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Why Do Women’s Bikes Have Different Frames?


When you go looking for a new bike, there are a few things you’ll probably consider. Do you need a mountain bike? What about a BMX bike or a racing one? With so many different options, there is something you might not think to consider–how your gender impacts the structure of your bicycle.

Why are women’s bikes different from men’s bikes? Women are typically smaller than men, which is reflected in bike sizes. Fundamental anatomical differences require the saddles to be different. Lastly, the framing differences date back to societal norms at the time bikes first became popular.

In this article, you’ll learn the main differences between men’s and women’s bikes and whether or not all bicycle types follow these rules. We’ll also tell you more about the history of the bicycle, and how that history is really the main reason different bicycles were made for men and women in the first place.

The History of the Bicycle

Historically, a lot of things have been marketed differently for men than for women. Razors, deodorants, and even pens have been made different for women. Often the change is cosmetic–the color and packaging, though often the pens have softer grips for women than for men and the personal hygiene products have “manlier” scents. The same goes for bicycles today. They’re usually sold in more stereotypically feminine colors, like pink or purple, while men’s bikes tend to come in more blacks, grays, and blues.

Societal Expectations

When bicycles first became popular, women wore either dresses or skirts. As such, when they would ride a bicycle, they needed to be sure that their undergarments would not be exposed as they were riding along. Women didn’t do a lot of wearing pants back then, so for a woman to ride a man’s bike would risk indecent exposure.

Bicycle designers decided that the seats on bicycles that they marketed for women needed to tilt downward to combat the possibility of seeing a woman’s undergarments. That way, her skirt rested against her legs, and there was no way her skirt would ride up.

Structural Differences

There are quite a few differences between a man’s bicycle and a woman’s bicycle, just like there are differences in the body structures of men and women. While not every single bike is different depending on gender, you’ll find that, more often and not, they are. 

One of the main differences between men’s and women’s bikes is the distance from the seat to the pedals. Men have longer legs, so in a man’s bike, this distance is substantially longer. Women, who have smaller frames and shorter legs, need a shorter distance. If you get a bike that is specifically targeted to one gender and you’re the opposite gender, you’ll probably find riding the bike to be an unpleasant, uncomfortable experience.

Another structural difference between bikes for the genders is the top tube, the beam-like structure that attaches the handlebars and the seat. On a woman’s bike, it’s always slanted downwards. Because women have shorter legs, they’ll have a harder time swinging their leg over the taller bar to mount it, while men can do it with ease. That’s why the bar on a man’s bicycle doesn’t really have a slant at all; instead, it’s parallel with the ground.

Anatomy Matters Too

As much as we might overlook anatomy when looking into something as simple as a bicycle, it has a massive impact on the product. Since you are sitting on the seat, you need to be able to do so in a comfortable way that will allow you to ride.

Women’s bikes always have wider seats than men’s bikes. Women just have naturally wider hips than men, and the seat needs to be able to accommodate that as you sit. Since men’s hips aren’t as wide, the seats are longer and a bit narrower. The seat on a woman’s bike also usually has a downward slant so that it is more comfortable against the tailbone and pelvic bones.

Women also have wider thighs, so a wider seat keeps them from chafing together as they ride for long distances. Men, who have narrower, longer legs don’t really need this feature, so it is usually excluded in the production of men’s bikes.

The Handlebars

The handlebars on women’s bikes are usually pretty narrow compared to men’s bikes. Men have longer arms that naturally rest further apart. Bike manufacturers are aware of that, which is why their handlebars range from about 42-44 centimeters wide, while women’s bicycles measure at about 38-40 centimeters in width.

That’s not the only thing different about the handlebars, though. The handlebar stem, which connects the handlebars to the frame of the bicycle, is also a lot shorter on women’s bicycles than on men’s. That, like the width of the handlebars, has to do with the length of their arms. Since we know that men have longer arms and therefore need wider handlebars, it makes sense that the handlebar stem is longer.

If the handlebar stem is longer and you have longer legs, your arms will sit up higher, and there will be less of a chance of rubbing or clashing together as you ride along. Since women have shorter legs and shorter arms, this isn’t as much of a problem. Women also have a shorter upper body, so the stem cannot be too long, or they will not be able to reach it comfortably.

Do Women’s Bicycles Cost More?

If you’ve compared the prices of women’s products to men’s products in general, you’ll find that most of the time, women’s products are more expensive. This is true for razors, clothes, hygiene items, and organizational supplies. When you go to Target looking for a simple day planner for your office, you’ll find that the one with a pretty rose on the cover costs a lot more than the one with the sleek, black, “manly” design.

Women’s bikes are no exception. Generally, if you buy a bike marketed specifically for women, you’ll find that it costs a little more than one marketed for men, even though it is smaller and not always equipped with a pretty design or any other bells whistles, like a basket or a bell. 

Why Do Women’s Bikes Cost more?

Women’s bikes are no stranger to what has been dubbed “the pink tax.”  It gained its name based on the fact that the packaging for many women’s products is pink.

The pink tax is a price markup placed on stereotypical feminine items, like pads, tampons, women’s deodorant, clothes, and even pens simply because they are made differently. They’re specifically designed to target women, so the production companies need to make up the cost of producing different product lines.

The pink tax is not necessarily an official thing that all companies do; in fact, some companies are taking steps toward eliminating it as society progresses. However, many companies are not there yet, and a lot of them tend to sell things like women’s bicycles.

Is the Structure More Expensive to Produce?

A woman’s bicycle is smaller than a man’s bicycle. When something is smaller, it takes less material to produce. That’s why, in the case of regular clothing versus plus-sized clothing, plus-sized clothing is usually much more expensive. It takes more material to make it larger, therefore resulting in a higher production cost. Companies raise the prices on larger items to ensure that they are able to turn a profit.

A woman’s bicycle is smaller than a man’s bicycle. When something is smaller, it takes less material to produce. That’s why, in the case of regular clothing versus plus-sized clothing, plus-sized clothing is usually much more expensive. It takes more material to make it larger, therefore resulting in a higher production cost. Companies raise the prices on larger items to ensure that they are able to turn a profit.

Women’s bicycles cost more than men’s bicycles at almost any retailer you look at.

Why Do They Cost More?

To compensate for what should be a lower cost, women’s bicycle manufacturers will add in extra things that aren’t even necessary to pad the cost. These things will usually include elaborate designs, tassels on the handlebars, bells, baskets, and unnecessary padding in the actual handlebar grips.

Women don’t need these things, and more often than not, they simply get discarded anyway. However, companies still load our bikes with them so that they can drive up the prices. If you ever look at a man’s bike, you will rarely find any kind of bells or baskets. You also won’t see a very elaborate design or bright coloring on their bikes, either. They’re sleek, black, and “manly,” after all.

What About Unisex Bikes?

Unisex bikes do exist, however, not as prevalently as gendered bikes. With a unisex bicycle, you either need to sink a ton of money into making every part of the bicycle adjustable, or you need to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to need to sacrifice the comfort of a large portion of your demographic to turn a profit.

While many women’s bicycles still use the traditional step-through frame that was used to avoid seeing women’s underwear back in the day, you’ll find that most of the unisex options for bikes on the market do not use the same step-through or drop tube frame. Instead, they take after men’s bikes, and the bar runs parallel with the ground, and you’ll have to swing a leg over to mount it.

Society has progressed past the point of women not being able to wear pants, though, and most women choose to wear pants when they ride bikes these days. This lessened the need for the drop tube step-through frame, though it does still exist and is still a major feature. Women may have outgrown the need to wear skirts at all times, but that doesn’t mean their legs got any longer. For the short and uncoordinated, swinging your legs over that high bar is an insurmountable feat.

What About the Seats?

Unisex bicycle seats are meant to be, well, unisex. As such, they are not designed for a specific body type. The seats will be wider than a man’s bicycle seat would be, but it won’t be as wide as a women’s bicycle seat. The width could be a problem on both ends; for women, the narrower seat is uncomfortable for the hips, pelvic bone, and tailbone, while a seat that’s too wide might cause men to chafe awkwardly while they ride.

Are Little Girls’ Bikes the Same?

If you’re bike shopping for your daughter, you’ll notice much of the same pattern that you do when shopping for yourself. First of all, a lot of girls’ bikes are very over the top with their paint jobs, tassels, and little baskets. They are often adorned with princesses or ponies, but if they’re not, expect to find at least a stereotypical pink paint job.

Structurally, little girls’ bikes will always have a step-through frame. This frame makes it easier for them to mount the bike when they first learn how to ride. In terms of little boys’ bikes, they also tend to have a little bit of a lower bar than a regular adult men’s bike, but it is still raised to accommodate their longer legs.

Do They Cost More Too?

Women and girls alike are not exempt from the pink tax, even in their bicycles. Because little girls’ bikes are typically so ornate and over the top, companies raise the prices when they do still cost less to make when you just compare the size of the actual frame. The same is true even if you add training wheels to both types of bikes.

Do Women and Men Really Need Different Bikes?

Even though there are some basic structural differences between women and men, everybody is unique. Some women have long legs and arms, while some men have legs and arms that are shorter. The fact that there are gender-specific bicycles does not necessarily prohibit you from riding one or the other.

The point of manufacturing gender-specific bikes to begin with (other than outdated societal norms, of course) was for the comfort of the person riding it. If you’re a man and found that your wife’s bike is more comfortable for you, there is absolutely no shame in getting one for yourself. Bike rides are not about femininity or masculinity. They are for exercising, having fun, and enjoying yourself. If enjoying yourself means a wider seat and a drop-through frame, then you deserve it. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too.

How to Tell Which Bike Is Right for You

Before you buy a bike, regardless of your gender, you need to do your research first. Pink tax or not, bikes are an investment, and you don’t want to invest in the wrong thing. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to see whether or not you’ll want a men’s or women’s bike before you buy one.

First, you should always try to look for bikes in an actual store rather than ordering them online if it’s at all possible. The store will usually have a selection of at least a few different bike types for you to look at. You can get on them and see if they’re comfortable for you at first glance. Of course, you probably won’t be able to take it for a test ride, so you will have to gamble a little bit based on what it felt like in the store and hope it feels the same long term.

Even if you don’t really find a bike you like when trying it out, you still leave the store knowing whether you prefer one gender’s bike structure over the other. It’ll help you narrow your search, and maybe even allow you to find some cheaper options.

There are a few ways to gauge what kind of bike you will most likely be more comfortable if you can’t get to a store. Taking your body measurements, specifically your hips, torso, arm length, and leg length, will help you search for a bike that is tailored to your body type. The odds are that, in shopping online, you’ll find someone with a similar body type to yours who has left a review.

The Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Bikes

At this point in society, there is nothing a man can do or need that a woman cannot do or might not need. Every person on earth is built differently, and as such, gender-specific bikes are soon going to become a distant memory. The type of bike, frame style, and design pattern you choose has no reflection on your femininity or masculinity anymore. Going for a bike ride is supposed to be fun, but it’s even more fun when you’re on a bike that makes you feel comfortable and happy.

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