When you think of traditional women’s bikes, you may think of pink two-wheelers that are anything but sporty. But women aren’t limited to girly bikes. Manufacturers make women’s bikes in all styles and sizes. Women can also ride men's bikes. The decision should be based on fit and comfort.
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Bikes made just for women have frames that are shorter than men’s bikes, with a shorter reach to the handlebars and brakes. The handlebars, brakes and stem are all smaller, too, since women generally are not as tall as men. Women’s bike frames are usually lighter than men’s, and the top tube is lower and shorter. Some companies specialize in women’s designs. Women can also have bikes custom-made to fit their proportions.
Men’s bike frames are large and heavy. This means fitting them may be challenging for women who are 5 feet 5 inches or shorter. Look for a clearance of 1 to 2 inches over the top tube when you’re straddling the bike. The real challenge for women, however, is length of the top tube. It’s longer on men’s bikes, so make sure you can manage the reach to the handlebars. You won’t want to be stretched out too far, even if you can straddle the bike easily.
Another concern for women on men’s bikes is the saddle. Traditional saddles for women are wide and comfortable. If you can’t find a comfy seat on a men’s bike, it’s just a matter of switching the saddle. Look for saddles made with gel pads for extra cushioning, high-tech covers that wick away moisture, and titanium rails. Most important is the design. Saddles come in shapes to relieve pressure to the perineum, the area between your sit bones. These saddles often have large grooves down the middle or they are noseless. Some even come in two separate seats, one for each sit bone.
While the top tube is the biggest concern for women considering men’s bikes, there are other means of shortening the reach to the handlebars. You can improve the fit by adjusting the seat post and the stem length. Some seat posts have clamps that set the saddle too far back. These are usually posts with clamps in the back. Once the saddle is moved forward, consider getting a shorter stem length. Tall women will want stem lengths of at least 90 mm. Smaller women may need shorter stems, which can run as short as 30 mm.