There are many things you’ll need to decide on before buying a new bike – style, color, material – but the question that’s asked far more than all the others is, what size should I get?
Understanding women’s bike sizes takes a bit of time to get your head around, but at the same time, it’s not rocket science. Although there are a few things that vary in size on bikes – wheels, tires, handlebars – most of the time a bike’s ‘size’ refers to its frame size, as this is the main structure of the bike, and determines what height and size of rider can use it most efficiently.
Although you might have an idea of the right size for you, choosing this whilst purchasing isn’t always so straightforward, as different companies and manufacturers often make their bikes differently. A ‘medium’ from one brand might be a totally different size to a ‘medium’ from another.
This article will work as a guide, allowing you to understand the advantages and disadvantages of different bike sizes, as well as understanding which is most ideal for you
1. Become Familiar with Bike Measurements
The two main measurements when it comes to women’s bike sizes are the frame size and wheel size. The frame size refers to the length of the top tube and the down tube – the main structure of the bike which determines how far the seat is from the ground, as well as how far the handlebars are from the seat.
The wheel size means the diameter of the wheels – although not as important as frame size, it’s still something to bear in mind. Up until a handful of years ago, most mountain bikes had 26-inch wheels, but in recent years, manufacturers have been standardizing their bikes with 27.5-inch and sometimes even 29-inch wheels.
Smaller women and teenagers are more suited for 26-inch wheels, but women who are average height or taller will benefit more from 27.5-inch wheels or 29-inch wheels, depending on the bike style. These standard sizes apply to almost all types of bikes (mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, cruiser bikes, etc.) except for BMX bikes and road bikes.
BMX bikes have 20-inch wheels as standard to make them more maneuverable and agile, whereas road bikes have 700C sized wheels – narrow and larger – as they use a different measuring system.
2. Figure Out the Sizes of Women’s Bike Frames
As mentioned earlier, a bike’s frame size is the main determinant in how large the intended rider is for that particular bike.
Most bike frame measurements are given in inches, but some are occasionally given in cm or generic frame sizes such as ‘small’, ‘medium’, ‘large’, and ‘extra-large’.
Sizing Chart of Women’s Road Bikes
Starting with road bikes, most road bikes for women have their measurements given in centimeters. The measurement given refers to the height of the seat and seat tube, with the lower number indicating a smaller bike intended for a shorter rider.
If you can’t find the seat tube measurement when shopping for a bike online, it’s a good idea to check for a sizing chart, as this will indicate the ideal height for each size available. For example, a ‘medium’ sized frame of a certain bike, might have a seat tube that’s 16” long, and be suitable for anyone between 5’2 and 5’6.
Sizing Chart of Women’s Mountain Bikes
Unlike road bikes, most measurements for mountain bikes are given in inches, but again, this refers to the length of the bike’s seat tube, and again, the lower the number, the shorter the seat tube, and therefore, the shorter the intended user of the bike.
Much like with road bikes, mountain bike manufacturers should have some sort of a sizing guide available on their site for you to find the ideal size for someone your height. If you’re at a height that’s between size guides, it’s probably a better idea to get the smaller bike, as you can always raise the seat up if need be.
Hybrid and Cruiser Bike Sizes
Although road bikes and mountain bikes sit firmly within their own categories, bikes like hybrid bikes, commuter bikes or even cruiser bikes aren’t as easily understood.
They can be sized like road bikes or mountain bikes depending on the manufacturer’s intention for the bike, so bear this in mind when choosing which one is best for you.
3. Test Ride the Bike
Although it might be tempting to buy a bike you’ve found online, it’s always a good idea to ride the bike – or at least one from the same manufacturer – before parting with your money.
After all, despite what the numbers and measurements might be, the only way to know for sure if a bike is a good fit is to ride it. When buying in person, the bike shop should let you have a short ride to test it out.
When buying online, see if you can find the same bike in your local shop and try that one out, before buying online if it’s a better deal than in store. You may be wondering – when I try the bike out, what exactly should I be looking out for?
Well, first things first, stepping over the bike shouldn’t be too difficult, and both your feet should be able to touch the ground – at least on your tiptoes. If this is possible, then at least you know the bike isn’t too tall for you to ride.
Whilst you’re riding around on the bike, you should find it relatively comfortable, and the handlebars shouldn’t be so far in front that you have to lean down too much, or so close that you feel bunched up and awkward. After this, it’s all a matter of personal preference – go for a short ride and see how you find it. If it feels good, then it probably is!
Things to Consider When Checking Women’s Bike Sizes
As well as general comfort and usability, here are a few extra things you should look out for when trying out a new women bike:
Women tend to have narrower shoulders than men, so naturally, handlebars on women’s bikes tend to be narrower because of this.
When holding the handlebars, your arms should feel in a natural, comfortable position – too wide and steering will take too much effort, too narrow and steering will require a lot more precision.
Not only do your hands need to feel comfortable when holding the grips of the bike, but it’s important for you to be able to operate both the brakes and the gears efficiently and safely.
For those with smaller hands, brake levels close to the handlebars are ideal, but for those with bigger hands, you’ll want some more room, so you can fit your hands in between the handlebars and levels whilst not operating the brakes.
When riding the bike, you reaching forward to grab the handlebars shouldn’t make you uncomfortable.
If you have to lean too far forward or not far enough forwards, then the length of the bike probably isn’t ideal for you. If you ride a bike that isn’t right for you, in the long-term it could cause issues or even injury.
Because women tend to have wider hips and larger rears than men, many manufacturers design their saddles in a way to be more comfortable for women.
This means that their saddles are wider, better-shaped to suit women, as well as having more padding to make them more comfortable in that region.
Performance-based biked tend to scrap this, and have identical seats for both men and women, as they’re designed to be durable and streamlined more than anything.
Should You Get a Women’s Bike?
Whereas some women find women-specific bikes to be more suitable for them, many are fine with unisex bikes, or even men-specific bikes, provided that they’re the right size.
It’s important to also remember that all bikes are customizable in some way, so if there are any parts that aren’t suitable or don’t fit you (such as a narrow seat, or handlebars that are too wide) then these can always be swapped out for other components.
This way, you can customize the bike to suit you, your body, and your riding style best. That’s the only way to make sure it’s perfect for you!
If your budget allows, it might even be worth getting a professional bike fitting, as this way you can have a professional service and adjust the bike to suit you, allowing you to take the guesswork out of it.
Bear in mind though that this usually comes at a fairly high price for what it is – but if comfort is your priority, then it’ll be worth it!