find the limits of their trail bike on those days. I know that Mr Betty and I fall into that category.
It is worth noting that the Juliana Strega is an exact copy of the Santa Cruz Nomad so whether the introduction of the Strega was really driven by demand from the lady bike universe or whether, commercially, it made sense to offer a “women’s specific” version of the Nomad is up for debate. From my own experience riding with various female riders over the past years I know a fair few who have a trail bike and a DH bike, I am not sure how many of them would make the move to one bike that can truly tackle trail centres and DH runs.
At the moment I am considering whether it is time for us to pick up a DH bike (for me a Commencal Furious), the alternative is to find a bigger, burlier trail bike that has some of the tech specs and geometry of a DH bike, but can be pedalled for hours without too much difficulty. If Santa Cruz and Juliana can pull such a feat off with the Nomad and the Strega they might find a number of riders out there willing to part with their cash.
The bike I was lucky enough to test was one of the higher spec Juliana Strega’s available, It came in “CC” level carbon and was shoed with a set of wide carbon rims, a Rockshox Lyrik Fork and Super Deluxe shock and Sram Eagle XX1. This type of spec is, as you might expect, going to set you back a few quid and high level builds are going to start at over £6,000 and keep on going up. So depending on the size of your wallet it might be not the exact bike you opt for but it was really the overall ride characteristics and practicality of the Strega I was interested in.
At the same time Mr Betty rode a large Santa Cruz Nomad CC with all the trimmings; carbon rims, Sram XX1 Eagle and a Rockshox Lyrik Fork. Interestingly Mr Betty’s Nomad came with a Rockshox Super Deluxe RCT Coil. I know that it is not quite so unusual these days to see a coil shock somewhere other than a DH bike, but it still had everyone staring.
The Strega does not come with a coil option, given that us ladies are typically lighter than our male counterparts this might not be such a bad thing, but with the Strega’s ability to smash out laps in the bike park as well as the trail it would be nice to see a coil option in the standard range.
Santa Cruz and Juliana should be proud of their work on the remodelled Nomad / Strega. The virtual pivot point (VPP) platform definitely had an impact on how the bike handles on both the downs and the uphills. Even the more trail-focussed end of the range handle well thanks to the way the suspension is set up. It is clear that Santa Cruz’s work on the design of the V10 over the past few years has paid off for the Strega.
The Santa Cruz Nomad and Juliana Strega come with a “flip chip”, essentially this offers the rider the ability to shift the head angle by half a degree, giving a slightly slacker or more upright feel. My bike was set up to the upright position, which was a smart choice given the steep hills around Kendal and Ings.
Given the size and intentions of the Strega I was expecting the steep climbs on the ride out from the shop to be an ordeal. Without longer on the bike to test it out it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why, but the Strega climbed really well for a bike of its size. In fact it felt more efficient, in both locked out and “trail mode”, than my Commencal Meta Purple does. Several times I caught myself climbing up a hill in a mid gear and being incredibly surprised that I still had a few gears left when the climbing got really steep! Speaking of gears the Sram XX1 Eagle set up was undeniably welcome. I know that Eagle has been controversial, perhaps partly due to the excessive price tag, but when you are two thirds of the way up the hill and feeling like you have nowhere to go, having that big 50T ring can be a lifesaver. Normally a 20 mile trail ride with a lot of steep climbs would leave me shattered for the last few miles, but the long pedal back to the shop was actually a pleasure. If you are opting to buy a cheaper version of this bike, try and at least aim for a version with the GX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain, as this will definitely save you on the climbs.
If you are wondering whether the Strega can climb like any other enduro bike the answer has to be yes, in either locked out or “trail mode” the bike pedals efficiently and won’t leave you shattered by the time you get to the descents.
Where the Strega really has to step up to the plate is on the descending. On our two test rides we descended through a rocky valley full of loose slick rock, roots and grass on the “three rivers” route. The route wasn’t exactly Fort William (which was good given that there were a number of riders testing a wide range of bikes) but it was steep, rocky and twisty to make you concentrate. The Juliana Strega definitely turns into a witch’s broom when pointed down the hill. The bike is just overwhelmingly fast, endlessly responsive and nimble. I have a feeling that the key to its descending success lies in its geometry and the lessons learnt from the burlier V10. Despite that the spec of my particular Strega definitely helped; the carbon wheels were definitely making it easier to pick the bike up, the large 2.5″ Maxxis Minions (DHF and DHR) gripped well in the super wet conditions. The 170mm travel coming from the Lyrik and Super Deluxe made short work of the rocky, square edge hits on the descent. I couldn’t help thinking that the bike would have been at home in The Alps earlier in the summer, it felt like it would have handled the mid sized drops and jumps that litter the red and black trails of Morzine and Les Gets like a much bigger bike.
There were only two things that I was not fond of, firstly; I was not very happy with the saddle. If I am not mistaken, the Strega I tested was fitted with a carbon High Tail WTB saddle that I found personally very uncomfortable. Saddle choice can be a very personal thing, plus I think that most of the Juliana builds come with Juliana saddles that I am told are worth sitting on.
The second thing is the price, which is undoubtedly the elephant in the room. For the top spec Juliana CC with carbon wheels, you are easily looking at shelling out £7 – 8,000. Whilst it is fair to say you do get a hell of a lot of bike, that is a lot of cash to part with for something that doesn’t come with an engine or a back garden. On the other hand if you opt for a Juliana Strega C (which is 200 grams heavier, so I just need to stop eating cake for dinner basically) and decide on a medium spec, you can easily shave off around £3,000.
This bike seems to be suited for those ladies who like their bikes a bit more dangerous. Enduro racers, Alp goers and bike park rats, this is a bike for you. I think if a lot of the more gravity-focussed female riders out there tried the Juliana Strega out for the day they would give serious consideration to selling their trail bike and their DH bike and opting for the Strega for both activities, it just doesn’t feel like a compromise. However if your riding centres around UK trail centres and you like putting the miles in I would not recommend this bike as much. You would probably be more at home on a Furtado or a Joplin, both fantastic bikes.
Last, but very much not least, I would like to thank the gentleman from Jungle Products and Biketreks for a great setup session, an informed and interesting ride and great company throughout a long and soggy day. The route had a bit of everything, the company was the best, and the weather was awful. If you have not visited Biketreks shops yet, you definitely should as they stock great bikes both in Ambleside (mountain bikes) and Ings (road bikes) and they would be able to help you with both roadie and mountain biker issues.
August 20, 2017