The first thing we need to acknowledge is that the term itself is a bit slippery. Although many brands, retailers, and media outlets use the label frequently, there is no universal definition about what it actually indicates—other than the fact that the bike is being advertised for women, of course. This ambiguity has led some to claim that the whole notion of ‘women’s-only bikes’ is a misguided marketing ploy without any real grounding to support it. Meanwhile, other industry leaders are investing increasing resources to develop frames and components that are explicitly designed to suit female riders. What precisely this all entails is still evolving, though, and the features or elements that make a bike better for a woman rider are not unanimously agreed upon.
Overall, some of the differences you’re likely to find on a woman’s bike include a shorter top tube and a taller head tube. This design results in a more upright geometry. The brand’s offering these kinds of designs explain that research indicates women have a shorter wingspan and therefore benefit from a shorter reach on a bike. Other studies show that a women’s lower upper body mass and centre of gravity make sitting upright a more suitable option, noting that it also allows women riders to position their pelvis differently and thus avoid soft tissue compression.
Of course, no two bodies are identical, and not every female rider will opt for a women’s-specific bike. Many happy cyclists (pros and amateurs alike) pedal along in perfect harmony on their unisex models. Nevertheless, if you’re thinking a women’s bike is the best option for you, here are a few of the top brands and models to consider.
As their mission statement tells you, “At Liv, we put women first in everything we do, every frame we build, every component we spec, and every piece of gear we design.” The sister company to Giant, Liv, focuses on engineering bikes specifically for women and calls its data-driven approach the 3F, standing for Fit, Form and Function. This design philosophy is featured across Liv bikes’ range and sees the company deliver models that many women love.
If this all sounds good to you, their Thrive range might be the right place to start exploring Liv bikes’ offerings. This is their beginner-friendly line of aluminium road bikes, with flat handlebars that come in at the more approachable sub-£1,000 price point. These models are well suited to daily commuter riding and longer excursions. They also feature a more upright position than most road bikes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still make some serious fitness gains.
Since 2017, Canyon has been outspoken about its investment in women-specific frames. Engineered using extensive data from thousands of female customers, many avid women riders swear by these tailored designs. The accumulated research went into redesigning the Canyon Ultimate and Canyon Endurace –which are both now available with a female-specific geometry. All other model families are available with identical frames to the unisex version, but with female-specific components such as narrower handlebars and women’s saddles.
Cannondale has an extensive array of women’s bikes, offering full suspension, hardtail, road and fitness bikes, all complete with female-specific geometries and components. Some of our favourites include:
Cannondale – Topstone 2 AL
This is a tremendously comfortable commuter, gravel grinder, and overall multi-purpose bike. With a women’s-specific design, this sturdy gravel bike is designed for getting off-road and exploring the countryside, hitting some dirt trails or taking a single track through the mountains.
Cannondale – SuperSix Evo Carbon Disc Ultegra Women’s Bike
For those craving speed above all else, the SuperSix EVO is one the best Cannondale women’s bikes available. It delivers a stiff and light carbon frame, top-quality Shimano Ultegra gears, and ultra-fast race geometry. It’s designed for competitive racing and features some truly innovative technology, including an integrated wheel sensor that connects to your phone in order to provide live racing stats.
Juliana is probably the biggest name for ‘women’s-specific’ models when it comes to mountain bikes. That being said, they have not hidden the fact that their women’s bikes are the same as Santa Cruz’s frames, simply with different colours and specs geared towards women. Their brand-new Furtado model is generating some positive press, and the company claims, that from winding single-track to burly rock gardens, the unmatched manoeuverability of the Furtado makes it the perfect dirt-ally for every escape.”
As the Juliana/Santa Cruz approach suggests, many women choose to buy a standard unisex frame and simply adjust the components to better suit their body. Indeed, many men change components on unisex bikes too. For women though, handlebars and saddles are areas where the vast majority will need something different to their male counterparts. Typically, narrower handlebars will lead to a more comfortable ride, and this should be considered alongside a proper fit and individual measurements. When it comes to keeping your tush happy though, some of the best-rated women’s saddles include:
Fizik Luce R5
Developed after extensive research into the needs of female riders, the Luce R5 is a women’s saddle that offers excellent power transfer and lasting comfort over long distances. The shell also has a long central cut-out, which Fizik calls its IschialFlex technology, and this provides flexible support under the sit bones.
Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow
A wide central cut-out and generous padding make this a great choice for women who like a well-padded saddle. That extra-wide cut-out is designed to help women who experience pressure or circulation issues in seats with narrower central cut-outs.
Bontrager Ajna Elite
A convex-shaped saddle with a long central cut-out, the Elite is the titanium-railed, mid-range version of the Ajna. On this women-focused design, the channel on the nose relieves pressure when riding in an aggressive position and when over the nose on tough climbs.
We are definitely in favour of any effort on the part of the cycling industry to accommodate women. And while the jury is still out on whether or not most women have a better ride on if they’re on a female-specific bike, research indicates that women’s specific branding can help ease some of the entry barriers into cycling for some women.
As more and more women discover the joy of two wheels, it makes sense that companies should invest in trying to make cycling a more welcoming environment for women. The two phenomena reinforce each other, and that is a good thing. Embracing the brands that focus on women’s cycling is also a good way for new riders to connect and bring the community together.
Although women’s-specific geometries might not be necessary for everyone’s personal fit and riding style, there is a place for them in the industry and many women who have benefited as a result. And who knows, as the gender demographic in cycling levels out, maybe some of those so-called ‘women’s specific’ characteristics will make their way onto the unisex models too.