If you’ve ever tried on clothes designed for the opposite gender, you know how subtly different our bodies actually are. Maybe you tried on men’s jeans as a woman and looked like you magically shrank from the thighs down. Or, maybe you tried on a woman’s shirt as a man and felt as though your shoulders were being vacuum-sealed.
The male and female bodies are very different structurally, and clothing items reflect these differences. Those same differences are the reason that there is a major difference between men and women’s road bikes.
The Major Differences Between Men & Women Road Bikes
At first glance, they might not look different at all. Women’s bikes are not always hot pink with frilly handlebars, and men’s bikes are not always stark and manly. However, upon closer inspection, you can see the minor differences that make them perfectly suited for their designated gender.
If you’re a woman and you feel you might prefer a men’s bike, or vice versa, consider the following differences before making your decision.
Not all men and women’s bikes are structurally different. However, many are, and that structural difference affects the top tube of the frame. The top tube is the part of the bicycle that connects the handlebars to the seat. If you’re riding the bike, it’s the bar between your legs.
On women’s bikes that are for more casual riding, this bar is slanted down towards the seat so that the bike is easier to mount. On men’s bikes, the bar is parallel to the ground.
When it’s not slanted down, the top tube still usually shorter on women’s bikes. Women’s usually have short torsos and long legs whereas men’s torsos are longer. For a man and women of the same height, the woman’s bike will likely be shorter in length, but the seat will be higher up.
Many cheaper brands have unisex saddles that are meant to fit both the men and women’s bike types. This might work for a short commute down the street, but it could get uncomfortable for longer rides.
More serious bikes for women have a wider seat to fit the pelvis and sitting bones comfortably. Men’s bikes have a longer, narrow seat. High quality seats for both genders often have a space between the two sides to relieve perineum pressure. (Learn more about the best bicycle saddles for touring).
The handlebars usually differ on men and women’s road bikes. Shoulder width is a common bodily difference between the two genders, and this is directly reflected in the handlebars.
The handlebars on men’s bikes tend to be wider, and usually measure out to be between 42 and 44 centimeters wide. The handlebars on women’s bikes are between 38 and 40 centimeters to accommodate for narrower shoulders.
Additionally, the handlebar stem is usually longer on men’s bikes to accommodate for their longer arms. The stem is the part of the handlebars that is horizontal, and it is not adjustable. Since most women have shorter torsos, the handlebar stem is shorter so that they can reach it comfortably and safely. (Learn More About the Best Bicycle Handlebars for Touring)
If you’re thinking about buying a bike that is not meant for your designated gender, there’s no need to be ashamed. In fact, most people won’t even notice.
The Down & Dirty
However, to make sure you’re safe and comfortable on whatever gender bike you buy, remember to take each of the aforementioned differences into consideration first:
- Frame Structure – If you don’t want people to know you’re a dude on a girl’s bike, don’t buy the bike with the slanted the top tube. This is the single most noticeable difference. Otherwise, tube angle won’t matter for either gender.
- Frame Length – Make sure you can comfortably reach the handlebars, but that your back is also nearly flat and not scrunched up.
- Seat Shape – You’ll know right away if the seat you’re sitting on hits you in the right places.
- Handlebar Stem Length – The stem is not adjustable, so don’t buy a bike with a stem that’s too long or short.
- Handlebar Width – Your hands should be shoulder-width apart when you’re comfortably gripping the handlebars.
The gender differences in bikes are not leftover discriminations from before women were allowed to vote and work, but are instead structural variances that better suit each gender’s body type.
As long as you feel comfortable, secure and safe on the road bike you want to buy, the gender distinction won’t matter at all. Tall women tend to fit better on men’s bikes and the opposite is true for short men.