Bike setup for women
Part one - the bike itself
Little did I know as a 12 year old being introduced to cycling how much the sport would become a main part of my life. My foray into the sport began with secondary school racing, from there I progressed to competitive road, track and mtb. I found my niche in road cycling and spent many years racing around the world. In between all the racing I trained as a physiotherapist and the knowledge gained from racing is now put to good use in helping cyclists enjoy the sport I love. One of the ways in which I do this is being part of Avanti’s WISE women’s group.
Some say cycling is now the new golf. In the past 15 years there sure has been a significant increase in those taking up the sport, both males and females of all different shapes and sizes. With this has come the demand on the bike industry to produce bikes and equipment better suited to the various events and the riders.
A growing area for the bike industry is women’s specific bikes and accessories. And if you’re wondering, it’s not a myth, we females are obviously anatomically different to our male counterparts and accordingly both for comfort and performance we need bikes and accessories that fit our shape.
Women’s specific frame geometries
Although your partner may claim it’s simply the paint job, women’s frames are, in fact, different to men’s. Women tend to have shorter torsos and arms and longer legs. We are narrower in the shoulders and broader in the hips.
Women’s specific frames are designed shorter so there is less reach to the handlebars and designed lower so that we can comfortably stand over our frames whist stopped at the traffic lights. The various angles and lengths the tubing of a bike frame dictate how the bike will handle especially when climbing, descending and cornering.
Women tend to carry the bulk of their weight in the lower halves of their bodies. This means our mass is distributed differently over the bike compared to males. By manipulating the angles of the frame tubing (aka the geometry) designers have been able to better balance our centres of mass on a women’s specific frame and hence they really do give you the feeling of better balance and control whatever the terrain.
There are now a range of bikes to choose from within the women’s specific range, which one’s right for me?
Say for example you’ve spent many years supporting family in the Round Taupo cycle challenge and you’ve finally plucked up the courage to give it a go yourself. Looking at the women’s specific bike range you have the choice of performance, endurance or sport road bikes. All of the bikes in each range are designed with the women’s specific characteristics listed above. But then there are differences within each sub- group which will alter performance and comfort.
With sport road bikes the most obvious difference is they have wide, flat handle bars versus the traditional hooked style racing bar normally seen on road bikes. The geometry has been designed to be more relaxed meaning that the bike will give you a more upright sitting position. If it’s been many years since you last rode a bike then this will be a great bike for you as the flat bars and geometry mean that you will have better balance on the bike. This means it’s easier to keep your balance as you check for traffic and indicate, or eat, drink and chat.
Endurance and Performance Bikes
Endurance and performance road bikes look more like a traditional road racing bike. Your position on the bike will be a bit more aerodynamic which will make the bike faster. Because you’re leaning forward more your centre of mass will be a little further forward meaning you’ll have a bit more weight through the front wheel. This can make the steering of the bike feel a little bit more responsive or “twitchy”. Female body shape and build will mean this may be more obvious for us than men. The lower body position also allows the bike to lean more as you turn corners and you may notice it turns faster or sharper than you anticipate.
Most women will notice these differences when progressing to this style of bike and consequently a lot are put off by it - don’t be! By knowing that these bikes have these characteristics you will learn to adjust your riding accordingly and before you know it you’ll be zooming around quite comfortably.
Once you‘ve selected which bike is right for you there are a number of women’s specific components on the bike that can then be adjusted further such as the saddle and handlebars. Look out for next month’s newsletter to find out more about these.
Kirsty Walker is an ex-professional cyclist and physiotherapist who is passionate about women’s cycling.