Many people still think that women’s bikes are identified by their step through frames and dropped top tubes, but nothing could be further from the truth nowadays. Since manufacturers realised that women actually like cycling and want to buy bikes that fit them, are comfortable and look good, as well as have great performance, the variety and choice has grown enormously for women riders. Many still offer a drop top tubed frame but most look just like men’s bikes yet have specific frame geometry and components to work better with a woman’s physique.
Geometry and sizing
In most cases women have a different body shape to men, with longer leg to torso ratio, shorter arms, narrower shoulders and wider hips, so it’s no wonder a blokes bike can feel uncomfortable! Luckily women don’t have to put up with making adjustments to men’s bikes anymore!
The specific geometry and frame sizes work best for women under 5ft 6”, above that a standard men’s bike could fit fine. Smaller women have most trouble finding a frame that fits properly, so specific frames are good news. In general, women-specific frames have shorter top tubes and lower standover height, mainly because women tend to have shorter torsos than men and aren’t usually as tall. Shorter stems and narrower bars also allow a better reach for the bars and are more in proportion than the full sized equivalents.
Some smaller frames are designed around 650c wheels or 26” mountain bike wheels, this helps reduce toe overlap, especially on road bikes below 46cm. Trek offer their WSD road bikes in two wheel sizes, with the larger frames having 700c wheels, the same goes for other manufacturers who think that smaller wheels accelerate faster and are therefore ideal for smaller riders. The only downside to this is that there are fewer tyres to choose from in this smaller 650c size, but all the usual manufacturers offer at least one choice.
Little hands can get tired and strained when stretching to reach for the brake levers, adjustable reach levers on comfort and street bikes allow the perfect positioning of the lever and thinner grips make life easier on the hands too allowing a better grip and comfort. Shimano offer a pair of STI road levers that can be adjusted to position the lever closer to the bar, suitable for even tiny hands, being similar to the Ultegra level they offer great performance too.
All points of contact should be considered and as well as the hands being comfortable so should, bums and feet. Women-specific saddles are available in their hundreds, featuring a plethora of holes, gel inserts and grooves to eliminate pressure points, numbness and saddle soreness. Choose one that matches your riding requirements and feels comfortable from the start, wider saddles with short noses tend to suit wider hips whereas more sporty women may prefer a sleeker and cut away design to facilitate easier pedalling. If your saddle is uncomfortable and causes pressure at the front of the saddle, try tilting the nose downwards to place more weight on the sit bones where there’s more saddle, and often bum padding too.
Some women find it difficult to tilt forward from the pelvis on road bikes so tipping the saddle nose downwards can help, and gives a more aerodynamic position without discomfort. A higher bar height suits some women too.
Women generally have smaller feet than blokes so it’s worth considering shorter cranks to aid easier and smoother spinning, 170 or 165mm lengths may be a better choice than the usual full length 175mm crank arms. It really depends on how long you’ve been riding, shorter cranks can feel rather odd if you’re used to longer ones.
Most manufacturers make women specific bikes in all their ranges, so whether it’s a commuter or comfort bike, road racer or a kitted out tourer for off-road adventures, you should be able to find a bike that fits and rides just to your taste. And by choosing a women specific bike you don’t have to worry about sourcing specialist parts such as saddles, levers and bars. In fact the bigger companies such as Trek, Cannondale, Gary Fisher, Scott and Specialized offer a number of women-specific bikes for a range of budgets too, but if by any small chance you can’t find exactly what you want then consider a custom built frame, the extra cost for a perfect fit is often worth every penny in the long run.
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