Best road bikes for women (Between 1k to 2k)

Not every road cycling woman needs a female specific bike, but a great many would benefit from one.

In general, a woman’s leg to torso ratio is different to a man’s – usually women will have longer legs and a shorter torso. They also have narrower shoulders, smaller hands, and wider hip bones. A female specific bike is designed to fit this shape better.

Of course, one rule does not apply to all – a lady who is 6ft tall will probably have wider shoulders and bigger hands – so will be less likely to need a female specific bike than someone who is 5ft tall.

A woman looking to buy a new bike should try a unisex and female specific bike to see which is more comfortable. Here are some of the key things to look out for…

Note: We’ve also got a blog post on the best carbon road bikes for men.

Frame size

This one is simple. Many female specific bikes often go down to a 44” frame, whilst unisex bikes often stop at 48” – which is suitable for someone 5ft – 5ft 3. If you’re around this height or smaller, a female specific bike will give you more options.

Emma_Pooley_1900343c

Emma Pooley, Image> The Telegraph

Racing cyclist (now retired) Emma Pooley is 5ft2 and usually rides a bike with 650c wheels. With a smaller frame, this often makes sense – the wheels suit the bike better, the chance of toe overlap is reduced, and there is no point carrying unnecessary weight in larger wheels.

A shorter woman will generally weigh less than the average man. Therefore, the bike makes up a greater percentage of her weight – so getting a frame in the correct size is important. Riding a larger bike than you need is giving yourself an immediate handicap.

Shorter reach & narrower handlebars

Once you’ve found the right frame size, you can look at reach. A female specific bike will have a shorter top tube (remember the shorter torso?)

If you test ride a unisex bike and find the distance to the handlebars feels perfect, then no problem. If it feels too long – you have two options: go for a female specific bike, or put a shorter stem on.

handlebar position stem negative

My Amira with a 90mm stem

A shorter stem will make the handling slightly more twitchy. Bikes often come with a 100mm stem, but an 80mm or 90mm will be fine, and losing 20mm from the reach can make a big difference to the feel.

If the handlebars on a unisex bike feel too wide, again you’ve got two options: looking for a female specific bike, or buying new, narrower handlebars. A set of alloy bars will set you back around £20 to £30, but if you’re buying a higher end bike with nice bars, you might want to spend more to replace like for like.

Smaller ladies hands might also struggle to reach the shifters and brakes on a unisex bike – but often it is possible to change the position of the shifter on the bar. Shimano shifters can actually be adjusted to lessen the reach – a mechanic or sales assistant should be able to show you how to do it.

Saddle

Women have wider sit bones, so will usually want a wider saddle. A saddle with a cut out or recessed channel to aid bloodflow and prevent numbness to sensitive areas is also more common on a woman’s bike, and saddles are often shorter and narrower at the front end.

Of course, it isn’t uncommon to change a saddle and this can set you back anywhere between £30 and hundreds depending upon your preference of perch.

I reviewed a few different women’s specific saddles on my blog, and Chris Garrison from Trek wrote an incredibly helpful post here about getting the perfect saddle.

The choice

There is no law stating that a woman should ride a female specific bike. If you’ve set your heart upon a unisex bike, it can be adapted – but perhaps at the cost of a new stem, handlebars and saddle (plus shorter cranks if you’re going all out). Therefore, if you are buying a brand new bike, it isn’t always the most cost effective choice.

If you’d rather go with a bike ready made for a woman, here are some suggestions I would personally recommend:

Specialized Dolce

This was my first road bike, and I’ve still got her now, 4 years later.

specialized dolce elite x3 womens road bike

The Dolce comes at various price points, with the Specialzed Dolce Elite X3 EQ at an RRP of £1k, now at £900.  You get an aluminium frame, and an entirely Tiagra groupset –which is a sign of quality as brands will often look to fit cheaper brakes if they want to cut costs.

You do get a triple chainset, which is a point of contention – nice for hills, but few women really need that extra chainring, which really just adds weight – a double or compact offers more than enough gearing unless you are tackling very hilly terrain.

The Dolce is designed with a relaxed, sportive favouring geometry, though it would suit fine for a few races or triathlons if you had that in mind.

I’ve still got the Dolce, but have upgraded to a Specialized Amira for summer rides – the Amira being sister to the Specialized Tarmac. A Shimano 105 groupset and carbon frame on an Amira will set you back £1400 (£1600 RRP).

Trek Silque

Moving up the price scale, the Trek Silque came out this year as the brand’s new female specific frame design.

trek-silque-c-2015-womens-road-bike

The Silque calls itself “the perfect choice to ride fast, climb high, and go the distance” – so you can expect a racey bike that is comfortable enough for long rides.

For £1,500 you’ll get the Trek Silque C with Tiagra gears, derailleur’s and cassette, but unbranded brakes, and compact chainset. As with all Trek bikes, you do get a quality Bontrager finishing kit (saddle, tyres, rims seat post, bar tape).

Fuji Supreme

If you’re really splashing out, the Fuji Supreme is based on the men’s Altamira – which was until recently ridden by pro team NetApp-Endura.

fuji-supreme-13-2014-womens-road-bike

The top end Fuji Supreme is £1,999 (rrp £2,300) but that’s for carbon frame, and an Ultegra groupset.

On a more affordable budget, Fuji also have the Fuji Finest range, which starts at £495 – there are a variety of options available here.

Got questions about women’s specific bikes? Michelle keeps a blog at RideWriteRepeat and talks about women’s cycling quite a bit.. 

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6 Responses to Best road bikes for women (Between 1k to 2k)

  1. Chris Garrison 04/08/2014 at 10:05 am #

    Hello!

    Great to see this article on London Cyclist. I’d like to correct some things about it, though.

    1) Women have longer legs & shorter torsos than men: Not the case. There isn’t any evidence that supports the idea that women typically have one type of proportionality that men don’t. Proportions for both genders can be all over the map, and one type is not more common in one gender, versus the other. Changes in frame geometry on our WSD bikes are also not at all about proportions, but are instead about where the centre of gravity is located in women, which is in the lower back. The COG in men is slightly higher, just below the sternum. It is for this reason that women will benefit from a generally higher/shorter position on bikes of any variety.

    The primary anatomical difference between men and women that impacts rider comfort is centre of gravity placement, which is based on pelvic structure, and the way the pelvis sits on top of the femurs.

    2) A 6′ tall rider won’t need a WSD bike, but a 5′ tall rider will. This is also not the case. WSD bikes are not about height, they are about the aforementioned centre of gravity placement. As a 6′ tall woman myself, I am far more comfortable in a higher/shorter riding posture than in the position that a standard or aggressive geometry bike places me in. Similarly, there are many women of shorter stature that have flexibility that would allow them to ride a more aggressive position. WSD geometry isn’t really at all about shoulder width and hand size. Those are fit factors that matter no matter what gender the rider is, or the position in which they ride.

    3) Wider sit bones means a woman should ride a wider saddle. While it is true that the average sit bone with in women is greater than men, sit bone width is not the only consideration when choosing a saddle. The type of rider that someone is, and the position on the bike, will also play very important roles in which saddle is going to be more comfortable. Saddles are THE most important element of bike fit, and as it’s far too comprehensive a subject to tackle here, I’ll reference the article I’ve written: http://velocentric.com/2014/02/the-serious-business-of-saddles/

    It’s also important to note that not all bikes that are labeled as ‘women’s specific’ actually incorporate any changes in frame geometry. Many of them are simply ‘pink and shrink’, meaning that standard frames have different colours, and women’s bars and saddles. That isn’t to say that these bikes aren’t great options for women, but they don’t help the rider understand why the choice matters.

    Before buying a bike, it’s helpful to understand the anatomical differences between women and men, and how those play out on a bike. It’s because of these differences that one bike will feel perfect, and another won’t. There will always be women who will benefit from a bike with something specific for them about it, that puts them in a more anatomically correct riding position. There will always be women who don’t need a higher/shorter position because their anatomy makes it possible to be comfortable in a more aggressive riding posture.

    Ultimately, it’s about making sure the bike fits the rider properly, and this is important for both men, and women.

    -Chris from Trek

    • Andreas 04/08/2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Hey Chris,

      Thank you kindly for taking the time to weigh in with your thoughts. Clearly there are some misconceptions and its nice to get clarity directly from someone at Trek.

      Andreas

      • Chris Garrison 04/08/2014 at 1:33 pm #

        Happy to add some things, Andreas. Bike fit is hugely important, and improper fit can be a limiting factor and prevent people from becoming active cyclists. That much is gender-neutral, to be certain.

        There’s a regular and ongoing debate about the merit of women’s bikes, with just as many people suggesting that they don’t make sense, as those that maintain they do. What works for a person is obviously subjective, but there’s definitely a bell curve in favour of higher/shorter working for most. In my experience of fitting hundreds of women to bikes, the vast majority of them feel not only more comfortable, but also more confident when they are in a position that works with their anatomy. Both of these things are equally important in taking someone from being a novice or recreational cyclist, into an enthusiast. And that leads to all sorts of positive things for humanity, really.

        The objective therefore becomes helping people understand about the three contact points between themselves and their bike, and the sorts of things that can be really wrong, and that there are solutions to fix those common issues.

        If the solution involves running a shorter stem, and/or flipping it to the upright position, then this is essentially the same thing as the higher/shorter position that WSD geometry starts with by building that into the frame (not just in Trek, but anyone who actually changes the frame geometry on women’s bikes). And that’s the rub. If one is arguing that you don’t need a women’s geometry frame, but you can achieve comfort by running a shorter stem, then the reality is that a women’s geometry frame is a very viable option.

        The short answer for everyone is: get a proper bike fit, and understand that there’s a big difference between pain (bad), and suffering (good).

    • Michelle 05/08/2014 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Chris

      Wonderful depth of info there, thank you for adding your insights.

      Bike fit absolutely is individual – no two body/riding style combinations are the same. As I’ve said, one rule definitely does not apply to all.

      The 5ft vs 6ft comment could probably be explained better – I’m referring to choice of frame size, and handlebar suitability – of course a taller woman might have a body composition that is more suited to a WSD, but she’s more likely to be able to ride a unisex bike in relative comfort to a 5ft woman who can’t find a frame small enough. To achieve a perfect fit that offers ultimate power transfer and long distance comfort, there is a lot more to it than that.

      Saddles are a huge topic, hence I linked to my own blog for a bit more detail – though admittedly that’s more my own personal journey of saddle discovery. As you know, getting the right saddle is a post all of its own! Thanks for linking to yours, I’ll add it to the post.

      I’ve just discussed some of the noticeable trends, frame variations and componentry on female specific bikes, the merits of them, and looked at how this can be achieved on a unisex bike if so desired. As explained, the WSD bikes come with an altered geomatry from the start, and components that are more appropriate for the majority – so it’s generally more cost effective and easier for a woman buying a new bike to look at the WSD range. Of course, as we’ve said – it’s all individual – test riding a bike and ideally a bike fit are the best ways to find out what works.

      I’m sure within Trek and other manufacturers there is a lot more research going on and more development on points such as COG as you’ve mentioned – and it’s great to hear about all of that. Perhaps in interview with RideWriteRepeat to go in depth?!

      Michelle

  2. Sabrina 08/08/2014 at 10:18 am #

    Brilliant to see an article on women’s road bikes. I have just got the Fuji Supreme 2.5 and it was the best upgrade I ever made. No more lower back pain from over reaching and I have far better control over my breaks now that I can actually reach them!

    • Michelle Arthurs 08/08/2014 at 12:43 pm #

      That’s great to hear, Sabrina! I’ve heard great thinks about the Fuji women’s road bikes.
      Michelle

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