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Choosing the Right Mountain Bike for Women

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Bike shops can be overwhelming as they have so many options, making it hard to navigate through the different alternatives. The perfect bike can be different for everyone. Still, whether you are a new biker or looking for a new ride, the same considerations apply.

When choosing the right mountain bike for women, it is important to consider frame size, wheel size, suspension type, and the seat. The rider’s size and their desired terrain are also useful factors in determining the appropriate bike.

So, what does your perfect mountain bike look like? Let’s find out!

Are Women’s Mountain Bikes Different?

Women’s mountain bikes sport several differences from unisex bikes. When manufacturers distinguish a mountain bike as one designed for women, they mean it is built for a more petite frame. However, this is a generalization, and taller women may prefer a unisex bike.

Women’s bikes are typically built for smaller riders and come with different wheels, handlebars, and seats.

  • Wheels: Standard mountain bikes offer 27.5in (69.9 cm) or 29 in (73.7 cm) wheels. However, women’s mountain bikes also offer a 26 in (66 cm) wheel size that is best for shorter riders.
  • Handlebar: The handlebars on a woman’s bike are shorter than on unisex bikes, which means their grips are also narrower. This change is intended to accommodate shorter arms and hands.
  • Seat: As a general rule, women have wider hips than men and put more pressure on their pelvis when they lean forward. To accommodate this, the seat on women’s bikes is wider in the back and has a dip or cutout in the front.

What Mountain Bike Is Best for Me?

To determine which mountain bike is best for you, you need to consider your frame size, the wheel size, suspension type, and the seat. Women’s bikes often have additional options in these categories that unisex bikes do not.

Let’s explore these aspects further.

Frame Size

Frame size is the same for both women’s and unisex bikes. Bike frames come in S-XXL, which generally range from 15-23 in (38.1-58.4 cm). Women’s bikes add the size XS, which extends that range down to 13 in (33.1cm), and is best for riders under 5 feet (1.52 m) tall.

Many sizing guides will determine your frame size based on height, but this is not the most accurate way to measure it because everyone has different body proportions.

Instead, you should use your inseam measurement to decide which frame size you need. To measure your inseam, put on your biking shoes and measure from your crotch, where the top of the seat would be, to the floor. After doing this, take a look at the manufacturer’s sizing chart that uses inseam measurement to choose your frame.

Wheel Size

Most mountain bikes have wheels that are either 27.9in (70.9 cm) or 29 in (73.7 cm). However, most women’s bikes also have the option of 26 in (66 cm) wheels. Wheels are interchangeable, however, so you do not generally need the smallest frame size, or even a women’s bike, to have the option of 26 in (66 cm) wheels.

Seat

Having a seat with proper support is crucial, especially if you spend a lot of time on your bike. The front part of a women’s seat has a depression to allow more room, especially when moving forward. It is also wider in the back to accommodate a wider pelvis.

The seat is arguably the most tailored part of a women’s bike and makes a big difference. If you choose to purchase a unisex bike, you may still want to buy a women’s seat separately. Fortunately, they are easy to switch out.

Hardtail vs. Full Suspension

All mountain bikes have a front suspension fork that helps the bike absorb impact. A full-suspension bike also has a suspension system in the back, whereas a hardtail bike has no rear suspension.

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between hardtail and full suspension mountain bikes.

BikeHardtailFull Suspension
Pricecheapermore expensive
Speedslower on uneven terrainfaster on uneven terrain
Weightlighterheavier
Tireslarge, knobby tiresless knobby tires
Terrainflat, evensteep, rocky
Maintenanceless maintenance requiredmore maintenance required

Price

Mountain bikes are available in a wide range of prices and each manufacturer may have a slightly different price point for comparable bikes. However, when comparing similar bikes, the hardtails will be more affordable than the suspension. The frame of a hardtail bike is much less expensive to manufacture, which is reflected in the bike’s price.

Speed

The difference in speeds between hardtail and suspension bikes is not dependent on the bike as much as the terrain. Riding over bumps and obstacles naturally slows you down. The suspension bike can absorb more of the impact of rough terrain, and less of an impact means less effect on your speed. On a flat, even surface, the hardtail bike is slightly faster.

Female mountain biker carrying her bike on her shoulder

Weight

Suspension bikes are slightly heavier than hardtail bikes. Mountain bikes can weigh anywhere from 20-35 lb (9-16 kg), though the average weight of a mountain bike is 20-23 lb (9-10 kg). If you often travel uphill on your bike, even a couple of pounds can make a big difference.

Another critical factor is what the bike is made of. Mountain bikes are generally made of aluminum, carbon fiber, or steel, and the material used in the frame and wheels affect the weight of both types of bikes.

Tires

There is also a difference between the tires in hardtail and full-suspension bikes. Most tires have knobs or little bumps on the outside of the tire that help with traction. Since hardtail mountain bikes absorb less impact, their tires have more prominent, wider knobs. Full suspension bikes still have knobs, but they are smaller.

Terrain

All the factors discussed above contribute to the type of terrain that each bike can handle.

Flat, even terrain is where the hardtail bike excels. Hardtail bikes are slightly faster than full suspension bikes on a flat surface because they are lighter. Also, without the rear shocks, more of your energy goes towards moving the bike forward. They are also best for riding muddy trails because of the increased traction from the tires.

A full-suspension bike absorbs impact to give you a smoother, faster ride on steep, rough terrain. If you are doing jumps on your bike, the rear shock will be beneficial in absorbing some of the impact of landings.

Going down a rocky, steep hill on a hardtail bike is dangerous. This is because hitting a large rock or obstacle can throw you over the handlebars much more easily than when on a full-suspension bike.

Maintenance

It stands to reason that vehicles with more parts require more maintenance, which is true of mountain bikes too. Shocks can be costly to replace, so keeping them in good condition is crucial.

On both bikes, you will need to do routine maintenance on the suspension fork, but you also have to take care of the rear shock on a full-suspension bike. To learn more about what kind of maintenance is required on the rear shock of a full-suspension bike, check out this helpful video by GMBN Tech.

Conclusion

Women’s mountain bikes provide additional, smaller options that are better for smaller frames.

Whether you decide that you need a mountain bike made specifically for women or not, you need to consider these aspects:

  • Frame size
  • Wheel size
  • Seat
  • Suspension (Hardtail or Full Suspension)

Happy riding!

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