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Features - Cycling Life: Cycling Women
Monday, December 5th, 2016

 

Cycling Life: Cycling Women

 

Paul Horta-Hopkins

 

This week’s Cycling Life is an introduction to a new series of reviews aimed at women.

 

Looking back over CycleTechReview’s library I realise we have been incredibly remiss and have ignored half – or thereabouts – the world’s population. Not a small mistake and something we need to address. Over the coming months we will be reviewing cycle kit that is aimed at women and hopefully you will start to see more articles written by women here on CycleTechReview.

 

dhb's Aeron range is full of high quality, female specific kit

dhb’s Aeron range is full of high quality, female specific kit

 

But what constitutes women’s cycling products? The most obvious division is in clothing. The male and female shape are complimentary, but quite different, but what about bikes? For a long time if you wanted a woman’s bike you would be pointed at a heavy, step-through affair with a basket on the front. I’m not going to knock these, they have a place and a purpose. It’s just that for some, these are what constituted a woman’s bike. Designed for short trips around town, popping to the shops or to have a coffee. And that’s fine, if that is what you need a bike for. I often do all those things on an old Mtb, dragging a trailer full of children or shopping. But I have a choice.

 

Women’s bikes have improved greatly over recent years. Manufacturers have woken up to the fact that women want to ride in the same environment and under the same conditions as men. This means they want equipment of equal quality, but designed for them. And when I say designed for them, that doesn’t mean a cheaper quality frame with some pink details!

 

If you go back to the early heydays of the cycling revolution, the late 1800s, you’ll find that the bicycle was seen as a great liberator. It enabled people of all types the chance to escape the cities and enjoy the freedom of the countryside. At the same time the women’s suffrage movement was growing and the bicycle became an essential part of that.

 

The bicycle allowed women the chance to escape the rigid bounds of society that dictated what they could and couldn’t do. Women’s clothing of that time was incredibly restrictive – corsets, hoops, multiple heavy layers – none of which were meant for any kind of athletic exertion beyond fluttering eyelids or the odd faint! Nowadays women are well catered for in the clothing department, with big brands such as dhb and Giant Liv catering for all types of cyclists.

 

So what constitutes a female specific product? As I said clothing is an obvious place to start, but what else? Take a look at a typical woman’s bike and they tend to have shorter top tubes, longer head tubes, narrower bars, with compact drops and of course a female specific saddle. But out of that lot, which are actually female specific?

 

Female specific shorts from dhb utilise a different layout for their bibs, allowing for 'comfort' breaks

Female specific shorts from dhb utilise a different layout for their bibs, allowing for ‘comfort’ breaks

 

Frames with shorter top tubes, longer top tubes and lower stand-over are used on women’s bikes because women tend to have a shorter top half and arm length than men. Their weight distribution is also different to men. All this has added up to women’s bikes having a certain shape. But all this is based on a generic woman. What if you’re not that body type?

 

There are some men who might find that a female specific frame might actually be a better fit for them. And the same applies to some women, they may find they get on better with a man’s frame. Perhaps we should just be asking for a greater range of frame shapes? Long and low, short and upright or any other mix we can think of!

 

Ok, so maybe expecting manufacturers to make multiple versions of each size is asking too much. And maybe a generic female specific frame is a good starting point, but what other parts can we look at? Well, looking at our average women again, smaller hands and narrower shoulders point to female specific bars. Shifters will also need to have shorter reach. Although there aren’t any female specific models, many do have reach adjustment to allow some customisation.

 

The Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow saddle is typical of many female specific saddles

The Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow saddle is typical of many female specific saddles

 

Saddles are an obvious place for a female specific saddle, but I have seen a few women who prefer a male saddle. Cutaway middle sections and wider at the rear are the order of the day here. The cut-outs help relieve pressure on the perineum, which is more sensitive in women. Wider saddles allow a more comfortable position as the ‘sit-bones’ are wider apart in women. Failure to get a comfortable saddle can make it difficult to achieve an efficient aero position. Women will bend at the waist rather than the hip to get aero and still be comfortable. So a properly fitting saddle is a must, but that goes for men as well!

 

So manufacturers have now moved beyond just ‘pinking’ up their products and are now producing properly designed kit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that as a woman you have to ride female kit. I would recommend trying out as many types of kit as you can before making your choice. When choosing a bike many shops will arrange test rides, or maybe you could go for a bike fit? There are many companies out there that will offer different levels of service and could help you focus your decision making. The same goes for saddle choice, many shops will offer a demo period before you buy.

 

The Colnago CLD's geometry has been "tailored for women". Although the Wiggle High5 pro team ride the C60

The Colnago CLD’s geometry has been “tailored for women”. Although the Wiggle High5 pro team ride the C60

 

And what will we at CycleTechReview be doing? First we’ll be running a series of reviews on clothing. Our new test rider is a runner dipping her toe into the world of cycling. First review will be winter clothing, we have an entire winter wardrobe which has been supplied by dhb. You’ll be hard pressed to find something that dhb don’t supply for women. The range is extensive and as I know from my own reviews, of very high quality. Look out for the preview coming soon.

 

We’ll also take a look at cycling shoes, as this is another are where, generally, women differ. Women’s feet tend to be smaller and narrower, so we’ll take a look at what is available. Most brands now offer at least one female specific model, although not all.

 

Parts like saddles and handlebars will get a look in as well. Female specific saddles are widespread now and come in all types and price points. Handlebars aimed at women will tend towards narrow widths and shallower drops, so we’ll see how these feel.

 

Keep an eye out for our upcoming women’s kit reviews and hopefully, more women reviewers. If you want more let us know, by email, social media or badger us next time you see us out riding!

 
 
 
 
 
 

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