When somebody mentions the words "ladies bikes" perhaps the first image that springs to mind is one of those old, really heavy ladies bikes with a very low top tube - to make it easy to mount, even wearing a long skirt - and maybe with a wicker basket attached to the front. Actually this is a fairly outdated image. The woman riding this particular ladies bike is probably middle aged or older. The truth is that there is a huge range of different women's bicycles on the market these days, and many look just like men's bikes to the untrained eye; these are the road racing bicycles that may have a shorter, slightly lower top tube, or narrower handlebars.
The question remains though, are ladies bikes a necessity, or is it just as good for a woman to ride a bike designed for men? The answer is that it really does not matter; what is important is that the bicycle fits you. After all, all women are not built exactly the same - of course, certainly they are all different from the men! What is perfect for one woman might be a horribly uncomfortable cycle for another.
Nevertheless, the average woman will have longer legs, a shorter torso, shorter arms and smaller hands and feet than the average man of comparable height. This means that there are certainly some beneficial modifications that can be made in the design of ladies bikes. As mentioned briefly above, the top tube can be shortened and made to slope downwards from the handlebars to the saddle tube. This has the effect of bringing the handlebars closer to the saddle, which makes them easier for a woman to reach. On many cruiser bikes, the top bar attaches so low to the saddle tube that they look like those vintage ladies bikes where the rider can simply step over to mount while wearing skirts or summer dresses.
Another change that is apparent on the women specific design (WSD) bikes is narrower handlebars often made of thinner tubing to accommodate a woman's smaller hands. The brake levers are generally close-reach for the same reason. These modifications all make for a safer ride, both because they stop the female rider from having to stretch in order to steer, which makes pulled muscles a high possibility; but also because maintaining a comfortable riding position allows better overall control of the bike.
On the subject of comfort, ladies bike saddles are also different to those made for men. They are wider to better support a woman's sitting bones and generally have a cutout in the center to provide a more comfortable riding experience. In some of the leisure bikes, the saddles are also padded or have their own shock absorbers.
So ladies bikes are not a "must" have for women, as it pays its own rewards for each individual to find the best bike for herself. However, the frame geometries and other women specific modifications to these bicycles probably does warrant labelling them a "should" have.
Nic Stemson is an avid cycling enthusiast, writing about all things bike-related, from why a ladies bicycle is a great idea for women; to how to personalize vintage ladies bicycles; to what kind of fashion to wear while out on the road to achieve velo chic.
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