Most of the major bike brands produce a range of women’s specific bikes covering cycling styles from commuting to road racing and mountain biking. However, the approach that brands take to their women’s bikes varies widely and is currently undergoing significant change.
Make it pink
Up until the 1990s most women’s bikes had a basket on the front and were designed for a leisurely trip to the shops. Any women who wanted to do more adventurous riding had to buy a men’s bike and do what they could to adapt it.
Starting in the late 1990s the big bike brands like Trek and Specialized started to introduce women’s specific mountain bikes and road bikes designed for more serious use. For the first time it was possible for a woman to walk into a bike shop and have a choice of performance bikes specifically designed for them.
Exactly how far the ‘design’ process in ‘women’s specific design’ went varied a lot between different brands. However, as the women’s market evolved it was generally accepted that a women’s bike would follow a few basic rules:
- Women are generally shorter than men and on average have longer legs, shorter torsos and smaller hands so bikes needed to change to fit this.
- Women’s specific frames are made in smaller sizes and are made shorter to suit women’s generally shorter torsos.
- As well as having shorter torsos women generally have narrower shoulders than men so handlebars on women’s bikes tend to be narrower as well.
- Smaller grips and shorter reach brake levers are fitted to accommodate women’s generally smaller hands.
- A women’s specific saddle is fitted.
- The bikes gets painted a nice pastel colour (usually with a bit of pink on it).
A New Approach to Women’s Specific Bikes
Trek were one of the early adopters of women’s specific bikes and developed a line of women’s road, mountain and commuting bikes. However, for 2018 they have dropped their women’s only bikes and are making versions of their men’s bikes which have been customised for female riders instead.
As the women’s cycling market is still smaller than the men’s market the range of women’s specific bikes has always been a bit limited. By customising their men’s bikes to suit women rather than developing a whole separate range Trek are able to give women a greater choice of bikes and a greater choice of specifications. The 2018 Trek women’s bikes still have women’s specific saddles, handlebars, frame sizes and paint jobs but Trek are not trying to re-invent the wheel by developing whole new bike ranges from the ground up.
Whyte are also taking a similar approach for 2018. Instead of doing women’s only bikes they are doing versions of their bikes which come with a ‘compact’ frame. The compact Whyte bikes come in smaller frame sizes and have a shorter reach on them meaning they will suit a lot of women but will also suit teenagers and shorter men. As with the Trek bikes it means that women can get the same spec bikes as men but in smaller frame sizes and with tweaked geometry.
Cycle brands have invested a lot of money in developing their women’s ranges in the last 10 years so moving away from them is a brave move. It will be interesting to see if any more big brands follow this new approach to women’s bikes.