When I was 11, I begged my dad to buy me a BMX bike I found at a garage sale. I had already been obsessed with getting out to the local track in Orange, California all summer and Dad hadn’t budged. He was convinced BMX was too dangerous for his daughter. But after a semester of good grades, he eventually gave in. That bike, which I still have some 33 years later, started a career of riding, racing and a passion to find the best trails, bikes and products around.
After 7 years of BMX racing, I found mountain biking. It was the early 90’s and the bikes and equipment were nowhere near meeting the demands of the trails and terrain we were riding. During those years, bikes went from fully rigid to front suspension and eventually full suspension; brakes went from v-brakes to mechanical disk brakes; clipless pedals were just coming onto the scene from road biking; tires were single-wall, flimsy things with tubes — long before the days of tubeless.
But the industry was growing and they empowered athletes to test their product and report back. Our motto during those years was, “if you don’t love what you have, make it better!” And we did. For 8 years, I was a research and design (R&D) test rider — helping to make great products for the overall success of our industry.
Sure, when I was testing bikes and gear, nothing fit me right. As a professional athlete, I had the luxury of having frames built specifically for me with components I had requested. Back then, no one in the mountain bike industry was catering to women on the retail level.
And it stayed that way … for a long time.
A few years ago, my path crossed with Liv, a brand committed to the female rider. I had started a mountain bike coaching business and realized there was a need to welcome women into the sport and provide bikes that fit better and worked better for the female body. Finally, I was riding bikes that felt like they were custom made for me, but that were available to every woman – hallelujah!
This year, I was able to take the skills that I developed during all those years racing to help Liv create an all-new mountain bike. This bike was slated to be the first of its kind. With 160 mm travel, the goal was to provide a ride that women could take to the bike park and withstand the demands aggressive trail riding, while providing perfect fit and pedal-ability.
After testing multiple prototypes and providing feedback – “It has to pedal easier”; “It has to be lighter weight”; “The handling is not responsive enough”; “It has to have top-level components” – finally, the Hail Advanced 0 was born.
This is it. This is the bike I have dreamed about since I began racing and working with industry R&D. The Hail is made for women like me who live for the adrenaline of pumping through berms, sending rock drops, and the feeling of boosting a jump — when just for a moment, you can fly. It is stable, fun and responsive on the downhills but is also surprisingly lightweight, powerful and easy to climb.
When I look back at the bikes I used to race and win on, I cannot believe how far the industry has come – especially for women. We made do with what we had, soaring through the air and bombing down mountains on machines that just weren’t cut out for the job. The Hail brings the excitement back into riding. She was made to fly.
Leigh Donovan competed as professional downhill mountain biker from 1992 until 2001. In 1995, she won the Downhill Mountain Bike World Championship and was a 9-time US NORBA National Champion. She has been inducted into both the BMX Hall of Fame and the MTB Hall of Fame. Today, Leigh uses her incredible talent and experience to help women find the same joy and confidence she found through mountain biking with her coaching business I Choose Bikes. Learn more about Leigh and her mountain bike 101 skills tips HERE.