Australian Mountain Bike - - X Fac­tor - WORDS: ANNA BECK PHO­TOS: TIM BARD­S­LEY-SMITH

Bikes have come a long way in the past few decades. From down­tube shifters and fully rigid moun­tain bikes, we now have elec­tronic wire­less shift­ing (ok, on the road) and more sus­pen­sion than you can poke a stick at.

Yes a lot has changed, and with this change there has been a no­table in­crease in par­tic­i­pa­tion in the sport, es­pe­cially fe­male rid­ers. While fe­male race num­bers may still be lean when com­pared to male en­tries (gen­er­ally it’s around 15 per cent in Aus­tralia, but there has been a me­te­oric rise in par­tic­i­pa­tion of women’s only events), there has been a real boom in terms of women rid­ing so­cially and for fit­ness.

We are in the age where there are whole com­pa­nies ded­i­cated to women’s cycling kits, sad­dles and bikes. De­spite this in­crease, the tides of change are upon us when we look to­wards women’s spe­cific design (WSD) bikes.

From the late 1990s and early 2000s, brands like Trek and Terry pi­o­neered women’s bikes on the ba­sis that women were seek­ing a spe­cific fit that wasn’t be­ing ac­com­mo­dated by uni­sex bikes at the time. The last 15 years have seen an in­crease in women’s spe­cific prod­ucts, with most ma­jor brands of­fer­ing a women’s spe­cific line of bike mod­els. Early women’s spe­cific bikes were soon binned for their ‘shrink­ing and pink­ing’ of male bikes – that is, cut­ting a cen­time­tre or two off the top tube and length­en­ing the head tube for a less-racey, more up­right rider ex­pe­ri­ence. But in more re­cent times com­pa­nies have in­vested a fair few clams into study­ing women’s geom­e­try; spec­c­ing lighter tub­ing and sus­pen­sion and tai­lor­ing to women’s spe­cific con­tact point on bikes.

It’s in­ter­est­ing, then, that com­pa­nies such as Yeti, Ju­liana, and Spe­cial­ized are now mov­ing away from women’s spe­cific geom­e­try, of­fer­ing a uni­sex frame with women’s spe­cific ad­di­tions (ie: adding an ex­tra smaller size frame to the line up, women’s con­tact points, cus­tom sus­pen­sion). So why is it that com­pa­nies are ditch­ing women’s geom­e­try in pref­er­ence for a uni­sex fit?

The size lie: The dif­fer­ences be­tween in­di­vid­ual fe­males is broader than the av­er­age of dif­fer­ences be­tween sexes. With the rise of bike fit tools, it’s ap­par­ent that most women can fit on stan­dard frames, given there are enough size op­tions to cater for smaller in­di­vid­u­als.

Make it yours: Spe­cific com­po­nents of any given bike should be cus­tomised to fit any rider, and this is im­por­tant whether you are fe­male or male! Many peo­ple need to swap spe­cific com­po­nents out any­way, so why spec a women’s spe­cific bike with what women ‘may’ need? Things such as crank length, stem length and seat­post are all in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments that to­gether cre­ate a bike fit. See a bike fit pro­fes­sional to op­ti­mise your ride.

Tune it: Many women’s spe­cific brands of­fered a lighter tune on the sus­pen­sion. This in­ti­mates that women are al­ways lighter than men. Not true! Look at the World Cup XC cir­cuit - most women I know have more grav­i­ta­tional pull than those blokes, and they still shred hard and can ride like war­riors. A cus­tom sus­pen­sion tune is rec­om­mended any­way for any new moun­tain bike.

Bike model op­tions: Some brands of­fered women’s spe­cific bikes, but only up to a cer­tain price-point or spec level. Of­ten, women look­ing for a high-end bike were only able to pur­chase some­thing rock­ing mid-range spec when they were seek­ing su­per-blinged op­tions. Fur­ther­more, of­ten the geom­e­try that is of­fered for a ‘women’s spe­cific’ bike is less ag­gres­sive and more re­laxed than a uni­sex bike, not ideal if you’re af­ter a nim­ble race whip or ag­gres­sive trail weapon. If you’re af­ter a more re­laxed ride, that’s cool; most brands of­fer dif­fer­ent styles of uni­sex bikes de­pen­dent on your need.

Cus­tomise it: You prob­a­bly would any­way. Con­tact points are an im­por­tant part of any bike spec, but it’s a highly in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ence. Many brands are now of­fer­ing women’s bikes with the same geom­e­try frame as men but with cus­tom con­tact points. This could be a good mid­dle ground, but keep in mind that many peo­ple will swap out sad­dles, grips and bars as per their pref­er­ence.

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