Women Specific Bikes (part 2)

A while ago ago I read a blog post (which, perhaps for the best, I can no longer find) that talked about boys’ and girls’ bikes from the 1970s. These children’s bicycles came with a top-tube that could be removed to convert the bike from a “boy’s” bike to a “girl’s” bike. The author of the blog argued that these advertisements demonstrate that there is no need for a top-tube, which is just not the case. Children’s bikes are not the same as adult bikes, so it’s not a fair comparison.

 

Pickmeup
The handle on my mixte frame (which could use a wash).

 

I love my mixte-frame bike, but it’s also my heaviest, most cumbersome bike. It’s hard for me to carry up stairs, for example, despite its “pick-me-up” handle. On the other end of the spectrum, I have my carbon fiber Silque that weighs less than twenty pounds. Granted, it’s hardly a fair comparison, given that I use them for very different types of riding. The former is my favorite commuter/ casual bike and it allows me to sit upright in pretty much any outfit. When I ride the Silque, I always wear spandex and my road shoes and I only use it for recreational rides.

 

IMG_3442
My Trek Silque.

 

Both bikes, plus my hardtail mountain bike, are women specific design, but what exactly does that mean? The Silque looks like a typical road bike, as does my mountain bike. Only the mixte-frame bike looks like a “women’s” bike.

As explained by an article in Cycling Weekly, women specific design bikes typically have different angles (longer head and shorter top-tubes) that are meant to work better for the average woman who typically has longer legs and a shorter torso relative to height. These averages are just that, though. Anecdotally, I know a couple where the man has relatively long legs and prefers “women’s” bikes and the woman is the opposite.

I should say that women specific design bicycles actually work really well for me. I’m 5’4″, with long legs and a very short torso. I also have tiny hands (thanks 4’11” grandma!). However, my proportions don’t represent the average woman, so a lot of women might be fine without a women specific design bike.

Dana MT Eaton, and one of the women interviewed in Cycling Weekly argue against the designation of Women’s Specific Design. Eaton points out that when someone buys a custom bike, it is designed based on their measurements, not their sex. I am inclined to agree that the designation of Women’s Specific Design is less than helpful, particularly given the assumption that men’s bikes are normal and women’s bikes are specialized. I am very happy that bikes exist that work for my proportions, however, I would love to see bike companies rebrand their bikes based on fit. That way, for example, a shorter guy with long legs will know he can buy the same bike as a woman with similar proportions. For the time being, though, I can live with Women’s Specific Design if it means I can find bikes that fit me.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Women Specific Bikes (part 2)

  1. Hi Caitlin,

    Thanks for the excellent article. The problem with women’s-specific design is that it’s not specific to women, or at least not to enough women. But that’s the way the industry has marketed it.

    As result, there there are now women riding bikes with unreasonably long stems and unreasonably low saddle positions. Or worse, bikes that don’t fit at all, because she needs a longer top tube and shorter seat tube than women’s geometry bikes offer. .And that’s because someone told her she had to have a woman’s geometry, and don’t let the men at the store tell you any different.

    The truth is–and biometrics data from PeopleSize and other companies bear this out–women’s bodies come in a wide range of sizes and proportions, wider than men’s. (Duh.) The difference appears to be at least somewhat genetic. Here in the USA, where we have a lot of different ethnicities represented, the *average* comes close to the classic women’s geometry, but the actual number of individual women who fit that geometry is a lot smaller than the bike brands’ marketing would have you believe.

    For example, German cycling magazines are consistent in denouncing women’s geometry as a myth, and they have some good sizing data to back it up. But you go back to the biometrics and sure enough, ethnically, German women tend to be proportioned a lot like German men.

    Fortunately, the answer is not a custom frame for every rider. It’s decent sizing and fitting protocols that would let the rider select from a variety of gender-neutral geometries and fitted components (bar/stem, cranks,sometimes seatpost but usually just saddle position).

    PS: I’m a 6′ 1″ long-waisted male.I have legs to fit a 58 cm frames’s seat tube and a torso to fit a 62cm frame’s top tube. So I ride a 60 with a long stem and a low saddle. Go figure.

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment! Your comment about German women is particularly interesting. I also happen to be learning German, so I’ll eventually be able to check out German cycling magazine for myself.

    It’s obviously easier for bike companies to market by gender rather than fit, but I do hope that the marketing changes in the future.

    My husband is 6’2″ with long legs and rides a 62, so we have very different bike needs. We actually managed to find a non-custom tandem that fits both of us (a Salsa Powderkeg).

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