First Ride: Halfords New Women’s Road and Mountain Bikes from £450

With around 500 stores, over 11,000 employees and an annual revenue of one billion - Halfords are pretty big business. They've got the buying power and the muscle to provide quality bikes for low prices, but they're only just dipping their toes into proper female friendly road and mountain bikes.

They've added two road bikes, two mountain bikes and one hybrid to their range - built from the ground up for women. We went to check them out, and tested the entry level Voodoo Soukri...

Halfords admit that, like most of the bike trade, there is a history of accommodating for the male market, and doing very little for their female ride buddies. But that’s changing. With CEO Jill McDonald at the helm, the company is putting a huge focus on bringing women’s cycling forward. Director Emma Fox explained: “We’re making inroads – we’ve recently introduced a women’s cycling hub on our website and we’ve partnered with Breeze to help get more women cycling from grassroots up.”

Like their fellow retailers, Halfords have been holding women’s cycling evenings in their stores. Of course, anyone can lay a couple of chips and dips out and answer questions about bike maintenance in store – but designing a range of female specific bikes is a significant investment.

The Rise of the Women’s Specific Bike Shop

Halfords have added five female specific bikes to their own brand line up: two Voodoo mountain bikes, two 13 road bikes and one 13 hybrid. The bikes start at £449 – they’re not your full carbon, high spec, top of the range machines – but as Fox explained: “Considering our size as a company, we’re best placed to grow the market – that gets more people, and more women, on bikes – so it’s good for everybody.”

The bikes, admittedly, are not as high spec as some of the men’s on offer. The 13 Intuition Gamma unisex bike, for example, comes in at £1,800 and has  a full carbon frame, Fizik saddle, aero brakeset, carbon wheel fairing and weighs just 7.7kg.

Fox explains: “Full carbon women’s bikes are on the road map, but currently we’re just putting a toe in. There are quite a few brands creating high end women’s bikes, and it’s more beneficial to grow the market [with bikes for first time buyers] than poach someone else’s.”

Jim Berkeley, head of trading, was keen to address the “shrink and pink” debate, saying “the mountain bikes aren’t based on a ‘male equivalent’ – they’re built, from the ground up, for women.”

Is Pink It and Shrink It Outdated? 

The key differences in designing a women’s bike, he said, was that in general women have shorter torsos and longer legs in relation to men, so the top tube has been made shorter. The bikes also have female specific saddles, handlebars and shorter cranks in some cases.

“Of course, women can ride men’s bikes, and change the stem and push the saddle forward to shorten the reach, but once you start making big changes to a bike, you’re not riding it at its best,” Berkeley explained.

The line up…

Voodoo Soukri Women’s Hardtail Mountain Bike : £449.99

7005 Aluminum frame, Tektro M250 Hydraulic Disc Brakes, Suntour XCM-ds fork with lock out, 120mm travel, Suntour XCM 44/32/22T chainset, 11-34 cassette, Shimano Atlus M371 shifters and mechs, 650b wheel with Maxxis Ardent 2.25 tyres

Voodoo Maji Women’s Full Suspension Mountain Bike: £899.99

6061 Aluminium frame, Tektro HDM0 Hydraulic Disc Brakes with 160 front and rear rotor, Suntour Epixin trail 140mm travel fork with lock out, Suntour Epixon Air Spring rear suspension, Suntour XCM 44/32/22T, 11-34 cassette, with Shimano Atlus rear derailleur on Shimano 9 speed (11-34T) cassette, 650b wheels with Maxxis Ardent 2.25 tyres.

13 Intrinsic Lambda Women’s Road Bike: £549.99

Triple butted aluminium frame, carbon fibre fork, FSA tempo compact (50/34T) with 8 speed (11-32) Shimano Claris, TPR aero brakes,  slightly deep section rims with 28/32 spoke count

13 Intuition Lambda Women’s Road Bike: £849.99

Triple butted aluminium frame, aero smooth welds, carbon fibre fork, FSA tempo compact (50/34T) with 10 speed (12-28) Shimano Tiagra, TPR Aero Brakes, slightly deep section rims with 20/24 spoke count

13 Intuitive Lambda Women’s Hybrid Bike: £499.99

Triple butted aluminium frame, lightweight carbon bladed form, aluminum steerer, Suntour triple chainset (48/38/28) with Shimano Acera rear derailleur with 8 speed (11-34) cassette, Tekro hydraulic discs, slightly deep section rims

All the spiel and spec aside, I expect what you mostly want to know how the bikes ride. We were testing the Voodoo Soukri – and will be getting the 13 Intuition Lambda in for a long term test for you soon.

At £449.99, the Soukri sits very much in the territory of ‘first mountain bike’ – so since I’d not ridden a mountain bike for around 5 years, I was probably bang on the target! Admittedly, I do ride a cyclocross bike on a pretty regular basis on the trails around Surrey, so I can’t claim to be a total fresh face to knobbly tyres.

Buyers’ Guide: Hardtail versus full suspension mountain bikes

Perching on the bike for the first time and swinging it round the car park, I clicked through the gears and gave the brakes a firm squeeze. Hydraulic brakes are sharp and quick, and they keep out muck and grime from wet days on the trails – I was pleased to find they had a nice crisp stop to them.

7 Things That Happen on a Roadies First Mountain Bike Ride

Both the hardtail and the full suspension Voodoo’s have 44/32/22T chainsets, and 11-34 cassettes. The triple chainset is very much beginner friendly – you could argue that swapping this for a double might make the bike a bit lighter, but with the wide cassette to boot there’s little chance of running out of gears, however heavy the bike. Throughout the ride I could always find a “happy gear” and had no trouble getting up and over  a couple of steep ledges.

Both the full suspension and hardtail bikes have 650b wheels. With so much discussion over the best wheel size, I had to ask the motive behind the decision: “It’s the happy medium, and the best option,” Berkeley explained: “29er wheels are heavy. Some brands create 29er women’s models, and then put 650b wheels on the smaller frames – then you’re creating two different models in one bike range – it’s complicated, so we started with the happy medium.”

Do 29er Mountain Bikes Suit Women? 

The happy medium rolled confidently – tackling the dusty trails of the new forest. The terrain was, I have to admit, remarkably tame – more so than the local hills and dales around my home. In fact, they reminded me of family holidays and happy, carefree picnic-rides – this bike was definitely a comfortable companion that would munch up leisure miles with no problem.

Of course, it wasn’t all going to be easy rolling – no mountain bike ride was going to be complete without a couple of speedy singletrack moments, drops and river passes. When there were sections of tight, bendy trail I found myself easily manoeuvring into the bends and following the wheel in front, from time to time negotiating a short cut which chucked me out on the trail somewhere ahead (not sure you’re meant to overtake the guide, are you?).

3 Essential Skills for Beginner Mountain Bikers

The bike led me through the little rivers that snake through the forest with no trouble, and picked up speed when it looked like the ponies on the plain were frolicking a little more enthusiastically that I might have liked.

The moment that really tested the bike came immediately after a characteristic off-road power climb. The descent seemed simple enough, until just a metre in I realised there was a concrete ledge that gave way to a drop that I really hadn’t expected.

On seeing the obstacle, it was far too late to divert around it, and I flew straight across the ledge and onto the rocky trail below. I waited for the sound of aluminum hitting the ground – but it didn’t come. The only noise was my own surprised squeal – I’d landed my first little jump without particularly meaning to. I was also pleased to note the actual mountain bikers seems a bit surprised at the appearance of the large concrete ledge, so it wasn’t just me being a massive wimp!

Mountain Bike Skills: How to Come off a Drop

With hefty 2.25 Maxis Ardent tyres, and standard 7005 aluminium frame, the Soukri is not a light beast. It tips the scales at 14kg. This became pretty apparent on the section of road that took us to the trails, when waiting for traffic meant I needed to chase and catch two escapee riders ahead. It took a lot of effort to heave the bike up the hill to catch up. However, as soon as we got onto the rough stuff, I hardly noticed the extra weight and had no trouble ascending the peaks along the way.

Overall, I was impressed with the ride. It’s exciting to consider that for less than £500, women can get a great, do-it-all entry level mountain bike, that could provide them with a first taste of cycling, or a gateway into a whole new discipline in mountain biking.

The addition of the new Voodoo mountain bikes brings more choice into the market for women, and Halfords are hoping that will not only accommodate existing riders, but grow demand.

We’ll be testing the 13 road bike out, too – so keep your eyes peeled!

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