We Don’t Need Bikes For Women

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In a move directly contrasting years of their own marketing, Specialized recently (and quietly) announced their departure from a womens-specific geometry platform. Citing fit data once used to support the argument for gendered bikes, Specialized told Bike Rumor “that the move to a shared platform comes from the accumulation of more than 40,000 unique data sets from their partnership with Retul. Based on their findings, Specialized has moved into the camp that believes men’s and women’s specific geometries aren’t needed, and are instead ‘building bikes for people, not specific genders”.’

A ‘women’s bike’.

What has gone largely undiscussed in the aftermath of such a move is the audience shift that will occur and why Specialized will likely still continue to invest heavily in their female customer base and targeted marketing. Even more hidden is the quiet market broadening that will happen: not only will it increase the availability of better bikes for more people, but moving away from a gendered platform also encourages better fit for a wider range of riders. Specialized dealers and shops will now have to fit a customer based on more appropriate markers such as size, skill level, individual proportions, riding discipline and style and physical strengths/weaknesses of a rider… You know, the factors that everyone should be selling bikes around.

Women’s specific fit doesn’t guarantee a better ride – only a person-specific fit can do that. Instead of selling a ‘one-size-fits-all-women’ narrative, the bike industry should be informing its audience of their options. This brand has shorter top tubes, that brand has lower bottom brackets, our brand will build you a damn giraffe frame if your pet giraffe needs one. But gender? Gender doesn’t have anything to do with how a bike fits because gender, as important as it may be to us, has literally nothing to do with how a person fits on a bike. Nothing. Nada. Nilch. And before you cite some junk science claiming that women have pelvic tilts and short femurs, please read this next line carefully: you cannot generalize an entire gender to fit an average. Just as men cannot and do not and never will all fit into the same generalizations, neither do women or trans folk. Not all women are short. Not all men are tall. Not all women have tiny hands and narrow shoulders, nor is the opposite true of all men. Generalizing entire groups of people to their detriment, in fact, is what’s called an ‘ism’ such as ‘sexism’ or ‘racism’.

Selling bikes to women doesn’t have to enforce archaic beliefs that women and girls are physically anomalous to the general population.

Selling bikes and hardgoods to people is what will grow our stagnant sport; creating an industry free from expectation, stereotypes, conformity and segregation will only benefit us. Contrary to popular opinion, we can build a stronger female riding community and create inclusiveness without spouting and spreading false information. Doing away with ‘women’s specific’ bikes doesn’t mean that a ‘women’s specific’ brand cannot have a women’s-community brand ideology or that they’re not allowed to promote women on bikes. My question is: if these companies are so intent on growing our community of riders and increasing female participation, what are they doing to actually get more girls and women on bicycles? Does their lady-shred community schtick only extend as far as their sales goals? Do they build and support scholarship programs for disadvantaged riders? Do they support initiatives to make the world a safer place for women to ride? Do they support female athletes across the scope of discipline? Do they pay women equally? Do they treat their ambassadors and representatives with respect? Do they contribute to and advocate for a larger involvement of women in sport and an equal presence in organizational bodies? Are they truly committed to getting women on bikes?

Selling bikes to women doesn’t have to enforce archaic beliefs that women and girls are physically anomalous to the general population. We aren’t. Women make up 51% of the globe’s human populace. Our bodies, in all of their shapes, sizes, differences and wonderfully unique, are normal. We are all normal. We’re just as normal as men and just as common. We aren’t magical unicorns who need specific and particularly complicated marketing to ensnare our dollars. What we need and what we want is what most humans want: to find things that fit us. To participate in sport without threat of discrimination and without threat of assault. We want to be seen as equals who have value as customers, as riders and as people. We want to see a wider range of representation in our sport: in bike shops, at companies, in advertising and at tradeshows.

Hannah: a woman on a (women’s) bike.

Would the automotive industry sell womens-specific cars? Does the rocket industry sell gender-specific motherboards? Is the electrical industry replete with lady-specific light-switches and wiring harnesses? Has the mattress business suddenly gone to female-specific pillow tops because ‘lady hips are more delicate’?

The bike industry doesn’t need women’s-specific frames. People need people-specific bikes that fit their individual needs.

The answer to all of these is a resounding ‘no’. Bicycles are the same, because bikes are a tool. They are an extension of human functionality and should be modeled as such, not an emotional appeal in an industry that desperately needs to invest in growth. Making a smaller range of bicycles available to a (very) niche group of individuals in a mad grab for cash injection is, quite honestly, the dumbest business move possible. Instead of investing in proven methods of growth and meeting a longtime market demand for wider size ranges, we’re trying to reinvent the wheel by assuming that women are a strange, alien species. That’s not only insulting, but it’s counterproductive – wasting time debating the inanities of whether or not all women are identically proportional (hint: we’re not) and arguing back and forth while abandoning every other consumer segment is just idiotic. While ‘women specific’ bike companies are having an advertising war fighting for the rare customer who fits the narrow parameters of their biased “female sizing”, they’re ignoring the millions of other women, men and children who just want a bike that fits. Yes, millions. There are far more riders combined that don’t fit the 5’4″/short torso/long legs stereotype that dominates the womens-specific argument than there are who do. The bike industry doesn’t need women’s-specific frames. People need people-specific bikes that fit their individual needs.

What does that say about our priorities? I’ll tell you what it says: the bike industry has been more focused on enforcing gender stereotypes than it has on serving current customers and engaging potential riders. That’s a problem. That’s a big problem. And logic like that is what will kill companies who don’t follow Specialized’s lead and abandon their womens-specific platforms. Keep the community initiatives, kill the pseudo-science. Embrace all sizes and all needs of all people, educate and inform, and get more asses on seats.

It’s not a difficult idea to grasp.

Comments (12)

    I completely agree but I’m pretty sure Transition made this point in the last year already. Yes they didn’t have a Women’s specific range to abandon in the first place, so kudos to specialized for being bold enough to give up the idea.

    So Hannah, after your review of the Liv ( “I came back feeling like I’d conquered a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t realise I could, and thinking that perhaps there was something to said about ‘women’s specific geometry’ after all.”) what is your view on this?
    Not a dig of any kind but there are now two totally different views out there on women specific bikes from two women in the industry.

    Some good points of view there Hannah! Does this extend to the Body geometry components too as I though that was what the only differences between some of the bikes was?

    “the 5’4″/short torso/long legs stereotype that dominates the womens-specific argument”

    An argument not backed up by any of the anthropometric data I’ve looked at, data that’s also available to the brands that make the pro-WSD points. There are some general/average differences but it’s not in leg to height ratios.

    I’ve just re read it and Hannah’s Liv test and I really don’t see any contradiction between the two. It is a marketing mindset that needs changing but it will be fascinating to see the outcome.

    Bikes for people. Could not agree more.

    What an astonishingly confused article. Please don’t give up the day job… Or is your day job actually supposed to be journalism? That was quite an excruciating read.

    When my partner finally and very reluctantly had to retire her top notch, 20 year old, Specialised hard tail (size M), she eventually chose a Lapierre Womens Mountain Bike and she is extremely happy with it. Apart from the geometry, it was tremendous value for money. Surely the issue is that any choice is good and we’re all free to buy whichever bike we want – subject to what we can actually afford.

    See Juliana Bicycles….and almost every other brand that either figured this out some time ago, or didn’t have the investment in womens specific geometry that required a couple of seasons ROI before giving it up.

    We never made a women’s specific bike because when we crunched the numbers we realised that we could make bikes in something like 5mm increments in all the most important dimensions without a pink paint job. Its working alright for us – but I tell you the one thing that makes a difference? Saddles. We offer only 1 non-gender-specific (Its the Fabric Gel womens-but-not-a-woman’s) saddle, but give free reign to provide your own, but a bike without one. Whatever. If ever there was a minefield its Women’s saddle preference! Otherwise its just the right sized bike for the right person. Everything between your smallest bike and your biggest bike is just a size.

    nxgater, the vast majority of men and women overlap each other in basic proportions. The primary differences are at the extreme ends in overall height. The frame itself is unimportant because you can add/remove stack with spacers and stem angles. You can add/remove reach with different length stems or even bars. Even shoulder widths and hand sizes are generally consistent for men and women of equal height. The main difference as one person mentioned above, is in the distance between the ischial tuberosities and what’s exposed around the perineum. Still, there is mostly overlap there as well. The key is to make bikes for people, whether they have bad flexibility or can bend in half. Whether they’re 4’10” or 6’6″ If you’ve ever seen a size 44cm or 64cm road bike, you’ll know that many compromises to frame geometry have been made to accommodate 700c wheels. Why aren’t 44cm bikes built around 650b wheels. Why aren’t 64cm bikes built around 36″ wheels?

    I want to get my other half involved but it is virtually impossible to find a full suspension bike for someone that is 4’8″, she is very small!

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