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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Croatia
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    113

    Do female-specific bikes really make the difference?

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    I've been hanging out with some fellow female cyclists lately and the topic of female-specific bikes tends to come up fairly often. To be more precise, it surprised me that the girls won't even consider trying out non-female-specific bikes, and whenever girls new to the sport ask for buying advice on our local forum, they only suggest female-specific rides.

    Personally, I'm 5'7" and I've had mixed results in my admittedly limited experience. I did ride female-specific mountain bikes where I liked the fit, but it goes both ways. I ended up buying a 16" men's frame with a longer than average top tube. It's built up with all the regular parts - 80mm stem, 620mm handlebars - nothing out of the ordinary. And the only thing I'm not fully content with is the saddle. Moreover, it just so happens that the stock bike I feel fit me best of the ones I got to try was a men's bike.

    While I acknowledge the obvious benefits of smaller frames being available and actually being well proportioned for the riders a couple of inches shorter than myself, I can't help but think that riders of my height or taller will see few benefits from the female-specific geometry. In fact, I would also point shorter guys towards female-specific frames so they too can take advantage of the smaller frames being available. But I might be missing something.

    Have you had similar experiences? Or does my line of reasoning just point to my lack of experience?
    Since so many of you here are seasoned riders with multiple different bikes, custom fitting and the like, I figured there's no harm in asking and gaining a better perspective, or even better appreciation of female-specific bikes
    Last edited by brigada; 09-06-2014 at 07:56 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    4,632
    It really depends on a few things. The two big ones are the bike's geometry itself (and whether or not the women-specific version is actually different from the unisex version), and the rider's physical characteristics (flexibility, proportions--short vs. long torso, limbs, etc). It's not just height-based. For shorter riders of either gender, small women's frames may be easier to find, but that doesn't mean it'll be a good fit. What tends to be true is that there are fewer differences in the larger frames (54cm+, from my experiences with road frames; mountain bikes may be the same way) for similar lines from one manufacturer. Getting a bike properly fitted is very helpful, but it's not going to make a bike that fundamentally doesn't fit

    Whether it's marketing or actually helpful has been debated many times, and I really think this differs by manufacturer. Here's my experience: I have three bikes (road, CX, rigid mountain bike being treated as a hybrid), and have tested several. I'm just under 5'7". My road bike is a relaxed geometry women-specific, and my other two bikes are unisex. My road bike doesn't fit. It's too long and just the wrong geometry. In retrospect, I should have gone a size down and gone with the men's version. My CX bike fits almost perfectly (just needs a shorter stem and maybe narrower bars), and is unisex. Of the road bikes I've *tested*, though, Cannondale's women-specific road bike in a 51 cm fits perfectly. I could make a unisex one fit, but why bother if I could buy one off the rack that only needs minimal changes? The Fuji WSD ones, on the other hand, are too cramped, and the unisex work nicely with a shorter stem. It's a wash.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    66
    I totally agree with Owlie that it all depends. In general, women tend to have longer legs and shorter torsos, so most WSD bikes usually have shorter top tubes relative to the men's/unisex bikes of comparable size and the WSD bikes are available in smaller sizes. I've had six road bikes in the last 2 1/2 years, four were WSD and two weren't. The first was a WSD 45cm Kona Lisa RD which was comparable to a 48 cm Specialized Dolce and just too big for me since I'm only 5'2". I was never comfortable on that bike, probably because of the size, so I sold the Kona and bought a 44 cm Bianchi Vigorelli (not a WSD bike), a smaller bike with a steel frame compared to the Kona's aluminum frame. The Bianchi was slightly too big, but after swapping the stem and handlebar, it fit well enough for me to comfortably do 50-mile rides, and I've ridden it for the last 2 1/2 years. I just recently got a 44 cm WSD Bianchi Eros Donna with a shorter top tube that fits even better.

    Once I started riding hillier, 50+-mile rides with my husband riding his carbon bike, I wanted a carbon bike to keep up more easily. I test rode a half dozen carbon bikes (Colnago, Specialized, Cannondale, Giant, Ridley, etc.), including a few WSD bikes. I really liked the Colnago Ace (43 cm non-WSD), but it sold while I was trying to decide if I wanted to pay that much for lower end components. Since I have a thing for Italian bikes and because it was the most fun to ride, I ended up getting a unisex XS (47cm) Wilier Izoard XP. Again, I swapped out the handlebar and stem, and I could easily ride the Wilier up to 50 miles with no problem. However, when I started doing more metric century (100 km or 64 mile) rides, I started getting knee pain in my right knee. My PT figured out it was an overuse injury, probably due to my carbon bike being slightly too big. She recommended I get a smaller bike, or I'd keep experiencing the inflammation in my knee.

    I researched carbon bikes and found out the smallest, non-custom carbon bike was the WSD Colnago CLD size 40s. I've always drooled over the highest-end Colnago bikes hanging in my LBS, and once I got into biking, I dreamed of having a Colnago. Fortunately, I have an awesome husband who's a randonneur, so he's used to spending a lot of money on bikes. He was all for me getting the Colnago if it meant I would ride more and enjoy going on longer rides with him. In the year I've had the Colnago, I've done 5 century rides and about a dozen metric centuries, and no more knee pain. In the last month I've also noticed on the longer rides I'm finally engaging the butt (gluteus medius) muscles I'd only ever felt when my PT made me do clam exercises to address my knee pain. I never realized how much difference good bike fit makes, and now I'm totally convinced.

    When I sold the Wilier, I sold it to a guy who was 5'3", so only an inch taller than me. He asked why I was selling it since I'd only had it a year. When I explained that the top tube was too long for me, he was wary of getting a bike that was too big for him since he was only an inch taller. We took the bike to our LBS, so the staff at the LBS could check him out on the bike. I actually had more clearance over the top tube than him, so his legs were shorter than mine, but his torso was several inches longer. The guys at the LBS thought the bike fit him really well and didn't think he needed to change out the stock stem or handlebar.

    I think the smallest WSD bikes are critical for the most petite women, 5'2" and under, mostly because of top tube length. For riders taller than 5'2", it depends on the length of torso relative to legs. Riders with longer legs relative to their torsos will probably prefer the WSD geometry while the riders with relatively shorter legs and longer torsos will prefer the men's/unisex geometry. Then there's also the geometry differences between different brands (e.g. Specialized vs Trek vs Bianchi, etc.). That's why the best thing to do is test ride several bikes and do long enough test rides to decide which one fits the best.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Location
    Jacksonville area of NC
    Posts
    821
    IMO it totally depends on the person. I'm 5'0". My road bike is a Felt F-5 unisex bike. I did try several WSD bikes and the ONLY one that I was even mostly comfortable on was the Specialized Ameria. The Felt fits me great. I love it. The only thing I swapped out was the saddle and that was for a different men's saddle. (I also don't have kids and the men's saddles seem to be more comfortable for me than the women's are.) My cruiser type bike is a WSD as is my mountain bike. The mountain bike we've had to make several adjustments to the handle bars to get it feel better, the cruiser is pretty good the way it came. I'll look at WSD bikes for anything that is not a road bike. I will not look at WSD road bikes because I feel to cramped on them. I feel much better on the unisex road bikes as long as I can find them small enough for me to ride.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    central NY
    Posts
    404
    Quote Originally Posted by Koronin View Post
    IMO it totally depends on the person. I'm 5'0". My road bike is a Felt F-5 unisex bike. I did try several WSD bikes and the ONLY one that I was even mostly comfortable on was the Specialized Ameria. The Felt fits me great. I love it. The only thing I swapped out was the saddle and that was for a different men's saddle. (I also don't have kids and the men's saddles seem to be more comfortable for me than the women's are.) My cruiser type bike is a WSD as is my mountain bike. The mountain bike we've had to make several adjustments to the handle bars to get it feel better, the cruiser is pretty good the way it came. I'll look at WSD bikes for anything that is not a road bike. I will not look at WSD road bikes because I feel to cramped on them. I feel much better on the unisex road bikes as long as I can find them small enough for me to ride.
    Thank you for typing out most of my experiences! I'm 5'0", long torso, short limbs. I bought a Specialized Dolce last year that fits reasonably well. But this year I tried a petite Felt that seemed to fit even better. The dealer explained that at that small size, the proportions are less WSD (even though it's a women's bike) and more unisex. I don't know if it was a sales pitch, but the bike did feel good. A fitter who helped me with the Dolce said I would probably do fine with a men's bike, it's just that there are very few that are small enough.

    I'm not sure if my problem is with men's vs. women's bikes, or just that I'm really hard to fit. I may just go back to the straight bars.
    Last edited by IBrakeforPastry; 09-07-2014 at 03:47 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    212
    Quote Originally Posted by IBrakeforPastry View Post
    I'm 5'0", long torso, short limbs. A fitter who helped me with the Dolce said I would probably do fine with a men's bike, it's just that there are very few that are small enough.

    I'm not sure if my problem is with men's vs. women's bikes, or just that I'm really hard to fit. I may just go back to the straight bars.
    The issue is partly the fault of the manufacturers who are stocking such ridiculously short stems on WSD bikes. We get it all the time people who want to go UP a frame size to get a longer reach. This is such a huge mistake and bikes end up looking like the attached pic. A bike set up like this will NEVER be able to achieve a normal upright riding position. Much better to put a normal stem length onto the proper fitting frame.
    Secondly customers need to be willing to change STOCK parts on production bikes rather than getting "freaked out" that it doesn't fit straight off the shelf.
    The other issue is the plethora of incompetent people who call themselves "fitters"
    Click image for larger version. 

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  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    central NY
    Posts
    404
    Quote Originally Posted by Seajay View Post
    The issue is partly the fault of the manufacturers who are stocking such ridiculously short stems on WSD bikes. We get it all the time people who want to go UP a frame size to get a longer reach. This is such a huge mistake and bikes end up looking like the attached pic. A bike set up like this will NEVER be able to achieve a normal upright riding position. Much better to put a normal stem length onto the proper fitting frame.
    Secondly customers need to be willing to change STOCK parts on production bikes rather than getting "freaked out" that it doesn't fit straight off the shelf.
    The other issue is the plethora of incompetent people who call themselves "fitters"

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I'm not sure if the part I bolded was directed at me, but I have changed out the stems and the handlebars on two of my bikes already this summer. And I don't "freak out". As a matter of fact, I really dislike that term and usually roll my eyes when I hear/read it.

    I'm not sure of the different "fitting" programs out there, both the men I spoke to seemed very knowledgeable and competent (and had a few certificates on the wall). I have a quasi engineering background and we had some interesting discussions.

    Interesting what Muirenn said about the no-offset seatpost. Something for me to consider.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    central NY
    Posts
    404
    Quote Originally Posted by Muirenn View Post
    Offset is only used for KOPS (knee over pedals), the stem is corrected afterwords. If you have the wrong offset, it may damage your knees. Be careful.

    Are your femurs short compared to your overall leg length?
    I think so. I started to suspect it when one of the fitters said, "Wow, you have short femurs!" But I don't think it's dramatic. My KOP alignment is good now. No knee problems. I just find the whole bike engineering discussion very interesting, whether or not it applies specifically to me.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    212
    Please don't take offense IBFP. Wasn't intending to make any comment about any one person in particular. I chose your quote because I found it very shocking to hear a fitter say that someone who is 5'0" could fit on a bike made for someone who is at minimum 4 inches taller than you.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    central NY
    Posts
    404
    Quote Originally Posted by Seajay View Post
    Please don't take offense IBFP. Wasn't intending to make any comment about any one person in particular. I chose your quote because I found it very shocking to hear a fitter say that someone who is 5'0" could fit on a bike made for someone who is at minimum 4 inches taller than you.
    Not a problem - I didn't take any offense. What he meant was given my proportions, I could fit a men's bike, if there was one small enough.

    Anyway, I'm very comfortable in the cockpit. My lower body is fine when I'm riding. I'm just very sensitive to any upper body discomfort. I have arthritis in my neck, and some weird structural thing in my shoulder. I'm not saying I'm "special" - we are all unique - it's just that I've dealt with headaches my entire adult life and try to do everything to help minimize the risk.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Posts
    23
    I'm going to have to have my stem raised or otherwise have higher-rise handlebars put on my Specialized Vita (hybrid). I'm experiencing a lot of neck pain and hand numbness. I finally realized the geometry is just not right for me and I need a more upright position as I have a shorter reach. Not sure what my options will be but I'll be heading to my LBS tomorrow to see what they can do for me.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    212
    Quote Originally Posted by estronat View Post
    I'm going to have to have my stem raised or otherwise have higher-rise handlebars put on my Specialized Vita (hybrid). I'm experiencing a lot of neck pain and hand numbness. I finally realized the geometry is just not right for me and I need a more upright position as I have a shorter reach. Not sure what my options will be but I'll be heading to my LBS tomorrow to see what they can do for me.
    This is a very common upgrade for Vita's here at our shop. We get great results. We usually change the handlebar to one with around a 40mm rise. If you have the base VITA take a look at Profile Ultra FR riser handlebar. About $40

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Posts
    23
    Quote Originally Posted by Seajay View Post
    This is a very common upgrade for Vita's here at our shop. We get great results. We usually change the handlebar to one with around a 40mm rise. If you have the base VITA take a look at Profile Ultra FR riser handlebar. About $40
    Thanks so much for the response, Seajay!

    I have the Vita Comp aluminum frame/carbon fork, (not the base Vita). I dropped my Vita off for it's 1st tune up and talked to the repair guys for awhile. They said it might be that I need a lower position with more arm extension which will change the angle of my arms reaching for the handlebars, achieved with a longer stem, rather than raising the height of the handlebars, though that might seem counter-intuitive. If the stem is swapped out for a higher one, then the cabling will have to be redone as the cables will otherwise be too short.

    He said it's possible the frame is too small for me though when I got on the bike to show him he said it looked pretty good. I'm so short (5'0") that the height of the XS frame is what I needed to be able to stand over the top bar, though I have zero space between me and the handlebars when I jump off the seat, as one would do after coming to a stop, and then stand over the bar. My fat tummy goes right into the handlebar stem. The seat is moved back some, but not all the way. The measurements were taken when I was looking to purchase this bike and the gentleman who did the measurements at another of their stores spent a good 90 min working with me and checking the measurements and angles on everything. But total hand numbness is not something we could anticipate even though the setup "looked" correct to him.

    Anyway, this store's certified fitter is on vacation for the next week so I'll have to wait for him to get back and then have him take a look and make recommendations.

    It would be very nice if it could end up being a relatively inexpensive solution. I don't claim to know what is needed to fix the issue, only that the problem is coming from my neck and shoulders, combined with weak core strength, and resulting in a lot of numbness, not just in a few fingers but my whole hands (both of them).

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Location
    Columbus, IN
    Posts
    216
    I think as everyone else says - it just depends. I am tall (5'9") and was lucky that when I bought my bike the bike shop looked at the geometry difference between the WSD and unisex versions of the bike I wanted. The only difference was the saddle -- and an extra 12 week wait time for the WSD so I happily ordered the unisex version knowing I'd need to replace the saddle. I was happy my bike shop took the (little bit) of extra time to save me the wait because I wouldn't have thought to check.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Posts
    23
    My LBS put a longer stem on my Vita Comp today and had me try it out. I definitely needed a longer stem as I was too crunched in on the bike. My height warrants a size XS but my body reach warranted the size S, so basically we are turning a size XS into the reach of a S. Remains to be seen how it feels on my shoulders and neck. They did this adjustment after I had completed a 6 mi ride first and came to the store, so there could be some residual soreness from that. According to their fitter, the goal to get in the right position is not to raise the handlebar height, but to be able to be stretched out more according the the person's upper body length/reach, hence the longer stem for a better fit. He said I have short legs and a longer torso, although overall I'm extremely short (barely 5'0").

    Just wanted to update the group on that.
    Last edited by estronat; 09-27-2014 at 02:46 PM.

 

 

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