Do You Really Need a Women Specific Bike?
The debate about whether women’s bike are a real necessity or a marketing driven need has been hot for at least a decade. Producers came to realise since the very beginning of the industry that there is money to be made by creating a market specifically for women.
However, for far too long women have been “allowed” only bikes of a certain shape – see the inclined top tube of the classic ladies’ bikes - and for many decades racing bikes have been engineered for male only.
Luckily times have changed and nowadays the number of women cyclists is rampantly growing.
At the beginning of this trend change, the gender gap has been filled with the so called “shrinking and pinking”. In other words simply making women’s bike as smaller and pinker versions of their more engineered male counterparts. Not so cool.
During the last 2-5 of years at least, the best bike makers moved away from this counterproductive attitude to finally actually researching solutions that are based on women’s specific needs.
Let’s see what it really means.
The first problem some female rider faced was, and in some cases still is, finding the right frame size. This is especially true for the smallest among the riders. Many producers simply don’t offer frames smaller than size 48, preventing a number of women (and shorter men) from cycling or forcing them to look into young riders frames.
A second issue is a matter of proportions: being of the same height does not mean having the same measurements. This is true across all riders and even more the differences can be seen in women who - strictly from the point of view of proportions - are on average different from males. And different proportion needs to be reflected on a different geometries of the frames.
The women physiology studies advised to increase the angle and the length of the head tube. Consequently the front wheel leans slightly more forward and doing so outspreads the wheelbase a bit too, helping with stability as welcome side effect. Also the seat tube is at a slightly sharper angle than on a man's bike, as a consequence of the longer top tube.
Possibly even more significant than the frame geometry is the fitting of all the components. For instance some women needs to have a wee bit smaller cranks, so where the standard male crank is 170mm, some women bikes might need to be fitted with a 165mm crank.
Handlebars indeed need to be more compact to match the on average narrower female shoulders. Women frequently have smaller hands too, which makes it a need to have smaller grips and controls and levers with a shorter reach.
And the saddles, of course! The different shape of the pelvic bones and of the groin requires a different saddle engineering approach. Where male saddles are thought for narrower pelvic bones and studied to minimize the pressure on the area, female saddle have to accommodate the wider bones and minimize the friction with the soft tissues.
Women bikes are more than bikes in pink, this is clear. Finding the perfect fitting bike is an extremely individual undertaking and requires for both male and female an accurate research, many trials and errors and the help of a fitting professional. Women’s bike are conceived to help fitting the average female body, in practice making the road to the perfect fitting easier for many the female cyclist. Do you absolutely need a women bike? No, you can find a perfect fitting also with a male bike. Will a women bike make it easier for you to find the perfect fit? Yes, it will, at least on average!