Words: Christina Chappetta
Much to my delight, female participation in mountain biking has been steadily growing and I'm thankful to say I have a rad crew of women to ride and adventure with. There weren't always that many options for women in terms of clothing or gear that worked (and fit) properly, but finally there are kits and shoes that do the job well and
look good on the trails. Brands have really stepped up their game, but what about the bikes?
I got the opportunity to talk to a few brands, one that makes exclusively women's specific bikes and others that don't, to see what perspective is on making bikes that fit everyone. Thanks so much for their time and I hope you're interested to know what they have to say.
Cheers to Ross at the snowboard shop for playing along and poking fun at the intro. Don't be fooled, he's actually a sweetheart❤️
*shocked and angry when video auto plays*
2: When I start watching the video, I want the sound on
ATM Machine, brah
thanks for the suggestions guys, i will have a look
Makes me look like I should be much faster than I actually am.
It may be worth rewording your reply to say that “you humans talk like all of you want the same things but you actually don’t”. Because that’s not a female specific problem. Men are equally finicky from my experience.
Also from my experience, some women care about women’s specific bikes but most honestly don’t. Working in a shop that sells both I think Specialized have things pretty dead on and when they say they’ve done the research I believe them. It’s not like they don’t have the money. I think it honestly comes down to offering the appropriate sizing, because women are not proportioned much if at all differently than men when it comes to fit, and simply supporting women’s riding culture, which is all Juliana seem to do.
I think the conversation is still valid. Yes it's been done before, but so has almost everything else. There are newcomers to this sport every day and it's good to keep the conversation going in my opinion. Nothing is ever 100% cut and dried in that way.
If you up to a new bike you look for specific model to fit your riding style and needs on normally in the narrowing point of one model you are limited in size and have to improvise to fit it to a shorter rider.
In the early days of women's specific bikes, those brands that did more than just spec shorter stems and anatomical saddles just adjusted their unisex bikes for shorter top-tubes, and pretty much left everything else along. The assumption being that women typically have shorter torsos.
Right around 5'4"-5'8" is where it could be a tossup between whether a shorter top tube was beneficial or not. Beyond that height, most women preferred standard bike sizing. On the other end of the scale, anyone shorter than 5'-2" men or women, simply didn't have much of a choice. I believe it was an engineer from Cervelo that stated that it doesn't matter much wether the top tube ratio to height was correct with smaller bikes because there were simply not enough small bikes made to begin with. I think he further sated that unless you are outside of the 95% of proportionality for height, +/- 10mm of stem length can account for any variance assuming bike sizes didn't have such large steps.
My guess is since there is a minority of women in our sport, women specific bikes are more likely to be bought by beginners, who prefer a more upright riding position. Hence the shorter toptubes.
It's that, or designers aren't working off real data but just off some beauty ideal of long-legged swimsuit models.
It is stated that even strong female athletes barley come close to the average male in terms of grip strength so this makes me wonder when guys talk about modulation in brakes if it even applies to women. My wife loves saints above all other brakes she has tried because for her she doesn’t have to squeeze for dear life to get them to work, a guy might say oh they are too grabby but perhaps we need to be making brakes that are just that?
pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17186303 -some reading to back my claims if anyone cares.
Grips: use a renthal push-on. Thin diameter and still some damping.
For a sport so reliant on our bodies, there's very little in the MTB media in reviews or component discussions for anyone who's not 'average' and while I realise this is to do with the bell curve distribution of people in general, the need to appeal to a bigger audience in general, the smaller auidience making that financially difficult and a lot of other things I do think there's worth in a few articles exploring component choice for people who aren't in the middle of that bell curve. There's plenty of discussion around heavier folk (if you're an OK rider run what pro downhillers do) but not a great deal for people who are much lighter, have mobility or strength issues in certain areas etc etc
As an inidvidual sport MTB is great, because it means you can have really bad asthma or a joint thing that means you have to stop really frequently, or chronic fatigue that means you need an EMTB to an 'easy' ridew but still enjoy it (rather than your traditional ball sports). but we don't really talk about stuff that might help those people/
My wife has wrist pains and sometimes her grip isn’t great. She is relatively new to mtbing and has made some comments on preferences on brakes. We’re inspired to go shopping now for some powerful and more adjustable levers for her - like someone else mentioned maybe Hopes are the way to go.
The power is better than organic that I've experienced, and they aren't loud like sintered can be here in the PNW in the winter time.
"Mean maximal hand-grip strength showed the expected clear difference between men (541 N) and women (329 N). Less expected was the gender related distribution of hand-grip strength: 90% of females produced less force than 95% of males. Though female athletes were significantly stronger (444 N) than their untrained female counterparts, this value corresponded to only the 25th percentile of the male subjects. Hand-grip strength was linearly correlated with LBM. Furthermore, both relative hand-grip strength parameters (F (max)/body weight and F (max)/LBM) did not show any correlation to hand dimensions. The present findings show that the differences in hand-grip strength of men and women are larger than previously reported."
I do wish brakes were more powerful across the board though. And it wasn't a common place to skimp on cost. Imagine if you could take whatever the seat costs and add that to your brakes on a factor build? So many people immediately replace the seat to whatever their preferred model is.
I am very happy to see any company analysing gender specific data and designing products around the findings. And i'm not talking colours (please just give us the same colours!). As more and more research like the one mentioned by @oldfaith shows, women's and men's bodies are quite different. In the sports industry this is merely a matter of "how well does my equipment perform for me. In other areas like car safety, it can me a matter of life and death. For example, Women are almost twice as likely as men to become trapped in a motor vehicle after a crash and they also sustain different patterns of injury. Until recently car safety for women has been tested with a scaled down male cash-test dummy but it turns out, we're not just mini-males.(www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/17/women-almost-twice-likely-trapped-crashed-vehicle-study).
Back to more fun stuff, like bikes: Of course we are talking averages here. The further away a male or a female is from the average, the harder it is to find a product that fits. The problem is: If all the equipment is designed around a male average (size, weight, center of gravity, grip strength, muscle distribution, etc)., then most women fall straight out of that category. For example, while only some smaller men have problems with the height of the top tube, most of my female friends know this all to well. This limits their choice of bikes substantially.
I must confess, while I am super interested in research on differences between the male and female physiology and how it affects our life in and out of sports, I myself don't use a lot of women specific equipment. I think the main reason is that there is such a limited choice. And - here are the averages again - it is hard to find something that fits and works for me. However, almost all my equipment is customized for me. For example I cut out my skiboots at the calf (womens calfs start lower than mens) and of course my bike setup is made to serve me.
It is telling/interesting that the female comments on this video are far and few between. Judging from this comments section and the anecdotal evidence in my circle of friends, the women that set up their own bikes are also rare (they exist, no doubt, but they are rare in comparison).
I think this a major problem. I see it all to often that partners, with the best intentions, build up their wife's/girlfriends bike with what works well for themselves - on a smaller frame. Which is completely normal and understandable - especially if the female is new to the sport and consequently doesn't even know what see wants/needs. The brake argument here is a classic: Some find Saints to grabby, but maybe your spouse needs all the gabbiness she can get, because her gip strength is just not comparable to yours.
So to all the dedicated bike shop workers and loving partners out there: Please listen to the women in our life. They are not just small men, so they might need a different product than you do. However they also come in all shapes and sizes. They can tell you how their equipment works for them and they often know exactly what they want. If you're the mechanic in the family: trust her and set it up how she wants it!
To sum up my ramblings: Yeah, i'm more on the "make it fully customizable to serve everyone" side of the argument. But please also look at the science on the differences of male and female physiology and don't just design every component around the average male! Thanks :-)
Hypothetically I think there's some validity to what Liv are saying - there could be some benefit for female riders in women's specific bikes where the sizing is based on female ergonomic data rather than unisex data and the shocks are tuned for typical female weight rather than typical unisex weight etc
However, in reality, MTB sizing isn't very exact any way. If a brand makes 4 sizes S-XL for everybody between 5 feet and 6'6 there's some massive size bands there - somebody 5'6 and somebody 5'10 are both recommended a medium. That 4" height difference is a massive factor that isn't accounted for at all - and people could be 60kg or 115kg and get sold the exact same bike with the same shock tune, tires etc.
Instead of making 3 women's sizes and 4 mens it's way better to make 6-7 sizes of a unisex bike which will narrow those size bands right down so everybody is on something closer to their ideal size. You could do a different shock tune for the XS and S sizes as I think it's a fair assumption that those riders will generally be lighter.
There is also a benefit here that a lot of kids age 10-13 or whatever can also buy those size XS and S bikes and that doubles the market for them and means shops are more likely to carry the smaller sizes.
What "female specific" frame design ignores is that, in terms of height and proportions, there's more variation within the sexes than between the sexes. Sizing is dictated by physiology, geometry is driven by riding style, and valving is a function of rider size and speed. In other words, two people of identical size riding the same discipline at similar speeds will need essentially the same things in terms of size, geometry, and suspension, even if one of them is a woman.
Other than saddles, "female-optimized" products are equally useful for small men and kids. Light rider tunes, small OD grips, and short reach brake levers are all fantastic options for getting smaller humans dialed on their bikes, and we'd all be better off if we could separate those factors from sex/gender when discussing setup.
There is a difference between men and women - but men and women who are similar enough in height to need the same size bike frame are not that different at all in terms of their needs.
The typical differences between men and women (size of hands and feet, length of limbs relative to torso etc) can be tackled by adjusting the saddle position (they go up and down and forwards and backwards) and dialling in your cockpit (stem spacers, stem length, handlebar and grip choice, adjusting brake lever reach etc) - which are all adjustments most informed customers would make anyway
It's more likely that women might say, have narrower shoulders, but that's accommodated more easily by chopping bar length than geometry changes.
Even the hypothesis that women have "small hands" makes little sense. Hands and feet are relative to height for most people. I have similar length fingers to most men my height, just a narrower palm.
My wife loves it, and hated the Specialized Mimic women's saddle.
That, and my daughter hates pink, light blue, or anything frilly.
Also, I think the last time I wore pink was in primary school, and it was in communist Poland, which meant that there was not much choice of clothes, or colours. Pink is maybe ok for little girls (although it still hurts my eyes), but not for a grown-up woman FFS, well at least not for me. I mean, to each their own, I guess, but I would really like to have more options of items for women, than the usual pink and black, or purple and black. It's annoying.
I know some men that are small and have really long legs and therefor might benefit from a different base geometry. While i am quite the opposite - 2m tall, long upper body, EU 46/47 size feet and >100 kg. So i finally don't struggle to find bikes that fit, but still struggle to find normal t-shirts or hoodies that fit. Just this winter i needed new skiing gear and ended up trying 8 pair of pants before i found one that fit...
Or snowboards are the classic in my case: when i started snowboarding, the only board that fit (apart from freeride tanks and race boards) was the Nitro Magnum. But then they started to shift it towards a non-fun rental-fleet board that just wasn't made anymore for someone that spent 25 days per season on the slopes. Now there is the Magnum and the Lib Tech Skunk Ape - that's it.
This was also the reason i switched back to skis, because i wanted to focus more on touring and there are just no split boards that fit the needs of someone of my size...
So all in all i think that all those brands in the outdoor industry should specify more clearly what body porportions fit to a certain product rather than market it to sexes.
E.g. on jackets, it would be useful to know how long for each size the torso and the arms are instead of just XL or XXL and the XXL is 5mm longer but 5km wider than the XL.
So snowboards is getting better, clothes still not ^^
Also that Danger Pony one is rad and I'd love it on my board!
Imagine a group of elitist cycling women hating on LIV!? A company by women for women that has women employed from CEO, CFO, Engineering, Product development, Color and Graphics, Marketing, and even Field Tech Demo team.
Why would another woman tear these women down for doing what they love and for hiring women for almost all positions?
Specialized office must be cold.
My takeaway is that "womens" bikes are a marketing tool.
Instead of a size range chart with just height, they should also include other measures. I understand that Trek doesn't want to put a sign on their website saying "if you have long legs for your height, we advise you to look elsewhere", but for some of their models this was definitely true.
The geometry is absolutely cutting edge, it's designed for how she rides, the tubes chosen for the forces she puts into the frame, and she got to pick the color from hundreds of choices.
Few men have ridden a bike this progressive or custom.
Just try the "chair challenge"
There's a big variety of sizes and designs, use what fits you.
What is the "size" or "needs" of a woman? They all different. SMH
Because nobody is that special to warrant fighting the natural currents of the market. Why don't they make XXXL sized bikes for Reggie Millers? Because there are only a couple hundred Reggie Millers that are even close to being potential customers.
If there was a giant untapped market for women's specific bicycles, rest assured; somebody would fill it.
To be clear: I wish it were the case that there was so much female participation in the sport that it made sense. But it's not.
Follow the $$
“I can’t get the right fit on a lot of other 29ers that are in a small size and are said to fit riders of my stature,” says Chloe Woodruff, a professional racer. Sometimes variations in riders’ torso and inseam lengths are to blame"
Are there exceptions sure...but wonky stuff starts to happen and its largely a product of the stack on bikes with 29" wheels. Getting the saddle high enough and at minimum even with the grips/bars is a challenge at that stature for bikes with longer travel forks. My wife is 5'2"...we've tried every damn bike out there...very few longer travel trail/enduro bikes actually will fit her without HUGE compromises to pedaling performance.
Here you go four ladies competing in the DH, no 5th lady because there simply is no one else. This is the women's open class expert to beginners. the Winner is Mio she used to race for Trek
Also, a World Cup trails rider. You are looking at all the aggressive women riders in Japan. Also all the beginner and junior and DH riders. This was the most riders I have seen on a women's podium in Japan for a decade. I have attended many over 22 years.
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