Women Specific Design - What matters and what doesn't

The cycling industry is growing fast and there are more women specific bikes, clothing and equipment choices than ever before, which overall is a great thing. We love seeing the growth and attention to the specific needs of women on bikes and sure hope that will help get more women on bikes too!

But is women specific design always the way to go? Is it mostly just 'shrink it and pink it'?

We go through some women specific design trends / product availability and break down whats just 'nice to have', whats important and what's more fluff than substance. 

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Bikes

This is a hot topic, that can be a bit controversial in some circles. Quite a few brands choose not to have women specific bikes in their line up, while many brands do have women specific bike options available. There are even some brands that are solely dedicated to women specific bike design.

We strongly feel this deserves a post on its own - Our thoughts on this will likely surprise you... We have a lot of experience with women specific bikes, from personal experience and from working in the cycling industry, so we will put our thoughts on paper to share with you at a later date.

Verdict - It depends. More on this soon!


Saddles

Women specific saddles definitely matter! While there are a few unisex saddles that work really well for women (Most tri saddles, Specialized Power and Pro Stealth come to mind), getting a saddle that is designed with the very different anatomy of men and women in mind can make a massive difference on how comfortable you are on the bike. 

You'll typically notice a difference in the overall shape of the saddle, as well as the shape, location and size of the cutout (if applicable). There is a misconception that women need wider saddles compared to men, but that is not accurate and most brands have several and similar widths options available for both men and women. The same goes for saddles with more cushioning - this should come down to individual preference and needs vs gender alone. Luckily, most brands do actually take that into account! 

At the end of the day, while we think women specific saddles matter a lot, individual anatomy (of your pelvis, bits, etc), your riding style/goals, injury history, range of motion/mobility, bike fit and preference are all key factors, not gender alone. 

Verdict - Important


Handlebars

Many women specific bikes come equipped with narrower handlebars and/or handlebars with shorter reach, which is sometimes very helpful to making sure the bike fit is dialed in. Its not always needed though and should be decided on a case by case basis during a professional bike fit with an experienced and knowledgeable fitter.

We wrote a bit about handlebar reach and adjustments that can be made and I (Noa) have a spreadsheet with pretty much every handlebar in the market, breaking everything down to the reach, drop, weight, material, back sweep, drop sweep and additional features (yes, geek alert). Its quite often that men need and/or want a compact bar with a shorter reach and just as often women do not need or want one of those, not to mention that not all women need a narrower bar compared with a man of a similar height, riding the same size bike.

Handlebars typically range in width between 36cm to 46cm. The reach range is 65mm to 113mm and the drop range is 103mm to 148mm. There are variations in handlebar model features brand to brand, of course, so its a matter of finding what works for you, as an individual, women specific or not! 

Side note: Hopefully that handlebar spreadsheet will end up as an online database where you enter your criteria and get some recommendations, but that's down the road. 

Verdict - More fluff than substance


Clothing

Women typically wear women's clothing on a day to day basis, so it makes sense to wear women clothing on a bike too!

Years ago, it was quite the challenge finding cycling clothing that fit women properly - it seemed like everything was just a smaller version of men's clothing, really did not fit a women's body and/or little to no thought has gone into women specific clothing design. We are happy to notice that the industry has come a very long way and most cycling clothing brands started paying attention to women's needs. 

From comfort, specific anatomy and body shape considerations (especially when it comes to shorts/bibs/chamois) to aesthetics, women's cycling clothing has come a long way and there are quite a few brands who either focus heavily on women specific cycling clothing (Velocio comes to mind) or only make women cycling clothing like Machines for Freedom, Peppermint Cycling, Brava, Coeur (in the triathlon world) among others. We are pretty excited about a local Vancouver company that is about to launch too and can't wait to share some details soon!

Lets face it, in a sport that is mostly male dominated and where there is still a large discrepancy in equality, women specific cycling clothing are fun, functional and can change a women's riding experience for the better. 

Verdict - Important


Shoes

Similar to bikes, where the best one is the one that fits you properly, the best shoe is the one that fits your feet! For some women it is helpful to use a women specific shoe, while for others, it does not work.

A women's shoe is typically designed with a few key things in mind: It is often narrower at the ankle and has a lower heel cup, so that back of the foot is secured in the shoe and the heel is not moving up and down while riding. In some cases, the size run will start (and end) smaller to accommodate for the fact that some women have smaller feet than men. The shoe is often narrower and lower profile in general. 

Our biggest pet peeve is when women specific shoes do not come in high end models... Cycling industry brands - If you make women specific shoes, make high end shoes for women too. We want the same performance as men. That said, interesting enough - we do find that some high end unisex shoes are build similarly to what a women specific shoe is designed to do, with the goal of holding the foot tightly while riding. As an example, I (Noa) have a low profile narrow foot and absolutely love the fit of my Shimano RC9 shoes over several women specific shoes I tried over the years. So there is that as a point of consideration. 

Buy cycling shoes based on your foot type, cycling goals, comfort and what fits best, regardless if they are women specific or not! 

Verdict - Nice to have

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Sunglasses 

There are probably more important considerations here than whether the sunglasses are women specific or not. If they fit your face properly, you like how they look and they do their job as intended while riding - you should be good to go!

Look for lenses that are fit for the job - if you're riding in varied conditions year round, you want to find ones that have interchangeable lenses. They should have UV protection too, of course. Size / coverage wise, you want something that offers proper protection from bugs, wind, rain, etc especially under and around the sides of your eyes. The frame of the glasses should be good quality, fit snugly but not too tight and weight is important too - a combination of lightness and durability is best. We can go into a lot more detail when it comes to picking great cycling sunglasses, but that's for another time. The key take home message here is that it doesn't really matter if your sunglasses are women specific or not, as long as they work for you... Although if you are using more casual glasses for riding, its kind of nice to have a design that is more feminine. 

Verdict - More fluff than substance


Helmets

Helmet back dials that are designed to accommodate for pony tails... or pink ones (sigh). That's pretty much the only thing that is different between women specific and unisex helmets. You can pull your pony tail through the dials on pretty much every unisex helmet anyways... And what about men who have long hair? Also, not all women have pony tails, obviously. And the fact that a lot of them are pink? We know men who wear pink helmets too. Our heads are no different, our helmets don't need to be either. 

Verdict - More fluff than substance


Chamois Creams

There are several brands that make women specific chamois creams and in many cases - yes, you should use a women specific product! Many brands change the ingredients in their female specific product so there is nothing that is too cooling, as that will usually cause tingling (and not in a good way) and will use a different formula so the vaginal bacteria stays healthy and balanced by using anti bacterial ingredients (such as tea tree oil) among other features.

We are currently in the process of trying 4 different women specific chamois creams - we have come up with a ranking criteria and will summarize our findings in the next few weeks to share with you all. 

Verdict - Important


What are your experiences with women specific design in the cycling industry? We would love to hear your thoughts!