Author Topic: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?  (Read 11461 times)

MidwestGal

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Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« on: June 12, 2014, 06:55:20 PM »
I am the proud owner of a stunning almost-new endurance road bike.  Now I'm considering the purchase (or trade, if I have something an owner wants) of a hybrid for workhorse duties.  My aim is to do most grocery-getting, wet hauls, and bad weather rides where I'd need fenders, a rack, or other items like that with the hybrid so I could leave all the hauling gear on at all times.

My question is, how hard should I look for a bike with geometry specifically tailored for women?  My knowledge of this subject is severely lacking.

StarryC

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #1 on: June 12, 2014, 07:21:26 PM »
I think the biggest factor is your height.  If you are 5'2"- 5'5" it will probably matter a lot, the low bar will allow you to get on and off more easily and stand over the bike comfortably.   When commuting around, you probably do that more than on road or mountain biking courses.  If you are taller, or have longer legs than your height would suggest, a regular frame won't matter as much. 

The second biggest factor is your attire.  If you always wear pants, no big deal.  If you want to bike in skirts more often, you probably want the ladies frame to avoid the top bar holding your skirt up. 

Greg

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #2 on: June 12, 2014, 07:23:08 PM »
In the olden days bikes "for women" had a lower horizontal tube so that it could work with skirts.  Now that nayone can wear pants or shorts (or skirts for that matter) I think it matters very little. 

As a man I would actually find a "woman's bike" to be a bit safer for me if you know what I mean.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2014, 07:45:35 PM »
The lower top tube can mean reaching the bottle cage is awkward, and conflicts with placing a second cage on the seat tube.

I'd do it only if you really like the easier on-off geometry.

phred

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2014, 08:13:53 PM »
women's bikes have a shorter top tube which is supposed to make the ride easier.  Most women feel that having a properly fitted seat/saddle is much more important.

goldengrove

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2014, 08:30:35 PM »
I second Thegoblinchief on the bottle cages-men's bikes can hold two bottle cages, and they're much easier to access.

Also, not sure if this is a concern for you or not, but I've found that I get a lot more respect riding a men's bike than a women's bike (someone riding a men's bike is a more "serious" or "experienced" cyclist, etc). A slightly tangential but interesting article (I thought, at least) made the rounds among my friends recently: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/04/there-such-thing-feminine-way-ride-bike/8886/

Russ

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2014, 09:21:16 PM »
2 different concepts you all are talking about here:

(A) a traditional "women's bike"

where the top tube slopes down to make room for skirts/dresses and to make it easier to get on/off if you don't know how to mount a bicycle, which are the only two inherent benefits. Otherwise they are heavier, less practical 'cause only room for one water bottle and weird cable routing, harder to carry, look dopey (IMO, obviously opinion), and you won't find that design on anything modern that's designed to go above like 10mph easily, even on the road.

(B) modern women's specific design, which is taking a regular dude's bike and considering a few key differences in physiology. Pretty sure this is what you're asking about OP? That means wider saddles for hips, bikes made in smaller sizes for shortness, and more relaxed/upright geometry because (a) women have short arms apparently? and (b) women don't like riding in as sporty of positions as men (which is BS)


the two are not really related at all... very few (A) women's bikes do not have (B) women's design, and likewise the other way around. IMO (A) is foppishly historical-reenactment-esque unless you're fashion conscious like that (or just like to wear dresses, but even then riding a full double diamond frame still works pretty well). (B) is nice but not necessary, especially if you are of reasonable not-shortness, and double especially if you swap out saddles on your own (which many people, dudes included, do anyway)

sorry, rambling, back to your actual question: Hybrids will be so upright compared to your road bike that I doubt any women's specific frame geometry will really matter to you. You may even prefer the slightly more stretched-out dude bike geometry if you are used to the road bike position. Both should steer/handle the same, it's just a matter of how you sit on the bike. You will probably want to change the saddle though.

Nudelkopf

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2014, 12:26:45 AM »
If you are 5'2"- 5'5" it will probably matter a lot, the low bar will allow you to get on and off more easily and stand over the bike comfortably.
I think I'm 5'3"... And I'm retarded at getting on and offbikes, so yes, I think the low bar definitely is important for me. Also the shorter top bar definitely makes a difference to me because I used not to be able to actually reach the handlebars on my brother's bike :(

kyanamerinas

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2014, 12:36:28 AM »
if you don't know how to mount a bicycle

is there a science to this? I ride a woman's bike like the first pic and do struggle to get on the other shape bike despite being 6 foot tall.

Nudelkopf

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2014, 02:29:08 AM »
if you don't know how to mount a bicycle
is there a science to this? I ride a woman's bike like the first pic and do struggle to get on the other shape bike despite being 6 foot tall.
I used to swing my leg around the back, but now I've got a basket on the back I have to do the awkward pull-the-leg-over-the-top thing.. Now you've got me wondering if there's an actual real way you're meant to get on a bike!

Kaminoge

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2014, 02:36:28 AM »
Most women feel that having a properly fitted seat/saddle is much more important.

This. Make sure the seat works for you. I didn't realise this was such an issue until I rented a bike in China and rode about 10k (so not that far). I was in agony, I didn't realise the shape of the seat could make such difference. I actually paid some random local to drive me back to my starting point. I'm cheap so the fact I was willing to do that shows how much pain I was in!

jfer_rose

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2014, 04:38:01 AM »
First off, agreeing with the clarification that women specific design for bikes no longer necessarily means a sloping top tube-- for road bikes it could mean shorter top tubes.

For years I rode a men's road bike but my comfort improved SO much when I switched to a Women Specific Design for a road bike. Russ posted lots of good info, but the part I disagree with is that it isn't women's arms that are shorter-- it is our torsos. I am average height 5'6" and have long arms. It's my torso that is short. This tends to be true of women when compared to men, and in my case my torso is short compared to the average woman.

When I got a men's bike that fit me in terms of hitting at the right place in relation to my crotch, the top tube was too long for my torso. I had to make lots of tweaks to make the bike work-- tweaks that affected the handling of the bike negatively. I rode the bike that way for years, but the Women's Specific Design road bike was such a huge improvement.

All this is moot now as no longer have any road bike at all-- just a vintage-style mixte that I can ride with a fairly upright posture.

So to answer your question about when it matters: it matters most if you have a short torso and with road bikes (or other bikes where you're not riding in a very upright position).

Russ

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #12 on: June 13, 2014, 05:37:10 AM »
Russ posted lots of good info, but the part I disagree with is that it isn't women's arms that are shorter-- it is our torsos.

Ah yes you're right about that. I knew arms sounded wrong, my bad.

GuitarStv

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #13 on: June 13, 2014, 06:40:09 AM »
if you don't know how to mount a bicycle
is there a science to this? I ride a woman's bike like the first pic and do struggle to get on the other shape bike despite being 6 foot tall.
I used to swing my leg around the back, but now I've got a basket on the back I have to do the awkward pull-the-leg-over-the-top thing.. Now you've got me wondering if there's an actual real way you're meant to get on a bike!

Yes.

First you get your leg over the top tube so you're straddling it.  Usually you would swing your leg over, but you'll have to work something else out if you've got a giant rear basket.  Then you position one pedal at about 45 degrees up.  Step on that pedal, and use it to push your ass up into the saddle at the same time your bike starts moving forwards.

fallstoclimb

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #14 on: June 13, 2014, 07:10:03 AM »
Both of my bikes are women's specific.  My hybrid really doesn't have to be, but I appreciate the geometry in my road bike.  As a shortie, men's bikes stretched me out too much. 

MidwestGal

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #15 on: June 13, 2014, 07:15:23 AM »
Thanks for the replies, though I think a lot of you were discussing step-throughs, and my question ran more toward regular (non-sloped) frames.  Sorry for the confusion!

I do have some of the qualities mentioned - long legs, a shorter torso, not sure about the arms.  Having driven cars that belong to males exactly my height (under 5'5"), I tend to have to shift the seat back.

One of the things mentioned in a post was about the geometry mattering more on a road bike and not necessarily on a hybrid.  Could I hear some more input on that topic?  I plan to put thousands of miles on both bikes every year, and am not sure whether switching from a unisex/mens frame would heavily impact my roadie riding.

Russ-thanks for finding that graphic.  It's neat to see the difference between the frames put together like that.  If it matters, my current bike has womens geometry and is a compact.  I'm sure the compact designation refers to the crank (50-34), but had no idea there was also a compact-type frame.  I'll have to look that up and see if it's different from a regular womens frame.  If you're interested, http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/2013/archive/trek/lexa_slx_compact/#/us/en/archive-model/details?url=us/en/bikes/2013/archive/trek/lexa_slx_compact is my bike in 50cm.

A lesser issue is the price.  I have searched the usual suspects such as Craigslist, garage sales, classifieds etc. and around here I've had trouble finding good womens bikes used.  For the hybrid I would rather not spring for new.

Carbonero

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #16 on: June 13, 2014, 07:19:12 AM »
I think the key is your application - will you be ok with less "performance" and using not so skinny tires?.  If so, with a typical "hybrid" frame with 26in wheels (which will look like a 90s hardtail mountainbike) you will probably have a lot of flexibility in terms of stems to dial in your position.  This means you can get a standard model in the appropriate size (cheaper perhaps than a "specific" design) and adjust with a cheap stem. You could do a trial, perhaps at a bike shop, with a few models with those adjustable stems so you can see the difference it makes and whether this will work. Exchanging the stem is not too expensive, or free if you are buying new from a shop and they are willing to exchange as you find your fit.

The issue with toe clearance on a small-frame 700c Wheel bikes is essentially not there, so less worry with the geometry being skewed. If you wanted a nice performance road bike, then IMO it is not so much about being a woman, but whether your own body fits the specific bike design as I dont think women or men are that uniform.... 

In terms of cost, an older good hardtail mountainbike (so it is not too heavy) with skinny tires (1.25in) is what I have used for years as my commuter and errands bike at a VERY low cost.

Glenstache

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #17 on: June 13, 2014, 12:00:57 PM »
Compact frame simply refers to a sloping top tube rather than a horizontal top tube.
Bikes are commercially sized by the seat tube length, but the "fit" of a bike depends on the effective top tube length (measured at horizontal for frames with sloping top tubes). As long as the bike is properly sized to the top tube, the "women's specific" geometry effectively becomes a marketing device. Most manufacturers will publish geometry charts listing the effective top tube length. You can compare to the chart for your current bike and get a decent guess at how things will stack up based on that. Note that a slacker seatpost angle will increase the effective top tube length for the same reach (horizontal offset between bottom bracket and headtube).

At the end of the day it will come down to adjusting the bike to fit, and then taking it for a quick ride to see if it is comfortable for your body geometry. And yes, changing the saddle to something that fits right makes a huge difference. I have become a bit fan of the specialized saddles with their fit system, but that may be in a different price range. YMMV.

Russ

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #18 on: June 13, 2014, 12:55:39 PM »
Bikes are commercially sized by the seat tube length, but the "fit" of a bike depends on the effective top tube length (measured at horizontal for frames with sloping top tubes). As long as the bike is properly sized to the top tube, the "women's specific" geometry effectively becomes a marketing device.

False. If you put a short-torso chick on a mens frame with appropriate TT length, the ST will be too short. It's less of a problem than getting the right size ST and having too long of a TT, but it's still not right and "just get a longer seatpost" isn't really a proper solution to that. I also can't describe how much I hate the term "marketing device" being applied to this. women's specific geometry is a solution to a widespread problem, one where the audience is very appreciative for the fix. Yes, it gets more women on bikes, thereby selling more bikes, thereby turning more profit for big T, but that doesn't make it without merit as "marketing device" suggests.

One of the things mentioned in a post was about the geometry mattering more on a road bike and not necessarily on a hybrid.  Could I hear some more input on that topic?  I plan to put thousands of miles on both bikes every year, and am not sure whether switching from a unisex/mens frame would heavily impact my roadie riding.

here's the deal with that, illustrated with a particularly shitty MS paint drawing by yours truly.

Without getting too deep into it, there are two things that affect where your hands go: stack (distance vertically from bottom bracket to bars) and reach (distance horizontally from bottom bracket to bars). As glenstache mentioned, this isn't exactly the same as top tube length and seat tube length, but it's close enough and easier to illustrate.

In the drawing, the red box represents the stack/reach of a Domane (equivalent mens endurance bike to your Lexa), green is your lexa (same stack because same length legs, shorter reach for shorter torso), orange is a mens hybrid (shorter reach and taller stack for more upright position), gray is a WSD hybrid (even shorter reach than the mens. From the drawing you can see that the "reach hypotenuse" (technical term) for the mens hybrid is about the same as the reach hypotenuse (horizontal) for your Lexa. This will work for you because you are accustomed to the sportier/less upright position and are flexible enough to accommodate it. You will be less upright than a typical man on the men's bike, but it is not uncomfortable like it would be if you were to go to a mens road bike with much more extreme reach since the hybrid does not have more reach than the Lexa, just more than a WSD hybrid. This is less ok for the typical lady hybrid customer who needs the shorter reach to get into the fully upright position the bike was designed for.

Road bikes are the best case for needing women's specific geometry, since they are meant to be at the extremes of long and low. Once you get shorter than that, it becomes a spectrum of "just how upright do I want to be", so with a hybrid it is very possible that you can find a comfortable bike with men's geometry.

Make sense? Sorry for the wall of text. I can go into more depth if you want, or take it back a notch since that was already way more technical than most people appreciate.

Glenstache

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #19 on: June 13, 2014, 05:47:17 PM »

False. If you put a short-torso chick on a mens frame with appropriate TT length, the ST will be too short. It's less of a problem than getting the right size ST and having too long of a TT, but it's still not right and "just get a longer seatpost" isn't really a proper solution to that. I also can't describe how much I hate the term "marketing device" being applied to this. women's specific geometry is a solution to a widespread problem, one where the audience is very appreciative for the fix. Yes, it gets more women on bikes, thereby selling more bikes, thereby turning more profit for big T, but that doesn't make it without merit as "marketing device" suggests.


To be fair I may be a bit biased against WS design by the experiences my SO has had with them, which has been a universally bad fit. She isn't a novice to riding either with about 7,000+ miles a year in the saddle and a full race calendar... all on "men's" bikes. But, her level of bike experience doesn't mean that she has universally applicable body geometry. In practice, many frame manufacturers steepen the seat tube angle at smaller sizes (I'm curious why that is done, it makes no sense as it isn't a rear end geometry issue), which cancels the supposedly shorter top tube. The WS design is basically a correction for poor frame design. If they simply scaled down the same geometry, the bikes would fit just fine because the stack and reach would scale accordingly. The actual differences between mens and womens frames is maybe 1 cm at a 54 cm frame size... about the variation of stem length change in a typical bike fit, and not an unreasonable amount of seat tube length change. So, for very small women, WS may make sense, but the small mens frames won't fit small men well either for the same reasons.

At the end of the day, I always support the bike that fits best. If the OP finds that the WS geometry fits better, then that is the bike for them. 100%. If WS design brings in more riders for commute or recreation, then that is fine too. But, I just haven't seen it making a huge difference with the many women I ride with.

Or as Gerard Vroomen puts it (designer for Cervelo, who has many frames in active duty in the pro-racing world):

Building bikes for women

Unlike many companies in the bike industry, Cervťlo does not build a frameset specifically for women. "I really canít ride the womenís bikes as theyíre made by the mainstream companies," I commented. "Thatís because you are a woman," quipped Vroomen. Vroomen has strong feelings on this subject, and recognizes that he is working against the grain. "Itís based on the theory that women have long legs and a short torso. The only problem with the theory is that itís just not true," said Vroomen of the approach to building womenís bikes adopted by many companies in the cycling industry. The framesets designed for women tend to have a shorter, steeper geometry and an upright position. "Thatís not performance cycling, thatís riding around and going to the bakery," argued Vroomen. Sometimes, you need a bike to get to the bakery.

But the bakery is not a bike race. "The womenís geometry, it makes some sense for people who arenít that serious about the sport," noted Vroomen. He conceded that the marketing is very powerful all the same. "Itís such a strong story, you go to someone and you say we made this bike just for you." Still, building a bike for a small person is the same whether that person is a man or a woman, according to Vroomen. "If you look at a guy thatís 5í5" and a woman thatís 5í5", they have the same ratio." Vroomen called his bikes "small person specific." A smaller size frameset is simply different than the bigger sizes. After all, "thatís why we have sizes."

We need to "debug the myth" that women need separate bikes, Vroomen believes. Some women may want a more upright riding style, as may some men. But that preference is separate from dialing in bike fit for women. In fact, he worries that the current marketing narrative may actually turn some women away from the sport rather than helping to build it. This set of ideas, "itís completely destructive to women in cycling," he said with only a touch of hyperbole. Certainly, sponsoring a womenís team offers Vroomen a tangible way to make the case for his approach. Garmin-Cervťlo team rider Emma Pooley stands 5í1" and rides a 48 cm Cervťlo S3 frameset.

greaper007

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #20 on: June 13, 2014, 11:32:54 PM »
Skimmed the responses so I apologize if this has been mentioned.    Have you ridden a WSD and compared it to a non WSD?     It's hard to say if it's worth it until you actually ride one and see if it's more comfortable.

sfsellin

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #21 on: June 15, 2014, 08:42:13 PM »
Whatever your final decision, just make sure you purchase a women's specific saddle. They have a shorter nose, and are wider in the back. VS: a men's saddle which is long and narrow. You want your body's weight resting on your sit bones (which comes from a proper seat) , not all that sensitive stuff ;)

MidwestGal

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #22 on: June 16, 2014, 07:20:27 AM »
Wow!

Thank you all so much for the information, that is a lot to digest but it was put into ways that a beginning biker (<1k miles, no racing ever) could understand.  My first 'big girl' bike was a mens roadie, but it felt uncomfortable without me really ever figuring out why.  I just assumed that road bikes were supposed to feel uncomfortable.  With the purchase of my current WSD road bike (very different geometry and a size up) I've been really happy.  Due to all the info you've given me, I'd be comfortable finding a men's hybrid as a beater/workhorse.

+1 on the seat advice, it really made a difference to change out the men's seat on my old bike for the women's one I had bought.

Anatidae V

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Re: Womens specific bicycles: when does it really matter?
« Reply #23 on: June 16, 2014, 07:55:59 AM »
Thanks for asking the question MidWestGal, now I have some information for when I go buy a road bike in a year or so! (I currently have a girly step-through bike because I need a bike that forces me to take it easy!)
if you don't know how to mount a bicycle
is there a science to this? I ride a woman's bike like the first pic and do struggle to get on the other shape bike despite being 6 foot tall.
I used to swing my leg around the back, but now I've got a basket on the back I have to do the awkward pull-the-leg-over-the-top thing.. Now you've got me wondering if there's an actual real way you're meant to get on a bike!

Yes.

First you get your leg over the top tube so you're straddling it.  Usually you would swing your leg over, but you'll have to work something else out if you've got a giant rear basket.  Then you position one pedal at about 45 degrees up.  Step on that pedal, and use it to push your ass up into the saddle at the same time your bike starts moving forwards.
When I had a non-stepthrough-bike, I would find the nearest curb or similar, stand on it, then be able to lift my leg over easily, and use it to get on the seat/pedals and push off. I may have ridden bikes that were too big for a while :)