“As a woman, do I have to ride a ‘women’s’ bike?” We get this question a lot. The short answer is ‘no,’ but the color isn’t the only difference between the men’s and women’s models. While most bicycle manufacturers offer women’s bikes, every rider is different and many women ride a ‘men’s’ bike – sometimes with just a few small changes.
Why are there gender specific bikes?
Color aside (we’ll get to that later), traditionally bike manufacturers have been making bikes with gender specific geometry because men and women on average have different body proportions. Comparing a man and a woman of the same height, we would expect to see the following differences:
- Longer arms on the man
- Shorter torso on the woman
- Longer legs on the woman
- Small hands and feet on the woman
- Broader shoulders on the man
- Wider pelvis on the woman
What’s the difference between men’s and women’s bike sizing?
Since men tend to have a longer torso and arms, traditionally men’s bikes tended to have a longer reach out to the handlebars. Female bikes, on the other hand, tended to have taller head tubes and shorter top tubes to shorten the reach to the handlebars. Also, some carbon frames are made to have lighter and more compliant tubes for a petite rider. The key touchpoints of the bike, like the handlebars and seat, might also vary by gender. The women’s handlebars might be more narrow and smaller in circumference. The women’s seat tends to be wider.
What is Specialized Rider First Engineering?
Recently Specialized has moved away from gender specific geometry. Instead, they use Rider First Engineering. In the past, bike manufacturers would design the geometry of a bike around a 56cm frame and then enlarge it for the bigger sizes and shrink it for the smaller ones. With Rider First Engineering, Specialized designs each frame size individually so that bigger bikes don’t feel too soft under taller riders and smaller bikes are not too stiff for more petite riders.
Specialized might not adjust the frame geometry, but they still design apparel and gear like gloves, saddles, and shoes specifically for females to improve comfort and performance. Their female bikes come with key parts like saddles, handlebars, and grips specifically made for women.
Similarly, Bianchi stocks their women’s bikes with women’s specific touch points (saddles and handlebars) to accommodate smaller hands, narrower shoulders, and women’s specific saddle needs. Bianchi uses the same geometries for men’s and women’s bikes, but they change the angle of the head tube and seat tube to keep the smooth ride quality and balanced feel of the bike. Bianchi also offers smaller sizes in their women’s Dama line than are available in the men’s line. Bianchi does offer some different color choices in each model, but the classic Bianchi Celeste color is featured almost ubiquitously, making the distinction between a men’s bike and a women’s bike less obvious by color.
What about color?
Color preferences are unique to each individual. There are plenty of guys that will rock a pink bike… There are quite a few of them working at ERIK’S! It’s actually a pretty cool color on a bike. That said, it’s not for everyone and companies like Specialized are working to offer less predictable color choices; check out this video to see how much thought Specialized puts into picking the colors for women’s bikes.
How do I find the perfect fitting bike?
Ultimately, some female riders do benefit from a women’s specific geometry, and others can float easily back and forth between styles. As a 5’10” woman with roughly equal leg-to-torso proportions and the flexibility of a two-by-four, I can bounce back and forth between a women’s and a men’s endurance geometry bike with some small changes to the handlebar, stem, and saddle. With that said, every time I get a new bike I have a BodyGeometry Fit session with one of our Advance Fitting specialists. This process gets the bike perfectly tailored to your unique body – regardless of gender.
Your bike should help you achieve your goals, and there are a lot of option out there. Swing into an ERIK’S today and let’s get you riding on the perfect bike!
A special thanks to Cate Kaelber and Chloe Kosters for writing this article. Cate and Chloe are the former and current Ride Leaders of our Tough Girl Tuesday Ride out of Dinkytown.