Bike Shop Girl | You May Not Need a Women’s Bike and Here Are 3 Reasons Why
A woman owned mobile bicycle workshop in Northeast Denver, Colorado with over 15+ years experience as a master mechanic.
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You May Not Need a Women’s Bike and Here Are 3 Reasons Why

Surly Ogre

You May Not Need a Women’s Bike and Here Are 3 Reasons Why

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.

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Body Dimensions

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.

Riding Style

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.

Flexibility

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?

15 Comments
  • dgduris
    Posted at 14:09h, 30 June Reply

    But, do you find that, in men’s or non-specific bikes of smaller sizes that you run into a) toe overlap issues and/or b) stiff cable routing because of the short runs?

    • Bike Shop Girl
      Posted at 15:17h, 30 June

      Typically any bike <52cm will have the toe overlap problem. I'm not a fan of changing up the handling of the bike to help someone pedal a 45º turn. I haven't experienced the stiff cable routing, do you have a photo as an example?

  • rick
    Posted at 19:28h, 30 June Reply

    Well done,Arleigh. Women need to know the “longer legs, shorter torso” mantra is not always the case and depends, among many other things, on where a woman’s ancestors came from. In Germany, for instance, men’s and women’s proportions are virtually identical across all sizes.

    The tragedy of “women’s-specific sizing” is that many women are not those specific sizes, and end up on bikes that don’t fit them any better (and sometimes less well) than a regular-geometry bike would. As you say, “your bike should simply fit,” and that goes for all genders and riding styles.

    • Bike Shop Girl
      Posted at 20:49h, 30 June

      Oh Rick, I love the line ” depends, among many other things, on where a woman’s ancestors came from.”

      Maybe that should be part of the interviewing to pigeon hole women even more? “What is your ancestry?”

    • Rick
      Posted at 19:29h, 06 July

      There are two issues here. The first is whether my statement–that there’s more similarity of proportions within ethnic populations than among them–is true, or I’m just repeating an urban legend.

      My source is PeopleSize and the decades of anthropometic data they’ve collected from people all over the world. Their data is the go-to source used to fit everything from office chairs to pilot seats and automobile interiorsby all kinds of manufacturers

      Yes, I’ve seen the data with my own eyes.

      The second issue is whether I advocate “pigeonholing” women’s bike based on ancestry. I don’t see anything in what I said above that would indicate such an idea. My point was, and is, that people’s proportions are based on many different things, including ancestry.

      Period.

      As for my own ancestry, I’m a Celt (Scots and Irish) on my mom’s side, English on my dad’s. One of the results of that is that, although I’m fairly tall, I’m quite long-waited relative to my height…so I have trouble getting bikes to fit.

  • Meg K
    Posted at 17:37h, 01 July Reply

    i don’t comment often, but I read your blog frequently. I think this is a great reminder! When I was in the market for a serious road bike of course I was put on a bunch of WSD models. I’m glad I stuck to the test ride and my gut. I ended up going with a men’s bike – with a more relaxed riding fit that happened to work perfectly for type of distance riding I do. I test rode if for a good 10 miles and my ultimate test was if I could get a water bottle in and out of the cage comfortably while riding and maintaining paceline speed. I did go women’s for my 29er… and still think it’s an awful fit :-/

    • Bike Shop Girl
      Posted at 09:02h, 02 July

      Meg, Thanks so much for the comment! It’s always wonderful to hear someone is reading and that I’m not simply writing for my mom.

  • Rob Knight
    Posted at 16:33h, 03 July Reply

    I’m so glad I found this blog. My wife is reluctantly and grudgingly entertaining my requests to join me on a ride. I want everything to be as close to perfect for her first time so she can see why I’m so addicted to cycling. I found her an older Bianchi Veloce to try out before we get something she really wants but I was so worried about the female vs. male fit. She’s out of town right now so she still hasn’t been able to get on the bike but this article eases my concerns a little. At 5’7 I don’t think she will have too many issues.

    • Bike Shop Girl
      Posted at 20:06h, 05 July

      Rob, get her a great pair of $100 shorts. Let her know she doesn’t have to wear them alone if she is self conscious, make sure she doesn’t wear underwear and ride somewhere she would enjoy. Ice cream works often in my family!

  • Jenn
    Posted at 13:29h, 04 July Reply

    Hey thanks for writing all of this fit information. I’m looking to upgrade my very introductory mtb and was looking at WSD. I won’t necessarily cross them off but I am going to test outside of that market to make sure my soze is right.
    Thanks!!!

    • Bike Shop Girl
      Posted at 20:05h, 05 July

      As I mentioned (many times), a women’s bike may fit you like a glove. Test ride, ask a ton of questions and don’t get pigeon holed!

  • JB Lewis
    Posted at 14:24h, 06 July Reply

    in the 2012 model year, the Novara Carema (Wmn) and Strada (Mn) were basically the same bike except for frame size. The Carema frames were essentially a “half size” smaller than the Strada frames. My wife test rode a couple different Caremas and the Strada sized in between. We ended up getting her the Strada, and then replaced the stem with a shorter, slightly steeper-angled one. The few mm difference in brake hood location made all the difference in the world to her!

  • Chris
    Posted at 08:12h, 07 July Reply

    When my girlfriend and I went shopping, we went straight to the mens bikes. The shop we were at was very helpful and didn’t even try to push womens specific bikes. She tried women’s frames for sizing, but didn’t like any of the torso fit, they all had too short of an ETT for her. She’s fairly flexible and preferred to stretch out more. She actually ended up with a small mens cx bike and it is more comfortable on long distances, plus she wanted an “all-road” bike for the rough trails and maybe something to race against me come fall. One thing that helped was that this particular model did come with a shorter then “normal” stem, so it helped with the fit. She also hated all the “girly colors and flower patterns” that come on women’s bikes.

  • daeghrafen
    Posted at 13:48h, 07 July Reply

    Nice post!

    My first road bike was a Specialized Dolce (which are all WSD, or were, at least). When I was starting out, it worked fine for me. As I rode more and more, though, my riding style changed, and my positioning on my bike changed in turn. My bike mechanic husband improved things for me for a while by changing stems and all that jazz, but the Dolce was just too upright and no longer the best fit. What do I ride now? A non-WSD Trek Madone. 🙂 Love it to pieces. Similarly, in mt. bikes, I went from a Specialized Rockhopper (I think that’s right; anyway, definitely a WSD model, in the horribly named color “berry punk”) to a Trek Top Fuel (definitely non-WSD). So yeah, WSD can be good for a lot of people in a lot of ways, but it’s definitely not always the right answer (and I’m a whopping 5′ tall, so I think I’m really right in the WSD craze target market). Now, my two WSD bikes were actually both good choices for me originally, but became less so as I rode more and my style changed, so I also greatly appreciated your comments about riding style affecting bike fit.

  • Jheri
    Posted at 04:21h, 13 August Reply

    My basic transport is an old Batavus. It was used. I was prepared to by and new bike and didn’t want a Batavus at first. The problem is I’m pretty tall at 1.90m. I wanted a step-through to ride with a skirt which limited my choice. The Batavus had a 62cm frame and was the only tall step through fame they could easily find. The riding position is fine, but it needed a new handlebar to get it right. Smaller riders have a better choice.

    The riding style in Denmark is more relaxed than what I see in the US. Most of us use a bike as basic transportation rather than recreation. Average rides are probably shorter, but many more of them. Not every shop has someone who uses a fit system. I think the only people who pay for very good fits are probably those who use bikes for sport and those with unusual body types.

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