Women as Outcasts In Cycling Industry


One of the things I find most disappointing about the bike industry is how it just does not understand women.

For all the “women-specific” bikes (which are nothing more than men’s bikes with shorter stems and short-reach levers) there just isn’t enough of an understanding of a women’s cycling needs in the biz. Take any new-to-cycling woman or even an advanced amateur and throw them into a bike shop that carries a few women-specific frames and generally they come out more confused than satisfied.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that most of the local bike shops out there aren’t selling a custom fit, they’re selling a commodity. Carbon, steel, aluminum–the bikes on the rack are pre-ordered before a season starts and then they are offloaded before the end of the season. Women’s bikes just add to the SKUs that a bike store has to carry, which means that instead of being able to carry fewer models and then tweak the build for the customer shops buy the complete bikes and make fewer part swaps.

That adds an economy of scale to a bike shop but it removes the subtle configuration tweaks that individually address the needs of the customers. This is more like purchasing a car than a truly fit item. Imagine going into a store and picking your “size” for clothes and buying the complete wardrobe only in one size. Medium pants would mean medium shirts, size nine shoes and medium socks. What happens if you have big feet or a wide torso? Well you end up fitting your clothes like the Hulk fits his.

The second reason that women are underserved is a bit more difficult to address, it’s the de-facto stereotyping that occurs because most shop and industry folks are men. I love my wife, but there’s just no way I can ever understand exactly how she feels riding a saddle that presses on her sensitive woman parts.

For years my wife had tried various bikes in order to get a perfect fit. We tried women-specific models from the the big brands, and tried to tweak men’s frames. Finally exasperated we started working with Natalie at Sweetpea in order to get a perfectly fit bike. Flights to Portland for consultations and fittings, returning a year later to pick up the bike. Complete-process took more than eighteen months thanks to Natalie’s waiting list.

Natalie’s tried to address this backorder issue by outsourcing the welding of her most popular models to create a semi-custom build, which she fits with the same level of detail as her completely custom bikes. She’s just taken the sizes that most of her orders are for and made a frame that fits those dimensions, but at a lower price point and with a shorter turn around. But if the customer got that without Natalie’s individual attention to the needs of her clients, this wouldn’t be any better than buying a Cannondale or a Specialized from a shop that doesn’t pay attention. So you still end up having to go to a specialist to get a bike.

[Author note - I wrote the above paragraph and didn’t realize that the original published version sounded like Natalie’s outsourced bikes were a bad idea. I was actually trying to say that the process, since it’s still got her personal attention is a great idea, but it would not work for the large brands. I’ve edited the paragraph accordingly.]

Now my wife has a bike that fits perfectly, and it was worth the wait, but there shouldn’t be a wait. It’s only the better local bike stores that even bother to measure a customer. I can’t tell you how many bikes I’ve seen sold with nary more than a circle around the parking lot.

So maybe the problem is the industry’s business model. Volume over individual attention for all customers works when most people are buying bikes just to ride the mile to the grocery store, but not so good when someone’s planning to log big miles on their randoneur.

I’d like to suggest the idea that shops dedicate a person to be a custom fit guru, regardless of the gender of the client. Think of it like the Genius Bar, but about fit. You come in and this specific genius helps you from selection to delivery and the end product is a bike that fits you perfectly. Some shops do this already, but it would be great to see this everywhere. It’s the sort of thing that could elevate the experience of buying a bike from something analogous to shopping at Target to something like shopping at Nordstrom. And then maybe people wouldn’t have to fly across the globe just to get a bike that keeps their naughty bits from hurting.


it would be great to see this everywhere

I agree, but I’d say it’s really difficult to find a person that is not only a great bike fitter trained in the art/science of bike fit of all bike types, but that also has the kind of empathy to be welcoming and understanding for every shape, gender, and amount of expertise walking in through the door. Sometimes I think people are either born with empathy or they’re not—I’m not sure it’s possible to teach people to understand the needs of others.

The white elephant in the room is that over half the shops I walk into I walk out of because there’s a lame elitism vibe where the staff sizes you up based on appearance and doesn’t want to talk to you unless you resemble either a bike messenger or a pro cyclist. Me being tall and north of 200lbs, I guess I look like a casual cyclist there to argue about the price of a low-end MTB I’ll never ride.

This has been an issue at our house also.

When my wife decided to give cycling a try, it took us years to get her a bike that she felt comfortable on. My wife is about five feet tall, but has short legs and a long torso. The main problem has been she either gets the stand over height correct but the top tube is too short, or vice-versa.

In the end, the solution was taking her to the good folks at R+E Cycles in Seattle and having them build her a custom frame. That was a 90% solution, now she is getting the other details dialed in.

Speaking strictly in terms of bike fit, I think women getting into cycling and demanding (rightfully I might add) bikes that fit them comfortably has exposed a problem that has probably existed all along: bikes are built with a certain body geometry in mind and it’s on the user to make that work.

My assumption is that there is as much variations from man to man as there is from woman to woman. So, for example, if a builder puts a frame together that fits a statistically average man, it might also work for people within a standard deviation or so with minimal modification. People outside that range are just going to have to deal with it.

Big picture is I think builders learning how make bikes that fit women will be good for men too.

As a female cyclist, I mostly agree here.

However, from the retail side of things, this becomes extremely problematic.  I managed a bike shop (high volume, mid- to high-end bikes, emphasis on first time adult cyclists, budding commuters, and families) and we had great fitters and no one wanted to use the service.  I spent less time fitting, and more time advising women on saddles and other tweaks to give them the best possible fit based on what we had on the sales floor.  Not because I didn’t care, but because this is what’s reasonable.

Do I wish it would change? Sure!  I’m faced with this every day.  I now work as the public advice voice of Cycling Company You Have Heard Of.  I’m often asked if I’m the secretary and if they could be transferred to ask a technical question.  I get second looks at trade shows when I start to “talk shop” in our booth.  While I realize that my ovaries are clearly limiting (or something), it’s still a bit of a shock to get that reaction, after almost a decade in the industry.

That being said, I do think it’s changing.  Builders like Sweatpea and other custom builders can and do make bikes that make a difference.  I know great women who run great bike shops and businesses (Niki at Mobius in Seattle, and Jude at Epic Wheel Works in Portland to name two) who give me great hope for the direction of women’s VISIBILITY in cycling retail.  It’s the first step beyond shrink-it-and-pink-it.

As for volume sales vs. fitting sales?  Avoiding chain stores and seeking out smaller shops has been my advice to nearly everyone who asks me how to get the best shop experience.  If you’re a woman, find a female salesperson who knows their stuff.  (Hey shops, hire more smart ladies!)  Most of the time I’m just happy people are trying to get out on bikes.  My uncomfortable, broken, hand-me-down, rusted bike from 2000 put me where I am today.

Tory Grant at Old Town Bicycle in Tacoma is just such the “fit guru” you’re looking for.  He pays lots of attention to a person’s body type and how they ride a bike, making minute tweaks that make all the difference in the world.  I wouldn’t think of ever buying a bike again without getting fit by a pro like Tory.  (and yes, he fits women cyclists too)

I agree with other commenters - this is not a women’s cycling issue. This is a bicycle industry issue that affects men and women.  I think it is just more visible for women because so many of us are too short to even ride 80% of production bike models.  This situation will only get better when men demand better fits rather than buying whatever is on the floor.

I don’t see what the problem is. You apparently refused to get a fitting done by someone who specializes in it, then went around and tried a bunch of different bikes and hoped they would fit, and in the end you ended up having a custom frame made?

Plenty of bike shops offer what you want. But if you want to pay commodity prices, you will end up with a commodity product. Take the three points of her custom bike that fits her, and take a look around to see if you can find a stock bike that would have fit those points. Then you can find out whether you wasted a lot of extra money or not.

The idea of a WSD bike is more than a little controversial anyway - since a lot of fitters don’t believe it is necessary to have all that different of a geometry - rather it just takes smart choices in design for shorter people. And complaining about saddles? Kind of pointless since most stock saddles get replaced anyway - really manufacturers should just not even bother including one at retail.

Do you think Specialized is doing enough with their Body Geometry fitting which was mentioned in a previous posting?

Though a fitting from my local Specialized dealer costs up to $200, as you have found out, spending that much up front should be cheaper and quicker than purchasing and fitting bikes by trial and error.

As akatsuki indelicately pointed out, it doesn’t seem you made use of any kind of fitting at a shop. Even when I was working in a shop years ago, there were fitting systems: the generically named <a herf=“http://bikefitkit.com/>Fit Kit</a> and Serotta’s <a herf=”>size cycle</a>.

Yeah, they probably didn’t have any women-specific adjustments, but they did go off direct body measurements and so didn’t rely on “average” (male) body proportions.

@Atatsuki - I didn’t “refuse” to do anything. And we didn’t just “try a bunch of bikes and hope they would fit.”

We’ve had my wife fit by various fit systems, from Serotta to the laser-pointer-on-a-stick solution from Body Scanning. And I’ve got a very good relationship with the owner of my LBS, a good friend of mine, so I’m certainly atypical when it comes to the amount of attention I get and the leeway we have with bike use.

As to the “commodity prices” I don’t think I ever said we wanted to pay that. What I said was that there’s a problem in the industry that women don’t fit into the geometric norm of most bikes, and even many of the “women specific” models aren’t. They’re the same frame as the men’s frame with shims in the Ultegra shifters and 165 cranks and a 90 stem.

My wife has, over the years been on a Cannondale R800 (currently outfitted with a mix of DA and Ultegra) a Cannondale Synapse (with DA) which was completely just not able to be dialed in for her—though the person we sold it to is a woman with different proportions and she fits it fine—and a Litespeed classic (my old road bike) with changed up stem, saddle, cranks, etc to try to bring it into line.

Clearly if I went through the trouble of flying to Portland and getting a custom frame build, we’re not talking about commodity pricing here.

Also about this one — “The idea of a WSD bike is more than a little controversial anyway - since a lot of fitters don’t believe it is necessary to have all that different of a geometry - rather it just takes smart choices in design for shorter people. “

That’s precisely my point. There’s no such thing as one type of “shorter people.” My wife and I are the same height, 5’ 7”. For a woman she’s considered (IIRC) slightly above average, for a man I’m below average. So I’m short, she’s not? Her torso and my torso are differently proportioned but her torso and another 5’ 7” woman’s torso aren’t the same either.

And btw, I’m not saying that no shop has it right and I’m not saying that women are the only part of the cycling world that are sometimes suffering from a poor choice in bikes.

After nearly a decade in the board of my local bike club I’ve seen a LOT of people who are riding their new first-time bikes that are clearly wrong for them. I’ve seen a 5’6” guy on a 58cm road bike. I’ve seen a 250+ lb 6 footer with knee issues sold a fixie. and so on.

And really that’s the way the industry goes. It’s a volume business. Shops make shit margins so they largely go by volume. A $200 fitting on a $1200 bike doesn’t make sense, yet the customer buying a $1200 first time road bike needs that fit vastly more than a guy who has been riding forever and is on a $5000 high end frame.

When I hop on a fit system my bike is within a centimeter of the “right” setup in stem and just a tad more forward on seat position than ideal (I happen to feel more comfortable that way). And that’s just by being on the bike, because I’ve got a feeling for what works.

I don’t have a solution, and it’s not an insurmountable problem. It’s just something that my recent experience has brought up.

WSD is designed for petite women—women with legs have to get men’s bikes and then really short bars or shims in their shifters.

I think this may also be a case of big city vs small town. I bought my first MTB in Vancouver and ended up buying a bike that was far too heavy and the fit was mediocre. Definitely not a good way to encourage a new rider to the sport… My second MTB, which I’m still riding, I bought in a small town. The owner of the shop took the time to find out my riding style and steered me towards bikes that were a better fit for my body type. Then he had me take it for a decent test ride and compare it to another similar bike. He also took the time to see how the bike fit me to determine stand over height and whether or not the stem needed to be swapped out. The bike fits like a dream and it’s a WSD by one of the few companies that I feel really “gets it”, Specialized.

My beef… Why are WSD bikes a year behind? If I were to buy the same bike today, I would actually be buying the equivalent of the men’s 2009. Do we not qualify for the latest technology? The men’s version of the bike doesn’t fit me nearly as well and I know some men who ride WSD because of their body type so it’s not just us.

My other beef… What is up with the atrocious graphics some of the companies like to put on their WSD line?? Do they really think by putting some sort of hideous pink and purple design straight from 1987 on the bike that it’ll make it more appealing to us?

If you think finding a women’s road or mountain bike is hard, try finding a DH bike. I’m currently shopping for one and it’s been rather challenging… That will start a rant and it’s probably best that I don’t go there right now ;)

I would be very interested to see how this bike differs from other bikes in the industry.  Can you list the geometry for us?

Just something to consider when talking about WSD and top tube lengths:

often times I read or hear someone talking about shorter women finding bikes with top tubes designed for “long torso men”, completely forgetting the design restrictions when building bikes for the small end of the Bell curve.  it’s just plain difficult to make small bikes without resorting to smaller wheels or some other design compromise, especially if you add in fenders or suspension…


as far as why WSD bikes seem a year behind…well, you’re obviously talking about larger companies, not some niche custom builder, so why would you expect something different?  some high tech carbon flyer takes a LOT tooling, not like just simply mitering steel tubes a little different.  when a big company brings such a product to market, they need a big hit immediately.  maybe that means a lot of advertising, maybe that means sponsoring a pro tour team.  those companies are gonna want the WSD stuff to start strong on the coattails of the men’s versions, figuring that marketing dollar on men’s bikes might carry over on the WSD.  i don’t think you’ll find many companies willing to believe that WSD will drive sales of men’s bikes. 

it’s not a conspiracy, those big companies need to make an accurate sales forecast long before bikes actually hit the sales floor.  a lot of companies are gonna think it’s too risky to gear up for WSD concurrently when they aren’t sure that the sales will be there. 

for example, let’s say it takes $X to develop each size mold for company Z’s new carbon road bike for either men or women’s bikes. then let’s say that on average, each size of men’s bike outsells the WSD by at least 3:2 (plausible).  Then consider the amount of marketing dollar going into print and online media if one were to launch separate advertising campaigns for WSD and men’s. seems safer to lead off on the men’s bikes.

oh, but i agree that the graphics on WSD are hideous.

I’m sorry to keep harping on the point, but what exactly is the issue? Your wife has a difficult fit and it took a while to find a bike that fit her? LBSes discriminate against women by doing what exactly - not stocking every single geometry possible? Or not offering custom fits to everyone and spending lots of money on selling commodity bikes?

You are right that the beginner might need a fit more than the expert - although I really think the cyclist six months in is the one who needs it - after they’ve developed their flexibility and riding style. But I am still unclear as to where there is the discrimination against your wife.

Buying a bike that fits well should be easier than it is.

I built David’s wife’s custom Sweetpea. As much fun as I had working with the two of them and as fun as it was to craft a totally unique and personal bike, I share the disappointment that there simply weren’t other reasonable alternatives for her. I love designing and building bikes for women, but the custom process unfortunately signals to many women a prohibitive expense and wait.

There is an important distinction to be made, though, between getting a custom bike and getting a bike that fits beautifully. I have spent years studying the intersection of bike fit and design and have made the relationship between the bike and the body my primary concern.

Frankly, most custom bikes are custom sized rather than custom fit.  By this I mean that most custom builders will take some linear measurements from you body, plug them into a formula, and crank out a top tube and seat tube length.  This method has reliably produced most custom frames over the last hundred years, but was developed around male European racers.  Which most of us (especially women!) are not. You may get beautifully carved lugs and the exact color scheme you dreamed of, but there is a missed opportunity. My fitting process ensures that I understand more than an inseam, torso, and arm measurement. I look at flexibility, body mechanics, and all the nuances of the body in motion. When we arrive at a good riding position, I record the position of the body and then design the bike that supports it. I do this with all of my custom bike customers, male and female. It works.

Still, the number of women who get a custom fit bicycle is really really small in comparison to the number of women who need bikes that fit them better.  WSD is not the answer.  It is nothing more than a design gesture unless there is some kind of feedback loop between the bike companies that produce them and how the bikes actually suit the individual women who buy them from a local shop.

That’s why David’s Genius Bar idea is nothing short of genius.

David -

I think you hit upon the hidden redhead in the bike industry.  The issue is not just fitting, its the whole atmosphere and outlook of the bike industry.

More time than not you’ll have an employee that loves all things bikes but have little knowledge or training in proper customer service uses.  It is an on going issue that spirals and spirals.  From low margin retail sales, which equals less pay, which equals less trained and qualified, or bitter employees.  Than you talk about bike fitting, which takes knowledge, schooling and a good amount of experience. All of these things, in any other industry, would be paid top dollar but in the bike industry is taken as free breadcrumbs given out on the bike sales floor.

There is no answer for it, it needs to start from the bike shop up and the bike industry down.  Being held accountable for actions and the industry needing to change, make more money and sell better service.

www.BikeShopGirl.com <- I touch on the subject weekly.

I own a custom-built bike and a custom-fit bike (plus the usual assortment of off-the-rack bikes I built or dialled in myself, for good or bad). I’ve been told I have a strange body shape, although I’d describe it as simply “short.” If you’re outside a certain normative body shape it’s hard to get a good-fitting bike, period.

When I hear that Portland builders have a wait list I think there’s a couple of problems.

One is purely supply/demand: there should be more builders here, and/or custom bikes are not expensive enough.

But I think there’s a big market for “custom-ish” bikes. Most of the Sevens you see are production frames, that’s a clue right there: people are buying the Seven brand but foregoing the Seven custom sizing. It’d be cool if someone would bring the Seven online customization experience to the Real World, if there were a shop I could walk into and they had a menu of frames + customizations. The Genius Bar, I guess.

I bought my custom frame in 2004 b/c I literally didn’t know it was possible to get a great fit with a production frame. I was just used to getting treated like that at bike shops: “we’ll size the seatpost & stem, and then you’re on your own, bub.” I figured that was the most “custom” experience I could get at a bike shopt. Coincidentally I was building up my commuter from scratch at the time, I just couldn’t see an alternative. (They were there but I didn’t know about them.)

Fittings cost extra, swapping out saddles cost extra, anything “custom” cost extra. To get a really dialled bike you have to do all the legwork: get it fit, pick the frame, parts etc. But that implies you’re a “genius” yourself, Lord knows I’m not. Or you pay a shop a premium to do it for you.

This is absolutely not true. If this were the case, then it would make no sense to offer road bikes in 58cm and mtbs in 17.5.

Sorry, I thought it would place my previous comment with the comment I was commenting on. I was replying to DL Byron’s notion that women’s bikes are just for petite women. They aren’t.

Anyhoo…Let me just clarify that WSD is a brand-specific term for Trek’s Women’s Specific Design. It has become like Kleenex and Xerox, but it’s not a generic term to describe all things for women in the world of bikes.

My thoughts have been expressed by other commenters, but here’s what I’d like to see:

-Stop perpetuating the myth that women typically have longer legs and shorter torsos. Find me some research that substantiates this. Please. I beg you. Can’t find it? Yup, I can’t either. That’s because it isn’t true. As Mr. Schloss so adeptly pointed out, we all come in a variety of shapes and sizes. So whoever ‘they’ are that decided that women more often than not have one type of proportionality vs. men needs to be taken out to a rack and stretched for a little while. Just for fun, like…

What does differ between men and women is pelvic structure, and hence center of gravity placement. It is for this reason that fitting women to bikes is often not the same process as men, and it is for this reason that geometry changes to frames are usually made (take the pressure off the lower back)

-Start analyzing the fit of the rider, not the gender. I used to hate the notion of ‘pink and shrink’. But, I have realize that sometimes just changing the contact points is all the rider actually needs. For a more experienced female rider, a shorter top tube might not be the answer, but narrower bars and more anatomical saddle might be. Different strokes for different folks.

-Customer service. Please for the love of all that is Fixie, can shops please start educating their staff on basic communication skills!?

There is no one simple solution to making bikes fit women better. There are many solutions, and many ways to find those solutions. It’s up to the shops to devote the time and effort, though.

That’s ok and I’m happy to be proven wrong—my wife is the example I use. She is the mythical *long-legged short-torso*, racer that rides a mens frame (54) with a short stem and short-reach bars with shims. Having ridden thousands of miles with her and racing each weekend, I can assure you she exists.

@Punkass said:

“Stop perpetuating the myth that women typically have longer legs and shorter torsos.”

First of all, D.L. didn’t say that. He said that women who *fit that description* don’t fit the women’s frames.

It’s not that WSD frames don’t come in large sizes. It’s that no matter what the size, the top tube is generally shorter than on a men’s frame. Therefore, as a non-mythical woman-with-long-legs-for-my-torso, I found the top tubes on WSD bikes to be categorically too short.

Guess what I’m riding? A men’s Trek 52cm with a shorter stem and shims in the brakes.


P.S. D.L. where’s my hoodie? :)

There’s definitely a disconnect here as women’s fit manufactures think they have this problem solved, I think.

Sorry again, I wasn’t directing the entirety of my comment to DL, just the part about the petite issue. I wasn’t accusing you of saying the myth part. That was a separate comment.

Let me also clarify that I wasn’t suggesting that women with the long leg/short torso combo are a myth, I was suggesting that the notion that this is how the majority of women are built vs. men is a myth. Of course there are women with long legs and short torsos. There are also plenty of men with this combination. There are lots of vice versas, as well. That was why I made the point about fitting the rider, not the gender.

Apologies if it seemed like I was coming at you there, DL. It was most certainly not my intention.

We’re good. I didn’t take it as anything more than a comment—we keep it upbeat and friendly here and you’ve got good points.

Ok, just making sure. I didn’t want to come off as a pompous jerkifile, or anything. I live for upbeat and friendly.

After spending many years poorly fit on bikes, I have had to go through a process of physical therapy and bike fit by a very skilled PT, Beth the founder of www.TrueBalanceTraining.com.

I have never ridden a women’s specific design bike, since I am 5’10” and prefer to ride/race with Dura Ace. I ended up being fit poorly on bikes in the past due to broad assumptions being made without specific attention being paid to my A. Actual length of torso, shoulders, arms, etc, B. My strength and flexibility. I think for women, a lot of the experts we seek out may not have the best knowledge of how these variables are different for women and make the same assumptions as for their male clients.

In general, anyone regardless of gender should seek out advice from someone able to help them with their specific needs and to keep in mind that how you fit on a bike will evolve over time if you are riding more or less, working on strength and flexibility for the bike.

The biggest problem with fitting women on road bikes is wheel size.  Its just impossible to build a frame with 700c wheels for smaller people (not just women) without compromising quite a lot.  But unfortunately there is not enough choice of tyres and rims in a smaller size.

I don’t think the problem is really with bikeshops as we can only sell what is available.  But the low margins throughout the industry and the price driven mentality of the majority of customers prevents us from being able to offer what people really need.

Take womens clothing for example.  On the high street the shops that really understand how to retail womens clothing wouldn’t be able to do it on the ridiculously low margins we have in the cycle industry.

The internet is slowly strangling good service, as more and more shops are forced down the stack it high, sell it cheap route.

Ellis Briggs

Punkass and Natalie made some great comments. It is all about the geometry of the different body shapes. Custom bike builders get it, and I think some of the bigger guys get it too. Maybe the term “women’s specific” needs to be taken out of the marketing and have it called something else? Or perhaps there needs to be 3 styles of bike? IE: Bikes made for long legs/short torso, bikes for short legs/long torso and bikes for average legs/average torso (whatever that is).

However, I will admit that I’m the stereotypical body type that women’s designs are made for at 5’3”. It’s also the reason I have such a hard time finding a decent fitting bike. The geometry of my women’s specific mountain bike was enough to make it the most comfortable bike I own and for me, that’s enough for brand loyalty. I know I can buy their bikes and have a comfortable ride. I can’t say the same about my road bike, which is a men’s 48cm (and a different brand). The stand over height is perfect, but I’m too stretched out. I’ve had a proper fitting, swapped the stem for a shorter one, shims, etc and it still doesn’t feel right. I’ve been test riding a lot of road bikes recently, both men’s and women’s, and I know that I’ll be able to buy “off the shelf”. I also have a bike in mind but have decided to make do with what I have since my priority is finding a good downhill bike. And with my body size/shape, it’s definitely a challenge. I know I’ll have to compromise somewhere.

I think the way I described it to a friend last night sums it up best. Bikes are like jeans, you have try several on before you find something that fits.

Mark V - I should’ve been more specific. I understand there’s alot that goes into new frame designs and not all are practical to roll out to every type of bike (esp if the new design flops), I was more referring to the components. Some companies are notorious for putting lower end components on the women’s specific bikes. I’ve also seem some put the latest and greatest components on the men’s version but leave the women’s version with what was great last year and price them the same. If I wanted to upgrade to the latest and greatest, I’d end up paying more than what I would have paid if I’d gone with the men’s version.

@Paul - first of all, I love when anyone uses the phrase “high street” on our site. Really ups our class level just by having that Britishism.

Just a quick note, and I think this is part of the issue…

“The biggest problem with fitting women on road bikes is wheel size. Its just impossible to build a frame with 700c wheels for smaller people (not just women) without compromising quite a lot. But unfortunately there is not enough choice of tyres and rims in a smaller size.”

That’s true, but my wife (and Byron’s wife) aren’t smaller. My wife’s a touch taller than I am. But “women” specific bikes are really “short body type” bikes.

I don’t think this is a female problem - I think this is a problem of humans being particular and individual creatures despite mostly fitting into outwardly similar physiological trends.

There is a fair amount of biomechanical data on what makes a good bike, at least from an efficiency standpoint (better power transfer, lower exertion, etc).  There is also the entire field of Anthropometrics which has fairly rigorously characterized various populations in terms of parameters of the body:


(just as a primer, I haven’t delved into all the details but I suspect the truth of if women are on average differently proportioned is somewhere in there).

My contention is actually pretty simple - the bike industry (both manufacturers and point of sale establishments) is perfectly content with “good enough” as established by a century of practical experience turned into systems of rules and guidelines and isn’t really all that in touch with ergonomic design (ie the biomechanics or the anthropometrics) in a truely rigorous sense - the comments of taking a bunch of linear measurements and plugging it into a frame design formula ring true to that statement.

There are other issues at work here too - women specific is a commercialization/marketing technique IMO much more than it is a specialist design philosophy, and women are often treated as near mythological creatures for some silly reason.

As for the comments of the latest technology being hard to put into a niche, I think you’re deluding yourselves to the design/manufacturing side of the bike industry (especially vis a vis how much actually changes from year to year and what they means in terms of tooling/moulding expenses) - not surprising given the great pains the industry has gone through to protect the mystique of their little corner of the composites industry.


well, i don’t have any specific examples about bad spec’ing on WSD (i’m gonna keep saying WSD because i’m lazy and because the marketing term is useful), but the overwhelming reason to not market women’s bikes with the very best is that the companies are afraid that the units won’t move and then they’d be stuck with last year’s high-end parts.  however, some companies like Orbea and allow you some degree of individual choice FROM THE IMPORTER in selecting components of their mid- and high-end bikes…so the LBS has every opportunity and motivation to get you what you want.  it’s a nice bridge between building up a la carte framesets and buying regular “boxed bikes”.

I’m just starting to think I want to bike, though I am really a newbie ( I mean I know how to ride a bikem but that’s about it). I have a feeling I’ve probably never had a bike that fit properly, just judging from my experience eventually getting equipment right in other sports and knowing when something feels good and right and when it doesn’t.

I first want to say I’m really impressed at the number of men here who see this as an issue and care. I’ played ice hockey in “men’s gear for years etc and in none of the many other sports did I encounter men who cared about the stuff working out for women so much (maybe this has something to do with biking I don’t get yet).

So David I am that female newbie who’s wandered, mystified, in a few shops. We’ve got a bike a family member sent to us and an old low-level Bianchi something or other that needs air.

What is the first thing I do to know what I have to pay attention to to know if ia bike fits me ? What can i do to these bikes so they work best for me?

(and I do understand many of you are probably talking about custom bike fit for serious riders which i couldn’t possibly qualify as yet)

Hi all

I came across this site whilst looking for articles on women and cycling.  I’m from/in the UK and one of those short women at 4’11.  Since taking up cycling 5 years ago, it’s been an education finding out about bike sizes.

I’d actually written a long missive about my bike size experiences but scrapped it. I just wanted to say that courtesy of a bike fit where the wife of the bikefit duo is a shrimp like myself, I have a better idea of what to look out for for my next bike (roadie), but it’s taken me 5 years, 3 bikes and an £80 fitting.  I guess the best thing would be to get a custom designed/fit bike but that is way beyond my current budget.

This whole situation reminds me of the years spent turning up trousers/cutting them until shops brought out ‘petite’ ranges - lol.  I also think bikes with 650c wheels as point of purchase standard would suit me better but they are very thin on the ground I’ve been told.

David I tend to see some fault with the discussion of the entire industry. For some reason, you seem to believe that a person is married to a particular bike shop. If you walk into a shop and do not get the service you want, go to another one. The bike industry is not full of Neanderthals that do not understand or know how to talk to women. Go to a shop that has women on staff, find one that employs folks with the training, knowledge and expertise to handle all comers but don’t complain about that coming with a price.
If you sent folks out on bikes with only a simple seat adjust, then you are part of the problem. Shops that do that are living in the past.
I also think that your idea that all companies are just shrinking it and pinking it still is a bit behind the times. There are brands that are going beyond shorter stems and shims in the levers, but those are not examples of poor fit or inattention to the woman’s needs, those solutions work without adding great expense to the MSRP of the bike. And lets face it, the average consumer looks at the MSRP way before the idea of fit even becomes an issue.
I am not blind to the fact that there are shops that do not do right by their customers or reach out to smaller segments, but you need to be willing to find the shops that do that. Consulting places like BRAIN or a local bike club will help. There is tons of work to be done to include the female and other under-served portions of the industry, but they do not happen over night.
I have worked in two of the top 100 shops in the country and I feel what brought us to that level was the service, reputation and experience. We would not steer someone wrong just to make the sale. Both shops are states apart, but the same applies to both shops. Hire good people, pay them well, run a professional organization and respect your user groups.

Memo to bike companies: some women racers want to race on what Cancellara races on or Levi or Lance, and sized for them with DA or SRAM Red. Show us where that exists? It’‘s almost sexist the approach to women’s performance bicycles. There are no women’s versions of high-end, sports-marketed frames. We’d like to be proven wrong if there are.

Heather, a lot of beginning riders will accept a bike that they can stand over and kind of reach the brakes. But I think everyone - and I would argue especially newbies! - should be able to ride pain-free. That means you shouldn’t accept saddle pain, shoulder/neck issues, hand numbness, etc.

My recommendation is to work the price of a bike fitting into your bike buying budget.  I think it is far smarter to trade off some bike part fanciness for an overall setup that is comfortable to ride. You can always upgrade the little stuff later.

A professional fitting may cost you $125 and a new saddle, stem, handlebars, etc to make the bike fit you may cost another couple hundred.

My other piece of advice is this: Instead of trying to identify particular attributes of a bicycle that will work well for you, find the right shop. You need a shop where you feel comfortable asking questions and that understands the value of (and can perform) a professional fitting for all kinds of riders.

When I was studying bike fit, the first fitting I observed was for a woman with a 1980s Trek with a half-drunk kombucha in the water bottle cage. She wasn’t looking to improve a time trial position, simply to make the bike that she rode everyday more of a pleasure to ride.

I’m just excited to see such a good thread that uses the term “punkass” so many times!  Woohoo! ;)

Thanks Natalie,I really appreciate it! (Btw, any shop you might recommend in NYC?)

@surly - good points, but not everyone can go to multiple shops to find one that is right for them. First, not every area has multiple shops. There are three in my immediate area, any others are 20-30 minutes of driving from here and I’m in a major suburb of NYC.

In a more rural area there are often fewer choices.

In many places the shop with the best attitudes don’t have the bikes that fit well for the customer. One of our shops is ONLY Trek. One was a Specialized concept store when it opened but now has Giant and several other lines. The third is Cannondale, Scott and Cervelo.

That sounds like a ton, but none of them stock the highest-end of the woman’s bikes. so if someone wants to try out the Ruby or Amira in Specialized there isn’t a DA spec’d bike there.

I don’t think shop guys are neanderthals, I just think that many shops have the type of attitude that’s really a put-off to women.

@Andrew Martin

It’s not a term, it’s a lifestyle. ;~)

As a woman, I reject the notion that we’re so delicate.  Admittedly, I’m a little angst-y right now because I’ve come across multiple articles/forums recently discussing women on bikes and treating us as some sort of special cause (“let’s remove the ‘fear’ surrounding riding bikes” Please).  Anyway, a few points:

- How “dialed” does something need to be to just get out and ride around town? My everyday commuter is one I bought for 40 bucks from a friend.  I adjusted the seat height, and I’ve now been commuting on it for 5 years.  Let’s not make things so hard.

- Now, certainly a road bike or mountain bike needs a little more attention.  But, don’t expect something to fit well if you don’t/can’t try multiple brands with different geometries and don’t invest in a proper fitting.  To be fair, a couple years ago, I was complaining about the lack of women’s bikes too (esp. for those of us on the tall end).  In fact, I ended up buying a men’s bike because I was too tall for the women specific designs.  But manufacturers have made great strides in the last couple years.

- To the ones commenting about Dura Ace componentry: Really, you can’t test ride the frame you want with Ultegra and have the shop upgrade for you?  Expecting a bike shop to have every frame/component combo ready for you to try is setting yourself up for disappointment.

- A lot of the comments here aren’t pointing at an issue with manufacturers, but, rather, the bike shops (lack of options, lack of women-specific inventory, elitist attitude, etc).  Ideally, don’t patronize the ones that suck.  I understand that’s easy to say for someone who happens to live in a town with multiple good options.  (And bike shops being elitist is not a women-specific issue. It’s an issue for everyone. And a topic that has been hashed out in many, many venues.)

A plug:

- I’m incredibly impressed with what Specialized is doing for their women’s line.  I recently upgraded to a Ruby Expert and immediately knew the Ruby line’s frame was the one for me.  I still invested in a fit from a good bike fitter.  I also know women who swear by their Ruby saddle.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that their colors also don’t suck (they have red and magenta, not just pink and powder blue).

In conclusion, I really think it’s a numbers game (as suburbanX touched on).  People’s bodies being different is not a new problem.  Thus why some guys ride only Specialized and others swear by Bianchi or Cervelo.  The same goes for women - we can’t expect a single manufacturer’s bikes to fit all of us.  Sure, this was a problem when we had very few options.  But with so many manufacturers stepping up their women-specific game (including Trek, Specialized, Giant, and Felt to name a couple) we have less and less room for complaint.

Has anyone actually got any sort of substantiation that WSD frames bring anything to the table?

From a cursory look it really seems to me that any given WSD framset is very close in geometry to one or two sizes smaller in the male frameset.

ie a WSD 54 is close to a 51-52, or a WSD 57 is close to a 54 or a 55 if it exists.

The 1-2 cm in variation are IMO something that can easily be accomodated via seatpost, saddle and stem adjustments just like men do when they fall between optimum of one size or another.

Heather - In NYC go to Gotham Bikes, ask for Eric (the store manager) and tell him that David sent you. :)

I also really like NYC Velo.

For those readers just coming into this comment thread, also see, [it’s women’s fault](http://bikehugger.com/2010/05/its-womens-fault.html)

Thanks David, I will.

And Natalie, in my personal case: I’m not afraid or delicate or interested in making things complicated, just new and not interested in getting screwed over just as I wouldn’t with a car mechanic who might take advantage of my lack of understanding.

Hi all,

We just wanted to chime in on the captivating discussion that’s been going on here. We’re a group of women at Specialized Bicycles who have, like you, come across a lot of the same issues presented in this post. We wanted to let everyone know we’re here and we’re listening to all of your invaluable feedback. We’re doing a lot but we know there’s room to learn and to grow. We just had a great chat with David and Byron about the challenges in our industry but we are optimistic in setting into motion impactful improvements in elevating women’s cycling.  You’l hear from us again soon regarding what we’re all about and where we’re headed.

Connect with us anytime @specializedwmn on Twitter.

Rachael Lambert, Women’s Brand Manager; Amy Shreve, Women’s Brand Specialist and Alli Eddy, SBCU.

re: “Women Specific Design” or “Pink and shrink” ~

I’m a guy with (I’m told) a short torso and long legs (for my height). I’m also probably the height of the average American woman, about 5’6”. (But I also have a 40” chest and weigh 160#!) Conversely my wife, at 5’10”, has almost the same inseam as me. Her reach is 3 or 4” longer; she can ride my bikes (a little cramped natch) but I can’t ride hers.

I’ve tried some “WSD” bikes and the only adjustments they’d need to be suitable for me are wider bars and a narrower saddle.

That and a fresh paint job.

“Women” specific design bikes would have wider currency if they weren’t kinda Barbie’d up. Actually it isn’t even the paint job so much as the name ~ maybe it’s sexist or insecure on my part but I’d feel kind of funny buying a “women’s specific” bike.

I’m sure there’s some marketing logic at work here, being really loud-and-proud with the womany stuff, and I’m sure it’s net-profitable. I’m sure manufacturers have calculated how many sales they lose with that label vs. how many they gain.

I can’t fault a company for wanting to make money, but it underlines rather than erases the lines in the sand. Girl Power vs. the Old Boys’ Club. Even Specialized, who “gets it,” reinforces that stereotype: if you need to be treated “special” you must be a woman; otherwise the default state is “unisex.” Heck even Natalie positions her products this way.

How about, instead of WSD, we had YSD: You-Specific Design?

All this said, I’m not a woman, so maybe there’s something liberating about being treated special, or not admitting men into the club? Help me out here.

I should clarify how I position my products.  My custom bikes don’t have a women’s fit.  They have a fit and design specific to the rider, man or woman. My male customers are as evangelical as my female customers about the difference between their Sweetpeas and any other bike they’ve ridden. Hot dang, that makes me sound cocky :)

But the magic isn’t in the steel, its in the resolve to build a bike for one specific, quirky-awesome body rather than a set of assumptions.

Here’s the thing. I do firmly believe that women as a group have more to gain then men by a fresh look at fit.  They defaults of the industry still favor the fellas.

Women are outcasts in the bike industry because too many of them don’t see mechanics or salespeople who look like them in bike shops.
This is what my smart, beautiful, and admittedly rather zaftig spouse tells me. And I believe her, because I don’t see them much either.

I suggest when bike shops start hiring more women, especially women with a touch of middle-aged spread, naturally grey hair and perhaps some crow’s feet; and those women start talking about how fun it is to ride a bike, PERIOD—without going into all the lycra-tech-gobbledygook—then perhaps more women will want to visit bike shops. And if enough of them do that and start demanding womens-fit bikes, perhaps the industry may finally take notice.

Related to the topic of bicycle fit is bicycle type.  There’s way too little choice in components.  Shops won’t swap components from “pre-built” generic bikes.

When I bought my Marin MTB 9 yrs ago, I complained about the pain in my wrists caused by the wide flat handlebars. The bikeshop clerk said that they were the best design, that there was no better and that my wrists would “adjust”. 9 yrs later, they still bother me and my wrists “adjusted” by getting tendonitis. Also, I don’t think the bike has ever fit me properly - it really hurts on longer (e.g. 20 miles - I’m not a bike jock) rides. 

I’ve looked at all kinds of handlebars, but nothing fits so well as the classic rams-horn drops, which I had on my old classic Raleigh touring bike.

Local bike shops noted that because MTB brake types go with flat bar brake handles (same inflexibility in derailleurs), it would be >$400 in components just to switch handlebars! I’ve also realized that the shock-absorbing forks involve a lot of extra weight that I don’t use because I don’t ride single-track. So, I began to think about switching bikes (I don’t have room to store lots of bikes).  Problem is, I bike commute daily and most of my recreational rides involve both paved and dirt fire road, so the narrow tires on a road bike are a no-go.  I thought, all MTBs have flat bars, all RBs have narrow tires, MTB components can’t be adapted to drop bars.  What to do?

Last year a friend turned me on to Cyclocross:a MTB with drop handlebars!  He called it a “hybrid with drop bars and good components”. I also like the idea of a top-tube designed for carrying the bike - great for negotiating four flights of stairs to BART.

I was thrilled until I started trying to find one in my size.  I’ve tried riding several too-large frames at two local shops, but can’t get a shop to order a frame in my size, presumably because it might be difficult to sell if I don’t buy it and they probably don’t think I’m serious.  True, I’m not planning to race. I just want a wide-tired, not-heavy, well-outfitted bike with handlebars that don’t jeopardize my wrists,  and I want the frame to have braze-ons for water cage and rear rack.  In addition to my idiosyncratic taste in bike components, I suspect that sexism and ageism are also factors:  I’m female, 55 and my hair is beyond salt-n-pepper. I’m in good physical condition, although less flexible than most 20-yr-olds.  I’ve started thinking seriously about getting a custom-made frame and building it up from there, but I’ll be reluctant to lock that up at work every day.  Any advice?

Advertise here

About this Entry

It’s Springtime was the previous entry in this blog.

The Derailleur (ler) is the next one.

Find more recent content on our home page and archives.

About Bike Hugger