Women Bike: what are women-specific products?

As women, there are a lot of topics relating to cycling comfort which are either not frequently talked about or just too embarrassing to ask a male salesperson at the local bike shop. Topics like: “I’m hurting down there” or “Do you have any tips about riding while menstruating?” or “Why can’t I find cycling clothes that fit?” You get the idea: personal, women-specific and potentially awkward to explain. We’ll do our best in addressing these topics here.

It’s December. The time of year when a lot of us start dreaming of all the bike gear we’d wish to find beneath the Christmas tree. New shoes? A new rain coat? Maybe even a new wheelset or, if you’ve been very good this year, a new bike.

But as you start browsing at your local bike shops or on your favorite online sites, the sheer number of products can be overwhelming. There are numerous brands to consider, sizing is always a guess and if you’re a woman, do you look at the women-specific products or to stick with the unisex (read: male-sized) products? What does women-specific even mean? 

Well, we reached out to the world’s leader in women’s cycling products – Specialized Bikes and Liv (Giant’s women’s line) – to get you the answers.

Let’s start with bikes designed for women.

“At Specialized, we make women’s bikes based on two key criteria: fit and experience. Our bikes have unique geometries that are designed for the average female rider and the ways she rides,” said Keely Shannon, Women’s Product Marketing Specialist at Specialized Bicycles.

Shannon explained that key geometric features of a women-specific bikes include a lower standover height, taller stack and an optimized reach. On mountain bikes, a custom-tuned suspension also plays a big part.

“Aside from optimized geometry and suspension, our women’s bikes come with contact points that better meet the needs of female riders – i.e saddles, cranks, handlebars, grips, etc,” said Shannon. “Body Geometry Fit data is collected from female riders from all over the world and poured into the development of our bikes to ensure our geometries and specs are the most accurate they can be.”

At Liv the approach is similar.

“We design our bikes from the ground up using global body dimension studies – our design philosophy is called 3F: Fit, Form, Function. We de- sign our bikes with a functional goal in mind and work to position women in a comfortable and efficient position on any Liv bike,” said Janette Sherman, marketing manager at Liv US.

So the “shrink it and pink” days of women’s bike gear are over?

“For Liv, absolutely! But I am personally biased because while I didn’t like pink when I was a girl, I love it now. So sure, we use pink but we don’t just shrink. We use real data to make bikes the perform better for women and our results show it,” said Sherman. “Notice that the women who won the World Cup in Road (Pauline Ferrand Prevot) and in Mountain Biking XC (Jolanda Neff) were both on Liv bikes. Results don’t lie.”

The ‘shrink it and pink it’ phrase is “dated and not accurate,” added Shannon. “We make the best bikes for fit and experience for every rider, period. Luckily, the industry is waking up to the larger numbers of women rid- ing now,” she said. “Women’s-specific products are the most out-of-the-box ready for a typical female rider. Many women who buy men’s bikes have to purchase shorter stems, different saddles, narrower handlebars, shorter cranks, etc – all this and their fit still isn’t perfect.”

If there's one item women should buy that is women-specific, what would that be?

“Honestly, the saddle. I would say saddle discomfort is among one of the top three reasons women decide to not pursue cycling,” said Sherman. “Work with your local retailer to get a saddle that works best for you.”

Shannon agreed that saddles are a pain point for many women and shouldn’t have to be.

“But if I were to suggest one it would definitely be the frame,” stated Shan- non. “None of the other products will feel as good if you’re not comfortable and happy with the fit of your bike.”

Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. We’re happy to help! Please continue to email me your questions at amrook@cascadebicycleclub.org and I’ll answer them anonymously.

Read previous columns, here!