Disclaimer: This is a topic I’ve discussed at length many times and will continue to discuss at length. The topic was brought back up by Carlton Reid and Amanda Batty – two folks I really respect in the industry.
About 10 years ago a new movement painted in pink began – the “women’s specific design” movement.
Now, as a woman in the industry – I don’t regret the “shrink it and pink” times. It was an eye-opening 3-5 years where bike brands were realizing they didn’t have a good women’s market but women held the money strings in many families. With a little bit of market testing, brands starting shrinking men’s bikes and painting them in light pinks, and blues. They also started figuring out women’s saddles and there were finally women’s specific products like clothing, shoes, and saddles from large brands other than Terry Bikes.
Originally, a women’s designed bike included a shorter top tube, taller headtube, narrower handlebars, brakes a bit closer to the handlebar for smaller hands, a women’s seat, and on mountain bikes, the suspension was set up for a lighter rider.
For most shops, it is easier to sell a women’s bike than to deal with switching out several parts to make a “men’s” bike fit a woman. It also seems easier for a guy to sell a woman a woman’s product because the validation is in the product instead of what the guy may need to know about fitting or selling (to anyone, not just women.) Read more on that one here.
Next, the big brands started pushing women’s designed products and telling shops how large the market opportunity was to get more women on bikes. Bike shops owners and employees drank the Koolaid and simply believed EVERY woman should be buying the product from their newly designed women’s section and not the rest of their store. They were taught by major brands that MOST women have long legs and shorter upper bodies so they should be on the bikes with shorter top tubes and taller headtubes. But you know what? A lot of guys could benefit from that type of fit if you work at a desk all day and can’t touch your toes very well! So then 2-3 years later, you started seeing “endurance” fit bikes (for men) but unfortunately, they typically went down to a 52cm since they were for the guys and the ladies needed to stick to women’s specific design.
Brands are starting to realize that they need to design around sizes of people and not genders. Granted, women may be attracted to different colored bikes, that doesn’t mean we should pigeonhole that color to one that fits someone with long legs and a shorter upper body. What may work for a shorter woman, could also work for men.
When I worked at a Trek store about 10 years ago I sold a decent amount of women’s design Project One custom road bikes to men because they fit them better. They were often embarrassed for riding a women’s bike so they would order a custom painted “men’s” bike. Since then, Trek has introduced the H3 which is a more endurance style fit that would have probably solved those guys fit.
If it makes you feel any better – this “pink it and shrink it” happens across all types of consumer verticals.
Here’s what I hope for in the next 18 months – bike sizing that is available for different sized people AND a more educated bike fit / tech system that helps people find the right crank length, handlebars, stem, and suspension design based on their body AND their riding style.
I’m your typical “women’s fit”. Super long legs, shorter upper body, and yes – tight hamstrings. I’ve been riding for 20 years and can make almost any bike fit. Now, that doesn’t mean they handle well when I alter things around, but they fit. My perfect bike is typically a taller headtube, with the stem slammed down so that the height is coming from the frame and not my steering bits. I need my seat pushed back, which makes a bike even shorter but we won’t get into that right now. My point being is that out of ALL my bikes I have one women’s fit bike. A Raleigh Capri Carbon that to this day is the best out of the box fit for me I’ve ever experienced. It also comes in a 56cm which most women’s bikes don’t.
As I mentioned, I’ve been riding for 20 years and I don’t actually mind the “pink and shrink” era that happened in the bike world. It was eye-opening for many of the old dudes that ran the bike industry until recently to see that women ride bikes and we are different from men in some ways. As a woman that rode terrible saddles for many years, I am so damn happy (as are my lady parts) to see bike fit and products evolve thanks to the research that was done to fit women better.
If you read this article simply because you are in the market for a new bike, here are my suggestions for you.