When I was a little girl, I had a favorite game: I would ride up and down the steep driveway my parents lived on, over and over, on my blue banana-seat bike. My little sister, on rollerblades, would hang onto the bar on the back for dear life.
Even then, it was never about the climb—I didn’t mind it, but it served a purpose, which was to get to the top so that I could whoosh back down, then whip around through the empty garage again (each time faster and faster) before heading back out for another lap.
I’m still playing that game as an adult. My friends often ride at a local trail network where you can ride up a road that bisects the mountainside and access six different fast, technical descents from the top. We call it Funduro: We go up and go down, over and over, until we’re tired.
In some ways, people don’t change.
But I am on a better bike.
I spent seven months this year riding the Juliana Roubion, the all-mountain offering from Santa Cruz’s women’s brand. The Roubion shares the same frame as the Santa Cruz Bronson, and is Juliana’s most aggressive bike, with 27.5-inch wheels, 150mm (six inches) of front and rear wheel travel, and long and slack geometry (a 66-degree head tube angle and 15.9-inch reach on my size small tester).
I tested a size small Roubion, in the $4,699 C S version: “C” denotes Santa Cruz’s second-tier carbon, which adds 200g over the top-end CC frame, and the S build features SRAM’s budget-friendly GX 1x group. My small tester weighed 29.2 pounds.
The Roubion C S won our Editors’ Choice award in 2016, meaning that our panel of testers considered it to be among the best bikes available, and would recommend it without reservation to its intended buyer. But I wanted to see what it’d be ride this bike over a longer period of time.
Going downhill (fast)
I tested the Roubion on a huge variety of terrain, from rocky east coast singletrack to flow trails in North Carolina to rowdy singletrack in California and lift-assisted runs at bike parks. I raced it in a couple enduros, too. It didn’t take long to realize that this is the bike for someone who perks up when she hears the following keywords: “fun downhill,” “shuttle runs,” “bike park,” “drops,” and “rowdy.” But even riders who were more XC-oriented thought this bike was incredibly fun—the Roubion is also for the rider who just wants to enjoy techy terrain and descents more, and feel more confident pushing the speed downhill.
On chundery trails peppered with little drops and loose rocks, the faster you go the more the Roubion floats over the ground, with suspension that feels soft and plush as you pick up speed and the hits get bigger. A wide bar/short stem combo paired with that longer front center, slack head angle, and balanced rider position provides an overarching sense of stability going in a straight line. But the bike is still short enough overall to whip around a fast-approaching sharp turn too.
The Juliana-branded women’s saddle proved to be comfortable even over four- or five-hour days. Gloria Liu
In the bike park, the Roubion handled larger drops (up to about four feet high was the limit of test), a DH race course, jump lines, and gnarly black diamonds including a trail called Asylum at Mountain Creek bike park in Vernon, New Jersey that is basically one long, downhill rock garden that’s so steep the back tired buzzed my butt a couple times. It was around this point in the terrain where I conceded a downhill bike would be a better tool, but most non-DH bikes (logically) meet their limits at a downhill park. But almost everywhere else, the Roubion was fast and capable of keeping pace with some riders on downhill bikes. And compared to some bigger enduro models like the Canyon Strive, this bike strikes a better balance between something you can rally at the park and and still happily ride everyday on your local trails—we’ll get into that now.
Just riding around
Some may wonder if the Roubion is “too much bike” for everyday use. And it did take me a few test rides to get used to this bike. The slack head angle puts the front wheel out farther than on a typical trail bike, so I had to learn to put a little more weight on the front end for traction and control. And on logovers and up steppy climbs, I had to learn to give the bike more input (pushing forward on the front end more) in order to lift and plant the front wheel where I needed.
But once I learned how to handle this bike, I realized that it wasn’t just an asset on descents, it also had a surprising advantage on technical climbs and flats: awesome traction. My aha moment involved cleaning a section called Boulder Trail for the first time. Over this quarter-mile rock pile, the combination of the Roubion’s good small-bump sensitivity (meaning it takes less impact to activate the suspension), and grippy Maxxis Minion DHR tires (the 2017 bike now comes with a DHF front tire, which should even further improve cornering), provided rock-crawler-like traction that helped the bike get tossed less over weird pointy rocks and conform better to the holes between them without sinking in. And thanks to a stiff frame and, again, that manageable wheelbase, the bike was highly maneuverable between obstacles. In these slower speed situations, the Roubion’s extra weight felt like an asset, giving the bike a planted feel. This impressive traction gave me confidence to try, and clean, more tricky uphills on this bike.
I also rode the Roubion on even on more beginner-friendly flow trails that were flatter with very few obstacles. Here, that same traction and those Maxxis Minion’s gave the Roubion great cornering ability that made railing smooth corners more fun. Though it probably was a little extra work to keep up my friends on shorter-travel bikes on these flow greens and blues, I was having such a good time that I didn’t really notice—and I was easily keeping up. It helps that the VPP suspension pedals very efficiently, allowing me to leave the shock open for the entire ride, without experiencing pedal bob.
We tested the 2016 bike; the 2017 version comes with a RockShox Monarch RT shock instead of the Fox Float Performance shock on our test bike. Gloria Liu
The only time this bike did feel a bit too much was in during one enduro that involved some very pedally stages. But these situations were not unlike a typical cross-country race—sprinting up smooth, sandy singletrack or fire roads, and over power-sapping flats dotted with small, momentum-killing rocks—and every rider who brought an all-mountain or enduro bike to that race questioned their decision. And I was still glad to have the Roubion on the other stages, which involved some long and rougher descents with large, loose rocks where the bike gave me confidence to pin it over this uneven terrain.
For these reasons, the Roubion started as my Funduro and bike park rig, but quickly became my everyday bike for tackling everything from pootle-y dawn patrols to freight training through the woods with faster friends.
Details, details: Internal cable routing keeps everything looking clean, and—huge bonus—the bike takes a water bottle in the front triangle. Gloria Liu
The top-end CC version of the Roubion starts at $6,599, with the option of a $2,000 Enve carbon wheel upgrade. I got to ride this version for a couple days in Santa Cruz, California, and the combination of the Enve’s and the lighter frame gave the Roubion a quickness compared to my tester at home, and helped it motor up climbs with more noticeable ease.
Good news: You can get partway to that ride with a more affordable wheel upgrade. Halfway through my test of the Roubion C S, I swapped the stock Race Face ARC 24 wheels for American Classic Wide Lightning 27.5-inch wheels, which are $899 a pair. The Wide Lightning rims are also alloy, but they feature a 29mm internal width compared to the 24mm internal width on the ARCs. They’re also lighter: With the Wide Lightnings, the bike lost over a pound of revolving weight. That significant change brought extra some snap into the acceleration, and the wider rim allowed me to run lower pressure by about 2 psi, which accentuated the already-great traction and control of the bike. I’d happily ride this $5,500 setup into the ground.
That would take a long time though—the Roubion proved to be impressively bombproof over seven months of wailing on our rocky eastern Pennsylvania trails. The tires have survived without a single slice, and while the integrated bashguard on the downtube has a chunk taken out of it, the carbon frame is scratch-free and still quiet, with none of that dreaded creaking you can get with some carbon full-suspension bikes. Brake rotors have had to be trued a couple times after big crashes, but the Shimano SLX brakes are otherwise still quiet and have good stopping power. The RockShox Reverb dropper is still drama-free. And the SRAM GX group shifts very smoothly (nearly on par with X01) without needing constant adjusting.
SRAM’s budget-friendly GX 1×11 group shifts so smoothly it’s nearly indiscernible from its high-end, X01 1×11 group—only the paint is slightly faded compared to an X01 group of similar wear, a purely cosmetic effect. Gloria Liu
Buy the big bike
This is one of the easiest bikes for me to recommend to any rider who wants to go faster and have more fun. Despite its big travel and slack angles, it’s a bike that’s enjoyable and capable whether you’re racing enduro, rallying your own local version of Funduro with your friends, or heading out on a long backcountry mission.
I’m averse to the term “confidence inspiring” because it’s so overused. Yes, the Roubion does inspire confidence, but it was more than that: It changed the way I rode. This bike was so fun to rally downhill and launch off features, I spent more time searching these experiences out, with the sole purpose of having a good time. It unleashed that descent-loving kid within who had no problem spending an entire day pedaling up the hill just to go down again—and again, and again. On this bike, I became a faster and gutsier descender, more comfortable in the air, and I had more fun. And these things are still true even now that I’ve sent my test bike back and am riding shorter-travel trail bikes again. I guess that’s proof that a good bike can change you as a rider. Or, perhaps better, it can help you rediscover the rider you’ve always been.