The Difference Between
Shopping for a new set of wheels? Learn about the key differences between men’s and women’s bikes, including tips about which one might be best for you.
Once upon a time, men’s and women’s bikes were worlds apart. While men’s bikes were thought of as sportier (and so were generally higher specced), women’s bikes were smaller, lighter and ‘prettier’, best suited to gentle riding.
Thankfully, those days are long behind us. Now, the differences between men’s and women’s bikes are much more minor, usually relating to size and fit. But it’s also important to remember that these gender labels are just a guide. The best bike for you is the one that feels right – regardless of which category it falls into.
That said, understanding the differences between typical men’s and women’s bikes (and the impact these differences have) can be useful for finding your perfect fit. To make things easy, we’ve put together this illustrative guide comparing the core components of men’s and women’s bikes, including size, structure and suspension.
Men’s bikes vs women’s bikes: What’s the difference?
The biggest difference between men’s and women’s bikes is the size of the bike’s frame. This doesn’t mean women’s bikes are simply shrunk down to a smaller size – just that certain components are different to better suit the average woman’s build.
Because women are shorter than men on average, women’s bikes tend to have a shorter stack height (the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube). Women also tend to have shorter torsos, so women’s bicycles often have a shorter reach length (the horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube).
Although these are the core size differences between women’s and men’s bikes, there are a few other components that can be adjusted to suit your fit. One of these is the bike’s handlebars – on average, women have narrower shoulders, so narrower handlebars can sometimes suit a female rider better. Similarly, if your hands are quite small, you might want to adjust your brake levers accordingly.
If the bike’s reach doesn’t feel right for you, you can also swap out the bike’s stem for a longer or shorter one. Different stems will change the position of the handlebars for you, so it’s important to find one you’re comfortable with.
Another key difference between men’s and women’s bikes is the structure of the bike’s frame. Typical women’s bikes often feature a low-step frame (also known as a step-through or open-frame), while men’s bikes usually feature a crossbar or step-over frame.
The differences in frame structure date back to the days when women predominantly wore skirts and dresses, with the lack of the crossbar making it easier for them to get on and off the bike. Because of this easy dismount, low-step frames are still a popular choice for casual riders of either sex, along with commuters and those with mobility issues. Crossbar bikes, on the other hand, are known for their strong frame structure, which can improve the bike’s longevity.
It’s important to remember that men can benefit from the comfort and ease of a low-step frame, just as women can benefit from the strength and versatility of a crossbar bike. At the end of the day, it all comes down to which frame suits you best.
Although not the case for all models, some female-specific bikes also have a slightly different saddle to their male-focused counterparts. Because women typically have wider pelvic bones than men, some women’s bikes have shorter and wider saddles, while men’s saddles tend to be narrower.
Regardless of their sex, performance riders usually prefer a narrower saddle to give them that extra bit of room for pedalling. Narrower saddles also reduce the friction between your legs, which can become a problem if you’re riding in an aggressive position. Casual riders, however, may prefer the added comfort of a wider saddle.
Whichever you prefer, bike saddles are an easy component to swap out. If your riding position changes, or if the bike you love doesn’t have quite the right saddle, you can simply switch it out for something more suited to your needs.
Suspension is another component that often comes up in discussions surrounding the differences between men’s and women’s bikes, but it’s not normally something you have to worry about when you’re shopping for a bike. Women’s and men’s bikes usually have a similar suspension set-up – although it’s something you might have to adjust to suit your weight. Luckily, adjusting your suspension is pretty easy to do at home. If you have any problems, you can also head down to your local bike shop for help.
Then, of course, there’s style. One of the most obvious (and least important) differences between men’s and women’s bikes is the range of styles and colours available in each category. So-called women’s bikes tend to include brighter colour options, along with additional features like wicker baskets, while men’s bikes usually stick to more neutral colours. But these aesthetic differences are becoming increasingly less marked, with most bikes now being considered unisex – both in style and structure. The only thing that really matters is finding a style you absolutely love.
Choose the Bike That’s Right for You
For ease, most bike sellers group their models into men’s and women’s categories, which is where you’ll be able to spot the differences in style, size and structure. But, fundamentally, all bikes are unisex. It all depends on which one feels right for you.
If you’re looking for a new Raleigh bike (yay!), the easiest thing to do is head down to your local stockist. That way, you can try a few out and find the one that feels best. You’ll also be able to chat with the staff about things like your riding position, experience, and what kind of terrain you’ll be tackling.
To find your local Raleigh stockist, head over to our store locator.