Women have different needs when it comes to their mountain bikes. For years women were shoehorned into a unisex frame, given a shorter stem, and told all was good. Fortunately, manufacturers have started to wake up recently and started to produce women’s mountain bikes designed from the ground up with females in mind. So what’s different and why? Check out this informational guide to women’s mountain bikes.
Frame Geometry and Body Proportions
The average woman has different body proportions than her male counterparts. Her arms and torso are shorter and her legs longer. Most unisex frames are designed to fit men which mean the top ends up being too long and the stand over height too short. The sales person at the shop attempts to determine the proper bike size by stand over height, puts her on a bigger frame to accommodate her long legs and now her short torso is stretched out, even more, leaving her downright uncomfortable. So how manufacturers change frame geometry to and make a comfortable women’s mountain bike?
At first look, the answer might seem just to shorten the top tube length of the frame. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Shortening the frame creates a bike with a shorter wheelbase, higher center of gravity and problems with the toe overlapping the front wheel, all of which makes its handling characteristics less stable. Manufacturers have to adjust the frame angles, usually starting with the head tube angle in order to stretch out back out the wheelbase and stabilize the bike. Careful though, slacken up the head tube angle too much, and you end with a sluggish, non-responsive bike that handles like a jumbo jet going down the trail. The point is that women’s specific mountain bikes require different frames sizing and geometry.
Weight, Center of Gravity, and Suspension
A woman is lighter and has a lower center of gravity than a male rider. Suspension designed for men is too stiff for her. Women’s specific mountain bikes are set up with different suspension pre-loads and spring rates, allowing her to utilize the full travel and suspension capabilities better.
Her lighter weight also means a standard frame is too stiff. During a recent ride with Gary Fisher, we had an in-depth conversation as to why carbon fiber is the material of the future, and this is a perfect example. Both aluminum and carbon fiber women’s mountain bike frames have material removed to make them suppler, but it is much easier to change a frame characteristic with carbon fiber.
Women’s Specific Components
Let’s start at the handlebars. The average woman has narrower shoulders and smaller hands than a man. A properly designed women’s mountain bike will have narrower handlebars, smaller diameter grips, and shorter brake levers.
A woman’s mountain bikes need a different saddle. Wider bones in her hips need a wider saddle to accommodate them. Additionally, a well-designed women’s specific saddle will have a central cutaway or depression to reduce soft tissue pressure and improve comfort.
Cranks, the cranksets on women’s mountain bikes are adjusted to for size. This makes it easier to maintain proper cadence and avoids unnecessary knee strain.