Whether you’re buying a bike for the first time or you’re a seasoned cyclist who owns several, finding a bike that meets your needs and fits your body type is not a simple task. With an ever-evolving market and an array of choices, the more informed you are about the differences between bikes, the easier it will be to choose the one that fits you best.
One of the key considerations when buying a bike is whether to go for a men’s or women’s bike. Is the difference between men’s and women’s bikes real? What does it mean to buy a gender-specific bike?
Is There Really a Difference Between Male and Female Bikes or Is It Just Marketing?
At first glance, you might think there’s no real difference between bicycles for men and bicycles for women—that a bike for females is just part of some “shrink and pink” marketing ploy. However, a closer look reveals that women’s bikes are not just smaller and prettier versions of men’s, and there are key differences in the way these bikes are built.
Why Are Men’s and Women’s Bikes Different?
The main reason for gender-specific bikes is anatomical differences between men and women. For example, women tend to be shorter, with proportionally shorter torsos and longer legs than men. The distinctions between male and female bikes cater to these anatomical differences so the bikes can fit riders’ body dimensions well.
Men’s Bikes vs. Women’s Bikes
Bike stores have specific sections for men’s and women’s bikes in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Men’s bikes are generally larger. Some bikes are considered unisex, meaning that a taller-than-average woman might find riding a unisex bike easier than riding a women’s bike.
Here’s how these differences in gender-specific bikes play out on the various parts of a bike …
Women are typically smaller than men with overall shorter arms and legs. The bike frames are built to accommodate these distinctions. Bikes for females have smaller frames compared to men’s.
Top Tube Length
The top tube (if the bike has one) is shorter on a women’s bike compared to a men’s, because the average woman has a shorter torso and arms. The shorter top tube reduces the distance between the seat and the handlebars to allow female cyclists to reach the handlebars more easily from a seated position. On a typical men’s bike of the same size, the frame might seem too big for the average-sized woman.
Step-Through vs. Crossbar Frames
You may have wondered why some women’s bikes have a step-through frame whereas men’s have a mostly horizontal top tube (sometimes called a crossbar). This is one gender-specific feature of bikes that goes back to a time when ladies wore only long dresses and skirts. A horizontal crossbar would have forced them to lift their legs high in the air in an immodest manner. So bike manufacturers made a slanted crossbar that allowed ladies to mount and dismount without exposing their legs or underwear.
This feature remains on many bikes designed for women today. A commuter bike for females has a slanted crossbar to accommodate dresses and skirts.
Head and Seat Tube Angles
As we’ve said, women’s proportions tend to consist of more leg and less torso when compared to men. If bike manufacturers were to shorten the top tube of a women’s bike without otherwise modifying the frame, the toe and front wheel could come into conflict when biking. So the length and angle of the head tube at the front of a women’s bikes is increased to avoid this problem. This moves the front wheel forward and lengthens the wheelbase, which also stabilizes the bike. Because of the shorter top tube, a bike for females usually has its seat tube at a steeper angle as well.
Saddles are important to your comfort. An ill-fitting seat can put pressure on the most delicate parts of your body. For this reason, saddles are one of the significant differences between men’s and women’s bikes.
In women’s bikes, you will typically find shorter and wider saddles to fit the wider hip length of females, compared to long and narrow saddles on guy’s bikes. Women’s saddles also often feature a long hole or canal down the middle and a shorter nose. They are placed lower and more rearward to reduce the pressure on soft tissue. This design provides optimal sit-bone support for female riders.
Saddles come in a variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate diverse body types. For this reason, it is one of the easiest parts to replace on a bike.
You can find seat posts of many types and sizes, ranging from 3 to 16 inches in length. Seat posts are adjustable to suit the rider’s height, riding style, and terrain. Since women, on average, are shorter than men, seat posts are set relatively low on bikes for females. But women vary in height, and a seat post set too low can make riding difficult.
Handlebars and Grips
Women’s bikes tend to include a shorter and narrower handlebar to accommodate the female frame, with its narrower shoulder-to-shoulder width compared to males. Women’s handlebars are also placed a little higher to be more easily reached with shorter arms. Men’s bikes have wider handlebars that are positioned lower to cater to long arms and broad shoulders.
You will also notice a difference in the handle grips between men’s and women’s bikes. Men get wider grips that are set farther apart. This positioning allows for a stronger grip and better control over the bike. Women’s bikes have grips with reduced overall diameter to fit smaller hands.
Bikes tend to have the same setup for brakes and suspension, but those made for bigger cyclists can bear more compression. The brake levers are made smaller for female riders’ smaller hands, while men’s bikes have wider brakes for larger hands.
Crank Arm Length
The crank arm on which your pedals are mounted might look similar on all bicycles, but there is a difference. Men’s bikes have an average crank length of 6.7 inches, whereas women’s average 6.5 inches. This caters to the longer legs of men. Shorter crank length on women’s bikes enables them to reach the bottom of their pedal stroke without difficulty.
Can a Man Ride a Woman’s Bike and Vice Versa?
We come in all different sizes and shapes, regardless of our gender. Men can vary greatly in height depending on their genetics. A shorter guy with a smaller frame might find a woman’s bike shape a good fit. A taller woman might feel more comfortable riding a guy’s bike.
The bottom line is that if you end up owning a bike that’s not a good fit for your needs and your body, the discomfort will make your riding experience miserable. What truly matters is the bike fit.
Men’s and Women’s Bikes FAQ
Why Do Men’s Bicycles Have a Horizontal Crossbar and Women’s Don’t?
Horizontal crossbars are part of the standard bike frame that had to be modified for female riders who wore skirts and dresses. Step-through or angled frames helped women mount their bikes more easily.
If you have a women’s bike with no top tube and want to mount it to a car rack, you may have to buy an adapter bar to secure it properly.
What’s the Difference in Performance Between a Step-Through and a Crossbar Bike?
A step-through can make the bike frame weaker. Crossbars are usually horizontal because it makes the frame stronger. This is why you will often find horizontal crossbars on both men’s and women’s mountain bikes.
Image at top: © Geoffrey Franklin | Creative Commons