As mountain biking has become more widepread, with female racing stars bringing attention to the sport, manufacturers have realized "there's money to be made in women-specific bikes and componentry," writes veteran cycling journalist Steve Worland in "The Mountain Bike Book." Cannondale, Trek, Gary Fisher, Specialized and other market leaders offer serious bikes for the female mountain biker, with products suitable for the amateur rider and competitive rider alike.
In the 1980s, female frame builders Isla Rowntree and Georgena Terry appropriated bike-building technology to make the original women-specific bike frames, according to technology professor Ron Eglash in "Appropriating Technology." Circa 2002, leading bicycle manufacturers began to realize, "Hey, half of humanity is female," note cycling authors Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack in "Mastering Mountain Bike Skills." Women-specific designs came into vogue for mountain bikes. While some companies just took existing men's bikes and made them smaller and in ostensibly girly colors, shrewder companies created bikes with performance advantages for women, according to Lopes and McCormack.
A woman-specific-design, or WSD, mountain bike features identical components to the men's version but different geometry, which might suit smaller men as well. A woman's mountain bike has shorter top tubes to accommodate the relatively shorter torsos and longer legs of women. WDS bikes have lower stand-over heights--the distance between the top tube and the crotch--to account for the shorter overall height of women, and lighter and thinner tubes. This differing geometry creates a balanced riding position and better control over the front of the mountain bike, according to Worland.
Women's mountain-bike saddles are wider to fit women's more widely set ischial or sit-bones. Handlebar grips are smaller in diameter to fit smaller hands. Lopes and McCormack recommend that men also look into low-profile grips because they are easier to grasp. The suspensions are sprung and damped for a lighter-weight rider to avoid unnecessary road bumps. According to "Bicycling" magazine, you should find a shop with a selection of women's models and test-ride them, going fast, braking hard, sitting up. "Chances are you'll feel more in control on the women's bike," according to the magazine.
As with road bikes for women, mountain bikes come with narrower handlebars to better align with women's narrower shoulders. Stems are shorter to improve handling, and brake levers are smaller to provide control and ease stress. Cranks ideally are downsized to 165 mm for shorter women versus the 175 mm found on medium-size bikes, so women don't need to rock their hips to get a full extension on the downward pedal stroke.
The woman's saddle on a mountain bike is one if its best comfort enhancers, according to Worland. Such saddles are not only wider to accommodate the female pelvic girdle but shorter in the nose. They may feature a hollowed area in the nose, a comfort feature that has been incorporated in male saddle design as well.