So you’re getting ready to shop for a bike and aren’t sure what the difference is between a women’s bike and a men’s bike (or a unisex bike).
The truth is that all bikes are unisex bikes and that the difference between those that are marketed as “women’s bikes” and those that are marketed as “men’s bikes” is really only a difference in size and fit.
Women tend to be shorter than men, have proportionally shorter torsos and longer legs, smaller hands, and narrower shoulders. That means that women’s-specific bikes are designed to address these differences in body shapes.
Additionally, when we are talking about commuter bikes and cruiser bikes, women’s-specific frames tend to have a very low top tube that makes wearing a skirt manageable.
The best bike for you will be the bike that fits you best, regardless of gender.
1) The Best Bike For You Might Not Be a Women’s-Specific Bike
Visualize your three best girlfriends. Are they short, tall, slim, stocky? Chances are all three have very different body types. One probably has long legs and another has short legs. One has narrow shoulders and the other has wide shoulders.
Making broad generalizations about the body type of an entire gender just doesn’t work.
Most women’s-specific bikes are designed for shorter ladies with long legs, short torsos, and narrow shoulders. If that’s you, then great, you’re exactly the kind of person that can benefit from a women’s specific bike.
If that’s not you, then the best bike is probably are regular
In fact, we’re seeing more and more brands do away with “women’s bikes” in favor of offering unisex bikes in a wider range of sizes.
I would certainly try out several bikes, both women’s specific and unisex, before making a decision. Don’t just limit yourself to “women’s” bikes.
2) The Best Women’s Bikes Aren’t Just a Shrink It and Pink It Affair
Within the bike industry (and plenty of other industries for that matter), the biggest criticism of women’s-specific gear is that it has been a “shrink it and pink it” effort. Meaning, that a women’s bike is the exact same as a men’s bike except smaller and made in prettier colors. The whole thing was a marketing ploy.
That is still true in many cases, but there are other brands (such as Liv) that are truly creating bikes that better serve many (though not all) women.
The best women’s bikes will offer some or all of these features:
Women tend to have shorter torsos, longer legs (proportionally) and shorter inseams then men. Therefore, the biggest benefit of women’s-specific bikes
This is probably the most overlooked, but most important, benefits to buying a women’s-specific bike for very short riders. Most bikes, regardless of frame size, come with standard size cranks. That said, shorter riders benefit from shorter crank arms. Having cranks that are too long can lead to knee pain and other issues.
Shorter-reach brake levers.
This is an issue I’ve struggled with my entire life as a cyclist. I have small hands and often struggle to reach the brake levers. Shorter reach brake levers can make a big difference for ladies with smaller hands.
Generally speaking, women have narrower shoulders than men. This means they are often better served by a slightly narrower handlebar as well.
The one time I would caution against this idea of a narrower handlebar, however, is on a mountain bike. Wider handlebars actually provide better stability and handling, and I’d urge women at least to try the wider handlebars first before swapping them out.
The one place that all women are different than men are below the belt. A seat created for female anatomy can make a big difference in how comfortable you are on the bike.
A good women’s saddle will accommodate wider sit bones and have a cut-out or lower pressure chamber for your soft bits. For more information on saddles and how you can pick the best one for YOU, read our article on women’s bike saddles.
Because women tend to have shorter arms and shorter torsos, a shorter stem (the piece that connects the frame to the handlebar) is often called for.
Lighter riders need suspension that is tuned to their lighter weight. Fortunately, this doesn’t necessarily require you to get a women’s specific bike.
Women should set up their suspension (fork and/or rear shock) to match their weight. This is simple to do at home with a YouTube video and shock pump. Or you can head to your local bike shop for help.
For shorter riders, a smaller frame can make a big difference but so can smaller wheels. We’ve seen a trend recently toward bike manufacturers offering their XS bikes with a smaller wheel size.
3) Commuters and Casual Riders May Still Benefit From a Step-Thru Frame
For me, I’m a big fan of unisex road and mountain bikes. The one bike, however, that I really do like having be women’s-specific is my commuter bike.
The defining feature of “women’s” bikes, historically, was the step-thru frame. This means there is a severely sloped top tube that makes it easy to step on and off of the frame
This is less of a thing nowadays, but for around town riding, I still really like having a step-thru frame so that I can wear a skirt without flashing anybody. If you are a skirt or dress wearing gal, opt for a women’s specific bike.
Step-thru frames can also be great for anybody of any gender when it comes to commuting with gear. If you have a city bike loaded with a rear rack or front basket, it’s easier to get on and off the bike and handle the weight with a step thru frame. Same goes for anybody riding with a child in bike seat.
4) You Can Always Swap Components to Create a Better Fit (or to Make the Bike “Prettier”)
When you buy a bike, that configuration is just a starting point. You can always add a women’s saddle, a shorter stem, or narrower handlebars. This is often a good way to customize a unisex bike to your particular body type and needs.
Additionally, if your rationale
For a mountain bike, throw on matching grips and saddle. On a road bike, add some colorful handlebar tape.
We’re also a fan of bike wraps, which can completely change the look of a bike frame. The sky is the limit when it comes to
5) Men Can Always Ride Women’s Bikes Too
There is nothing about a “women’s bike” that should preclude a man from riding it. (Well, except maybe the saddle, but that’s easy to swap out). Shorter, smaller men (and teen boys) may often find that a women’s bike is the best fit for them.
There are some brands (like Pivot) that are getting better about creating a larger size-range of unisex bikes. Rather than making
We really like this approach, for both men and women, as it focuses more on creating a wide range of options for a wide range of body types rather than on making it a gender issue.
The Bottom-Line: Choose the Best Bike for You
The best bike for you might be a women’s-specific bike, or it might not be. The best bike is the bike that fits your body.
Spend some time testing out different bikes, learning about bike sizing, and if you’re serious about being comfortable on the bike, maybe even spring for a professional bike fitting.
Our Favorite Bikes for Women
Whatever kind of bike you’re looking for, we’ve probably rounded up a list of our favorite options. This is a good place to start your bike shopping.