Posted by Editor on 06/25/09
This Resource is provided with the assistance of Specialized Designs for Women
There are many subtle differences between the anatomies of women and men which affect how they ride bikes. So what should we look for when choosing a women's bike? Here are a few things to consider:
Lower standover improves confidence. Standover height is especially critical on women's-specific mountain bikes for confidence in technical terrain, but it can be challenging to implement because the bike itself is taller, due to the bottom-bracket height and suspension fork. On mountain bikes, sloping, and sometimes concave top tubes solve this problem. Compact frame designs address standover on road bikes.
For better performance, 700c wheels can be found even down to the smallest frame sizes on some road bike models. Among the advantages of standard 700c wheels are lower rolling resistance and the ability to hold momentum better in a group, but the look and convenience are equally important. The use of 700c wheels improves the availability of tubes and tires, and prevents the bike from looking like a kid's bike. However, when looking at a small frame size with 700c wheels, make sure there isn't too much toe overlap (hitting the front wheel with the tip of the shoe while turning).
Differences in both women's overall weight and how that weight is distributed change the way suspension performs on hardtails and full suspension bikes. Women typically have less weight over the front wheel, which can substantially change the way the fork performs. Using a custom-tuned suspension allows the female rider to use all of her available travel in rough terrain for more control. Properly sagged suspension also provides more traction to keep the front wheel from washing out around corners.
To ensure confidence even on the biggest of hill climbs, consider having wide gear ratios that include compact chainrings and even compact triples. Crank lengths are often size specific, ensuring the smallest road bikes are equipped with an appropriate crank.
The most obvious problem is reaching and using STI levers, which can cause considerable discomfort and hand fatigue on long descents that require constant braking. Some women even have to reposition their hands to get a good grip on the brake lever, which can be scary in sudden-stop situations. Shifting is also compromised if a woman's hands are not big enough to use the entire throw of the lever, especially while moving to an easier gear because the woman's smaller hands produce less leverage causing the effort required to make the shift to feel disproportionate.
Women should look for adjustable reach brake levers. Another option is to use shims to adjust the reach. Specialized Slim Shims are specifically designed to reduce the reach on Shimano STI brake levers.
Handlebar shapes and grips can also pose problems with comfort and control. Ergonomic features, such as wing-profile tops on road bars, which are designed around a larger hand, can make it difficult to get a solid grip on the bar. For mountain bikers, large-diameter grips can make reaching brake levers a challenge. Women's bikes should feature handlebars with smaller diameter grips.
The Specialized Designs for Women road handlebars have size proportionate top-ergo sections, to make holding the bars more comfortable, plus a shallower reach and drop make it easier to cruise on the hoods and descend in the drops. On mountain bikes, look for smaller-diameter grips and adjustable-reach brake levers whenever possible. Appropriate diameter handlebars and grips keep hands happy over long distances and on extended descents. Wearing women's-specific gloves can also help with smaller hands.
The bottom line is: women are different than men, and your bike should be as well.
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