Liv Embolden 1 is an entry-level full-sussser with 27.5in wheels and 120mm travel via a single-pivot linkage design with flex stays and 130mm RockShox fork.
A sub-£2k full-susser is a cheering prospect; especially one with the Liv Embolden 1 spec sheet. A line-up of mbr-recommended full-suspension bikes under £2,000 would be a short one, but the Liv Embolden 1 would make the cut. Sibling to the longstanding Giant Stance, albeit with smaller wheels, the Embolden is a do-it-all shredder with a spec list that outperforms expectations based on the swing tag alone.
The heart of the bike is a Liv/Giant ALUXX-grade aluminium frame, which utilises the brand’s single-pivot FlexPoint Suspension system to deliver 120mm travel at the rear with a RockShox Monarch R shock. Eschewing the more familiar twin-link Maestro design to save weight and cut costs, Liv instead builds a modicum of flex into the back end. It’s a popular trick among brands looking to simplify shorter-travel models, since it only really works up to around 120mm. Liv says the shock is tuned for women, which basically means it’s suitable for smaller and lighter riders of either sex.
At the front, Giant serves up a RockShox Recon RL fork with 130mm travel. Irritatingly, there’s no O-ring on the fork stanchions to help when setting up the sag, although there is an air chart on the left leg and it’s easy enough to install a zip-tie to check that you’re not leaving too much travel on the table. Out back, there are no such issues with an O-ring on the RockShox Monarch R rear shock – just set the sag to between 25-30 per cent and start riding.
At this £1,999 price point, the groupset is basic but efficient. There are no big-ticket surprises, but also no major disappointments. Shifting comes courtesy of SRAM Eagle SX drivetrain, and you get the full complement of crankset, rear mech, chain and cassette – no sneaky cost savings here. Gearing is a 30-tooth single chainring with 11-50 cassette at the rear – plenty for most fitness levels and gradients, although the lack of any frame protection around the drivetrain means a chipped paintjob and a rattly ride on descents. The brakes are non-series Shimano hydraulic, and offer plenty of power and excellent modulation.
Liv benefits from the sheer size and market presence of its sibling Giant, which no doubt helps get you the brand’s decent Contact Switch dropper post, something which is missing if you drop down to the Embolden 2 at £1,699. The finishing kit all comes from Giant, too, with 750mm bars and a 40mm stem. The Liv Sylvia saddle is a bit bulky, but comes with a pressure- relief channel and was comfortable enough, albeit hardly stylish.
Keeping it in-house with the wheels, the rims are Giant’s own, but they’re dressed in some fast rolling stock in the shape of a Maxxis Rekon (2.6in) up front and the Ardent Race (2.6in) at the rear. The set-up is tubeless and customers will collect the bike ready to go.
Geometry-wise, Liv calls this a women’s-specific frame, and looking at the numbers, it’s certainly different to the unisex Stance in length, even if the head and seat angle are the same on paper. In the real world, we found that our Embolden test bike was actually a full 1° slacker than claimed, with a 66.5° head angle. This also adds length to the wheelbase and helps improve the bike’s stability. Conversely, the effective seat angle was slightly steeper than claimed at 75.3°, which will make it a better climber, by positioning you further forward as the trail tips up. Another point of note is that while the reach on our test bike correlated exactly with Liv’s published geometry, when you factor in the large conical headset spacer that has to sit under the stem, the Embolden is actually 10mm shorter than claimed, creating a more upright riding position than the numbers suggest.
While Giant’s unisex Stance comes in four frame sizes, from S-XL, the Embolden only comes in three. But seeing as none of them overlap, it would be fair to say that there are actually seven distinct frame sizes on offer if you’re not fussed about the sticker on the down tube.
Liv Embolden: how it rides
The Liv Embolden 1 is a well-mannered companion that offers a stable ride and all the mod-cons you need to enjoy days out on the trails without feeling like you’re lagging desperately behind any more well-equipped mates.
The steep seat angle and wide-range drivetrain made short shrift of loose rocky climbs, while the fairly slack head angle and big-volume tyres meant I could maintain plenty of control flowing round berms and smashing over roots and rocks.
Recalling the character of the Embolden, ‘reliable’ and ‘stable’ floated into my head repeatedly, although ‘exciting’ was perhaps less prevalent. That said, a relatively low weight of 14.3kg does help keep the ride responsive and willing.
A flex-stay frame design can act like an additional spring, and overcome the rebound damping on less complex shocks, but not with the Embolden. I was also pleased to note that it delivered the full 120mm of travel that Liv claims – and a little bit more in fact – which seemed like a great compromise between pedalling efficiency and downhill prowess.
Liv’s choice of tyre is Plus-sized at 2.6in front and rear. The stock rubber carried me through some winter slop, though that’s definitely not where this combo is most at home. On dry, dusty trails the Rekon and Ardent Race made for fast-rolling progress with appreciable comfort.
Liv has kept the standover height low on the Embolden, which made it easy to manoeuvre the bike beneath me when out of the saddle. The dropper post was a welcome bit of standard equipment – always quick to respond, with a simple- to-use lever – but the 100mm drop felt a bit measly.
The gear ratios of SRAM’s Eagle SX were spot on for my riding and shifts were quick, too, but I did find the shifting noticeably clunky compared to my experiences elsewhere. I’d also recommend installing a decent chainstay protector to save the paintwork and silence the ride.
While the brakes are non-series, they were also consistent, with a reliable bite point and modulation that never took me by surprise.
In the Embolden 1, Liv has offered up everything you need for a first foray into full-suspension riding. It’s perhaps not the most thrilling of rides, but it also never serves up an unwanted surprise. If well controlled, capable and agile are qualities high on your wish list, and you want to pay less than £2,000, this is a good shout.