Several years ago I took some slack based off an article I wrote that women’s 29er don’t work. I still stand next to this opinion and it seems that I am not the only one. I pride myself in my bike fitting experience and with over a 1,000 fits and a couple hundred custom bikes I can confidently tell most women that they have a 50/50 chance of a women’s bike fitting them. Bike fit comes down to a few different things that include body dimensions, riding style and flexibility/mobility.
Starting with body dimensions, women have been pegged by a lot of the big box brands to have long legs and shorter upper bodies. Personally, I would say that women have a greater chance to have longer legs about 65% of the time. This body structure lends to a shorter top tube and taller head tube, or a shorter reach and taller front end of the bike. This bike fit also happens to work with 65% (or more) of men over 50 that aren’t avid cyclists. They have tight hamstrings from sitting all day, lack of core muscles and maybe a lunch muscle in the way causing their knees to hit their gut when in the drops. While at Salvagetti we only stocked one women’s specific model on the floor and our buying cliental happend to be 50% women. We were able to achieve this by understanding the fit of the bikes we stocked and made sure to have two different fitting bikes in core categories. For example, in the “all-road” category we kept a ton of Surly’s in stock that have a shorter head tube and longer top tube. They fit about 50% of women that came in. We also stocked Kona and Salsa that had a slightly more upright fit. Take an assessment of your height to body dimensions, if you have average or shorter legs, or super long arms – you may not need a women’s bike.
The next misunderstood topic of bike fitting is your personal riding style. No matter how amazing the sales guy is, unless he rides with you, they can’t predict your riding style. Do you like to climb? Do you descend like a bullet? Do you push your way through dirty berms or let the bike guide you around? This is something you need to understand, and hopefully you’ll have a good sales person that will ask you the right questions to help you find your way. I find that your personal riding style doesn’t matter too much on the road for men’s vs women’s bikes but it makes a world of a difference for mountain bikes. On the mountain bike side I have found that women’s “tuned” suspension tends to be too soft for my aggressive riding style. Perhaps this mountain bike suspension should be defined by weight and riding style but I’m 140lb and enjoy riding XC rigs like they are All Mountain without the hucking part. Every women’s mountain bike has too much sag (compression when sitting) unless I over inflate the front and rear suspension so my front end drops too much going downhill or around corners. Adele from Singletrack brought up a great point in this argument, mountain bikes have been designed over the years to be wonderful for the sake of being wonderful – not for a guy’s fit. Sure, a male test rider may weigh more or ride harder but perhaps they haven’t found great women to be apart of their tests? Ask yourself a lot of questions on your riding style, especially on the mountain bike, ask your buddies lots of questions and be ready to play with your suspension to learn what is for you. This is a very personal thing that you’ll learn but over the past decade of riding mountain bikes I have decided that if you are over 155lbs or an aggressive athlete then a women’s mountain bike may not be for you.
Finally, a topic that is not covered enough in this industry – flexibility. The most common mobility concerns I see as a bike fitter are hamstrings, glutes, calves/ankles, and hips. We typically don’t incorporate stretching into our post ride routine, but it is a must! We also don’t talk about the fact that fit changes as drastically as your lifestyle. When racing competitively I was getting re-fit on my bike 3-4 times a year. Going into the off-season I would get a more relaxed fit for my long slow miles and mind bending time on the trainer during the winter. Moving into the season I would be moved into a more aggressive position, with one more check up late spring to be put back into my most aggressive position depending on my seasonal goals. Finally, I would get a check up 6-8 weeks out if I had any ongoing aches. Many things went into this too. Did I start more strength training? Was I going to yoga enough? Did I sit in the car for 6 hours after races with limited stretching? Our lives change, and so should your bike fit. If you can touch your nose to your toes, hold a plank for 5 minutes and enjoy feeling aggressive on your bike then a women’s fitting bike may not be for you.
Your Bike Should Simply Fit
As you can see, a lot goes in to how a bike fits or handles. I believe the industry should end this “women’s fit” nonsense and have a few different fit options that come in a masculine or girly color scheme. Give us the same options without the labeling so that the guy that needs a women’s fit doesn’t feel like wimp and a woman isn’t sold a “WSD” bike because it’s the only way staff knows how to sell to women. Over the next couple of months I will be walking through a new bike buying process with a fairly new bike company that focuses on your body dimensions, riding style and flexibility. FitWell Bicycle Company is focusing on asking the right questions to get you a bike that has the fit and ride characteristics that you are craving. Look for the first part of that series next week!
Tell Us Your Experience
What has been your experience finding a bike that fits your body and riding style? Do you have any tips or questions to share with the community?