You’re ready to buy a bike, but feeling intimidated by all the numbers and specs? One of the first steps in picking a new bike is knowing which size bike you need.
There are a couple of different ways women’s bikes are measured and sized, and we’re going to walk you through all of it. And there’s no need to feel intimidated: it’s all super straightforward.
Step 1: Understanding Bike Measurements
The first thing to understand is that there are two basic measurements when we’re talking about bike size: frame size and wheel size. Wheel size refers to the diameter of the wheel and is less important than the size of the frame.
Mountain bike wheels come in three basic sizes: 26″, 27.5, and 29″. Very petite women may want a 26″ wheels but most will be best served by a 27.5″ or 29″ wheel.
These two wheel sizes are becoming more common on modern mountain bikes, so if you are buying a bike new, it’s likely to have 27.5 or 29 inch wheels. If you are buying an older used mountain bike, it may very well have 26 inch wheels.
Road bike and gravel bike wheels usually come with 622 mm diameter (700C) wheels, although smaller women may want 571 mm (650c) wheels. Commuter bikes may use this same sizing convention as well.
All that said, wheel size should be a secondary consideration to frame size.
Step 2: Know How Women’s Bike Frames are Sized
Frame size determines how big or small a bike is and whether or not it’s going to fit you. Unfortunately, not all bikes are measured in the same way.
Women’s bike frames may be measured in inches or centimeters, or come in generic sizes (S, M, L). Much of this is dependent on the type of bike you are looking for.
Women’s Road Bike Sizes
Most women’s road bikes measured in centimeters. The centimeters refer to the length of the seat tube.
The smaller the measurement, the smaller the bike. Because different bike brands size their bikes differently, your best bet is to check the website of the bike manufacturer you are considering buying from. They should have a bike sizing chart that will use your height and inseam to tell you which of their bike sizes is best suited to you.
That said, you can also use the chart below help you get a general guideline of which size bike you should be shopping for.
Women’s Road Bike Size Chart
|Rider Height||Frame Size (in centimeters)||Frame Sizes (S,M,L)|
Women’s Mountain Bike Sizes
Many mountain bikes are measured in inches. The inches refer to the length of the seat tube.
These will commonly be sized as 15″, 17″, 19″, and 21″. The smaller the seat tube, the smaller the bike. Mountain bikes may also be sized more generically: S, M, L, etc.
Bike manufacturers usually have their own sizing guides, so once you’ve narrowed it down to a few bikes you might like, then look on the manufacturer’s website to ensure you’re getting the right size. These charts will usually use your height and inseam length, so make sure you have your measurements handy.
Although these sizes won’t be universal amongst manufacturers, you can also use this chart as a basic guideline of what size bike you’re probably going to need.
Women’s Mountain Bike Size Chart
|Rider Height||Frame Size (in Inches)||Frame Sizes (S,M,L)|
Hybrid, Commuter, and Cruiser Bike Sizing
Bikes that are intended for recreational and commuting type riding may be sized like a road bike, although they are more commonly sized in inches like a mountain bike. Use the guidelines above for road bikes and mountain bikes to understand the sizing.
The other thing to be aware of with these bikes is that the frame may have a lower top tube–these are known as a step-thru frame. This may make them a better fit for women with a short inseam (or simply those who would like to wear a skirt).
- Read: 9 Best Women’s Hybrid Bikes
- Read: 5 Best Women’s Cruiser Bikes
- Read: 9 Best Women’s Commuter Bikes And City Bikes
Additionally, some of our favorite city bikes (like the electric Radpower RadCity) come in a one size fits all frame. Both my husband (5’10”) and myself (5’5″) are easily able to ride the RadCity by adjusting the seatpost length. This may be a good option if the idea of finding the right size bike just feels overwhelming.
Step 3: Make Sure to Ride the Bike Before Buying
The best way to know if a bike is going to fit you is to get on the bike and ride it for a while. If you’re buying from a bike shop, they should let you go take it for a lap around the block. Some shops will even let you demo a bike so that you can have the bike for a day or two to determine if it’s a good fit.
(Note: while trying a bike before buying is ideal, a lot of bike shops right now have very low or no inventory. Or, you might be eyeing a bike that is only sold online. If this is the case, don’t panic…..keep on scrolling and we’ll give you some tips on how to buy without riding the bike first).
How do you know if the bike fits you? You should be able to stand over the frame of the bike with both feet on the ground. Swinging your leg over the bike to get on and get off should be easy.
The seatpost (which is adjustable) should ideally be neither dropped all the way or raised all the way. You should adjust the saddle so that it hits you right at the hip bone if you are standing next to the bike.
When riding the bike, the reach to the handlebars should be comfortable. You shouldn’t feel stretched too far over to reach the handlebars, nor should you feel cramped. Your knees should have plenty of clearance between them and the handlebar when at the top of your pedal stroke.
The bike shop should also be willing to help you ensure you’re buying the right size bike. If they are unhelpful or make you feel intimidated, walk out and look for a different shop.
Bonus Step: Get a Professional Bike Fitting
If you can afford it, we highly recommend a professional bike fitting. Not every bike shop will offer this service, so ask google for one near you or ask friends who bike.
While this service isn’t cheap, it will ensure that you get the correct size bike and that it is set-up correctly for your body. In addition to helping you find the right size frame, a bike fit may show that you need differently sized components, like a shorter stem or narrower handlebars.
Size Charts For Some Of Our Favorite Bike Brands
There are several brands we recommend time and time again to the women in our community. While this is nowhere near an exhaustive list, here are direct links to the size charts of some of our favorite companies.
Do You Need A “Women’s” Bike?
Not necessarily. While I love that more and more companies are offering women’s-specific bikes, don’t feel that you need to limit yourself to a women’s bike. A unisex bike might work great for you.
Some reasons you may want to choose a women’s specific bike are that they often come with women’s-specific components (like anatomical saddles) and that they usually come in smaller size frames. That can be important if you are more petite.
Finally, women’s specific lifestyle bikes will often have step-thru frames that makes it easier to ride with a skirt. And lets not forget that women’s bikes often just look more feminine.
For more information on this topic, read our article on the pros and cons of women’s specific bicycles.
Tips For Ordering Online
While you’d ideally try a bike before buying it, the current environment is making that challenging. Many bike shops have very low or no inventory right now.
Additionally, some of our favorite women’s bikes aren’t even sold through local dealers–they are only sold online. If you are considering ordering a bike without seeing it first, take the extra time to get good body measurements (height, inseam, arm length, etc) and compare it to the size chart on the website.
Fortunately, a lot of direct to consumer bike companies that are selling solely over the internet have created tools to help make this process a lot easier. A lot of them will ask you to input your measurements and then tell you what size bike you need.
If the company has great customer service (and I’d only be inclined to buy from a company that does), you can also call or email them with your measurements and let them tell you which size would fit you best.
Tips For Short Women
Shorter women are those that struggle most with finding the correct sized bike. Unfortunately, the bike industry still heavily favors male (aka taller) riders.
Here are a few tips to help you find a bike that actually fits:
- Pay attention to stand over height. The single most important measurement you’ll want to pay attention to is stand over height. This is the height of the top tube of the bicycle. You want to be able to stand flat footed over the top tube of the bike. If you can’t do this, you won’t be comfortable on the bike.
- Consider “youth bikes.” There are an increasing number of youth-sized 26″ and 27.5″ bikes. Woom and Trailcraft are two of our favorite brands offering these bikes. The frames are sized smaller and can be a great fit for shorter women.
- Consider a custom frame. If you’re new to cycling this may not be a great option, but women who LOVE bikes and struggle to find the right size bike might want to consider a custom frame. Yes, it’s expensive but it’s a great way to get a bike that fits like a glove.
- Get a professional bike fit. As already mentioned, a professional bike fit can be hugely helpful for any cyclist. But it can be even more helpful for shorter women. In addition to helping you find the right size frame, a bike fitter can help you pick shorter components like cranks and a stem to make a bike fit you better.
Get More Help
Now that you better understand which size bike you need, use these guides to help you pick out the best bike for you and then get rolling
About The Author
Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.
An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.
Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life. Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son. If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.
Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.
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