We are at the same height as my wife. When I stand next to her bike, her bike’s saddle height is longer than my hips. That bike has also weird handlebars like a Dutch city bicycle. I have relatively long legs compared to men, yet my legs are noticeably shorter compared to hers. I also have relatively shorter arms, but I can reach my handlebars comfortably, yet her riding position on my hardtail is like a road bike stance. That tells a story.
Until recently, biking was considered a men’s sport, and women should pose half-naked on bikes that are meant to be built for men – “bike chicks” was a cultural phenomenon.
I’m not racist or sexist by any means, and I’d still happily admit if I were – not because I adore myself as most people do, or hide bad things about myself, wishing for constant approval. I just came to terms with myself. I’d befriend a seemingly bad person that is open about it, rather than the variety self-promoting his/her greatness on all occasions. The first one is subject to change, while the second type is lost in alienation. Well; for me, watching men playing volleyball is disturbing, for instance: lack of flexibility, total ignorance about the strategy of the game, and seeing angry men trying to shoot the ball at other team players’ heads is not fun to watch. I was involved in many sports with varying degrees of success, but generally, I was good at sports. Especially rowing. But the sport I enjoyed was football, which I was really, unimaginably terrible at. Would probably shoot me if I could watch, but I was ecstatic when playing. My point is, one shouldn’t be very obsessed about his / her image enjoying something. Funnily, men wearing Lycras with shaved legs and stupid clothes tend to judge women in this sport!
I was pleasantly surprised to see some women in MTB races, and they look great. Not the outfits – they are “fluid” which is hard to describe. Watch men vs women volleyball, you’ll get my point very clearly.
How did it all start?
I had never seen a women-specific bike before, until a few years ago, I started seeing women with “Liv” bikes. It was extremely common, like 80%. Others were generally Giant. That made me wonder. I googled it, and saw that Liv was the sister brand of Giant..one of the giant manufacturers in Taiwan, also builds frames for most top-tier brands. Yet I didn’t think there was a difference in bikes: at those times, the advertising industry was after children and women, so I thought it is just rebranding.
It was not: indeed, Liv bikes have different geometry. Then there is Juliana, the sister company to Santa Cruz.
Why different bikes for women
Obviously, we have different anatomy: women have longer legs, shorter upper body. That means, a men’s bike is off for their anatomy, having a relatively short seat tube but a long top tube, meaning high reach, low stack: that’s why I advise against converting MTB frames to road bikes. So for women, a men’s bike is an MTB converted to a road bike, for men 🙂
Liv and Juliana make women-specific MTB and road bikes, including kids’ bikes too. (They don’t bother making folding bikes, which are not fit for any bipedal being)
In the biking industry, every claim should be taken with a grain of salt, but not this one. Bike fit is the most important thing with any bike. You can get over a bad drivetrain, dinky tires, or anything you can imagine. But a bike that is not fit for you is a dealbreaker. Most of the time, the only deal breaker. The more you ride, the more you appreciate a good bike fit. Most people don’t think 1 cm would make any difference. You know what? Altering your seatpost by 1 cm makes a huge difference. Like night and day.
Not every component is women-friendly
Lately, I’ve seen Shimano 105 shifters for smaller hands. By “smaller hands” they probably meant women. Lady Brienne of Tarth would probably not need them, but most women would. Saddle makers are amongst the first to react, I’ve seen vintage leather saddles made for women. Handlebars for MTBs probably go 1m wide in a few years – currently, they are only fit for chimps. Stems are no issue, they come in a variety of angles and lengths. We possibly can see longer cranks: 175 is the maximum for almost all cranks. Hydraulic brakes are handy for women also and equally problematic for both sex technically. I wish someone will make pedals for men. My shoe size is 43-44, most flat medals are too narrow for me.
To companies: don’t be a fool!
In USA, %60 of new bicycle owners are women aged between 18 and 27. This happened in the last decade. Even in Ireland, which is not a Scandinavian country regarding feminism, it’s just %25 – still a huge increase; contrary to the fact that bike ownership for women go down to %1.5 in 2016, which was %6 50 years ago! (car ownership rose, however – study correlates the result to women getting richer and getting cars instead).
In Rotterdam, Mecca of bicycles, women accounts for %47 of bike riders.
So, women cyclers are not a small minority that can be omitted. It’s big and growing.
Culture against bikes
A year ago, I went to a local bike shop to buy tires. Meanwhile, I saw a road bike, which looked a bit different than others, geometry-wise. I asked, why so. He said, that particular model was made for women, but not advertised as it is. Why? Because most men in my country would buy a bike blindfolded; they’ll never buy a bike meant for a woman. They do not sell them as women’s bikes, because bike shops would complain! If they’re not advertised as a women’s bike, no problem, they can sell a 60″ road bike to a 1.60 man, or 46 to a basketball player. The bike fit is not getting traction so rapidly here.
I also see many women buying 80-year-old designs, “lady bikes”. Most of them never wear skirts, but those bikes were meant for women wearing skirts at the time because otherwise is unimaginable blasphemy. Yet they’re still buying them: they’re super heavy, like 18kg’s, not cheap, put together with the horrible drivetrain from China. Why? Because people don’t think and research.
Please do not buy “lady bikes” in 2022: They’ re heavy, not stiff, looks funny and not engineered in any way and mostly put together with junk components, because manufactures know nobody will ride them long enough.