SANTA CRUZ — After nearly 17 years of living a mostly quiet Santa Cruz life, former Olympic mountain biker Juli Furtado has spearheaded the creation of the largest line of women’s mountain bikes on the market to debut nationally next month as “the Juliana.”
A new division of local high-end mountain bike manufacturer Santa Cruz Bicycles, the Juliana line will be marketed as a complete bike for the more casual to serious rider — although with a price tag starting at about $1,500, “casual” might be considered relative.
The bikes are generally smaller framed with women-specific saddles, a shorter handlebar span and smaller grips. There is no pink bike, but the colors and overall aesthetic are decidedly more feminine, Furtado said.
“I wanted it feminine but not silly,” Furtado said. “I want women to walk into a store and buy a beautiful bike.”
In the new Westside headquarters of Santa Cruz Bicycles, which was busy this last month with workers plastering the walls with giant black and white photographs of racers in midair, dirt flying, Furtado rolled out a shiny persimmon bicycle, the signature color. The branding includes a crown logo, which reflects the former racer’s moniker, “Queen of Dirt.”
“I want women to feel beautiful, powerful and alive,” Furtado said.
Furtado, 45, inducted in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2005, was the youngest member of the U.S. National ski team before switching to mountain biking. She won the U.S. National Road Championship in 1989 and went on to win several world championship competitions and participate in the Atlanta Olympics. She retired from the sport in 1997 after being diagnosed with lupus.
For the company, which weathered some tough times in the economic downturn, it’s a great time to diversify, according to Jon Forsberg, chief financial officer, The company does not report sales figures, but Forsberg said “things have been going quite well,” since recovering from a sales dive in 2008.
“Today, Santa Cruz is able to focus attention on diversifying our product line,” Forsberg said. “And, that’s where Juli’s vision helped channel energy into evolving the Juliana concept.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint the numbers of women mountain bikers. While there has been considerable growth in cycling in the past few decades in the U.S., rates of road cycling among women went down nationally in the last decade, according to a transportation study published in 2010, “Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies.” Market reports for mountain biking, however, are largely anecdotal. Furtado points to multiplying racers and riding groups for women. All major manufacturers have introduced women’s models in recent years.
“Participation is growing,” Forsberg said. “Just looking around the local trails and races it’s awesome to see the apparent increase in female mountain bikers “… By applying much of what we already know about our current line of bikes into bikes designed more specifically for women is only going to improve their experience.”
The line is an expansion of a women’s frame that the company launched in 1999 and named the Juliana Santa Cruz. That bike, which garners more than a million dollars in sales annually and was named “Best Women’s Mountain Bike of 2011” by Bicycling Magazine, has been renamed “The Origin” in the newly expanded line.
Furtado, who lives on the Westside of Santa Cruz with her 5-year-old son Wyatt, said she worked out the overall look and feel of the bike line during long solo rides in the Santa Cruz trails. She worked closely with Joe Graney, the company’s director of engineering and quality, company designers and a local group of casual and competitive women riders who helped choose colors, logos and typeface.
Although the branding is new, Forsberg said he doesn’t see the line as a shift for the company.
“We’ve always appealed to mountain biking fanatics,” he said. “There’s also a heck of a lot of discerning riders out there who appreciate our products, yet simply don’t get enough time to ride them as much they’d like. A ‘casual’ rider in one sense, but they fundamentally understand the difference between a $500 bike and $2,000 bike, and make informed choices driven by a desire for quality and performance.” The line, he said, “will also include some kick-ass race-ready bikes for the decidedly un-casual, too.”
Furtado said she felt the time was right to step back into the public stage. She wants to avoid sentimentality, but, being a mother has simply changed her, she said. She wanted her son to be proud of her.
“I think I knew deep down that I was not exploring an opportunity on a business side because of my reluctance to be in the light,” she said. Motherhood, “gives you a long-term view. I did well in school. I did well on the U.S. ski team and in mountain biking.” She thought that even though the Juliana was successful, it could be more successful. “I wanted something more to be proud of rather than just things in the past. Even when was in a race, I didn’t want to rest on my laurels.”
At a glance
Santa Cruz Bicycles
WHAT: A privately owned high-performance mountain bike manufacturer that launched the first single pivot dual suspension mountain bike. The company sells in 60 countries.
HEADQUARTERS: 2841 Mission St., Santa Cruz
INFORMATION: 831-459-7560; www.santacruzbicycles.com
HISTORY: Founded in 1993 in a single car garage in the Seabright Cannery in Santa Cruz. The company launched its first bike for female riders in 1999.
LEADERSHIP: Rob Roskopp, chief executive officer.
EMPLOYEES: The company employs about 80 people, 75 of whom work in the Santa Cruz headquarters.
PRICE TAG: A Juliana bicycle is expected to sell for $1,400-$5,000.
This article on women’s mountain biking was first published here.