Women’s specific bikes have recently become more and more popular with the majority of bike manufacturer’s now offering bikes specifically made for women. In the past, bikes were just bikes, and to accommodate women’s shorter torso length and generally smaller body size, parts were changed and adjusted to try and get a bike as close as possible to a good fit. Some bikes had better geometry than others that made this possible but it was still a challenge and no one wants to change half the stuff on their bike before they can ride it. There are a number of modifications that can be done but the biggest and most desirable is the women’s specific frame which now comes in road, mountain bike, and even a few time trial/triathlon bikes.
Differences in Frame Design
The biggest difference between men’s body geometries and women’s is torso length. Regular men’s frames generally leave women too stretched out on the bike reaching for the handlebars. A smaller frame could be chosen but that leaves the seat tube at too short of a length as their legs make up the majority of their height particularly with longer femurs.
Women’s specific bike frames are made to have a shorter top tube length which brings the bars closer to the body. This however can create a few problems. The first is toe overlap with the front wheel. The second is that with a shorter top tube handling can be compromised. To accommodate for these issues, the head tube angle is relaxed which pushes the front wheel further out to the front. The length of the head tube is also generally lengthened which more easily brings the handlebars up which if left too low can be harder to reach which can put a lot of strain on the back. Also, a slightly steeper seat tube angle is used to more easily reduce top tube length.
These combinations lead to a bike that is sized well for the average women and handles as a bike should. Also on mountain bikes, in addition to the above, a lower top tube is generally used to allow more clearance when standing over the bike with both feet on the ground.
Modifications to Parts
Before women’s specific bikes, changes to parts were made to better accommodate them. With a women’s specific bike these changes are already made making the bike ready to roll as soon as you get it.
On standard men’s bikes, shorter stems were used to bring the bars in closer to the body. A shorter stem will probably still be used a bit to allow for a good fit specific to you as well as stable steering. Also, a stem with a higher tilt to it could be used to bring the bars up further if needed.
Women’s shoulders are generally narrower and so normal men’s road bars are too wide. A bar width of 38cm to 40cm is common and allows the hands to be positioned squarely in front of the shoulders which not only is more comfortable but also aids in handling.
Women generally have wider sit bones so a wider saddle generally comes stock on a women’s specific bike. In addition to a wider saddle, a lot of women find that a cut out in the center of the saddle along with a bit more padding is preferred so that also generally comes stock. Finding more details on how to fit a saddle for you can be found in “Bike Saddle Fitting“.
Crank Arm Length
The length of the crank arms are generally proportional to height and with the average height of women being smaller, crank arms of around 170mm to 168.5 are generally used. The shorter crank arms aren’t necessary for all women however because despite a shorter overall height, the legs are still of sufficient length for a standard 172.5 crank arm length. This is also dependent upon rider preference as a shorter crank arm length allows more spinning while a longer crank arm is generally used with lower cadences, particularly in mountain biking.
Compact Crankset – Sometimes
A compact crankset has gears of 50×34 as opposed to the normal 53×39. This allows for the use of smaller gears and an increased ease of spinning over climbs, particularly steeper ones. Crankset is largely proportional to a rider’s strength, both male and female, as well as terrain. If you happen to find yourself struggling up climbs or have a cadence below 70 up a climb it is likely that a compact crankset or a triple crankset is beneficial.
Other Differences in Women’s Specific Bikes
One other site-ly difference, colors. This largely depends on manufacturer, but a lot of women’s specific bikes will be colored with pink, light blue, and purple tones, while some women gravitate to it, it seems there are nearly an equal number that dislike the colors. Also the bar tape as well as saddle color may be different to highlight that it’s a women’s bike. This can sometimes be hard to get around but a number of bike manufacturers do make neutral colored women’s bikes.
If you’re a woman, buying a women’s specific bike is largely the way to go. The only real exception is if your body geometry is more suited to a men’s frame; namely your torso isn’t as short. If you do go that route, still make sure the rest of the parts are geared toward a woman as you don’t want to be stuck changing everything mentioned above on your own. The differences in frame design are where a lot of the advantages occur. Ride one and talk to someone who knows specifically about fitting a bike for a woman and you’ll be riding comfortably on a bike before you know it.