The Womens Mountain Bikes Scam (Why You Should Not Buy a Womens Mountain Bike)

 

You do not need to buy a dedicated woman’s mountain bike if you are female. Seriously. It’s a myth that men and women need gender separate bicycles. If you take one fact from this entire article, or any article about buying mountain bikes, take this one.

There is no anatomical reason why men and women should ride different types of mountain bike. The only real difference when it comes to men and women and choosing a mountain bike is that, on average, women do tend to weigh less and be shorter than men, and have some obvious anatomical differences in the seating department. Some truths about bikes are universal regardless of whether you are male or female.

What you need is a bike that fits your body properly, feels comfortable to use, and is fit for purpose.

Woman sitting next to a mountain bike

That said, most bike makers do create specific bikes for females. There has been a trend in recent years for bike designers to modify bikes and mould frames to try and fit the female body better.

Some modify their bikes under the idea that females have longer legs, but shorter upper bodies. Other brands change the manner in which female cyclists attach to the bike, i.e. modified handlebars, seats, and pedals.

No one approach is more right or better than another.

Again, it’s what feels comfortable for you when you get on the bike yourself. Only you know what feels right. So don’t get railroaded down one path or another when choosing your bike.

Couple riding mountain bikes

So just what are the main differences between men and women specific mountain bikes?

Really not very much as far as abilities, features, and usability are concerned. The differences are mainly comfort orientated. Some woman’s mountain bikes are built with shorter distances between the top of the frame and the seat of the bike based on the short torso/longer leg generalization.

Ladies’ mountain bikes also sometimes have thinner tubes and thus lighter frames. In some cases the difference in weight is completely negligible, but it may still be something worth looking at.

Dedicated woman’s mountain bikes usually have a different saddle from their male counterparts. They tend to be wider to accommodate the difference between female and male anatomy. If you don’t know what the difference is then I strongly recommend getting your hands on some sort of medical textbook and research it.

However if this is the only reason you are considering buying a woman’s mountain bike, then you could just buy a female saddle; they are not that expensive. Apart from that, the only other difference is that the handlebars may be shorter in both length and diameter for a more comfortable grip.

Woman on mountain bike

So how do you choose the right mountain bike for you?

Well before you even think about handing over your money, there are a few important things you should really consider.

  • Where are you going with your bike and your life? Before you rush off to the nearest bike shop you really should take a step back and have a realistic think about what type of biking you intend to be doing, and where you see yourself riding in 6 months’ time. This advice is especially true if you’re just starting out.If you’re thinking about buying a mountain bike to commute into and out of the city, you should at least consider a Hybrid, or even a folding bike. That doesn’t mean a mountain bike won’t do the job; I commuted on a mountain bike for a long time, and I can tell you it was effective as a mode of transport. I’m just saying it is worth thinking about.
  • Can I use a mountain bike for commuting? Oh God, yes! That is the defining characteristic of a mountain bike. You can ride a mountain bike virtually anywhere and in any weather. You can cut across fields and parking lots with ease and go from road to dirt trail without losing a beat, which is perfect if you have the option to avoid rush hour traffic.Even if you can’t avoid the traffic those big fat tires are great for gripping and balance for weaving in and out of traffic, especially if you’ve got your laptop slung across your back. It goes without saying that mountain bikes are tough. They’re built for barreling down rough trails at speed so trust me, they can handle potholes and gravel along Main Street.
  • Whatever you do, don’t buy a bike for the skill level you have at the moment Instead think about where you might realistically be in 6, 12 and 18 months’ time. The last thing you want to do is buy a single gear hardtail mountain bike then find a few months later what you really needed was a full suspension disc brake behemoth championship level mountain bike.Riding a more advanced bike never slowed anyone’s improvement, and if anything helps you develop your mountain bike skills faster!
  • Getting the right fit for you I can’t recommend enough going to an outdoor center or someplace similar and hire a bike and an instructor, or bringing a friend/partner/lover/sibling/BFF/frenemy/colleague/parent who has mountain bike experience along with you.Use their knowledge, advice, and experience to your advantage so you have a better idea about the exact type, size and setup works best for you.

    Of course, you don’t have to do this. I didn’t when I bought my first mountain bike; but I ended up with a bike that was too small and weighed more than a small island.

You can just buy a bike straight from the shop, but make sure they let you test ride the bike before making a purchase. Sure, riding a mountain bike around a parking lot isn’t the same as being out on a trail, but you will at least get a feel for the bike.

It is very important you choose a bike that fits properly. A bike that is too small is harder to pedal and breathe efficiently on, and is more difficult to steer. A bike that is too large is harder to control in a safe manner, and easier to lose control of, which is never good.

Womens mountain bikes

Choosing the right bike

When choosing a new bike, the best place to start (the only place to start) is with the frame. Sometimes it can feel like searching for a needle in a field of needles. The market for mountain bikes is literally flowing with choice, and deciding which one is right for you can be a trial.

When choosing your bike you should be looking for a frame that you can stand over relatively easily with your feet planted flat on either side. When riding, your arms should be able to grasp the handlebars at a stretch that is comfortable and isn’t overreaching.

Woman with her mountain bike

Aluminum or carbon frames?

The lighter the better. Carbon is lighter than aluminum but not by much. Both materials are light, durable, and can take some punishment. While some mountain bikes are still made from steel, they tend to be both cheap, not worth your money, or something of a niche product. Either way, they are best avoided.

In general terms there are 2 types of frames

  • Hardtails: The type we all know, and either don’t come with suspension, or have suspension just at the front; and which if you’re on a budget of $500 or less is the probably the best type of bike to get.The more travel, (up and down motion), there is in your front fork suspension the easier your bike will be to control over rough and uneven trails. Most suspension setups come with between 75mm and 100mm of vertical travel. This will tend to make you faster over most terrain and ensure that your pedal to power ratio is effective more of the time.

    Hardtails can be used on almost every trail and every street going except the really adrenaline pumping near vertical rocky descents down the side of an actual mountain. Personally I wouldn’t do that type of riding on any bike in any situation. That type or mountain biking is just straight up dangerous if you ask me.

  • Full suspension bikes: The type with shock absorbers at both ends of the bike. Talking about the intricacies of full suspension systems can get really complicated really quickly, so I will keep this as simple as I can.Put basically, these days almost all full suspension mountain bikes work well; unless the bike is worth less than $700 overall. If this is the case, then just don’t bother with a full suspension setup. Trust me, just don’t. If you are limited by your budget, then buy a quality hardtail. You will be miles better off, and you will thank me for this advice.

Personally I wouldn’t worry about the where the linkage bars or pivot points on the bike are. Far more important is to consider the type of suspension your bike has. If it is an option on your bike then do go for air shocks. Air shocks tend to offer easier adjustability and are actually better suited to women riders, who in general, are lighter riders.

It’s more important that you get your suspension settings correct for you as that will make them easier to maintain and adjust in the long run.

Mountain bike suspension

How many gears?

In general, mountain bikes have much closer spaced gears than your standard road bike. While this will make you slower on a long road journey, you will find it easier to pedal up hills and deal with the constant start/stop of commuting. And of course if you intend to use your mountain bike on an actual mountain, you will find the climbing part easier overall.

Brakes

Choosing the right brakes on a mountain bike can make the difference between riding with confidence and determination or being scared and hesitant in everything you do on your bike. You need to be able to trust your brakes, and it should be easy to pull the brake handle. Essentially when you brake, your bike should slow down and stop! If it doesn’t then something is wrong!

When it comes down to it, you have 2 choices. Either Rim brakes or Disc brakes.

Rim brakes are perfectly good brakes, but as they are on the outer edge of the wheel can be adversely affected by rain and mud; not so good if you’re actually using your mountain bike for mountain biking!

Disc brakes are much closer to the inner edge of the wheel and are more efficient and stronger. The main issue with disc brakes is, again, budgetary. Cheaper disc brakes will be heavier and less accurate.

Wheel sizing

Back in the 20th Century, before Google existed and Kim Kardashian became famous for starring in her own sex tape, mountain bike wheels came in one size. That size was 26”. Now there are also 29” wheels, and one in between measuring 27.5”, bizarrely referred to as 650B. I don’t know why either. I’m just a writer and a mountain biker.

Basically, opinion in the biking world is split between exactly what wheel size is best and which is not. Again, it’s really personal preference, and entirely up to yourself.

Conclusions

It’s like I said at the start: Choosing the right mountain bike for you comes down entirely to what feels comfortable for you. My wife rides the exact same style of mountain bike I do, just with a smaller frame and a different saddle, and she gets along just fine on it.

When she began her search for the perfect mountain bike she was convinced she wanted a dedicated ladies’ mountain bike. It was only after testing several different models that she realized she didn’t need one. Her only regret is that it didn’t come in pink.

Mountain bike sunset

19 replies on “The Womens Mountain Bikes Scam (Why You Should Not Buy a Womens Mountain Bike)

  • Jacquie Phelan

    Steel is a great material for making a bike, it’s weird to see that things have switched so badly round–i raced when aluminum was seriously (and stupidly) questioned by idiots that seemed to forget that this is a popular material for building airplanes, jets, etc.

    I agree that a good fit is pretty important for any rider. Usually it can be achieved with time in the shop or with good help, adj, stem, saddle, seat height etc.

    But nowhere in the article do you mention how the mfgr are changing things so much that it befuddles many novices, and more importantly, there are big issues with q-factor and bike GEOMETRY (which are determined alas by a) cheapness of manufacture in the first case, and b) fashion and cheapness of mfg in the second).

    My husband Charlie Cunningham (a builder and creator of the earliest truly modern mtn bike) have ‘pillow talk’ about these things, because I teach mtn biking for women, ever since 1984 when i decided the bike world was a boy’s club.

    Women’s bike as scam is sort of true–it’s a marketing scam, but it might have put more women on the bike.

    Cars are marketed to women, and trust me, the body geometric diff’s between men and women are irrel. when it comes to a car. BTW I think of cars as expensive wheelchairs.

    Reply
    • Mads Phikamphon

      Really like your views on things – and personally I wouldn’t be afraid of a steel bike + I hate cars, so I guess I agree with you that they are kind of expensive wheelchairs 🙂

      Reply
  • Euan McKenzie

    Wow, the Jacquie Phelan…I am truly humbled. I’ve seen your films! Remarkable.

    I agree with you on almost everything you write. It was however not the intention to denigrate steel bikes. And I don’t believe I have.

    But that said, below a certain price point I would have to argue that a steel frame is not a good choice for most people. So in that respect I would contend from the viewpoint of this article which is mostly guided toward riders who don’t have high level of experience or knowledge of MTB, steel is very much a ‘niche’ product.

    My main contention was that the idea of dedicated woman’s mountain bike was not the only choice available, and that in reality it’s whatever you think suits you best is the bike you should get.

    Me and buddies used to charge down MTB trails on our BMX’s when we were kids, and regularly had people dressed up like dayglo Popsicles telling us to get lost, and get the proper gear, as they overtook us climbing to the top of the mountain.

    I can’t remember exactly what they shouted as we made our way down the trail, as by the time they had normally stopped shouting we had overtaken them and their really expensive bikes and were into the next set of curves. Sometimes we waited for them at the bottom, sometimes we just went home.

    My point is that this idea of segregated categories of MTB is wrong. Don’t believe the hype.

    But then I’m not about to argue with the woman who drove Otto into battle. So I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

    Reply
  • Paul Nelson

    I prefer the bike which aluminum frame, it’s light. Anyway, thank you for awesome article with details information. Now I can choose right bike for my wife and we can ride together at the weekend 🙂

    Reply
  • Nancy Kelly

    I will say that your basic premise that women shouldn’t always be fit on a women’s mountain bike is true. I think that it would be fair to say that there are just as many men that would fit better on women’s designed mountain bike as there are women. Within our industry, there has been a general rule of thumb that as long as you “pink it and shrink it” women will buy it. However, there are several of us ladies who have worked within the industry and who have long argued that this concept is bogus. Some PEOPLE need the higher front end, shorter reach and lower standover than others do – male and female. However, with the better understanding of bike geometry in general, it is easy to change out some items to bring about a superb fitting bike that is not gender specific.

    I highly recommend to women that they DO NOT cut the wide handlebars. Short stems and wide handlebars bring more stability and balance to a mountain bike. Saddles are highly specific to each rider. Some women don’t need a wider saddle at all, some men do.

    And, seriously, the LAST thing a person should do is bring a friend, boyfriend who rides, husband who knows it all, or whoever to give you advice over that of a bike professional. Granted, there are some bike shops that employ those who know nothing or who are just learning. However, most shops try their best to fit people appropriately on a good bike. If you, as a buyer, brings your friend (hubby, s.o. or whoever) who ‘thinks’ they know whats best for you, you will more than likely end up with a bike that fits THEM perfectly.

    Reply
  • Lindsey Voreis

    I see your point, but I am all for companies making bikes for women. It shows their support of women and makes women feel special and separate from the guys. If people buy women’s specific products and they are happy with the performance, then they are saying YES to companies supporting women.

    Reply
  • Katherine Jurgens

    Hey there – As far as fit goes, it is incredibly important to make sure that the seat is at the right height and angle, otherwise knee injuries are on the horizon.

    As for women specific bikes – I’d never purchase one as I’ve read, and been told by experienced female mountain bikers, that the components are generally cheaper than bikes marketed for men.

    Reply
  • Jamie

    Im a 32 year old male & i ride a females specialized myka. For the fact that the top bar of the frame is low enough that if or when i bail lol. Its low enough that i dont loose any man parts.

    Reply
  • Chelsea

    Thanks everyone for all the information. I am currently looking at buying a mountain bike, and wanting to spend about $2-3000 on it. After reading this site im now not shy to go back and look at mens bikes before i head to a shop.
    I once bought a mongoose mountain bike (10years ago) from a shop without any info and bought a bike that is so heavy and i hate it. Its now in my shed and its name is Betty and is ready to die.
    I am still very confused about pedal ratio ?
    Most of my riding will be on trails, long distance, and some foot path riding. Also some days will be adding a bike trailer to it with two kids!
    Any help would be great.
    Would love to be a experienced biker one day !!!!

    Reply
  • Rachel pesley

    This is a load of rubbish. Womens bikes are definitely required- whoever weote this article has no idea what they are talking about.

    Reply
  • Brenda

    So what about the top tube? That’s the main difference between men’s and women’s bikes that I notice. With most of the men’s bikes that I’ve tried, it’s really hard to swing my leg up and over the tube when I fall and have to get back on.

    Reply
  • Sandy

    Hi well I’m in shock.darlings all this talk about gender specific mtbs and here I am in a panic I’m unable to go mtb riding as there is still not a mtb for transgender cyclists I’m not risking whatever I am until there is the right mtb for me let’s hope it’s ASAP

    Reply
  • Jonny Bairstow

    Now a days women is very important part of our life. They are developing their skill in everywhere. So Should help them every place and sector. Mountain Bike Reviewer guides written for all levels of women’s cycling. Whether you are a beginner cyclist looking to keep fit, or a dedicated rider looking for in-depth training guides on technique and endurance.

    Reply
  • Tim Rumbinas

    After having been away from serious wrenching on bikes since the ’90s, I recently decided to build up a pair of bikes for my son and his lady friend. Although I had some technical catch-up to do, it was rather like riding a bicycle. I’m of the opinion you can build a much better bike than you can buy off the rack. The young lady in question is petite — 5’1″ and under 100 lbs. The process took some thought. For one, 650 and 29er wheels seem impossibly large on a 13″ frame. I was fortunate to find a quality old stock 26er woman’s frame, and I’ve been searching for parts that match in compact sizes. Unfortunately, a lot of smaller components are geared for kid’s bikes, and are of marginal quality. It’s tough to find a fork that will perform correctly for a sub-100 pound rider. Small hands will be much happier with slender grips and slightly narrower bars. It’s not about gender. Although it’s fun to be able to put together a bike with color-matched components, painting something pink has no effect on function.

    Back in the old days when I was a part-time bike wrench between college classes, the guy that owned the shop had a frame custom-built by the late Francisco Cuevas. It was tailored like a custom suit of clothes. Steve would commute 45 miles morning and night when the weather was at all suited to riding, and it was always perfectly tuned. I drooled over that bike, particularly as I was flogging a very indifferent Fuji — which was all I could afford. After I’d been working for six months, Steve trusted me enough to let me take the Cuevas for a spin. It was dripping with exotic Campy parts that only existed in my fevered fantasies. The seat alone cost half the price of my bike. So I rode it. It was superb — you could tell there was rare magic in it — but it was also wrong in a way. Although we were similar in size, it was built to fit Steve, not me.

    Since I’ve been out of the game a while, what’s the fastest color for a bike? It used to be black, but that was quite a while ago.

    Reply

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