The Specialized Ariel series of women-specific hybrid bikes is placed pretty definitely at the mountain-bike end of the hybrid spectrum. With fat tyres and suspension forks on all models, these bikes should suit those cyclists who like nothing more than time spent out down the tracks and trails.
At the same time, an Ariel will take you just as happily to work or college with the bare minimum of fuss – the truth is many owners have said just that. The condition of many modern roads will be no problem, as the shock absorbing ability of the Ariel will get by with no trouble.
The same A1 Premium aluminium alloy frame is carried right through the collection and the swan-neck curve of the top tube is very distinctive. Specialized are obviously aware of practical issues, as the frame will take racks and fenders. There's additionally a fitting for a kickstand.
All bikes in the series carry suspension forks. These feature growing sophistication as you move up the range. The Ariel Sport Disc and Comp Disc both include lock-outs which save energy when suspension is not needed on even surfaces. Suspension forks undoubtedly add to the weight of the bike, but the benefit in terms of comfort and off-road ability should make up for that.
So far as brakes are concerned, apart from the V-brakes on the basic Ariel, the collection carries discs – mechanical, or hydraulic on the highest model. Discs are powerful – and hydraulics can make the command of that power more even. Discs have the obvious benefit that the brake surfaces are kept drier and cleaner, improving performance and keeping down damage.
The triple gear set provides you with a wide selection of gear ratios, making tackling hills painless. The number of gears goes up from 21 to 27 through the series.
The 700mm wheels ensure efficient running on the tarmac. The smooth face of the 45mm tyres keeps rolling resistance low, while the tread on the side supplies enough grip for the grass and gravel.
Riser handlebars make for a very comfortable riding position, and comfort is enhanced through the fitting of women-specific grips and saddle.
So there's a valuable series of choices in the Specialized Ariel range. They all come from the same design stable, clearly – fast commuter bikes, but at the same time able of doing rather more off-road work than the average. Maybe not the lightest bikes you can find, but sturdy and strong.
The basic Ariel is great value for money, but the improved refinement up through the collection is worth paying for if you have the funds. When you get to the top of the collection, the Comp Disc model has few competitors.