It’s been six months or so since the Liv Hail Advanced 1 landed at Singletrack Towers, and it’s time to send it on it’s way. I’ve already reviewed it here, but when I did so I had a final few tweaks I wanted to try out. I also felt that I hadn’t pushed myself as far as I perhaps could, and wanted to Try A Bit Harder™ and see what would happen.
So here we are, seven months on for my final review of the Liv Hail Advanced 1 test bike.
Perhaps ironically for a women’s bike – where for some brands contact points are often the only difference between a men’s and women’s set up – I found the saddle and grips on the Hail to be at odds with my body. Having found that the saddle which came fitted to the NS RAG+ I’d been testing was both comfortable and billed as an enduro saddle, I fitted it to the Hail. One comfortable bottom, sorted. I also swapped out the grips for some which better suited my hands. I tried a couple of different sets before settling on GA2 grips by Ergon. These seemed to provide the right level of cushioning while remaining slim enough to be easy to grip.
The Giant dropper post had become sticky and had a fair amount of play in it, plus I found the actuator to be difficult to strike quickly. The remote was swapped for a Wolf Tooth ReMote, which was beautifully smooth and easy to operate – like soft margarine compared to the cold butter of the Giant stock version. The dropper itself was less sticky, and returned faster after greasing, but the sideways play remained and I’d be looking to swap this out for something with less of an annoying wiggle were I to be keeping this bike for longer.
The final tweaks were to the shock and fork. I used a ShockWiz to assess the rear shock performance, and as a result dropped the pressure down to 180psi while also slowing down the rebound setting. The Hail is in possession of 160mm of travel. Set it up like a short-travel XC bike, and it’ll feel overly bouncy like a rodeo horse. Adjust the rear shock to the slower and softer side of things, and you’ll keep that rear tyre glued to the ground.
Because the fork is a travel-adjustable Talas model, you can’t use a ShockWiz on there, so it involved a greater degree of trial and error. Eventually we settled on 105psi inside the main air spring, and a rebound setting to match the deep-feeling rear travel. This gave me much more confidence on the bike, with it feeling like it was absorbing the bumps beneath me without diving through the travel or bouncing me off on the return stroke.
With everything set, it was time to Try A Bit Harder™, so I set off for the Endura Jura by Julbo – a two day enduro race in the French Jura mountains. On arriving I discovered that this was an event that many EWS riders and pros choose to do for a bit of a holiday, and for the beautiful fresh, steep and technical singletrack trails. I can admit that I was out of my depth, but on being faced with trail after trail that was harder than anything I’d ever ridden before, I had two choices: ride practically nothing, and stick to what I knew; or ride as much as I could, and take a few steps into new territory.
And so I found myself recalibrating my internal spirit level. Anything that wasn’t a solid outcrop of limestone had to be attempted. Anything that could be walked down without slipping had to be tried – on the bike. Anything that had a soft landing to either side had to be given a shot. Gradually I got better – a stage I reccied on the Friday and only rode a third of, by Sunday had become a stage I rode most of – and enjoyed.
I stopped getting off at every switchback, and only got off at the switchbacks that combined turns with limestone drops. I told myself to ride to that bend, and the next one, and the next one – until there were no bends left and I’d cleared 450m of descent. The cockpit tweaks came into their own – my hands didn’t hurt (but my arms got very tired!), and the Wolf Tooth remote had me popping the dropper up and down as often as I wanted – which was often. Given I was riding blind, being able to drop the saddle quickly without shifting my hands on the bars was invaluable.
Near vertical stage finishes dropping out of the woods onto tracks and roads were conquered – aided by a watching gaggle of pros calling out helpful advice like ‘just keep going, let your brakes go and you’ll roll it!’. I nearly stopped after Stage 3, but Jerome Clementz told me I could manage Stage 4, and it was fun, and I really should do it. If I’d seen Stage 4 in advance, I’d never have believed him, yet sometime later (I’m not going to pretend I was fast) I’d ridden it, the kind of steep trail where once you start, you can’t stop.
And so it has been with the Liv Hail – point it, keep riding, keep believing you can get to the end, and lo and behold, the Hail delivers you there. Sure, there have been crashes, but each time I’ve known what I did wrong, I’ve got up, and I’ve tried again. And in some cases, again, and again. I’ve not conquered everything, but the Hail goes back to Liv leaving me with a new set of nemesis trails. They’re not the trails I had on my hit list – they’re trails I never even considered riding before. Some of the trails I’ve ridden in the last few weeks are trails I’d seen and didn’t even want to be able to ride. That’s how much of a leap I’ve taken.
The supple suspension and sticky tyres help a lot. Tyre choice on the Liv Hail Advanced 1 falls toward an enormous Schwalbe Magic Mary on the front, and a quicker Hans Dampf on the back. It’s been an ideal combination for tackling everything from the dusty, rocky trails on the Jura, to the loamy and often muddy trails back home. While not the fastest rolling tyre, the Mary on the front has been brilliant at providing a load of front-end confidence along with the Fox 36 fork, keeping the wheel pointing where it should, with no unsuspecting slides.
Now, would I have made the same progress if I’d taken another bike to the Jura? Maybe. But I’m not convinced that I’d have been in a position where I’d have said yes to going in the first place. I still don’t know whether the ‘women’s specific design’ of the Hail sits completely comfortably with me, but I do feel comfortable on this bike. I really notice that it puts me in the right position for technical descending, and I feel forward and balanced without tiring my arms getting there.
This does kind of seem to me to stack up with what Liv says about playing to the strength distribution of women vs men – that women generally have less upper body strength and their strength is concentrated lower in their bodies. The Hail is also long (especially this Large that I’ve been testing), so it’s not really conforming to some of the traditional ‘short arms, short reach, low standover’ stereotyping that we’ve seen before in the women’s specific market. Indeed, the high riding position can still be an obstacle when faced with a particularly steep and rough turn, but on the whole I’ve learnt to trust the bike, weight it, wait for it to grip, and keep going rather than bailing, and I can appreciate the keep-pedalling-and-climb characteristic that this gives the bike on technical upwards sections.
OK, I’ve had six months on the Hail to get familiar with it, but whenever I’ve been off riding something else and then come back to the Hail, it’s had that ‘ah, this fits, and I know what it does’ feel to it. So while I do still harbour some disquiet about the idea that there are bikes for women, and bike for men, this bike does make me feel like I kick ass. And I guess that’s the point – find a bike that makes you feel good, work it, push it, and feel even better.
There are niggles – the dropper post and the easily chipped nature of the paintwork in particular – that I think could be better, especially at this price point. I’m not going to repeat the entirety of my initial review, but I’ve not changed my mind on any of the points I raised there, so go back and check it out for all the details.
Maybe it would have happened anyway, maybe it wouldn’t, but I’ve felt confident enough on this bike to really up my game. Since I exist in a world where there’s always another new bike round the corner, I’m off out into the world to see if I can keep progressing without the Hail beneath me, but under other circumstances I suspect I’d be awfully tempted to buy it. Dammit. I rode something that’s ‘for women’ and I liked it. Pass me that humble pie, and make it a man sized portion.
|Product:||Hail Advanced 1|
|Tested:||by Hannah for 6 months|