Looking for the best women's e-bikes is tricky as there aren’t many e-bikes designed for women. But Liv and Scott buck the trend, both offering trail bikes with a feminine touch. Words: Alice Burwell.
Finding the best women’s e-bikes means researching two schools of thought: brands that develop an e-bike with specific geometry and components or you take an exisitng e-bike that’s been designed for both genders and simply fit a wider saddle, a set of smaller grips, change the frame colour and rebrand it.
Women’s specific mountain bikes have been a part of our sport for a few decades now, so it makes sense that the newest bikes, which are electric, are also designed for women. Unfortunately, I can count the number of brands catering for women e-bike riders on two fingers. Surprisingly, Juliana’s bikes are all still analogue but Scott and Liv (the women’s division of Giant) both offer several e-bikes designed specifically for women. And given that I’ve been riding a lot of my dad’s (mbr tester Paul Burwell) e-bikes, I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how the two key women-specific options stack up.
Liv Intrigue X E+ 1 (£5,799) vs Scott Contessa Strike eRide 910 (£4,949)
Liv has a single full-suspension e-bike platform called Intrigue X E+, with three models which all use the same aluminium frame, Yamaha derived drive system and 625Wh internal battery. The frame is designed around a 150mm suspension fork and has 140mm of rear travel. The most expensive bike in this trio is the Intrigue X E+ 1 at £5,799 and that’s what I’m testing here. I’m 5ft 8in tall and opted for the size M, which comes with 29in wheels. The S and XS options roll on smaller 27.5in wheels.
Scott has an impressive range of women’s bikes under the Contessa umbrella but currently there are only two models in its Strike e-bike platform – the £4.5k Contessa Strike eRide 920 and the range-topping Strike eRide 910, £4,949 in this test. This bike sits in Scott’s sport category, and while it’s only a classification it has a few components, like the Maxxis Rekon tyres, that hint at a less aggressive nature, where miles rather than smiles may be the priority. Despite the semi-slick tyres, the Contessa Strike eRide 910 is still a proper 140mm travel eMTB built around the excellent Bosch Performance CX Gen 4 motor and 625Wh battery. It comes in three sizes: S, M and L but this time all three options have 29in wheels.
So here are two women-specific e-bikes with similar amounts of travel, 29in wheels, 2.6in tyres and 625Wh batteries. Granted the Liv is more expensive than the Scott, but it also has a higher specification. The two things I want to find out is how these bikes differ from the unisex options and do the women’s-specific features make any difference to the ride?
Over the years women-specific usually implies a slightly different shaped women’s mountain bike saddle, narrower handlebars or thinner grips – two or three things you could change on a men’s bike in about 10 minutes. I also see companies embrace women’s bike design with custom geometry, different frame sizing, wheel sizes for shorter riders, smaller brake levers and bar diameters, as well as contact point changes.
Then there are the colours – the classic shrink it and pink it approach. Nothing wrong with shrinking it but hold the pink, please. Yes, there are riders out there, male and female, that like a splash of pink, this tester just isn’t one of them.
More recently there seems to have been a shift away from women-specific models and I can only assume those brands feel they’re no longer needed, as good fit is more about sizing than gender. I’ve also noticed that a lot of historical women’s features like steeper seat angles, shorter stems, more comfortable saddles are now commonplace on all trail bikes, so maybe this blurs the line even further.
The Scott Contessa Strike eRide 910 is a great example of this way of thinking – it gets modern geometry though it’s no different in terms of shape to the men’s Strike, but it does have women-specific contact points and a lighter shock tune.
Contrast that with the Liv Intrigue X E+ 1 which has women-specific geometry, as well as gender specific parts. Which approach works best is an interesting question, but it’s time to charge up the batteries, stick the bikes in turbo mode and go for a blast to find the best riding women’s e-bike, regardless of whether it has gender specific geometry or not.
Liv Intrigue X E+ 1
A great riding bike
Price: £5,799 | Frame: 150mm | Motor: Giant SyncDrive Pro | Battery: Giant EnergyPak Smart 625wh 36v
Pros: Sorted sizing, powerful motor
Cons: Charging port tricky to open
On the scales the Liv is no featherweight, but this is offset to an extent by the powerful motor, extra suspension travel and dynamic ride. If you spin the pedals, rather than churn a big gear, the Intrigue X E+ 1 feels fun and responsive. Yes, Giant hasn’t really broken the mould with the LIv, it’s just recognised that some women want a slightly shorter bike that handles great and don’t want to pay over the odds for it or have to put up with a pastel colour. As such the Liv Intrigue X E+ 1 is a fantastic women’s e-bike and easily deserves top marks.
Scott Contessa Strike eRide 910
More about sizing than gender
Price: £4,999 | Frame: 140mm travel | Motor: Bosch Performance Line CX | Battery: Bosch Powertube 625wh 36v
Pros: Reliable motor, great mud clearance
Cons: Fast tyres lack grip, crowded cockpit
Excluding the saddle, grips and custom shock tune, the Contessa Strike eRide 910 is identical to the Scott Strike men’s bike. It’s enough to set it apart however, as the rear suspension works really well for lighter riders. The proportions and low handlebar height on the Contessa may not suit taller women with long legs though, but then they have the option of the men’s version. More importantly, Scott offers an extra small frame for shorter riders. So the Contessa Strike eRide 910 is a seriously sleek e-bike with a powerful motor and superb brakes – it just needs a better fork and tyres to really start motoring.
If like me, you believe that women will be more comfortable and ride better on a bike with custom geometry then you do what Liv has done with the Intrigue X E+ 1. If on the other hand you think getting the right bike is more about sizing than gender, then Scott’s one-style-fits-all approach with the Contessa Strike eRide 910 is the way to go. And given that there are only a handful of women-specific bike brands, and two e-bike options, the latter approach gives you a much wider range of bikes to choose from.
There’s no right or wrong here, both of these approaches are viable. There are plenty of women on trails riding women-specific bikes and I see just as many on bikes from brands where there’s no women’s option. But let’s get back to the test. The reason I’ve given the Liv Intrigue X E+ 1 a perfect 10 rating is because it’s a great riding bike. When designing the Intrigue X E+ 1, Liv engineers used data that showed women have on average longer legs and a shorter upper body than men and the shape of the Intrigue X E+ 1 is their interpretation of that data. Other companies do it differently, but I think Liv has nailed it. Well at least it has for my body proportions.
In a way, Scott’s position is more reflective of the mountain bike market as a whole, but again I didn’t score the Contessa Strike eRide 910 down simply because of its generic shape, it’s even more basic than that. The tyres and saddle don’t have a lot of grip and the cockpit is congested with too many levers. Having all those controls in front of you can mess with your head – so much so that I often ended up pressing the wrong lever.
So while Scott’s TwinLoc suspension system seems unnecessary on an e-bike, it made the right call on the budget Shimano brakes and the Bosch drive system as both are standout. To be fair you could easily swap the tyres and saddle and even get rid of the TwinLoc remote.
But before doing that I’d recommend taking a look at the Contessa Genius eRide 910 as that’s the bike I really wanted for this head-to-head test. Sadly, it wasn’t available, but if I knew then what I know now, I could simply have got the men’s version and fitted my preferred saddle and grips.
Yes, it still has the TwinLoc system but it also has proper Schwalbe knobbly tyres, a 160mm-travel Fox 36 fork and, at just over £5k, is cheaper than the Liv Intrigue X E+ 1 and looks better value too. That bike wasn’t in this test though and ultimately it was the plusher suspension and better overall fit of the Liv Intrigue X E+ 1 that won me over. It helped too that it was so easy to ride straight from the off.
Specification & geometry
Both of the bikes in this test have geometry adjustment features built into the rocker links of the suspension. To go from one setting to the other you simply unbolt the alloy inset and flip it around. Typically, the low position slackens the head angle by about half a degree and chops 7mm off the bottom bracket height. These flip-chips can be used to change the handling of the bike, like raising the BB for extra pedal clearance in rocky terrain. They also give the designers a degree of wiggle room in the choice of wheel size, Liv switching from 29in wheels to 27.5in on the S and XS sizes, while Scott offers smaller 27.5in wheel options on all three Contessa frame sizes.
Test winner’s stablemates:
Liv Intrigue X E+ 2, £5199
Dropping down a rung on the Intrigue ladder doesn’t translate to a loss of power as the SyncDrive Pro motor and 625Wh internal battery pack are identical to our test winner. The spec is not quite on par though, with harder dual-compound Maxxis tyres and less sophisticated suspension components. You’re saving £600 though, so you could easily spend some of that on a softer compound front tyre that would boost cornering confidence.
Liv Intrigue X E+ 3. £4,699
Entry point to the Intrigue range is theXE+3anditgetsastout35mm RockShox Gold suspension fork and Fox Float DPS shock to soak up the hits. It also gets my favourite Shimano BR-MT420 disc brakes as standard. Longer brake levers are perfect for smaller hands and they’re also consistent, with none of that on/off feeling you get with Shimano XT. With the same frame, motor and battery as the other models, you get the same range and power too.