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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 find the 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 differences.

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 situation?

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 torso.


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 cycling culture.

The large increase in female participation in sports has invited many athletics industries to address the topic of women-specific ergonomics.

We have seen an ever growing segment of products specifically aimed at female athletes.

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" (Bicycle 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. See it here.

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..


Most women rely on their bike shop of choice for the purchase of the correct bike and their initial sizing/fitting.

But, even with all the WSD choices, women keep struggling in larger numbers than men in finding a comfortable position on the bike. Why?

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 permeated in the accumulated book of knowledge of most bike shop operators.


For that knowledge to be modern and accurate, we have to go to the specialists: the bike fitters.


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 (, 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 protocol.

Longer femurs, 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 lumbar 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 rider, significantly.

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 bike.

Let's see what it's causing this.


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.


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 160 lb.

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?

Purchasing a 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 for men.

Add lower specs components and you have found your typical marketing-hyped WSD bike.

 No 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.

True 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 points.

But 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.

Look at the examples to the right.

We compare two popular bicycle manufacturers who aggressively market women-specific products.

The manufacturers names and bike models have been omitted to protect the innocent.










The geometry 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.

The comparison is between the same model offered by the manufacturer in WSD and in Unisex geometries.

Bicycle geometry charts can be hard to read and require a bit of knowledge to grasp fully.

To 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 and stack.

Most women need a lower standover height, a shorter top tube and a higher stack.

A quick glance at those parameters and it becomes apparent if a product is a true WSD or not.

With this knowledge, now you can tell which is which. That's important.

But does it apply to you or can you fit on a unisex frame?

Which WSD design is for you? Which is your true size?

The geometry 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 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 components size.

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 shopper.

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 a WSD?

  • What brand or model of a WSD is more suited to me?

  • 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 selling?

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 with.

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 money.

How does bike sizing work?

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:

  • Geometry

  • Size

  • Crank length

  • Handlebar width, reach and drop

  • Components size (stem, seat post setback Vs. straight, etc.)


A sizing bicycle is used to find your ideal bike size and geometry

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 shop.

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 confident shopper?


Women bike fitting is plagued by tradition and incomplete knowledge. But the tide is changing.

Women don't have to ride male-sized bicycles.

Women don't have to believe that pain is part of the cycling experience.

Comfort and performance are within reach of all women.

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.

Women 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

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