This article first appeared on our sister website Bike Radar
Extraordinarily lightweight, the top-of-the-line spec features a full carbon frame and fork, SRAM Red eTap drivetrain, and a story of development and refinement by the Liv Sunweb pro team.
Time was, if you were a woman looking for a high-end, performance-focused road bike and you wanted something women's specific, your choice was extremely limited. You'd have your pick of unisex builds, which then required set up and tweaking for fit, or there was the custom build option, but most women's specific bikes focused their attention at the entry to mid-end of the market.
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Not anymore. 2017 has seen a glut of premium performance bikes for women, with more set to be released in the coming months. Joining the fray comes the Langma from Liv Cycling. With its top of the range bike coming in at $9,800 (UK and Australian prices TBC) for a complete build with SRAM Red eTap, you're looking at some serious kit.
Our sister title BikeRadar headed to Follina in Italy ahead of the 2017 Giro Rosa to meet the team behind the bikes, discover the range and put them to the test on the vineyard-lined hills and mountains of the region.
What's in a name?
If the name 'Langma' sounds familiar, that's because you might know the mountain it refers to by another name: Everest.
Langma, or to give it its full Tibetan name 'Qomolangma' is arguably the most famous mountain of them all, and also gives you a hint as to the purpose of the bike.
More than two years in the making, the Langma has been developed for those riders and pro racers who need the lightest of race bikes, with a focus on climbing efficiency and the tagline 'fly to the summit'.
Climbing is certainly a notable feature of the pro race calendar for 2017, with intense stages in the Giro Rosa and the action at La Course shifting to the mountains and the Col d'Izoard. The reveal on this bike is perfectly timed, and the Liv Sunweb team is set to give the bike its racing debut in the Giro Rosa over the next few days.
"With this new model, climbing won't be a problem," commented the brand manager for Liv Cycles. "I like climbing. It reflects the reality of life. You gain what you work hard for. I find on this bike I feel comfortable, and can follow a smooth tempo."
Women's specific design
Liv Cycles is a brand that firmly believes that women are best served by a bespoke geometry based on body dimension data, rather than unisex geometry with women's specific touch points, and that there are significant enough differences between male and female anatomy and movement to warrant this.
Interestingly, while some brands are now moving towards this perspective on bike design — most notably Canyon, which unveiled bikes with women's specific geometry for the first time early in 2017 — others are shifting more toward unisex design, such as Specialized.
In Specialized's case, it's a new approach to unisex design that actively incorporates female body dimension data, which rather suggests that bikes labelled 'unisex' prior to this were no such thing. And there is of course ongoing debate as to whether or not the differences between the average man and woman are enough to mean that different geometry is necessary.
Back to the Langma: what this means is that although the equivalent bike in the Giant line up in terms of purpose and function is the TCR, this is not a TCR made smaller with women's specific finishing kit. Liv is keen to emphasise that this bike has been designed from scratch, for women.
The company uses a global body dimension database as one of its starting points, and also works closely with its pro riders. In this case, Lucinda Brand and Colin Rivera were given multiple prototype test frames to ride and evaluate, with each new iteration refining the performance and feel.
New engineering techniques mean a lighter weight frame with built-in compliance
Liv use the expertise and engineering capabilities of Giant Bicycles for the creation of its frames, and the Langma has such cutting-edge engineering that we weren't allowed to photograph the model's bottom bracket area and seat tube/post that Liv engineer Sophia Shih brought along.
Suffice it to say, it's all about the orientation of the carbon fibres and size specific layups that determine, using computer simulations, the exact optimum amount to use to achieve the correct stiffness to weight ratio.
Liv claims a frame and fork weight of 1.155kg on the size small, with a complete bike weight of 6.05kg. This makes it lighter than the new Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX, which comes in at a claimed 7.65kg for the size XS (and would be an equivalent size).
There are a number of interesting design elements on the frame. The frame has been developed to be more aerodynamic, in addition to being light weight, so although the majority of the tubing is rounded, in certain key areas such as the seat tube, post and the down tube, it forms a D-shape in cross section.
This D-shaped down tube flares to a square shape at the bottom bracket -—the PowerCore bottom bracket — to increase the stiffness of this area for more efficient power transfer from the pedal stroke.
However, stiffness was not the be-all and end-all, as Shih comments: "Our aim was not to make the stiffest bike, but to make one with optimal stiffness." To get the best performance, the right balance between stiffness and compliance is needed.
The smaller frame sizes of women's bikes also meant that Liv and Giant were free to develop a different manufacturing technique that allowed frame construction in bigger sections, reducing the need for filler material that is used on other bikes, giving a significant weight saving. "The frame is almost completely hollow!" Shih smiles. Fewer sections also mean fewer joins, often a point of weakness, so this also means a stronger frame.
Also new on the Langma is the Contact SLR Flux stem. Reminiscent of a BMX stem, its chunky looks belie its light weight because it too is hollow and gives claimed aerodynamic advantages. It comes with unusually shaped spacers that match the D-shape profile of much of the tubing, which stack neatly on top of each other.
Shih was also keen to point out that although the bike is easy to set up to give a race-ready aggressive position, moving the spacers about and flipping the stem can also give a more upright ride position that some riders may find more comfortable.
Another interesting feature is the Variant seatpost, which extends up beyond the junction with the top tube and seatstays, and is essentially the seat post. I didn't have time to investigate this fully to determine the practicalities of this system, but rest assured I'll be having a thorough play with it when the Langma comes in for a full test.
Wheel sizes are consistent across the size range at 700c, though handlebar, stem length and crank length do vary.
Handlebars on the XXS are 360mm, on the XS and S 380mm, on the M they're 400mm, and on the L they measure 420mm. The XXS and XS feature 165mm cranks while on the S and M they measure 170mm, and 172mm on the L.
The Langma Advanced SL 0 is fitted with a SRAM Red eTap electronic groupset with a 50/34t chainring and SRAM Red rim brakes.
Weight savings are also made via the SLR 0 Wheel System from Giant with Gavia Race 0 tyres, its lightest and stiffest system yet. Run tubeless, this saves more precious grams. Finishing kit includes a Liv Contact SLR Forward Composite Saddle and Giant Contact SLR Composite Handlebars.
Unusually for an industry launch, the woman behind Liv herself came along to share her vision for the bike, her passion for the brand, and ambitions for the future of women's cycling.
Bonnie Tu founded Liv Cycles, the sister brand of Giant Bicycles, as a result of her exasperation with the lack of women's bikes, kit and product she experienced herself while working as CFO for Giant. Fast forward nine years and Liv is one of the most popular bike brands globally, with sales of Liv bicycles accounting for 40 percent of sales in the US in 2015 for Liv and Giant bicycles together.
Tu is clearly someone who is passionate about changing things for women in the industry, and in her current position as chairperson at Giant Global Group, wields significant enough influence to be able to accelerate change at a rapid pace.
A case in point: while at the launch, she asked the gathered journalists whether we'd support a petition to SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo to make gear shifters and brake levers available in smaller sizes for smaller bike sizes, to allow the women who ride these bikes better control and a more comfortable ride.
The Langma is built for climbing and it shows. That light weight is most certainly a boon when it comes to tackling climbs like the Passo San Boldo, with 18 switchbacks including six hairpins carved into tunnels in the cliff-face itself, which the group tackled on the first day of riding, or the Via Bosco del Madean, a 10km climb with an average gradient of 8 degrees, pitching to 11 degrees on some corners.
Performance in climbing is smooth, with body position and responsiveness to the frame that allows you to set up a good steady rhythm at a comfortable pace and stick with it.
Given that I did a fair bit of climbing on the Langma, I was surprised to find how comfy and forgiving a ride it was, especially considering its focus as a race bike. The cunning engineering and carbon layup gives just the right amount of flex in the frame to smooth out the rough, and the benefits are manifold.
The first is obviously comfort, with arms, back and shoulders remaining fresh and ache-free. The second is traction; a bike that can absorb impact tracks the ground better, feels less skittish and is less likely to be thrown off line by an unexpected hole in the road.
I say I was surprised, because unlike some other compliance systems seen on bikes from other brands, the work here is subtle and hidden. Some systems almost overcompensate and you start to notice the shock-absorbing system working. On the Langma it seems to do its work quietly and without shouting about it. It's only several hours into the ride you notice that the usual feelings of fatigue are absent.
While the frame is light and has a surprising level of comfort, it didn't ever feel flimsy or frail. Langma is a deceptively strong lady, and pushing the power through that stiff bottom bracket area gets an immediate response.
That said, over the course of the initial rides I didn't get a sense of that lively acceleration that some race-focused bikes have, where the bike has begun accelerating almost before you've put the pedal stroke in.
While the comfort was exceptional, the price for that seems to be a little off that glinting edge of aggression, and the bike never felt like it really wanted to go. It'll be interesting to see if this view changes after further testing, and also to see how the bike performs under the professionals at the Giro Rosa.
Overall, based on the first ride, it's an enjoyable experience and the light weight of the bike certainly facilitated long climbs combined with a comfortable ride, which was easy on the body and left me fresh enough to feel like I could ride on and on, and ride again the next day. When you're talking about multi-day stage races with climbing stages too, this is an important consideration.
I also appreciated its stability and smoothness on descents. It feels remarkably planted for its weight. Responsive but not twitchy, it was easy to find and hold a tight line on switchback corners, and again that compliant frame meant that uneven road surfaces held no fear as impacts were absorbed and dissipated without bone-jarring jolts. It inspires confidence on descents.
While I would still much rather see this bike with hydraulic disc brakes — which are available on lower spec models — the control offered by the SRAM Red brakes was more than adequate, and apparently a disc brake version may be forthcoming in the future.
Liv Langma pricing, sizing, geometry and availability
The Langma is available from size XXS up to a L. For reference, I rode a size medium frame and would usually ride a 54cm, I'm 5'8" tall.
On the size medium Langma tested, the head tube angle comes in at 72.5 degrees, the seat tube angle at 74 degrees, the stack at 546mm, the reach at 384mm and the wheelbase at 981mm.
There are six bikes in the range overall with several bikes offering different builds that boost the price up and down. I'm still waiting for confirmation on pricing and availability on bikes for the UK and Australia, but will update this article as soon as they become available.
Sitting at the top is the Langma Advanced SL 0 which retails for $9,800 and is described above.
Next comes the Langma Advanced SL, with many of the same features including the same frame, wheel system and Contact SLR Flux stem.
Disc brakes first make an appearance in the range at the Langma Advanced Pro level. There are two bikes here: the Langma Advanced Pro built with rim brakes and the Pro Disc version with flat-mounted disc brakes and thru-axles.
Again, the build is similar to the Advanced SL with carbon composite frame, but it features the SLR wheel system and tubeless tyres as well as a more traditional seat-post arrangement as seen on the Avail or Envie, and the composite system is of a lesser grade than the top of the range Advanced SL 0.
Finally, the Langma Advanced and Advanced Disc get a composite frame and the seatpost seen on the Advanced Pro bikes, plus SLR wheel system and SLR tubeless tyres.
Langma Advanced pricing
- Langma Advanced SL 0: $9, 800
- Langma Advanced Pro 0: $4, 600
- Langma Advanced Pro 1 Disc: $3,250
- Langma Advanced Disc: $2,375
- Langma Advanced 1: $2,300
- Langma Advanced 2: $1,700