Finding the best women’s mountain bikes 2020 is a difficult task, specially the top rated ones. Here is our expert’s list of top rated best mountain bikes under 1000.
The subject of women’s specific mountain bikes always seems to divide opinion. But the fact is, there are some awesome steeds out there designed for females and some rad riders who swear by them.
There’s no strong evidence to suggest that girls have to ride different bikes to boys, but a few changes here and there can make a positive difference for some female (and male!) riders.
Bar the amount of travel, the four women’s bikes we’ve tested have relatively little in common.
Compared to unisex/men’s models, there are fewer options within each price range and it’ll take some analysis to work out which one best suits your riding.
Not only do these bikes vary in terms of performance and cost, but the four brands have their own approaches to ‘feminising’ them too.
While most women’s trail bikes come with a gender-specific saddle and grips, and often a lighter shock tune, only a tiny minority have geometry designed to better suit the female physique.
In this test, Scott design their frames identically for both unisex and women’s bikes, Juliana’s measurements are the same as that of their brother company Santa Cruz, while Liv and Canyon modify their frame dimensions for female riders.
Not every woman fits the same mould, so some elements will work better for you than others. Do you like to challenge yourself on the climbs, rail smooth berms, blast around trail centres or race enduro?
Depending on your answer, you may find that just changing the saddle and grips is enough, or it may be a completely different frame that improves your riding experience.
To help you work this out, we’ve put four popular women’s trail bikes through their paces, to see which performs best on the ups, downs and everything in between.
Best Women’s Mountain Bikes
- Canyon Spectral WMN CF 8.0 Best Under 1000
- Scott Contessa Genius 910 Review Best Under $2000
- Liv Intrigue Advanced 1 Review Best Under $1500
- Juliana Maverick CR Review Best Under $500
Canyon Spectral WMN CF 8.0 Review
If you are looking for an affordable women’s mountain bike, take a look at this too. As the only direct-sales (online only) bike on test, the Spectral WMN is great value. The carbon frame is kitted out with a Shimano XT groupset and brakes plus a Fox 34 Performance Elite fork, outpacing the others in terms of spec – and price.
With a relatively short reach and 650b wheels, it isn’t intended to be the fastest descender, but it’s still nippy. It’s worth studying the geometry figures rather than relying on Canyon’s size guide, though.
Don’t let the name fool you – Canyon’s Spectral WMN is more than just the unisex Spectral in a different colour. The WMN model differs in travel, geometry and spec.
Being a direct-sales brand, Canyon manage to supply a carbon frame with an exceptional kit list for not much over three grand. But taking a closer look at the geometry chart, it doesn’t quite measure up to expectations for a modern trail bike. Can the frame keep up with the amazing spec out on the trails?
The Spectral is the only bike here available in two colours – black-and blue or black. Canyon use two types of carbon fibre for their frames.
The 8.0’s front triangle is made from the heavier CF (as opposed to CFR) material, with an aluminium swingarm. While the unisex version offers 160mm of front/150mm of rear travel, this one has 150/140mm.
A 74-degree seat angle (medium) gives you decent room between the saddle and bar when seated, but if you stand up, the short reach (425mm) puts you over the bar.
That relaxed seat angle makes it harder to keep the front wheel weighted on climbs, too. The Spectral also has the longest seat tower here, limiting how low you can drop the seat post.
Not only are the dimensions conservative, but Canyon are cautious with their sizing. For our tester’s height (165cm, 77cm inseam), they recommend the XS bike, but we sized up to the medium and still found it a bit short.
The bike uses a classic four-bar Horst link suspension design, with the shock mounted horizontally. There’s still room in the mainframe for a (side-loading) bottle cage.
A neat feature is the ‘impact protection unit’, which stops the bar from turning past 90 degrees and the controls hitting the top tube in a crash.
The cover under the down tube isn’t just there to protect the frame – it houses the cables and makes maintenance easier.
If components and price were all that mattered, the Spectral would be the bike to go for, because it’s way ahead of the others in terms of spec. The four-piston Shimano XT brakes are great, and the XT drivetrain is reliable and precise.
A 32t chain ring (the others have 30t rings) gives a higher top gear for descents, while the 10- 51t cassette offers enough range for easy climbing.
The Fox 34 fork and DPS shock are both from the brand’s second-from-top Performance Elite range, but the two ends of the bike don’t work as well together as we’d have hoped.
While the rear suspension is good, we found the fork just wasn’t supportive enough when set up to feel supple.
Whereas some trail bikes have features in common with burlier enduro rigs, the Canyon has more of an XC vibe about it.
Its light frame and its rear suspension kinematics make for a capable climber, especially with the three-position shock lever in the middle setting to firm things up (the bike feels too rigid over bumps when fully locked out), and the handling is very direct feeling, helped by the short reach and 650b wheels.
On speedy, rough descents, though, the bike finds its limits quickly. We had no issues with the shock, but the fork lacks mid-stroke support.
It doesn’t bottom-out, but dives through its travel and doesn’t recover when hitting repeated bumps. Applying maximum compression damping and adding a third volume spacer to the two already installed improved this, but compromised comfort.
For our riding, we’d prefer a fork tune with more mid-stroke support. Combined with the short reach and quick-handling front end, the performance of the fork meant we didn’t feel that comfortable on techier downhills.
In fact, the Spectral seems cut out for smoother rides on undulating terrain. It’s fun to hit little jumps on and blast around trail-centre berms on, with enough rear suspension support for the occasional bigger hit.
The bearings are sheltered by neat-looking covers to protect them from grit and water. Canyon’s Quixle lever pulls out of the rear axle when you want to undo or tighten it, eliminating the risk of a rock strike accidentally loosening the axle.
The cables run through a tidy-looking guide under the down tube. This makes for easier maintenance than internal routing, and protects the frame at the same time.
Resistance to compression that stops a fork or shock blowing through the middle of its travel too easily. This helps to keep some travel in reserve, preserves the geometry and provides a more stable riding platform.
A round piece of plastic, which slides into a fork to fill space in the air spring. By reducing the volume of the spring, it makes the final part of the travel harder to compress (for the same air pressure).
- Lightweight and reactive ride feel
- Excellent kit
- Great for undulating trail-centre rides
- Fork isn’t supportive enough
- Outdated geometry means it isn’t as versatile as other bikes here
Dated geometry means this Spectral is no all-rounder, but it’s a perfectly solid trail-centre shredder.
Best Women’s Mountain Bikes For Beginners
Scott Contessa Genius 910 Review
It’s the best suited for the beginners, this is the best cheap mountain bike for women. Scott’s Contessa sports the cheapest brakes and fork here but has some smart tech features. The only all-alloy frame on test sits on 29in wheels, but the bike’s also designed to fit 650b hoops, by simply switching its flipchip. Scott’s TwinLoc system allows you to turn the Genius into an XC rocket (albeit a heavy one) by reducing the effective travel to 100mm. The Fox Nude shock can easily be changed from a linear to a progressive setting too.
Unlike Canyon, Scott have kept the Contessa Genius’s frame the same as the unisex model. The spec seems pretty modest for the price, although you do get some neat features which, paired with 29in wheels, make for an interesting bike. Like its enduro-loving sister, the Contessa Ransom, you can retrofit it with 650b hoops. With this in mind, can the only bike on test with an alloy frame take on three carbon beasts?
Scott sell through traditional shops, with all the benefits that entails. But with a distributor and retailer both taking a cut, you only get an alloy frame, for pretty much the same price as the mostly-carbon Canyon.
Although it’s heavier, good geometry compensates for the extra weight. Whether going up or down, the bike’s shape makes it feel capable in all situations.
Its 65-degree head angle is the slackest on test and, if you prefer to fit 650b wheels, you need only switch the flip-chip in the upper shock mount from ‘Low’ to ‘High’.
Unlike Canyon and Liv, Scott offer the same sizes (small, medium, large) as on their unisex bikes, making it easier for riders who enjoy fast, rough descents to size up for more reach. We rode the small, because no medium was available.
This was the size recommended by Scott’s website, but we found the short reach (405.9mm) made getting in the right position between the wheels a bit of a balancing act, and would have preferred the next size up.
There’s a bit of a rats’ nest of cables in front of the handlebar, due to Scott’s TwinLoc suspension adjustment system.
The actuator sits where you’d usually find the dropper post remote (there’s a vertical lever next to the grip for it instead) and lets you toggle the fork and shock between three modes simultaneously (‘Descend’, ‘Traction Control’ and ‘Lockout’).
Each click changes the spring curve, firming up the suspension, effectively reducing the rear travel from 150mm to 100mm in the middle setting, and thus altering the geometry – keeping the head and seat angles steeper and the BB higher for easier climbing.
The Fox 34 Rhythm fork and proprietary Nude shock give a supportive platform. A lever on the shock body lets you toggle between linear or progressive settings in Descend mode.
While the Syncros (Scott’s in-house brand) dropper works well enough, its short 100mm stroke meant that when we had the saddle in a good position for pedalling, we couldn’t drop it far enough out of the way on descents.
The brakes are Shimano’s budget MT520s, but they’re no less powerful than the Juliana’s SRAM stoppers.
Our first ride on the Contessa Genius was tough. The low-profile Maxxis Rekon tyres aren’t suited to British winter riding and we found the limits of grip quickly.
For the next one, we fitted e*thirteen TRS+ tyres, which transformed the ride feel. With better rubber, the big wheels roll over bumps easily and the relaxed head angle is well-suited to descents.
The small size wasn’t quite big enough for us, but the medium’s long reach (440mm) would add stability on downhills. For a 29er, the Scott is easy enough to lean over in corners, but with its slower-accelerating wheels and heavier alloy frame, it’s more sluggish than the others here.
The suspension feels well balanced and composed, especially with the shock left in its progressive setting. While the Rhythm fork is cheaper and heavier than the regular Fox 34, its GRIP damper works well.
Its 34mm stanchions mean it’s prone to flex on tougher terrain though, limiting the descending potential of a bike that otherwise encourages you to hit rough tracks good and fast.
Also, we’re unsure why the equivalent unisex Genius (the 940) is upgraded to a slightly lighter Performance fork with the same damper. While the TwinLoc system can be useful, we’d prefer to have fewer cables and levers. A simple shock lockout would do, because the bike climbs well.
This is the only bike tested that comes with a guide to stop the chain from getting knocked o! on rough downhills. To make room for Scott’s TwinLoc system, the dropper remote is moved to a less comfy position on top of the grip. It’s also linked with the lockout lever, so they can only be moved together.
The Contessa Genius’s wheels come set up tubeless, saving a little weight and helping to avoid punctures. You’ll most likely want to change the tyres for UK riding though.
Suspension that, as it moves through its travel, takes more and more force to compress it by the same amount. The opposite – suspension that provides the same resistance throughout its stroke.
- 29in wheels rollover everything
- Composed feeling geometry and suspension
- best women’s mountain bikes under 300
- Stock Maxxis Rekon tyres aren’t well-suited to winter riding
- Alloy frame and budget fork add weight
Mid-priced, smartly-specced, enduro inspired trail bike with well-tuned suspension but budget components.
Liv Intrigue Advanced 1 Review
If you are on budget this is the best budget mountain bike for women under 500 dollars. Liv, like Canyon, are firm believers in female-focused geometry. They develop their bikes based on gender specific research and use brother company Giant’s suspension tech.
The Intrigue Advanced’s super-light carbon frame promises
great maneuverability (along with the 650b wheels) and climbing ability, while the Fox 36 fork hints at downhill prowess. A solid selection of kit is provided, including a SRAM GX Eagle drive train.
While you may have seen Liv’s MTB ambassador Rae Morrison riding a 160mmtravel Hail enduro bike, the 140mm Intrigue is the burliest option available to British buyers.
Planted on nimble 650b wheels, its carbon frame helps to create the lightest bike on test and it boasts confidence-inspiring suspension.
Thanks to its carbon fibre front triangle – made with a layup created specifically for women – the Liv is the lightest bike on test, at 12.73kg. Saving another few grams, the rocker link is made of carbon too.
The Intrigue is available in XS, small and medium, but you can’t buy a large in the UK. For our 5ft 5in (165cm) tester this was OK, but taller riders may find the cockpit a little cramped.
Liv’s geometry isn’t especially extreme or progressive and the dimensions are in common with classic trail bikes.
While it’s not the longest bike here in terms of reach (432mm, medium), the Intrigue does have the lengthiest effective top tube, offering a good amount of room for pedalling.
This bike definitely sits more on the playful and easy-handling side of things, and it can accommodate tyres up to 2.6in wide to roll through rock gardens with confidence.
Along with the frame, the Giant TRX- 1 Composite carbon wheels are the lightest on test. Although the head angle isn’t the slackest here (66.5 degrees), Liv encourage descending by specifying a burly, 150mm-travel Fox 36 Performance Elite fork up front.
This works well in conjunction with the Fox DPX2 Performance shock, which is sensitive to small bumps, providing a smooth ride and lots of grip at the back end.
It’s a nice touch that the wheels come set up tubeless out of the box. The SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain is a decent mid-range performer and we had no issues with it.
Although the SRAM G2 brakes work solidly in all conditions and the contact-point adjustment is a great addition, they can’t match the braking power of the Shimano XTs on the Canyon.
While we’re being fussy, we don’t like the way the cables are left quite long, creating a bit of an untidy mess around the handlebar.
Also, while we complained about the short 100mm dropper on last year’s model, we couldn’t get the 150mm post supplied this year low enough in the frame to have the saddle at the right height for pedalling.
For us, a 125mm post would strike the best balance of drop and length.
The first thing you notice with this bike is how incredibly light it is. Whether you’re unloading it from the car or throwing it around corners, it feels effortless.
Combined with the 650b wheels, this makes for an agile ride. A middling 66.5-degree head angle gives it a satisfyingly direct steering feel for composed handling.
It may not be the biggest or most aggressive bike on test, but the Liv feels more stable on the downhills than the Canyon (the other 650bwheeled bike here), thanks to its longer chainstays and reach, and smooth suspension.
With its stiff, 36mm-stanchion chassis, the fork allows you to hit rougher tracks just that little bit more confidently. The rear suspension is quite sensitive, which translates to good rear-wheel traction, but at the expense of some pedalling efficiency.
We had to use the shock lockout to restrict pedal bob, and pressure has to be carefully balanced to maintain enough sag for the downhills without introducing too much suspension movement when climbing.
The Intrigue isn’t the flat-out fastest bike here and doesn’t carry speed as well as some. But it’s fun and versatile and has the fewest performance compromises in this test.
We’d love to see a slightly slacker version, maybe with bigger hoops too. As it is, though, it’s still the bike we’d choose to take home from this foursome.
For the UK market, Liv only o!er sizes XS to medium. In the US, you can buy a large frame too. It’s set up tubeless straight from the manufacturer, which is a nice touch. While the frame looks neat, the cables are left super-long and quite untidy.
A dial on the brake lever body that lets you change how far the lever blade moves before the brake pads ‘bite’ (make contact with the rotor). Movement of the suspension caused by pedalling forces, which reduces efficiency.
- Super-light frame makes it easy to man oeuvre
- Plush rear suspension provides a smooth ride
- Fewest spec compromises in this test
- Doesn’t carry speed as well as some
- Prone to pedal bob
A solidly-performing all-rounder without any particular let-downs – and the low frame weight is perfect for lighter riders.
Juliana Maverick CR Review
Santa Cruz’s sister company provide the priciest and most progressive bike on test. The Maverick’s geometry makes it the roomiest bike here and, running on 29er wheels, it has the longest wheelbase too.
With a RockShox Yari fork with a strong chassis, it has the potential to tackle gnarly downhills with ease. For climb heavy rides, a flip-chip lets you steepen up the angles slightly.
The carbon frame is definitely more appealing than the budget components, though.
Juliana are held in the same high regard as their prestigious partner brand, Santa Cruz, and the Maverick promises great things.
Smart geometry makes for efficient climbing, decent descending stability and a sense of playfulness.
Combined with 29er wheels, this adds up to something more akin to ‘trail bike does enduro’ than ‘aggressive trail-centre cruiser’.
The Maverick is available in small, medium and large, with the same geometry as the lauded Santa Cruz Hightower. Unlike the other bikes here, the sizing is generous – it’s the longest in all sizes.
We also like the simple colour scheme, clean lines and neat details of the carbon frame. This model is made from their ‘Carbon C’ material, which is the same strength as the dearer ‘Carbon CC’ but slightly heavier.
With the longest reach and wheelbase here, and a relatively low bottom bracket, the Maverick has the most aggressive frame shape, for confident descending. The chainstays are kept short (433mm), to increase agility.
Santa Cruz’s twin-link VPP suspension system stands out, with the shock half-hidden within the seat tube and behind the swingarm.
A little guard protects the Fox DPS damper from any grit spraying up from the rear wheel. Which is a nice touch, although it makes it hard to set your sag and complicates maintenance.
The shock is mounted to the lower link via an integrated flip-chip, which can be switched between ‘High’ and ‘Low’ geometry settings. While the bike comes with 29in wheels, you can also run 650b hoops with up to 2.8in tyres.
While the frame is high quality, the kit isn’t quite up to scratch for the price. SRAM’s NX Eagle drivetrain is second-from-bottom in their 12-speed range.
Experience suggests it’s wise to keep an eye on the bolt torque and mech alignment. The Race Face dropper works alright, but isn’t the swiftest-returning post.
We found the saddle a bit chunky too. Juliana recommend running the Maverick in the High setting if you struggle with pedal strikes. We’d prefer shorter crank arms 170mm instead of 175mm to avoid this, and to keep it in Low for a better feel on descents.
The shorter crank option is only available on the small size. RockShox’s Yari fork shares the same strong chassis and DebonAir spring as the more sophisticated Lyrik, but uses the older Mission Control damper so lacks suppleness.
The Fox shock has a climb lever, but we never reached for it, because the bike’s kinematics allow for efficient pedalling. Unfortunately, the SRAM Guide R rear brake needed a bleed after only one ride.
Sitting on the Maverick before you drop in for a descent fills you with confidence. The long-ish reach (compared to the other bikes here), more enduro-flavoured head angle, lower bottom bracket, big wheels and sturdy fork make you feel like you can tackle anything.
Unfortunately, the bike doesn’t make the downhills as effortless as first appearances would suggest.
While the long wheelbase provides a stable platform on fast descents. The harsh-feeling suspension makes rough tracks even tougher than normal on the arms.
Not only does the Yari fork lack initial plushness, but it can struggle to deal with repeated hits. We had to run around 30 per cent sag to achieve a more comfortable feel.
While the Juliana 29er is still quite agile and a ton of fun on every sort of trail. It doesn’t have quite the same direct handling feel as the smaller wheeled Canyon or Liv. It pedals well uphill and is eager to roll over any root or rock, but doesn’t smooth out every little bump.
We preferred the aggressively treaded 2.4in Minions on the Juliana to the 2.6in rubber on the Scott 29er because they dug into winter mud well. The Maverick’s geometry is also really solid. But, the price is just too high for the components you get.
A robust chainstay protector shields the frame from paint chips caused by chain slap. If you feel like going bigger, the Maverick frame can take a 160mm-travel fork. Juliana o!er a free lifetime replacement service on their pivot bearings and frames.
Juliana use Santa Cruz’s Virtual Pivot Point design, which connects the front triangle of the bike to the swingarm via upper and lower counter rotating links. This lets them tune the suspension characteristics (aka kinematics).
An oval-shaped piece of hardware, usually located at a shock mount (or sometimes on the chain-/seatstay). Which can be rotated through 180 degrees to alter a bike’s geometry or suspension feel.
- Confidence inspiring geometry for descents but still playful-feeling
- Great climbing ability
- Neat-looking carbon frame
- Harsh-feeling suspension
- Weak spec list
The Maverick’s modern geometry has a lot of potential but it’s let down by its kit list.
Each of these bikes has been designed with a slightly different ride feel and terrain in mind. So will therefore suit a different type of rider.
The Liv Intrigue isn’t the perfect trail bike, but it has the fewest performance compromises of all the machines here and is a solid all-rounder.
While we’d prefer slightly longer and slacker geometry, it feels agile and playful, and comes specced with some good kit.
Riders who aren’t looking for ultimate speed will be happy with the more nimble 650b wheels too.
Purely based on its geometry and design, we preferred Juliana’s Maverick. But despite being the most expensive bike here. Its budget parts just don’t let you unleash the potential of its modern shape and carbon frame.
We also liked the dimensions of the Scott Contessa Genius, and it’s a really capable bike, albeit a bit more sluggish than the others due to its heavier weight and big wheels.
In some ways more of a wannabe enduro bike than a trail bike. It could do with a bigger fork to help you make the most of its descending abilities.
Canyon’s Spectral WMN performs really well in two areas – pedalling and trailcentre blasts. But it lacks capability on rougher, faster downhills.
Given the choice, we’d opt for the unisex Spectral with its longer 440mm reach. So, are women’s-specific bikes worth buying? If the sizing, geometry and shock tune suit you, then potentially, yes.
But taller, heavier or more aggressive riders may be better off buying a unisex frame (and possibly getting a custom tune).