Finding your ideal bike can be a minefield. Trying to find the right specification, the right type, in the correct size and colour you like is enough to consider.
But once you’ve found the answers to those questions the industry then throws in one final conundrum: “Do I need a female-specific bike?” Evans Cycles‘ Technical Training Manager Toby Hockley is on hand to advise.
Challenging the status quo
For years the industry has made gender-specific bikes based on data from the general populace. Comparing some key physical differences between men and women, these were broad sweeping assumptions that suggested women aren’t as tall as men and have shorter torsos with longer arms and legs.
These generalisations were combined with stereotypical notions of femininity and the female-specific bicycle was produced in an array of pastel colours and floral prints.
Around 2008 one of the biggest cycling brands decided to question this information and proceeded to collect data from over 8,000 male and female cyclists through bike fits.
Do you need a women’s bike?
The results showed that proportionally there weren’t as many differences as once thought and that the only old-world data that was even close to being correct was that female cyclists are in general slightly shorter than the average male cyclist.
Most of the bigger manufacturers have already accommodated taller and shorter riders with proportional sizing by adjusting the specifications of a bike as they get larger or smaller.
To ensure it has the same handling and riding characteristics no matter the size, manufacturers can change the geometry of the frame, use wider or narrower handlebars or different length crank sets to compliment the rider.
These modifications are purely based on the height and therefore apply to any rider, resulting in a range of bikes that aren’t gender specific.
Since this research was carried out many brands have moved away from gender-specific bicycles, instead opting to have fewer bike models in a broader range of sizes and colour options, making them more appealing and accessible to a wider audience.
This also benefits the industry as they no longer have to produce as many bike models, risk over ordering and end up having to reduce the cost at the end of a season.
It also means that smaller shops who cannot hold as much stock no longer have to worry about the risk of not being able to sell female-specific models and can order more easily sellable stock for anyone who might want it. What’s more, it also benefits the rider, with more options of colour, spec and size.
It’s all in the detail
The one area where gender-specific data did show a significant difference was saddles. The anatomical differences between genders necessitate different approaches to saddle design due to different contact areas.
The same brand collected a lot of data from saddle fittings and worked closely with female professional cyclists to understand the issues they faced and how to reduce pressure, discomfort, and injury.
The data showed that females generally have wider sit bones than their male counterparts and the saddle cut out found on a lot of saddles might not be of benefit. Their research found that a softer, memory foam material towards the nose of the saddle could prevent discomfort.
This information helps to understand what, if any, different requirements there are for female cyclists in comparison to male cyclists when selecting a new bike.
The best thing any rider can do when looking for their next bike is to speak to a professional bike fitter. They’ll be able to use years of research and experience to recommend not only the correct bike size, but also how to set it up exactly to your unique body. Plus, they can explain which parts and accessories will help to improve your comfort and riding ability.
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