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What’s the Deal on Women’s Bikes?


My First Road Bike

My First Road Bike

I remember buying my first road bike.  I was living in St. Louis for a summer and was looking for something to do, so I decided I would ride!   I found my dream bike – it was a steel Trek 1100 in Glacier Blue with HOT PINK accents and down tube shifters.   I was super excited – I took it for a test ride and put down my money.  The shop said they needed to get it ready so I was told to come back the next day and pick it up.  When I picked it up I was incredibly disappointed – they replaced the sleek racing saddle with a fat “Women’s” saddle (just imagine a cruiser saddle on my super fast road bike) which they said was the only saddle for a girl like me.   And just to add another insult, they wouldn’t put the other saddle back on.  Grrr!   Well that was the last time they got any of my money!

Orbea Onix

My Current Road Bike: Still with Pink!

My how times have changed and stayed the same.  I still ride a bike with hot pink accents, but I have upgraded to a carbon women’s specific Orbea Onix DAMA (no down shifters here – fully loaded with Shimano Ultegra thank you) and now the first thing I do with a new bike is ditch the stock saddle and put on a Terry Saddle – the Zero (which sadly they don’t make any longer) for my road bike and the Butterfly Ti for my mountain and fat bikes.

This experience got me to thinking about women’s bikes and women’s experiences in bike shops.    What’s the most important thing about choosing your next bike (regardless of your gender):  FIT, FIT, FIT! Did you get that?   That “women’s saddle”  they put on my first road bike didn’t fit me, so I got rid of it.  And while I ride a women’s road bike, I haven’t found a women’s mountain bike that fits me, so I ride a gender neutral mountain bike.    They make women’s bikes on the theory that women have longer legs relative to their torsos than men.  So women’s bikes in general have shorter top tubes than a men’s bike.   But that rule may not be true for your body, so it all comes back to fit – get a bike that fits you regardless of the bike’s designated gender.

All Smiles for her new Bike!

I came up with some rules/guidelines/suggestions about how to go about purchasing a bike regardless of your gender:

  1. Think about where and how you want to ride.
    • Mountain, road, touring, cyclocross, cruiser….what kind of riding are you going to do?  This is a critical question to help you narrow down the choices before you get to the shop.
    • And beyond the general categories get specific.  Are you going to huck yourself on the pass or do you like flowy singletrack?  Are you going to be riding the pathways or doing centuries all summer long?   Do you want a bike that you can ride on gravel roads or is asphalt your only road surface?  Knowing these answers will help you focus your test rides on bikes that you will actually ride and it will help you eliminate some of the clutter.
  2. Talk to your friends about their bikes – what do they like about their bike and what do they dislike.
    • Now go seek out your friends who ride.   Figure out what they like and don’t like about their bikes.   Often your friends will give you some really honest opinions about what drive trains they love or love to hate, why their brakes drive them mad, or how they love how their bike handles.   Learn the brands they like and don’t like.
    • Get their advice on what shop they like and if they have a sales person or fitter they recommend.
    • Ride their bikes to get your own impressions (that is if you can pry their bikes out of their hands!)
  3. Figure out your budget. Then break down that budget into the bike, the pedals, the saddle, the accessories so that you know what you are going to spend on the bike and still have money left over to make sure you get the saddle you want.
    • Bikes can be big investments, but to get out on the road or on the trail you are probably going to spend more than just the price of the bike.   You’ll need other stuff so figure your total budget and keep in mind that you can spend up to $500 of your budget on the accessories:
      • You need a helmet - and they cost between $40 and $150
      • You need pedals – and they cost between $50 and $600 (yeah really)
      • You need shoes and they start around $100
      • You need a saddle that fits you – and that’s about $60 to $150
      • Pumps, spare tube, tire levers, tool, seat bag, water bottle & cage will cost around $100 total
    • If you buy your accessories at the same time as your bike you can ask for and usually get a discount on the accessories if they are not already on sale.  And the shop will likely install all that stuff for you.
  4. Do some research on your own, but be open to what a shop may offer you that wasn’t on your research list.
    • Research brands and models before you go – if you have a list of bikes you want to ride before you go, you can make sure that you ride those bikes.
    • Consider going to a demo day to do long test rides – the ride you do at the shop will not include taking the bike out on the trails, so if that’s important to you rent or demo the bike you are considering first.
    • Shops will only have some bike brands, so you might need to go to a couple of shops to test ride several brands.  And be open to trying a bike that’s not on your list – the salesperson might just have an idea that really works for you.
    • If you find the bike you love at a local shop but know that an internet retailer carries it for less talk to your salesperson.   There are a lot of things that internet retailer cannot help you with and it might be worth all those things to pay a little more at your local bike shop.  Consider that a discount internet retailer will not:
      • service your bike & adjust your brakes just the way you like them;
      • offer test rides;
      • adjust your saddle height and install your computer and water bottle cages;
      • make you coffee;
      • host your favorite local bike race and donate money to your local bike trails;
      • fix your flat or
      • let you put a spare tube or gel on account so you can go ride RIGHT NOW!
  5. Make an appointment with your fitter or set aside time to go to your favorite shop:
    • Buying a bike takes time…. you need to test ride bikes to make sure you are buying what you want, so give yourself and the shop time to make sure you can test ride bikes and talk with the sales person without being rushed (either by your schedule or the shop’s closing time).
      • To be specific that means don’t go to buy a bike 30 minutes before you have to be somewhere else or 15 minutes before the shop closes.  I promise you will have a better buying experience if you give yourself plenty of time – say a couple of hours of un-distracted, unhurried time to ride, talk and consider your purchase.
    • Getting a fit with a professional bike fitter can help eliminate some of the test riding because during the process of a fit you and your fitter will know that a particular model has too long of a top tube for you to be comfortable.
    • Be up front with the shop about your riding goals and your budget – this will help the sales person pick bikes in their inventory that will work for you.   And if the shop has the model you want, but not the component package don’t get discouraged!  Good shops will swap parts or order you the specific model that has the components you want.
    • Sometimes the busiest Saturday at the shop isn’t the best time to buy a bike…if you are not getting the attention you want or need when you are ready to buy, ask for help or even ask when a better time would be to come back (that is one of the great things about having a fit – you already have an appointment with someone who is scheduled just to pay attention to you!).
  6. Leave your “know it all about bikes” boyfriend, husband, girlfriend, wife, or friend at home and go to the shop on your own.
    • Yup, you heard me, but this perhaps is the best advice I can give so I am going to repeat it.  LEAVE YOUR “KNOW IT ALL ABOUT BIKES” SIGNIFICANT OTHER AT HOME!
    • Why?  Because they will encourage you to buy the bike THEY want you to ride & own, not the bike YOU want to ride & own.  And really, isn’t it good to have it be about you!   And it gives you the chance to ask the salesperson all the questions you want to ask.
    • That’s not to say they don’ t have great input into your decision, but you’ve already go their input because you talked to them about their opinions already (remember Step 2 above?).
  7. Lori & her New Pivot

    Now go enjoy your new ride!



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