“Shrink and pink”. This is a common phrase among bike companies when it comes to building bikes for women. The phrase in itself is very demeaning indeed. However, it cannot be denied that this is the mentality the cycling community has towards women. Bikes aside, it is the mentality most of the world has towards women, and it is downright BS.
For a lot of people, buying a cruiser bike may seem like a daunting task. If you’re a woman, you might be looking for a bike that is made for you, because this is how they are marketed. The bike companies make cruisers specifically for women, and sell them as being tailor-made for you. However, you are being severely misinformed.
All of these companies are said to use the terminology “shrink and pink” when referring to the bikes that they make for female cyclists. While they deny it, and say that the misinformation comes from the staff in bicycle stores around the country, this shows just how bad the misogyny in the industry is. It has got to a point that you can’t even tell who the good ones are anymore.
How cruisers for women are different
Cruiser bikes for women aren’t all that different to those built for men. They are made like this for a number of reasons, the most prominent among which is the assumption that women are, on average, built with shorter torsos and longer legs than men. Of course, there is zero concrete evidence that this is the case, but that has never stopped people from generalizing women, has it?
The Top Tube
Bike companies assume that women have shorter arms and torsos, so they build bikes that are shorter. The top tube in a cruiser bike with a woman-specific design (WSD) is generally shorter than one built for men. This means that there is a shorter distance between the saddle and the handlebars.
The intended purpose of this design is that the woman riding the bike will be able to reach the handlebars comfortably. For women who are short, this is a good option, of course. But it is also a great way for short men to get their cruise on without having to be uncomfortable. So why call them women-specific? Are short men automatically women as well?
Head and Seat Tube Angles
According the general theory of the population and society today, women have longer legs than men. The shorter top tube that is featured in WSD bikes causes an increase in the overlap of pedaling and the front wheel. To compensate for this, the head tube angle and length is increased.
This increases the length of the wheelbase and makes a WSD cruiser’s front wheel extend further out from the handlebars than a normal cruiser. The seat tube is also on a steeper angle because of the shorter top tube. All of these changes are made assuming that all women have torsos the size of Super Mario and legs as long as Bambi’s.
In the same breath that a bike company says their WSD bikes are made for the longer legs of women, they also explain why the crank length is a few millimeters shorter in a WSD cruiser than a normal bike. “Inch for inch, men’s tend to measure longer” says one website. So which is it, shorter or longer?
Handlebars, Grips and Brakes
Moving on to our shoulder span, women’s are shorter (again with the generalization!) than men’s. This is why the handlebars on WSD cruiser bikes are shorter than the normal bikes. The grips are also slimmer because obviously all women have tiny hands.
These are some of the only design differences that WSD bikes have, and they honestly aren’t all that bad. What hurts more is the fact that just because they are built for humans with a smaller build, they are automatically classified as being for women.
Bike companies don’t even stop for a second to consider the fact that just like some women have a slight build, some men do too. Why not release these bikes as a “small” size of the normal cruiser, instead of making it all about women? Why instigate sexism where there is no need for any?
Other reasons behind WSD cruisers
There are a few other reasons why women get a different design of bike than men. Of course, the WSD cruiser design is actually beneficial to most women who do have a slight build, but the point is that it isn’t really applicable solely to women.
- Women have less muscle mass and therefore less core strength than men, so they shouldn’t be stretched the entire time. This is another reason why the top tube is shortened. While this does lessen the blow of the shorter torso fiasco, it is still a little annoying to always be classified as being weaker than men.
- Most women’s arms are PROPORTIONALLY shorter than most men’s. This statement is actually true. The wording of the statement means that women aren’t all being classified as a bunch of tiny, weak and helpless beings as opposed to all buff, tall and strong men. Instead, it says that for a lot of women, the ratio of arm length to height is less than for a lot of men.
- More weight is carried around the hips than in the upper body (whoever said this has obviously never experienced the torture of large breasts). However, it is true that most women have a different center of gravity to a lot of men. Adapting the design of the bike to suit this is okay. It is also okay for a man with the same problem to adapt a cruiser for the same reason.
Why WSD cruiser bikes just aren’t necessary
Now, it is true that women are different to men. On average, the height of women in the USA is less than the average height of men. So is the average weight. The mistake that so many manufacturers make is that they make it so that all women are shorter and lighter than all men. All women are weaker than all men. All women like pink, purple, glitter and cats while all men like rugged outdoors and epic mountain bike trails.
In addition to this, women have the obvious need for a different type of seat due to human anatomy. THIS is okay, because it is something that is actually true for all women. However, other than this there is absolutely no reason for a woman to need a cruiser bike made specifically for them! The truth is that the WSD bike is the same type of scam for cruisers that it was for mountain bikes.
Buying a cruiser should be about fit
Regardless of who it was made for, if the bike fits you well, you need to buy it. If the bike had been made for Norman the cycling dog, and it were to make you feel comfortable riding it, then it needs to be the one you buy. When you are a woman, you can come under a lot of pressure to just buy a WSD bike because it has been made to fit you already.
The truth is that unless you have custom made the cruiser on your own or asked a company to do it according to your specifications, a WSD bike has the same chance of not fitting you that a normal bike does. Choosing the right cruiser for you should follow these simple tips, no matter what you have in your pants:
This is obviously the most important aspect of any bike, including cruisers. To start with the size the design of the frame needs to be selected. If you are a woman, or a man, who wears skirts and other clothes open at the bottom a lot, you may want to preserve your privacy by having a frame with a shorter step-over on the top tube. This will allow you to get on to your bike without having the whole street erupt in catcalls.
When it comes to measurement of the wheels, a 26” wheel should be the one you want, if you are anywhere between 5’1” to 6’2”.
Depending on the amount of power you are capable of delivering with your legs, you should make your choice about gearing systems. The original single speed cruisers were intended for beach use and can be harder to ride, especially if you live somewhere where the roads have a lot of slopes, or where the terrain isn’t all that easy.
If you are able to put out a lot of power, you should get a single speed for the classic look, if you don’t mind the challenge. If not, there are six or seven speed cruisers out there for you to choose from. All of these are intended for the people who actually want to cruise around on these bikes on any terrain.
Aluminum is the more popular option for people buying cruisers. However, it may not be the best choice if you are on a budget. Aluminum is lighter and of far higher quality, and is able to withstand rust, but it is also more expensive.
Steel, on the other hand, is the classic material used on cruiser frames for generations. It is heavy and can rust easier if not cared for. However, it has the added advantage of being cheaper than its aluminum counterpart.
Why colors are just as sexist as design
While the design of the WSD cruiser bikes is done with good intentions at heart, even if it was for the wrong reasons, the choice of colors for marketing campaigns of WSD bikes are just plain ignorant. Most television and billboard advertisements tend to portray the women in them as being the stereotypical female: housewife, stay at home mom, et cetera.
Would it really hurt the companies to market bikes for women in the same way that they do for men? Female cyclists are the same as male cyclists. They appreciate the same things about cycling, namely how freaking awesome it is in any weather and any terrain. The problem is the attitude that bike companies have towards female cyclists.
The Superior Bike Company in the Czech Republic summed this up perfectly with the description for their new MODO women’s bike line.
“Female cyclists do not generally need to push their limits, race against time and increase their adrenaline when riding rough downhill trails. They just want to enjoy the time spent in nature on the bike, and their expectations from the bike are completely different than men’s. They look mainly for safe, easy and of course stylish bikes that have good and natural handling.”
Women are already harassed both physically and mentally when they cycle on the roads, on cruisers or road bikes. Men who see a woman pass by on a bike seem to have an uncontrollable desire to make comments about her body, usually in a very crude manner. Men also seem to have a problem with being “chicked” on bike trails (the term used to denote a female cyclist passing a male).
However, as many women cyclists say, they want to be denoted and thought of as people who cycle because it is awesome, not because they can bedazzle their rides with a lot of pink and glitter. All that this serves it to place even more emphasis on the assumption that all women are Barbie dolls. It has untold impact on how much freedom women feel on the streets.
This is why women tend to cycle on the corner of the street, while men can be more visible. It is because they know that at some point, sexism and harassment will rear its ugly head yet again, as it always has, and turn a blissful bike ride into something that may not be done again.