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Women-Specific Bikes: Is Pink Political?

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

Wome specific Bikes - Trek bikes

Photo: Trek Bicycles

If you’re in the market for a new bike this spring, you may be considering a women-specific bike. Most of the major manufacturers build them now. But beware. There’s a lot of misinformation about these bikes.

Ever heard of “shrink and pink”? That’s how some bicycle manufacturers, such as Cervélo, refer to bikes built for and marketed to women. They’ve been chided for not catering to the women-specific trend in bicycles, but they’re unapologetic. As Peter Donato, director of public relations for Cervélo says, “Cervélo has always made bike frames that fit women. We’ve just never promoted it through marketing by calling it a women-specific bike or making it available in pink, or any of those other things. Cervélo products have always fit women and men alike.”

Cervélo believes that women-specific bikes aren’t necessary because, contrary to what consumers are told, men and women’s leg and torso proportions aren’t different—the only difference is between short and tall people.  Heather Henderson, women–specific product manager for Trek Bicycles, confirms that. “The idea that women’s leg and torso length is different than men’s is not based on fact, but neither is it being spread by the manufactures of WSD (women-specific-design) bikes. It’s an urban legend. Misinformed staff in bicycle stores help propagate the legend.”


Does Size Matter?

It appears not, so why buy a women-specific bike? According to Henderson, there are many reasons. Correct bike fit is not just about being short or tall; it depends on your fitness level, core strength, and hip and quad flexibility—whether you bend from your hips or your waist. A custom-built bike takes all these factors into account and gives you the perfect fit. But the average woman recreational cyclist probably doesn’t want to fork out $3,000-plus for a custom-built road bike.

WSD bikes are built for smaller riders. Bike manufacturers like Trek Bicycle study the average female rider (5’4” tall with a shoulder width measuring 12.5”, and a healthy BMI) and get feedback from dealers about who’s buying what bikes. From that research they get a clear picture of the size and fitness level for a particular level of bike. “Based on that data we build a compact geometry bike that will fit 80% of women.” says Henderson.

“We want more women riding bikes,” Henderson continues, “and we want that experience to be positive—to inspire confidence right from the test ride on.” When you test-ride a female-specific bike, chances are, if you’re in that 80%, the bike will need very few adjustments to feel right. That won’t necessarily be the case with a standard bike frame, which will require the saddle, handlebars, and maybe the stem, changed to fit you. Most bike shops won’t go to this trouble until you’ve committed to buying the bike. That means you don’t get the opportunity to properly test your bike before purchase. For a novice cyclist buying her first road bike, that’s a big problem, and it’s the main reason why so many women are on bikes that don’t fit them.

Is Pink Political?

So what’s wrong with pink? “Nothing,” says Henderson. “Not all women like pink, but style and fashion is a big part of cycling—for men too. Just look at the cycling teams riding the Tour de France,” At Trek Bicycles, fashion reigns. Each year, colour palettes are researched and designed specifically for trendy, classic, and sport trends.

Calling women-specific bikes “shrink and pink” may be part of the politics of selling standard frame bikes but it’s missing the point. Everyone wants to look cool on their bike. Pink may not be your favourite colour, especially for a bike, but most women want more choice in bike colour than Cervélo’s white—even if it does comes with a Women’s Component Pack that includes a gender-specific saddle and narrower handlebars.

To Buy or Not to Buy WSD

Whether or not you choose to buy a female-specific bike depends on your size, your budget, and the level of rider you are—WSD bikes aren’t the best option for every woman cyclist. After test-riding several bikes, you may decide that a standard frame suits you better, but still, there’s something reassuring about walking into a bike shop knowing you’ve got that choice.

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5 comments to Women-Specific Bikes: Is Pink Political?

  • Julie

    I have really struggled with this recently in that my husband and I are currently both looking for new Endurance bikes. When we find a bike we like and I look at the women’s specific version of the bike it is a lesser bike-carbon not as good, cheaper components etc. The men’s version will have shimano dura ace or sram red, the women’s shimano ultregra. I can’t figure it out. I certainly am not as fast as my husband, but ride where he does. When I compare the Specialized Roubaix SL3 to the women’s Specialized Ruby (highest end women’s endurance) it’s insulting. I know you can change out components but my thought is the frame probably isn’t worthy of more expensive components. This doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with women’s racing bike. I end up concluding though for an endurance bike, I may just end up buying a man’s and having it fitted for me – and I am small-5’2″.

  • Joanne

    Well this is a bit of an issue for me as I am quite tall at nearly 5’10″ but with long legs/short torso. I disagree that WSD bikes are only about height as I am as tall as many men. However I have found that 21″ frame sizes in WSD are rarely available and I live in London, if made at all, and I am not exactly outsize. Where they do exist they assume you have very short arms and have big padded seats.
    Specialized have got it right though, they seem to have put in serious research.

  • kelly

    I love the out of the box fit of WSD bikes!!! Not a gimmick! Grateful that Trek and others think of us!

  • I know it’s superficial, but I have to say that when shopping for my first road I was dismayed with the lack of color choices. I ended up buying a second hand Specialized in white/pink, because the new Trek in my budget was ugly.

  • Judi Rozelle

    I’d like to see more emphasis put on the geometry of the customer and how it relates to bike components. I am short and the reason I am short is that I have very short legs – I need a bike that I don’t need a ladder to get up to the saddle. Not many manufacturers seem to look at the small end of things (though my Trek fits me perfectly).

    I’d also like to see more bike shops cater to womenby having a knowledgable staff. I don’t need coddling, I need information.

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