Or perhaps the better question: what are the most important considerations when it comes to person-specific bike fit, regardless of gender?
And the question I wish more people were asking: what has an increased focus on fitting bikes for women taught us about bike set up for, well, everyone?
Having worked in cycling media for over ten years, and often tasked with reviewing bikes aimed at a female market, I’ve heard the ‘women’s-specific’ debate from many angles. Where it gets most confusing for consumers is that a large number of early designs for women were (in hindsight) a load of bollocks. More recently, most of the companies that invested heavily in well-researched designs for female riders such as Trek, Specialized and Scott, seem to have back-flipped and have returned to gender-neutral designs, particularly at the racier end of the spectrum. Reducing the marketing for these changes to single, snappy sentences seems to confuse consumers even further.
My take on the debate is that the gender neutral designs of today are about 6000 times better informed than the unisex frame designs and specs of 15 years ago. This is largely due to research on what works for different types of women and what doesn’t. Men have benefited from this too.
I recently wrote an article for Flow Mountain Bike addressing this topic in more depth, and highlighting eight things we should be putting more emphasis on instead. Have a read if you’re thinking of a new bike for yourself or your partner, have come to this blog post because you’re baffled by all the women’s-specific fit talk too, or you just like a good, informative opinion piece.
Trek and Specialized have found that in bikes where men and women want the same ride experience – eg. high-performance bikes where snappy handling is paramount – person-specific contact points and suspension tunes are crucial, but removing gender from their fit data for a certain size frame didn’t have the impact people previously thought. Their performance-oriented cross-country and longer-travel trail bikes use unisex frames, with the smaller frame sizes benefiting from previous research into what works for women and what doesn’t.
‘It’s a woman’s bike if a woman is riding it,’ said Trek when I visited their Wisconsin headquarters in 2016. ‘It’s what women were asking for,’ said Specialized staff at the Stumpjumper launch in Spain this year. ‘If they were asking for a specific frame, we would have done that.’
– “What’s the deal with gender-(non-)specific fit?” Read the full article here.
My favourite thing about this article was how validated it seemed to make people feel; especially women who don’t tend to feel comfortable on bikes which the industry has been saying should fit them. Thanks, as always, to readers for their comments and opinions on social media. While my own experiences go part way to writing articles like these, it’s hearing about the opinions and experiences of others that means they resonate the way that they do.
Feature image: railing the Rainbow Mountain descent on the Specialized Stumpjumper 29er by Gaye Camm, who also rides this model bike. More on the personal set up choices we’ve made are detailed in the instagram posts below.
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Here's a closer view of some of the small set up tweaks @thegayesy and I made to our matchy-matchy @specialized_au Stumpjumper 29ers (150mm front, 140mm rear). · We both swapped in the older model IRCC dropper posts for the extra setback and a better fit for us on the small frame when pedalling. (Whoops, is that my shim sliding out?) · Gayes runs an older model Ruby saddle which can get even further back because of the design of the rails. I use the Power Arc for more hamstring clearance than the popular Power saddle. Huuuuuge thanks to @velofixrozelle for expertly dialling all other areas of the fit too. We value this so much we didn't even ride the bikes without getting them set up right first. · My suspension has been customed tuned by @mtbsuspension for rougher entries, exits and more Kathtastic Kathness. Gayes needs to stop riding her bike for long enough for them to kidnap it. · Gayes runs fatter grips for less arm pump. I prefer the trail feel from the stock Specialized Sip Grips but also have two years of rehab with @thephysiolab to thank for much better upper (and all over) body control nowadays. · We both swapped in the SWAT stem cap from our previous bikes. When someone breaks a chain these things are invaluable. A @promountbillet Garmin mount is tidy and compatible. I mostly use the Garmin to remind me when to eat. Nom nom nom. · The @shimanoaustralia XTR trail pedals have been with us on a few bikes now but I admit to having my eyes on the newer ones with the wider, shredlier platform. · And stickers. Because they look pro. But also because we're more grateful than we can say for so much support. Beautiful bikes are one thing, but dialling them just right for individual eccentricities takes them to a whole extra level and plays a massive role in injury reduction if you like to ride a lot. · What small but important tweaks do you refuse to ride your bike without?
Fit is personal. Read widely, chat to other riders, consult experts and enjoy learning about what works best for you.