In 1888 the world saw the first women’s bicycle. Or should I say a bike with a step-through frame? Since then, men’s and women’s bikes have been available on the market, but is the division even necessary? Can’t women ride a men’s bike?
Women can ride men’s bikes. However, since there are a few biological differences between men and women, a few adjustments must be made. Women need a shorter and wider saddle, lower seat height, and shorter stem and crank. The handlebar also needs to be narrower with smaller grips on it.
In this article, we’ll look further into whether women can ride men’s bikes. I will also present to you all the differences between women’s and man’s bikes and how to adjust men’s bicycles for women.
Can women ride men’s bikes?
Women’s and men’s bikes are not that different. Yes, the sizes differ, and girls have a special step-through frame on city bikes, but the differences are minimal as far as road or mountain bikes go.
This means that any girl can sit on a men’s bike, make a few adjustments and ride into the sunset. Why bother dividing bikes into men’s and women’s? If it suits you, ride whatever bike you want. I don’t see a problem with a girl on a men’s bike or even with a man on a women’s bike. If it fits, that’s the best bike you can have.
The best bike is the one that fits you the best. It doesn’t matter whether the bike is marketed as a men’s or a women’s bike.
The fact that the majority of professional women cyclists ride ‘men’s bikes’ tells you that there aren’t any major differences between the two. Most brands don’t even offer ‘women’s bikes’ anymore.
If you’re buying a new bike, I advise you to check the women’s bike first and see if they suit you. Before purchasing it, sit on a men’s bike as well and see if there are any differences. If you can feel them, go with a women’s bike, as you find the machine for you.
However, if you don’t feel any different on a women’s bike than on a men’s bike and feel more comfortable on a man’s bike, don’t question yourself. Take the men’s bike as the division is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
What’s the difference between a women’s and a men’s bike?
Advertisers can’t just take a bike, call it a women’s bike and make millions. If you’re selling a women’s bike, there must be some differences from men’s.
Indeed, there are some. The geometry of the frame is different as well as some parts of the bike. Let’s see what they are.
You would expect that the most significant difference will be with the frame, but that’s not the case. The frame of women’s bikes is quite similar to men’s. However, it’s not completely identical.
The difference is in the top tube. Thanks to the history of step-through frames, manufacturers learned that women need a lower top tube to easily mount and dismount the bike. Therefore women’s bikes of today have a downward-sloping top tube, making it easier for girls to get their leg over it.
Women’s frames also come in smaller sizes. They usually range from XXS to L, while men’s range from S to XXL.
Women have a different pelvic bone than men, so they need a differently shaped saddle. Women’s saddle is much shorter and wider than men’s.
This is also confirmed by research in which they found that the average men’s saddle is 143 millimeters wide, while a women’s is on average 155 millimeters wide. The difference is 8%, which is far from negligible.
Women are shorter than men, meaning they also have shorter legs. Therefore, they need a shorter crank than men.
Cranks on women’s bikes range from 160 to 172.5 millimeters, while men’s cranks typically start at 172.5 millimeters and go all the way to 180 millimeters.
The handlebar is one of the biggest differences between women’s and men’s bikes.
Women have a much narrower handlebar. This enables them to drive more comfortably, with arms closer together, reducing or completely eliminating the shoulder soreness which could occur with a wider handlebar.
The difference in the handlebar’s width is particularly obvious with mountain bikes, while women can use the same width as men on road bikes, although a few centimeters narrower handlebars is advised. Narrower handlebars allow better control of the bike and improve handling.
The road bike handlebar differs between men and women, even if the width is the same. Women have shallower drops, which helps them reach them more easily, without unnecessary stretching. This also helps to avoid back pain
On mountain bikes or touring bikes, women use slimmer grips. Women have smaller hands, so adding too much material to the grip could prevent them from gripping the handlebar normally. If you don’t hold the handlebar as you should, you can’t control the bike and an accident is inevitable.
Problems women may have on a men’s bike
Every cyclist, regardless of gender, will have problems on a bike if it is not fitted correctly. If a woman rides a man’s bike, the chances of problems are even greater, as most bike parts will be too big or too long for her.
What to know more about women’s cycling? Find out in our other articles.
Spending long hours on an ill-adjusted bike will cause health problems sooner or later. These manifest themselves in all forms.
- Lower back pain. One of the most common problems when riding a poorly fitted bike. Pain is caused by an over-extended position caused by the seat and handlebars being too far apart.
- Shoulder soreness. Riding a bike should be a comfortable experience. If you have sore shoulders, you probably have a handlebar that is too wide and also fitted too low.
- Crotch pain. A common problem of all cyclists. Women must be sure they have the right saddle (wider and shorter). It also has to be fitted correctly. A forward tilted saddle transfers more weight to your pubic bone, which increases the pain. Riding with underwear under your cycling shorts can also cause additional pain.
- Hip pain. A less common issue with women cyclists. Some still suffer from it, but it can be fixed quite easily. Pain is caused by movement in the hips due to failure to reach the lowest point of pedal rotation. But that’s nothing a shorter crank couldn’t solve.
Most problems that cause pain can be avoided with proper bike adjustments. Every woman that rides a men’s bike has to make a few of them, otherwise, the bike is too big and far from comfortable. Below you will get information about how you can adjust your bike to fit you better.
How to adjust men’s bikes for women?
Any bike part that could potentially cause problems should be examined and properly adjusted or replaced if necessary.
I already talked about bike parts that differ between women’s and men’s bikes. You want to check those parts first, as they will solve 99% of the problems. Unfortunately, you will likely have to replace at least some of them.
1. Saddle Width
The saddle is the cyclist’s best friend. Having the right saddle is crucial if you plan to spend a few hours on your bike.
Pro Tip: Use a shorter and wider saddle. If you don’t know how wide a seat to choose, choose a width between 140 and 145mm.
Unfortunately, the seat is a part of the bike where it is almost impossible to give general advice. The choice is as personal as it gets, as people have different distances between sitting bones, meaning we need different saddle widths.
However, according to saddle manufacturer Selle Italia, 60 percent of women need a saddle between 140 and 145 millimeters wide. This is also in line with a study which showed that most women use a 143mm wide saddle.
2. Saddle position
Once you have the right saddle, it’s time to adjust its position.
Because men’s frames are larger, most women have to lower the seat considerably, perhaps even all the way.
You can test if the seat is at the right height by sitting on the bike and turning the pedals to the 6 o’clock position. On the side where the pedal is lower, place your heel on the pedal. If your leg is extended or slightly bent, then the height of the seat is appropriate.
But seat height is not the only adjustment you must make. You also need to adjust the seat forward or backward. That way, you adjust your reach, which helps you with ride comfort.
If you put your seat too far back, you will ride fully extended, which can cause back pain, as we already established before. If you push it too far forward, you will ride hunched over, which can also lead to pain.
The seat must be positioned so that the elbows are slightly bent when holding the handlebars. This will not only help in preventing back pain but also in dampening vibrations.
The length of the stem also plays a role in the reach distance.
Pro Tip: Use a 90 or 100 millimeters stem.
The stem is often replaced if a woman rides a men’s bike. By installing a shorter stem, the reach distance is shorter, making it easier for women to control the bike. The shorter the stem, the more responsive the bike is.
Men’s bikes are heavier than women’s, so girls can struggle with control. A shorter stem solves the issue. In addition, it also reduces potential back pain problems due to over-extension.
Women usually use 90 or 100 millimeters stems. Longer stems are used only by taller women and men, while shorter stems are not used very often due to the reduced stability of the bike on the flat.
If you’re new to cycling, I recommend buying an adjustable stem that helps you find the right position on a bike. But if you’re an experienced cyclist, I recommend using a fixed stem, as it is less likely to fail.
Most of the women have to change the crank on men’s bikes. Due to the shorter legs, the normal men’s crank length is too long for most.
Pro Tip: If you’re shorter than 168 cm (5’6”), use the 160 or 165 millimeters crank.
Men usually use cranks between 170 and 175 millimeters in length. This is way too long for women, as the longest women’s cracks are 172.5 millimeters long. Most of the girls use a crank between 160 and 165 millimeters, which is suitable for girls shorter than 168 cm (5’6”).
If you’re shorter than 168 cm and have a crank longer than 165 millimeters, I highly recommend changing it. I’m a big fan of Shimano, so I recommend you use their crank. Just be careful to pick a crank compatible with your current drivetrain.
Women are smaller than men, so they need a narrower handlebar. You can imagine how comfortable riding with a handlebar wider than your shoulders would be.
Pro Tip: If you ride an XXS, XS or S size bike, use a 36 or 38 cm wide handlebar. Women riding M or L size bikes can use 40-centimeter handlebars.
Most women’s bikes have fitted 36 to 40 centimeters wide handlebars. If you’re modifying a men’s bike to your needs, a 36-38 cm handlebar is the best choice. However, taller women that ride a large-sized bike can use handlebars up to 42 centimeters wide.
I recommend investing in a quality handlebar, even if it costs a bit more. You don’t want your handlebars to break when you need them the most, just because you wanted to save a few bucks on buying a new one.
I recommend you buy the Zipp handlebar that you can find on Amazon. It is a well-known brand that is famous for its handlebars.
6. Brake lever
Smaller hands also mean smaller fingers. Women cyclists often struggle with reaching the brake levers on men’s bikes. Not only is barely reaching them extremely dangerous, but it’s also not very comfortable.
Luckily, you don’t have to replace brake levers, you can just adjust them.
Most road bike brake levers have a screw that allows you to adjust the reach of brake levers. It’s hidden under the rubber hood of the brake lever. Once you find it, rotate it clockwise, and the brake lever will come closer to the drops.
Do we really need women’s bikes?
For a long time, the bicycle industry made women’s bicycles according to the principle ‘Shrink and Pink’. Basically, they took a men’s bike, made it smaller and painted it in color appealing to women.
As more and more women started cycling, the need for women-specific bike frames grew, and the market answered. Several women’s bicycle manufacturers were born, with Liv Bicycles being the biggest.
Soon enough, other brands started putting women’s bikes on the market. But as time got by, fewer and fewer women-specific bikes were developed. The trend has stopped and companies that do not specialize exclusively in women’s bicycles have stopped investing in their development.
There was a big debate about whether we need women’s bicycles at all. Liv Bicycles obviously thought there is a need for women-specific bikes, as women’s bodies are not the same as men’s. They are still producing only women’s bikes and even sponsor some professional teams.
On the other side were the established brands that produced both men’s and women’s bikes. They figured out that women don’t buy only women’s bikes but buy the one that fits them the best. That means that men’s bikes are sold to men and women, making women’s bikes less relevant.
Some manufacturers even argue that there is as much variability between two men and two women as between men and women.
I agree that we could live without women’s bikes. It’s more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. With the exception of a few centimeters lower top tube, which you could also live without, all the elements of a men’s bike can be adapted to women.
So why limit yourself to only women’s bikes? Pick the one you find the best and adjust it to your needs.