People come in all shapes and sizes, and so it’s no surprise that bike brands make an effort to create a varied range of steeds with different geometry to suit them.
Over recent years, the number of women taking up cycling has dramatically increased (something we’re super excited about) – and brands are making an effort to create female specific bikes that work with a woman’s body to provide the optimum platform for speed, and/or comfort depending upon the riders’ needs.
Do we need female specific bikes?
Many women ride unisex bikes, and depending upon your body shape, you may not need a female specific bike. However, the majority of women have a shorter torso and longer legs than men, as well as narrower shoulders and smaller hands.
If you’re a woman that fits this leggy, shorter torso-ed mould, you’ll need to either make adjustments to a unisex bike, or opt for one of many fantastic female specific bikes.
You can find out if you need a women’s fit by popping to a store and test riding a couple of bikes – it will become clear very quickly if you are too stretched out on a unisex bike, and we have bike fitters in all stores who can help you decide.
Here’s a look at some of the key components that differ on women’s bikes, and some advice on how to tweak a unisex bike to make it right for you:
If you are shorter in height, you’re likely to find more availability in the women’s specific ranges – frame sizes usually go down to around a 44, which is suitable for a woman 4ft8 or 5ft (depending upon brand and geometry), whilst unisex bikes often stop sizing down at around a size 48 frame – though there are exceptions (such as the HOY – which we’ll come onto later).
It is also worth looking into bikes with 650c wheels – the bonus being that not only will the bike fit a smaller rider better, but you can save quite a lot of weight through simply carrying less material. These are harder to come by – and though we do stock the Fuji Finest 650c, choice is limited. Some women after a 650c bike choose to buy a frame and components separately, and our mechanics will certainly be able to help if you choose to custom build a bike.
If you find the top tube on a unisex bike (or a female specific bike, for that matter) is too long – replacing the stem with a shorter one will solve the problem. Most of my own bikes came with a 100mm stem, which I’ve replaced for a 90mm. This has reduced the length of the bike, which I needed – but it can make your position a tiny bit less racy. Pro racers would, as a rule, go for a shorter bike and put a long stem on it – partly to reduce weight, and partly to get them in a low, racy position.
A longer stem can also make the steering less twitchy and feel more stable.
It’s often considered that in an ideal world, you would buy a bike that doesn’t cause you to need to shorten the reach – but a stem swap is a good fix if you come up against the problem.
Most women have narrower shoulders, and smaller hands. Going from riding a unisex bike, to a female specific bike with narrow handlebars, most women will feel much more confident on the latter. Of course, if you’re tall and broad, that might not be the case.
Changing the handlebars on a unisex bike to narrower, female specific bars is an easy job – you can ask to have them fitted in any store (or do it yourself) – but you will usually need to pay the difference.
Reach from Levers to Bars
Some women with smaller hands find that their brake and gear levers are simply too far from the bar, especially when on the drops. A women’s specific bike often has shifters that are curved slightly around the bar, to reduce this. However, if you go for a unisex bike, there are some other fixes.
You can start by moving the position of the shifter on the bar – it’s really a case of playing around with the position until you get it right. It is also worth remembering that thinner bar tape will actually make a difference – you can get bar tape in various thicknesses, and gel padding on the inside of the bar will actually add a few mm’s.
If this isn’t working, Shimano shifters can also be adjusted. If you have old Shimano shifters, we can order in extra spacers for them, whilst newer models have an adjustment inside the lever.
Women’s specific saddle
We’re just made differently. I know women who ride on models designed for men and feel most comfortable with that style, but most women prefer a female specific saddle. Women often find that in an upright position they are comfortable enough, but as soon as they rock forward to get into a more racey position, they experience pressure in all the wrong places.
A saddle with a cut out is usually more comfortable if you find your putting weight where you don’t want to. Personally. I race with an ISM Adamo, which totally eliminates the problem.
Someone shorter in height will have shorter femur’s and thus shorter cranks will be more effective. Cyclefit went into lots of detail about this here, but the gist of it is that if a rider is using standard length cranks (often 172mm), but has a shorter fermur, their leg will be bent more at the point of maximum torque – causing more stress on the knee. A more open knee angle would reduce the stress.
If you are shorter in height, a shorter crank could help you to pedal more effectively. BikeDynamics also have more information, including this handy chart to guide you in choosing the right length:
This chart, you may notice, doesn’t go under 5″5 – so if you’re shorter than that (I expect that could cover quite a lot of women!) there is an optimum crank length calculator here - I did check, and it will work for even tiny people:
The HOY approach
It’s worth noting that all HOY bikes can be built up in an Evans Cycles store with female specific kit. These bikes come in a really wide range of sizes, from the XXS suitable for someone around 4’10” and the XL for someone up to 6’4”. Fit is absolutely important to Sir Chris and the team at Evans Cycles – so between us we wanted to be sure that bikes bearing the HOY name would be adjustable, so that everyone who leaves with a HOY has a bike that is sized perfectly for them.
The brand does not include bikes with female specific frame geomatry – instead Sir Chris and the team decided it was best to offer a unisex frame, with female specific handlebars, shorter stem and saddle for anyone who requests them.
Women’s specific bikes
If you don’t want to tinker with a unisex frame, the other option is to pick a bike that is ready made to suit the female form.
We stock a wide range of women’s road bikes – but one of the brands that have really impresses us is Fuji.
Fuji have been backing women’s cycling for a long time, having been the bike sponsors for the first US women’s road racing team, Fuji-Suntour, in the 1970s. They are a brand dedicated to achieving results using advanced research and feedback from elite athletes to create bikes that yield results.
The range of women’s road bikes are available exclusively at Evans Cycles, and the 2014 line up consists of the Fuji Finest range, and the Fuji Supreme range.
All women’s Fuji road bikes are designed for optimal fit, with a shorter top tube and narrower handlebars that work with a woman’s body to achieve comfort and speed.
Here’s a quick intro to the range:
The Fuji Supreme range is the female version of the popular men’s Fuji Altameira, and these are race ready bikes that are designed for speed and optimum power transfer. Starting with the 2.5, at £1,450, this bike has a carbon frame and Shimano Tiagra groupset.
The big sister of the Supreme family, the 1.3 road bike, comes in at £2,300 and is upgraded to use Shimano Ultegra groupset. All the bikes in this range use Fuji’s I-Beam (RIB technology) along the downtube and fork, using an extra slice of carbon to increased stiffness and provide a powerful ride.
The Fuji Finest bikes are lightweight, female specific aluminium road bikes that use a carbon fork to enhance comfort and performance, dropping the weight of the bike and dampening feedback on uneven roads. These bikes are designed to be a perfect first step into the world of road bikes, and they all use Shimano gearing, starting at £550.
If you’re looking for a fast racing road bike, or to take your first steps in to road cycling, Fuji have you covered. However, if you’re looking for more choice, it’s also worth checking out the full range, which includes popular models such as the Specialzed Dolce for entry level riders, and the Amira for those after a racy ride.
Whatever option you go for, we’ve got colleagues in all our stores who can help fit you on your bike – so pop in and take a look at the range.
Leader image: Marianne Vos of the Netherlands wins the sprint at the finish of the 77th edition of the ‘La Fleche Wallonne’ women’s cycling race, 205km from Binche to Huy, on April 17, 2013. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / ERIC LALMAND (Photo credit should read ERIC LALMAND/AFP/Getty Images)