The Liv Avail AR 4 is a good – potentially very good – all-rounder. It's very versatile, comfortable and affordable, and the frame is eminently upgradable. The 8-speed Shimano Claris groupset is the only negative for me, really – if you can stretch to at least the AR 3 with its 9-speed Sora (and nice blue frame), the more pleasurable riding experience would be well worth the extra £100.
As it is, you get good top and bottom gears – for fast riding and for climbing – but a lot of the time I found myself in between chainrings: too low in the small ring, too high in the big ring. Another sprocket to play with could make all the difference. Or smaller chainrings.
Weighing 10.77kg in a size small, the AR 4 isn't the nippiest bike I've ever ridden, but nor is it slow and ponderous. With its aluminium frame and 32mm tyres, it's comfortable and pacy enough on the road, yet lends itself well to off-road adventures – a nice balance of road bike-cum-gravel explorer.
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Really, it's unremarkable – in a good way. It doesn't take you by surprise like some lightweight carbon road bikes can, but it's not so heavy and slow-handling that everything feels like an effort. You pedal, it responds.
The disc brakes and wide tyres feel reassuring when the surface and gradient conspire to test you. On one early outing I took it down a not-very-well-used back road pretending to be a farm track, and I didn't bat an eyelid.
The tyres rolled into, out of and over the various pot holes and accumulations of gravel that would have had me travelling at snail's pace on my road bike – or getting off and walking – and I had full confidence in the disc brakes. They worked as well as they would on a dry road, despite the debris.
Without any changes to the spec, the Liv was great for training rides on the road and my usual ride home from work, which includes a long stretch of unsurfaced railway path. It handled that easily – better than my 25mm-tyred road bike. I was advised to change the tyres to something more gravel-specific ahead of a day out on Salisbury Plain, though.
The plan was to ride the 30ish-mile Imber Range Perimeter Path, a mixed route of tarmac, gravel and grassy tracks around the 'lost' village of Imber.
Heading up a steep, off-road climb to join the path, the Liv's 34x34 bottom gear meant I could keep pedalling without a problem – until forced to stop by some walkers coming the other way. Social distancing and all that...
On the grassy tracks up top it was slow going but comfortable enough, and a short, unexpected section of steep singletrack descent turned out to be fun. Okay, it was slightly nerve-wracking to start with for this novice off-roader, but the Liv's solid feel and disc brakes (plus its now-38mm tyres) gave me the confidence to have a go rather than get off and walk.
As it turned out, Imber was open to visitors that weekend, so the perimeter path plans went out the window – instead I rode the lovely 'main' road descent into the village. It isn't the smoothest, but the Liv made it a much more comfortable experience than my road bike.
The Avail AR features 'the latest women's endurance geometry' according to Liv, though it isn't wildly different to my 2014 Vitus women's road bike – the same seat angle (74.5°) and half a degree off the head angle (71.5° here, 72° on the Vitus). The Liv has very slightly longer chainstays and a shorter top tube, and the reach is slightly shorter too.
I played around with the spacers to lift the bar slightly – the stem is set fairly low on the steerer, and I felt quite stretched out. It was comfortable, but preferring a slightly more upright position, especially for those rides away from smooth tarmac, I moved all the spacers to below the stem. I also became better acquainted with the 1 1/4in lower and 1 1/8in upper bearings than I'd been planning on... oopsie.
If you want faster road riding, you can slam the stem (as some people do, I've read) and keep your head down.
> Bike geometry 101: Find out why stack & reach are important
I've found the Avail AR 4 just a really good, all-round bike with no surprises. If you want to keep the 32mm tyres and ride fast (ish) on the road, it's perfectly suitable for that. If you want to fit wider tyres and enjoy a bit of off-road action, no problem there either. And should you want to fit a rack and head off for some longer days or overnight tours, it has that covered too.
Basically, if you want a good do-it-all bike for less than a grand, the Liv Avail AR4 is well worth considering.
Frame and fork
The ALUXX-Grade 6061 aluminium frame is eminently upgradable, it being the same as that used for the Avail AR 1, which comes with a Shimano 105 groupset and costs £1,799. The only difference is the colour – and the equipment attached to it.
The welding is pretty neat, and the paintwork seems tough. The four different Avail ARs have their own particular colour – my preference would be the AR 3 blue, and I can't help thinking it's a shame there's no ability to choose (I'll have the 10-speed Tiagra AR 2 in blue, please), but this green has grown on me.
Having mounts for a rear rack and full mudguards, as well as the usual two bottle cages, pleases me – not everyone wants to fit a bikepacking bag rather than a rack and pannier; here you have the choice.
I've had no creaks or groans from the bottom bracket, though that might not be the case after I've played around with the chainset, because...
...for me, the gearing – a 50/34-tooth chainset and 8-speed 11-34t cassette – is the worst thing about the bike. Okay, it's hitting a price point, but it makes me think the extra £100 for the 9-speed Sora-equipped AR 3 would be well worth it. Even then, surely a smaller chainset – 48/32 or even 46/30 – would suit the bike's all-road aspirations better than the 50/34?
It could just be down to a lack of fitness, but I continually found myself between rings on the road.
When climbing, the 34-tooth ring is great – especially paired with the 34-tooth sprocket – and when descending, the 50-tooth big ring is fine.
But all too often I'd find myself in the middle of the cassette, struggling to find the right gear: the big ring too high, the small ring too low... and with the 8-speed block there seems to only be a single sprocket either way to play with.
> How to get ultra-low gears for your gravel bike adventures
With smaller chainrings I'd be able to stay in the big ring for longer, maybe even making use of that 11-tooth sprocket, and have even lower gears for gruelling, gravelly climbs. It was frustrating – especially as the FSA Tempo chainset is available in a 46/30 combination.
The mechanical Tektro MD-C550 disc brakes are okay. They don't feel as powerful as hydraulic disc brakes or the Shimano 105 rim brakes on my road bike, but if you want higher spec you need to look to the top of the Avail AR tree: only the AR 1 comes with anything different, in this case 105 hydraulics.
Once you're used to the power on offer, it's at least reassuring to know it'll stay that way regardless of conditions.
Wheels and tyres
The Giant S-R2 Disc wheels are tubeless-ready, which is the way to go if you're planning lots of gravel riding. I haven't made the leap yet – but if this was my bike I'd be tempted to. Going tubeless lets you run the tyres at much lower pressures, with no risk of pinch-punctures – ideal for off-road shenanigans.
The wheels are thru-axle rather than quick release, which makes for very easy realignment when you've been swapping tyres.
The 32mm Giant S-R3 AC (all condition) tyres are fine on the road or rough paths, but there's clearance for up to 40mm rubber – which is another big plus, comfort-wise. The S-R3 ACs do seem to capture quite a bit of debris in the pretty pointless tread. No punctures, though, perhaps thanks to their FlatGuard Deflect 4 puncture protection.
The bar, stem, seatpost and saddle are all Giant or Liv branded. I did experience a little numbness in my hands on some longer jaunts, but nothing too bad – and it certainly wasn't something I couldn't cope with for three or four hours on rough gravel tracks.
The 80mm stem is shorter than I'm used to (and annoyingly too short for my Garmin, in portrait anyway) but the steering doesn't feel at all twitchy; if anything, I'd say it was a little on the slow side. Neutral. Just how I like it.
Liv cites the D-Fuse alloy seatpost as providing extra comfort, but to be honest it's not something I noticed. The D-shaped cross section does make for easier alignment of the saddle if you're changing the height, though.
I got along fine with the Liv Approach saddle. On some test bikes I've had to change the saddle straight away, but the Approach has stayed in place, with a cutout and enough padding to make it comfortable for me on the road and off.
The AR 4 is bottom of the Avail AR range, with three above it: the Avail AR 3 is £1,099 with 9-speed Shimano Sora (and the nicest frame colour of the four); the Avail AR 2 is £1,349 with 10-speed Tiagra; and the Avail AR 1 is £1,799 with 11-speed 105 and hydraulic disc brakes.
I would certainly be inclined to find the extra £100 for the AR 3, simply for the 9-speed drivetrain.
> Buyer's Guide: 12 of the best 2021 road bikes around £1,000
Bike prices have been on the rise since covid, Brexit and the Suez blockage, but almost £1,000 for a Claris-equipped bike is quite steep. You'd usually expect Sora at the least, possibly Tiagra, and occasionally 105.
Though less of an all-rounder, Decathlon's Triban RC520 Disc women's bike with Shimano 105 is a hard-to-beat £849.95. Emma reviewed one last year and was very impressed, though it only has clearance for 36mm tyres. The RC120 is a cheaper option with 38mm tyres and a 1x but 10-speed drivetrain, for £599.99 (when in stock).
Cube's Nuroad WS is £1,199, takes 40mm tyres and comes with the same gear ratios as the AR 4, but it's Tiagra doing the shifting – so is more comparable with the Avail AR 2, which is £1,399.
The Avail AR 4 lives up to its all-round aspirations – on all roads. It's fun to ride, anywhere, and though you can get better-equipped bikes for not a lot more, there are few bikes available at this price with this spec. If your budget is stuck at a grand, and not a penny more, I'm sure you'll get your money's worth of fun.
Good all-rounder with great potential – but the 8-speed Claris drivetrain can be frustrating
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Make and model: Liv Avail AR 4
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame ALUXX-Grade Aluminium, disc. Compatible with fenders
Fork Advanced-Grade Composite, OverDrive, disc
Handlebar Giant Connect
Stem Giant Sport
Seatpost Giant D-Fuse, alloy
Saddle Liv Approach
Shifters Shimano Claris
Front Derailleur Shimano Claris
Rear Derailleur Shimano Claris
Brakes Tektro MD-C550
Brake Levers Shimano Claris
Cassette Shimano CS-HG400, 11x34
Chain KMC Z72
Crankset FSA Tempo, 34/50
Bottom Bracket cartridge
Rims Giant S-R2 Disc wheelset
Hubs Giant S-R2 Disc wheelset
Spokes Giant S-R2 Disc wheelset
Tyres Giant S-R3 AC, 700x32c (max tyre width possible: 40mm)
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Liv says, 'Comfortable and stable on paved and rough roads, the Avail AR opens up a whole new treasure chest of possibilities. Whether it's navigating asphalt or venturing through an unpaved short cut, it is smooth on flats, spry on climbs and confident on descents. Avail AR features the latest women's endurance geometry with a lightweight ALUXX frame and wide tyres that ride steady on-road and off when you need it. Vibrations are diminished with an Advanced-Grade Composite fork and D-Fuse seatpost. Maintain control with precise OverDrive steerer and powerful disc brakes. This bike also accommodates a rack and fenders to keep you equipped on longer hauls.'
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
It's bottom of the Avail AR range, with three above it: the Avail AR 3 at £1,099 with 9-speed Shimano Sora (and the nicest frame colour of the four, in my opinion); the Avail AR 2 at £1,349 with 10-speed Tiagra; and the Avail AR 1 is £1,799 with 11-speed 105 and hydraulic disc brakes.
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
ALUXX-Grade Aluminium frame, Advanced-Grade Composite fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
For the size small: reach 369, stack 561. The top tube length is 525mm, compared with my Vitus road bike's effective ttl of 530mm.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Once I raised the bar (and then put the headset back together again) it felt more upright and comfortable for the look-around-you, enjoy-the-view type riding I like.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Very comfortable. Big tyres help.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The 80mm stem seems short, but no twitchiness.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The larger-volume tyres than I'm used to.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
I continually found myself switching between front rings on the road. I think a smaller chainset – 48/32 or 46/30 – would suit the bike's all-road aspirations better than the 50/34, and work better with the 8-speed cassette. Or I just need to (wo)man up.
Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
Rate the bike for acceleration:
Rate the bike for sprinting:
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
Rate the bike for climbing:
Rate the drivetrain for performance:
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
For me, the 8-speed Claris drivetrain is the worst thing about the bike. I can't help thinking that if it was paired with a smaller chainset – 48/32 or even 46/30t – it would suit the bike's all-road aspirations better than the 50/34.
Rate the wheels for performance:
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
They're tubeless-ready, which is probably the way to go if you're planning lots of gravel riding.
Rate the tyres for performance:
Rate the tyres for comfort:
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
Fine on the road, but I swapped to wider and more gravel-focused rubber for off-road/gravel outings.
Rate the controls for performance:
Rate the controls for comfort:
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
A little bit of numbness in my hands on longer jaunts, but not too bad – and nothing I couldn't cope with over a few miles on really rough gravel tracks.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Using 8-speed Claris is frustrating; I would urge anyone thinking of buying this bike to stretch the budget and move up at least one level.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes, but I'd prefer the next one up. Or the one above that.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, if they couldn't afford the next level up...
Rate the bike overall for performance:
Rate the bike overall for value:
Use this box to explain your overall score
Overall, I think it's a good option. It's not the cheapest, but all-road/all-rounder women's bikes for less than a grand are few and far between. It's very versatile, comfortable and affordable, and the frame is eminently upgradable.
Age: 55 Height: 169cm Weight: size 10-12
I usually ride: Vitus Venon My best bike is: Paulus Quiros
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding,
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