Do we really need women’s-specific bikes?

Manon Lloyd chats to industry experts to see if there are any benefits to bikes designed specifically for women

Clock11:00, Friday 15th December 2023

Take a quick look across the major bike brands and you'll see that some offer a women's-specific version of their bikes, whereas others only sell a unisex model. GCN's Manon Lloyd never rode a women’s-specific bike at any point throughout her professional career and nor did many of the riders around her. Which got her thinking – is the concept of a women’s-specific bike something that we actually need?

To find some definitive answers, Manon spoke to industry experts Tom Sturdy and Katie Hoy.

Tom Sturdy

Titanium frame building specialist Tom Sturdy of Sturdy Cycles creates bespoke and tailor-made frames, so is in the perfect position to shine some light on the topic.

Sturdy tells Manon that in the past a lot of women's-specific bikes were merely men's bikes that had been downsized. This allowed for a smaller starting size aimed at accommodating female riders. Now with brands such as Liv specialising in women's bikes, the design considerations that go into creating a women's bike are more focussed on ensuring that they properly fit a female rider.

When it comes to fitting the bike to the rider, one of the biggest constraints that Sturdy identifies with women’s-specific sizing is that to get the right fit, the reach of the frame needs to be reduced. If 700c wheels are fitted to the bike, there is only so much you can do to reduce the reach of the bike before the front wheel starts to foul on the frame.

Something that he does think would be beneficial is for bikes designed for smaller riders to be built around smaller 650b wheels. This would remove a lot of the issues smaller frames struggle to work around. Beyond this, Sturdy thinks there is space for women’s-specific bikes as a total package. This allows for narrower bars, women’s-specific saddles, and shorter stems to be fitted, which are all things that will help make a bike feel more comfortable to a female rider.

Katie Hoy

Manon also got the opinion of bike shop owner Kate Hoy who gets to see first-hand the needs and wants of female riders. A lot of what she has to say echoes Sturdy in regards to the fit of the bike being the issue for smaller riders. Hoy is also quick to point out that the issue is not specific to women but rather an issue faced by smaller riders. She thinks that for some bikes, and more specifically some aero bikes, any rider regardless of gender will struggle to find a good fit if they are under 5’3’’.

The more Manon digs into this question the more it becomes apparent that the issue is more about the industry making bikes to fit smaller riders than specifically for women. Perhaps the bigger issue for women is riding kit, as there is simply less choice and availability for women’s clothing than for men.

To get a response from inside the industry, Manon contacted channel partner Canyon to find out why they have discontinued the line of women’s-specific bikes. Manon digs into the full reply in the video but in essence, they create a wide range of frame sizes from 3XS to 2XL, providing bikes that fit most sizes of riders. The brand doesn’t see the need to label bikes as women’s or men’s specific as they are designed to work for all riders.

Interestingly, Canyon is one of the brands that specs the smaller 650b wheel size on its 3XS and 2XS size road bikes. This falls in line with the advice of Sturdy to create a more balanced and neutral-feeling bike for smaller riders.

Do we need women’s-specific bikes?

Although we have only just scratched the surface on this topic, the evidence suggests that the concept of a women's-specific bike is little outdated. What it does point towards is that riders at the shorter end of the spectrum, regardless of gender, are less well catered for, with smaller bikes often compromising ride characteristics.

Whilst looking into this issue it has been made clear that women’s-specific bikes might not be something that is all that necessary. However, both women's-specific finishing kit and clothing are areas that need to see growth to accommodate the expanding consumer base.

Do you use a women's specific bike or have you in the past? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments section below. We also have a whole section dedicated to buying advice to help you find the perfect bit of cycling kit, why not check it out!

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