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Women’s Cycling Guide

   Words by Mark

   on 01/02/2017 12:28:00

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What is a Women’s Bike?

With the wide range of choice available, buying a new bike can seem daunting. But - fear not! This guide is designed to break down the tech jargon, confusing acronyms and ever-changing standards to help find you your perfect womens bike. Read on below to find your way to discovering the freedom and enjoyment that riding a bike can bring.

If you’re new to cycling, the first thing you’ll need is a bike. With what seems like hundreds of brands out there to choose from, you need to know what bike is right for you. Different brands utilise different geometries, and what fits one person perfectly will be completely wrong for another. It’s always a great idea to head to a shop that stocks several different brands so you can try a few out.

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Don’t worry about trying several different models and changing your mind, the sales team in a bike shop will take no greater pleasure than sharing their personal bike riding passion to help a customer find the perfect bike for them.

Do I need a Womens bike? Not necessarily!

Of course, we all have different heights and body shapes, and women can ride any bike they want to. Indeed, some women will find a men’s bike more comfortable than the equivalent women’s model, and vice versa. Different brands take very different approaches to bikes for women. Some brands, such as Giant bikes, split their range completely into men’s and women’s models (Giant’s female specific bike range is Liv), with a completely different lineup and range.

Brands such as this support one line of thinking, that women often have shorter arms and torsos than men and therefore adapt their geometry accordingly, to produce bikes with shorter top tubes, as well as specific “contact points” that include women’s specific components like saddles, shorter cranks and stems, and narrower handlebars. The design philosophy operated by Liv and other brands with women’s specific lines, such as the Scott Contessa womens bikes, is incredibly popular and does suit a lot of women, this isn’t the case for everyone. For example, many women will have slightly longer legs in proportion to their body (technically fitting into the typical women’s frame geometry philosophy) but will prefer the reach on their bike to be longer.

The solution here for many will be to try mens/unisex bikes, which can be much more suitable in reach, and replacing the standard saddle with a women’s specific one. The great thing about bikes is that there are so many different features that you can customise to your own fit, such as changing the stem and handlebars, that you can adapt to your fit for relatively little expense. While the person that sells you the bike will be able to advise on getting you the correct size model, the intricacies of getting the fit fully fine tuned can be best served by taking part in a bike fit.

This is a more advanced service that the majority of bike shops can offer, sometimes thrown in with a new bike purchase, sometimes as an added extra. They’ll use video technology, flexibility tests and geometric body angles to determine the best position for you down to the smallest detail, ensuring that when you head out riding you’re as comfortable as you can be.

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The Different Types of Womens Bikes

Women’s Road Bikes

Road bikes (also known as racing bikes) are easy to recognise, with their drop handlebars, 28-inch (700c) wheels and narrow tyres – they’re what the professionals use to conquer the mileage and mountains of races like the Tour de France. The large wheels and thin tyres of a road bike help it roll over tarmac very efficiently, while its light, aerodynamic frame helps you travel faster up and down the hills. Women-specific road bikes offer more choice in terms of frame sizes – especially for smaller riders – and will use ‘finishing kit’ (saddle, handlebars and accessories) designed with women in mind.

Women’s Mountain Bikes

A mountain bike (MTB) is specifically designed for riding on different kinds of trails, tracks and – as the name says – mountains. They come in many different shapes but a few features are common: wide, knobbly tyres for grip, wide bars for stable handling and some kind of suspension to absorb bumps and jumps. Women’s mountain bikes will usually feature 27.5-inch wheels, although some larger 29-inch wheel bikes and plus-sized bikes are also available. Some women’s MTBs feature a kinked top tube to allow for a more confidence inspiring, stable riding position.

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Women’s Hybrid Bikes

Hybrid bikes combine the fast rolling 700C wheels of road bikes with the handling qualities of a mountain bike. They are a great option for a multi-purpose bicycle, allowing for easy commuting and the potential to explore some light trails. Women’s hybrid bikes tend not to differ much from unisex versions, but traditionally styled frames will feature a step-through frame that makes riding in a skirt easier.

What type of Women’s bike should I buy?

This will depend on the kind of riding you want to do and you might not even need a women-specific bike. The main considerations should be the terrain you want to ride on and your body shape.

Sport and Leisure Riding

If you want to focus on improving your fitness or venture into a hobby that allows you to enjoy the great outdoors, a hybrid bike is ideal. They allow for a variety of terrain to be ridden without needing to make adjustments or use specialist equipment and clothing. They won’t go as fast as a road bike or cope with tough terrain like a mountain bike, but are perfect for those not interested in really specialised riding.

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Commuting and Urban Riding

Hybrid bikes and flat-bar road bikes are great for commuting as they sit the rider in a stable position with good visibility. Commuting focused bikes will be designed with ease of use in mind, so will require less maintenance and may use features like mudguards and dynamo lights to allow for cycling in a variety of conditions.

Roads and Racing

Road cycling is a unique opportunity to explore the local countryside from a new perspective. If you’re looking to venture further afield by bike or take part in a race or sportive, road bikes are perfect for the job. The larger wheels and narrow tyres are more efficient on tarmac, meaning covering larger distances is quicker and easier. They are also very light and responsive, meaning getting up hills is more comfortable and coming down the other side is more enjoyable.

Off-Road Trails

The kind of off-road trails you want to tackle can vary wildly and will determine the kind of bike you are looking for (we have a guide for that too). However, many mountain bikes are capable of handling a wide variety of terrain and offer an entry point into the exciting world of off-road cycling. Most mountain bikes will feature some sort of suspension to absorb shocks and bumps from the trail and women’s versions may feature a kinked top tube to allow for a more confidence inspiring, stable riding position.

Accessories

There’s a whole minefield of accessories available and it can be overwhelming knowing where to start, what you need and what is unnecessary. Here we’ll try to summarise what you need to get started and stay safe while out riding.

Helmets

Although not a legal requirement to ride a bike with a helmet, it’s always advisable as it could save your life should you take a tumble and hit your head. A good helmet will fit you properly and be secured safely with the strap under your chin, which should be tight enough to keep the helmet secure but loose enough that it doesn’t restrict your breathing in any way (a good guide is to fit three or four fingers between the chin strap and your chin).

Visibility

Especially important if you’re commuting in traffic or riding in the dark is a good set of lights. It will add to your confidence if you know that you’re more visible to traffic. You can add to this by wearing high visibility or brightly coloured clothing.

Puncture Repair

Riding on gravel tracks or roads can mean that from time to time, a small object may pierce your tyre and inner tube leading to you getting a puncture. An annoying inconvenience but if you’ve got the right kit, it’s a quick fix before you’re up and running again. To change the inner tube you’ll need a set of tyre levers, a spare inner tube and a pump to re-inflate the tyre once you’ve changed it.

It’s worth practicing doing this before you head out riding on your own so you don’t get caught out. If you’re not sure how to change a puncture, your local bike shop will be more than willing to show you how. It’s also worth getting a small saddle bag to store this equipment in so you don’t have to carry it in pockets.

Hydration and Nutrition

Even if only heading out on a short ride, it’s always a good idea to take a drink and a bit of food with you. All bikes come with a bottle cage mount so you can handily store a drinks bottle on the frame.

Cycling Shorts

The item that will add the most comfort to your riding is definitely a decent pair of cycling shorts. These will likely be made of lycra with a “chamois” which is effectively a pad around your bottom and sensitive areas. It may feel like you’re wearing a nappy to begin with, but once you’re used to the feeling of cycling shorts you’ll wonder how you ever rode a bike without them.

One thing that blows many riders' minds when they first get into cycling is that the chamois pad is designed to go next to the skin for hygiene and comfort reasons. In other words, you’re not supposed to wear underwear under cycling shorts!


Once you’ve got yourself kitted out with a bike and accessories, it’s time to head out! This might be on your own to start with, round the local lanes to get used to riding. But with cycling booming in the UK there’s a huge community of clubs and cycling groups that are always thrilled to have new members. These groups will often have organised rides you can attend and organise club events to get to know other like minded individuals.

A great organisation for new riders is the British Cycling Breeze programme. Led by many experienced female riders, they organise led rides to help women get riding their bikes. For many new riders, getting into cycling is a leap of faith - but, with the right guidance and equipment, you can enjoy cutting down your carbon footprint by using the car less, avoiding public transport and enjoying all the other benefits that life on two wheels can bring.

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