When looking at buying a new bike many women ask do I need a woman’s specific bike?
There are some differences in the way that men and women sit on a bike which mean that female specific bikes can be a big improvement over a small men’s or unisex bike.
Women tend to be smaller than men, which means that a medium women’s bike will normally be smaller than a men’s medium. The important measurement to take into account with any frame is the length of the top tube as this dictates the reach of the bars along with the length of the stem. If this is too long then you will feel too stretched leading to back, neck and wrist pain. This is where women-specific geometry bikes come into their own; they are often made with shorter top tubes and come with shorter stems.
The bars would normally be narrower to match the genetics of the female body and these should look to be the same width as your shoulders. Too narrow and you’ll lack leverage for steering – too wide and the bike will feel ungainly. Sizes range from 36cm – 46cm. They also have a shorter reach along the top to the curved portion and a shallower drop to the lower, both these factors make reaching the levers easier although if you still have an issue then “shims” can be fitted to make these closer.
The crank of the bike is the part that connects the pedal to the frame and they range in length from 165mm to 175mm long and generally speaking the shorter crank arms will also generally suit a smaller rider better. The shortest came on the market for small women’s bikes to help minimize toe overlap (this is what happens when the turning front wheel comes into contact with your foot). Generally speaking the shorter crank arms will suit the smaller rider although does also depend on a combination of femur length, power and riding style. Cranks that are too long make it feel as if you’re always trying to push too hard and lift your knees too high to turn the pedals. If they are too short it can feel odd and make you lose some powerful leverage.
Are you sitting comfortably?
A woman’s pelvis is wider, which means that sitting in a more upright position on the bike is much more comfortable. To let women sit comfortably, the distance to the bars needs to be shorter and the bars themselves should be raised slightly.
As you might have guessed, saddles are pretty important when it comes to cycling comfortably. Many women also find women’s specific saddles to be more comfortable. They tend to be wider than men’s saddles and may include cut-outs (where a central part of the saddle is removed) to relieve pressure. The Saddle placement and angle are also very important as if this is incorrect then no matter what saddle you choose then you still may never be comfortable. It is worth trying one before you buy and getting a saddle fit, Selle Italia offer the ID match to achieve this.
Do I really need one?
This is an individual choice and difficult if you are a total newcomer to the sport. If you are going to change all the components that we have spoken about then financially it does not make sense to buy a unisex bike in the first place however if you have had riding experience and have been relatively comfortable then I would say you will have far more choice with a unisex bike. Beware of frame geometry and sizing however as this changes massively across the cycle brands and a good bike fit will help iron out any of the small changes needed.