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Q & A : What Makes a Bike a Women’s Bike?

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Question : What Makes a Bicycle a Women’s Bicycle?

This is a broad question with  long answer so maybe take a seat.

In the old days…

Masi Soulville Mixte 7Many women rode their bikes with skirts (much like they rode horses side saddle.)  When bicyles were designed for women they came out with a dropped top tube design.  The most popular of these were the “mixte” or step through.  The design is still carried in many lines.  Personally I think it is much easier to get on and off a step through frame, though some people don’t like the look.  Another advantage of the step through is for tight clothing, or tight hips.  I have successfully sold step through bikes in black or grey to gentleman with bad hip joints.

For a very long time this step through design is all women rode and men had a diamond frame with taller top tube.  Even now many people visit bike shops and shop for bikes based on this very traditional thought process.

Modern time and modern designs…

These days bikes are designed differently.  Most mid to high end womens bicycles have many other features that make them womens, and almost none of them are a step through design.

Some key thoughts going into the designs of modern womens bicycles :

  • Most women have longer legs over longer upper body.  This makes so when they ride a traditional “squared” geometry, their seat is too high and length or top tube of the bike is too long . Making for a very stretched out, painful, ride.
  • Women come in all sizes, but often smaller sizes than men.
  • Most women have narrower shoulder width than men, which means narrower handlebars.
  • Most women have breast or chest to worry about when getting into a more aggressive fitting.  This also means more weight on the upper body.

Details by Bike…

Road bikes have a couple key differences :

  • Shorter top tube of the bicycle. I touched on this above but many women have longer upper body and shorter legs.  A shorter top tube allows them the length of the bike they need without needing to raise the seat on a smaller sized bike.
  • Taller head tube.  A taller head tube allows the bikes front end to sit up higher. This allows for a more upright fit, if you decide, and less weight on your hands and more on your rear.  It also makes it so you don’t have to rock your pelvic bone and hips so far forward to get the proper fit alignment on your back.
  • Womens seat. These seats tend to be shorter, wider in the back and a medically designed cut out to relieve pressure.
  • Narrower & shorter handlebars. Women tend to have narrower shoulders, so they need a narrower handlebar.  Another thing a womens handlebar addresses is the “reach” down to the drops.  Womens tend to be shorter, so easier to get into an aggressive position.
  • Different steering angles.  When you shorten or lengthen a bike, it changes the handling.  Many manufactures have fixed this by changing the angle that the fork and seat tube sit at.

Mountain bikes carry many of the above differences plus some extra :

  • L2010 Trek Fuel EX 5 WSDighter weighted suspension.  Suspension works two ways, coil or air activated.  With air you can easily change the feel of suspension with a shock pump.  With coil if you are below or above the recommended weight for that coil, you need to replace it.  Many womens mountain bikes if they come with coil suspension are set up with the lighter suspension coil.
  • Lower stand over.  Allowing women to feel more confident on the bike.

There are many other things I can talk about in this topic, which in the future I plan to, but for now try to read through everything above and let me know your questions.  Many things have to do with brand specific designs and thoughts.  One thing that happened when womens bikes first hit the market was an overwhelming feeling of “fru-fru” and that the product managers just didn’t get it.  The bikes were mostly pink or baby blue and hit some of the above design thoughts but not all.  They wanted to put a band aid over the issue.  Granted, I partially feel that the band aid is still there for many but hopefully it is slowly being pealed off.

Next in this series will be  “Do I Need a Womens Bike?” question.  If you have questions or comments about that topic please let me know.

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