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WOMEN BIKE FITTING AND BIKE
GEOMETRY - Reaching for comfort
In the recent
years, more women have entered the sport of cycling than any
other sport. As women become an ever-growing percentage of all
cyclists on the road and trails, there has been an increasing demand on
women-specific products to attempt addressing the challenges unique to the gender.
But while women-specific products
abound, they don't seem to always successfully offer a solution to the
age-old problems of women cyclists.
There is still
a disproportionately large problem with comfort for
women riding a bike as compared to men. Why are women struggling to
correct bike fit?
Women anthropometrics (the measurements of
the human body) are quite different from that of men. Body size, limb ratios and length
of the legs vs. torso are some of the most obvious
Women tend to have longer legs,
shorter torsos, shorter arms and wider hips. Muscle
attachment points to the bone also vary slightly - and
it can make a big difference.
Women also tend to be more
flexible - in part because of hormones, in part because
women tend to value stretching more.
This may seem like an obvious
fact. But in the world of cycling, it's something that
is still being addressed in a limited fashion.
As result, we find that
one of the most common problem for women
riding a bike is the handlebar reach.
Due to the
length of the top tube, most women find themselves stretched out
to reach the shifter hoods. It leaves women in the
precarious position of having to ride with the hands on the top of the
handlebar and forgo quick (and safe) access to shifters and brakes.
Alternatively, riding in the hoods produces an over-extended
position with cascading effects on back pain, shoulder and neck
numbness and also hands tingling or falling asleep.
Another common problem is the
standover clearance. Many women struggle with clearing
the top tube of their bike when straddling the bike
(i.e. when stopped and feet on the ground).
Can anything be done to improve this
This female cyclist felt comfortable when on the bar
top, but too stretched out when reaching for the hoods.
Riding in this position, puts shifting and braking out
of reach - not safe when riding in a group. This is
typical for many women, who tend to have a shorter
WOMEN SPECIFIC PRODUCTS
A woman's position on the bicycle is quite
significantly different than the one of a man.
||In the old days, step-through
bikes were designed for women, so they could be ridden
with long skirts and prudish behaviors could be
preserved when stepping on board the bike.
However, this was a bike design that addressed the customs and clothing of the yester-years. It was
not meant to
address comfort or performance.
Today, modern women ride performance bicycles
over the same distance and at the same speed as many of their male
counterparts. Women ride technologically advanced bicycles with
sophisticated components. Women are an active part of the
|The large increase in
female participation in sports has invited
many athletics industries to address the topic of
We have seen an ever growing
segment of products specifically aimed at female
The shelves of many bike shop
abound with colorful products with catchy marketing
names and flashy designs.
Pinks, baby blues, pastels,
flowers, sugar and spice...
More and more shops address the women-specific segment
with a dedicated space.
In the cycling world, we have seen an increase in
products addressed specifically to women shoppers. The moniker
WSD (Women Specific Design, as designated by Trek) or similar acronyms appear on many
products. Bike shops have sections of their sales floor
dedicated specifically to women-driven products.
In 2014 the cycling industry publicly
acknowledged that women-driven products were not only a
significant portion of the industry's revenues, but went as far
as stating that women were the main source of growth.
In an article published in "Bicycle
Retailer.com) the author warned bike shops that if they
didn't have a specific floor plan dedicated to women, they may
do so at their own peril. Shops that didn't cater to women may
not stay in business too long, the article admonished. Those
were strong and wise words of advise.
A 2015 study published by Bicycle Retailer
further confirmed the power of women in the market place by
breaking down the figures - with very astounding sales numbers.
With such an avalanche of products and
choices and the recognition for being such a powerful force, you would expect that technological breakthroughs
would have already solved all problems related to women comfort.
But that's not quite the case..
BIKE FITTING FOR WOMEN
Most women rely on their bike shop of
choice for the purchase of the correct bike and their initial
But, even with all the WSD choices, women
keep struggling in larger numbers than men in finding a comfortable position on the bike.
There are a few factors at play here:
tradition and design
Blame the struggles of women comfort on bike fitting
tradition: the accumulated baggage of knowledge passed down
from male cyclist to male cyclist.
A very overstretched female cyclist
It's steeped in easy to digest, easy to
repeat, male-derived tenets of bike fitting. These nuggets of
information came to pass for fitting
commandments and we all know them. They are the very same ones that your more
experienced friends in your riding group keep telling you.
But they don't seem to really help.
That knowledge is actually outdated, born in
the ages of male-only performance biking. And often, it is full
of incorrect nuggets of information stemming from male
experience. It holds back everyone from the
full potential, but none more than women.
Cycling is a sport or tradition and with
women being the relatively newcomers to this sport, the
knowledge necessary for proper bike fitting hasn't really
in the accumulated book of knowledge of most bike shop
For that knowledge to be modern and accurate,
we have to go to the specialists: the bike fitters.
BREAKING THROUGH THE
To properly fit a woman, we
must break off the old tenets of bike fitting and move
into the modern era of bike fitting.
Modern bike fitting, done with 3D
motion capture technology like Retül (Retul.com),
leverages computers and
dedicated, experienced bike fitters trained to take into account the true women-specific dimensions
that make up the female's anatomy.
Modern bike fitting is steeped into
the knowledge of anatomy, ergonomics and biomechanics.
And it looks at each bike fitting as a case on its own
merits, not some mythical one-size-fits-all bike
position. It's custom to you and yours specific
situation. Modern bike fitting has a women-specific
shorter torsos and shorter arms are usually the hallmark
of typical women anthropometrics ranging from 4'11" to
5'6" - after a certain height, it seems that human
anatomy converges among the sexes. Most women are
between 5'2" and 5'5" - the 95 percentile woman.
Those significant differences in body
geometry mean that a woman's bike fit is significantly
different in nature. The size of components like the
width of the handlebar, the length of the stem
and cranks and also the
need of a setback or straight (0 offset) seatpost follow from
these significant anthropometric differences.
And it doesn't just end at bone
length and ratio driving the size of components. There are also considerable
differences in the spinal curvature of a female as
compared to male - as well as hip rotation and
width and position of the seat bones.
Women tend to have more concave
spinal curvature, resulting in a flatter thoracic
curvature, while men's tend to have a more convex
thoracic curvature to accommodate for upper body bulk.
This is mostly due to the configuration of the
hips, lower back and the coccyx configuration - the
lovely lady hump means a lot of difference in a bike fit.
This means that the relationship with
the handlebar is not only different in reach (the length
of the stem) due to the length of the torso, but also in stack (the height of the
handlebar) due to the thoracic curvature. And, finally,
the width will also be smaller.
An additional layer separating
women from men is flexibility.
Women tend to spend more time working
on their flexibility and are, generally by nature, more
compliant in the range of motion - it's a hormonal thing.
When we add up all those factors,
from the obvious to the more subtle ones, we see that the
difference in the bike fit is quite large -
and sets apart the protocol for fitting a female
The old tenets of bike fitting are
forever shattered and a women-specific protocol must be
observed to achieve good results.
The bike fit position of a female compared to
that of a male
The second factor causing havoc on
women comfort has to do with the actual product design
and the resulting sizing process for the purchase of a new
Let's see what it's causing this.
THE DESIGN CAUSE
Even with proper bike fitting tools,
there is still a disproportionate necessity for
compromise in achieving a good result for women.
In our practice, we find that very
often we are forced to select undersized components to
achieve a proper result. This is because the bike, all
too often, is too large.
In general, there is a typical range
of components size that is applicable to the correct
bike size. To reach the correct upper body position, for
example, the stem length ranges from 80mm to 110mm for most people (male or female).
Very often we find that during a bike
fit we have to install very
short stems (50-70mm) and very short reach handlebars to
position a female rider properly.
The reason is improper sizing.
Meaning that the bike is the wrong size and we are
forced to push the limits of bike fitting to achieve a
biomechanically neutral result.
Why does improper sizing happen more
to females than males?
Sizing happens during the initial
purchase of a bike. A bike shop employee will
recommend a size based in his/her knowledge.
With so many products claiming WSD
and a large baggage of male-based sizing tradition, many
shop employees fall trap of recommending a typical
size, which is often the wrong
size - frequently, too large of a bike.
It's an easy trap to fall into. Don't
blame the bike shop. There is too much marketing, hype
and hidden truths for most people to keep up with. And
many individuals make honest mistakes while in their
earnest desire to help you find a new bicycle.
SIZING, THE OCCULT ENEMY
OF WOMEN SPECIFIC DESIGN
We have to look back at 100 years of
bicycle design and tradition to understand the source of
the problem of women sizing.
Bicycles are designed with the 95
percentile man in mind. Man, not woman. 5 foot, 8 inches and about
It quite doesn't sound like most women out there, does it?
How does a female cyclist know if
they are buying the right size?
bike can be a very daunting task for everyone. So many options,
brands, colors, accessories ...
And it gets
even more complicated. What's the real difference
between a women-specific bike and a unisex model? Why are
women-specific bikes often equipped with lower-end components?
In the past
decade we saw bicycle manufacturers rushing to fill the market
gap between available cycling equipment and products aimed at
women. Unfortunately, most of the rush to production was just a
band-aid fix: pretty pastels, pink colors and flower designs
slathered on top of equipment that was clearly still designed
Add lower specs
components and you have found your typical
marketing-hyped WSD bike.
matter how knowledgeable your favorite shop is about
women, if the product is not designed specifically
for women, you are right back where you started:
struggling for a proper fit and with comfort.
Women Specific Design (WSD) are still lagging in the
market. Some bicycle manufacturers are positively
engaged in WSD from conception to inception of a bike
model - and offering a full range of options and price
many others are still lurking in the dark ages. They
make a big fanfare about their WSD design. But a quick look
at their geometry charts reveals the truth: pretty
colors on otherwise male-driven bicycles.
at the examples to the right.
compare two popular bicycle manufacturers who
aggressively market women-specific products.
manufacturers names and bike models have been omitted to
protect the innocent.
differences between the WSD and unisex are
subtle in the manufacturer example above (see
highlighted areas), but clearly an improvement
with a lower standover height for the same size.
comparison is between the same model offered by the
manufacturer in WSD and in Unisex geometries.
geometry charts can be hard to read and require a bit of
knowledge to grasp fully.
simplify things, we just need to look at 2 or 3 key
parameters that are vital to women bike fitting:
standover height, top tube length
women need a lower standover height, a shorter top tube
and a higher stack.
glance at those parameters and it becomes apparent if a
product is a true WSD or not.
this knowledge, now
you can tell which is which. That's important.
does it apply to you or can you fit on a unisex frame?
Which WSD design is for you? Which
is your true size?
difference between WSD and unisex are less
appreciable with the manufacturer above
(see highlighted areas), with all measurements being
essentially the same.
These questions are paramount to
your success in choosing the right bicycle for you. How
can you find out?
That's the job of a bike sizing session. And women
need this more than anyone else in cycling.
BIKE SIZING FOR WOMEN
Bike sizing is
the best cost saving investment you can make into your new bike.
It will help you make sure that not only you get the right
size bike, but the right geometry and
Bike Sizing will make your initial purchase
an informed decision process: you can eliminate brands/models
that don't match your body geometry. It makes you an informed
As an informed
shopper, you can
approach a bike shop with a specific set of parameters and can
spot a good deal (the bike that fits) over another (the bike
that's on sale).
It helps you in
asking the following questions:
Do I need
What brand or model of a WSD is more suited to
Can I buy that bike that's really nice and on sale, but it's
not a WSD? Or that really good deal on a used bike my friend is
Those are the
key questions that get answered with a proper bike sizing
session and make you a shopper with a knowledge to be reckoned
It also leaves you
with making the decisions that are more approachable by the
typical cyclist: ride quality, looks, color, pricing and even brand
preference. And it can save you a lot of your hard-earned
How does bike
Here you can
read the full article about bike sizing. But in a nutshell, bike
sizing allows a professional bike fitter to simulate any bike geometry, size and
component size to determine what's best for you:
width, reach and drop
size (stem, seat post setback Vs. straight, etc.)
A sizing bicycle is used to find your ideal bike size
Armed with this
information, a female cyclist can approach her favorite shop and
discuss her purchase with competence. Or can even go a step
further, by doing research online, ahead of the entering a bike
After the right
bike purchase, a bike fitting session is in order. This will
make sure you are riding your bike at your best, comfortable and
ergonomically aligned. With bike fitting you get matched to your
bike. In our practice, when you purchase a bike sizing, the bike
fitting session is included in the price. It's a two-session
process. We feel that's the most comprehensive and proper
approach to the purchase of a new bike.
And on the new, properly sized
bike, the bike fit becomes a cake-walk. A professional fitter
will be able to
achieve the best position and the most performance/comfort you and your
new bike are capable of.
Bike sizing is
an advanced shopping tool. And what woman doesn't like to be a
bike fitting is plagued by tradition and incomplete
knowledge. But the tide is changing.
don't have to ride male-sized bicycles.
Women don't have
to believe that pain is part of the cycling experience.
and performance are within reach of all women.
can understand if a bike is a true Women Specific Design
or just pretty colors.
Professionals in bike fitting and bike sizing are
changing the way women interact with their bikes and how
they approach their bike purchase.
in cycling are a force to be reckoned with.
"You don't have to be a Pro to get a bike fit. Everyone who
climbs into a bike deserves to have a great experience,
regardless of their fitness, expertise or equipment level."
A Perfect Bike Fit Pro Studio
Love your ride. Get a bike fit.
AUTHOR: Steffi Bici
A Perfect Bike
Fit Pro Studio owner, founder, senior fitter