Women’s cycling is growing faster than men’s cycling: fact. Male cyclists are of course still a larger percentage of the market, but in terms of growth the female audience is huge, and brands are starting to take proper notice.
Not 'pink and shrink it' notice, not ‘entry level models only’ notice – but full on ‘serious gear for serious riders’ notice.
We’ve seen a wide range of new kit introduced for 2016 that demonstrates a proper desire from brands to cater for the performance female cyclist – and we’ve rounded up just a few of the best examples.
Of course, for the female market to be growing so substantially, we know that there must be a high number of beginners too. If you've just started riding, you probably don't want to re-mortgage your house for a bike and some cycling kit.
The good news is that many brands are creating performance gear having already brought out more wallet friendly options, so the introduction of higher end items just means there is more out there. Not only that, but in time the technology offered for big bucks will trickle down and become available in more affordable options - good news for all of us!
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Sportful Women's Fiandre Light Jacket
This is the ultimate autumn/winter/spring jacket – designed to provide protection from cold winds and showers without causing the rider to overheat. It’s a lightweight jersey for the winter racer and the Editor over at our brother title RCUK is a big fan. We’ve not been able to try one ourselves previously, because the jacket has never been available in women’s fit.
Brands have historically been hesitant to create female specific kit for winter riding – and even more reluctant to make women's winter kit for hard, pacey winter riding. Thankfully, Sportful (like Castelli before them, with the women’s Gabba) have taken the leap with this one.
Sportful’s Fiandre Light Jacket retails at £165 and is available in blue and the plum pictured. We’ve got one in the office to review and are looking forward to sharing our findings.
Solid Strike FLARE
Do you remember that bike brand that made headlines when they opened the product description for their women’s MTB with: “Female cyclists do not generally need to push their limits?"
Well – thankfully there are some brands who are a bit more in-touch with what rad women actually want. Exhibit A: Solid Bikes.
For 2016, Solid introduced their Strike FLARE – a downhill mountain bike they created in cooperation with 2012 Downhill World Champ Morgane Charre. It's the first ever female specific, downhill specific, mountain bike.
The bike has been fine-tuned for women as per her feedback - and Solid say: “Morgane gave us vital and helpful feedback from the beginning and so the basic parameters were found quickly. The bike needs a easier handling to compensate for the lower muscle mass. Therefore a new balance between the main frame and rear triangle had to be found to design the optimal weight distribution on both wheels and allow a power-saving riding. Therefore the head angle has also been adjusted and the rider was positioned centrally in the bike again.
One thing we have learned, "girls shred too", and nowadays at a very high level, therefore a bike for women must take account of this fact. Men and women are anatomical differently, so why not the bikes?"
The bike has its own geometry, a Center Force Suspension System for smooth riding, balanced weight distribution for more traction, and will suit women from 158 to 170cm particularly. It's available here for *cough* 4,000 euros.
Giro Empire Women's Shoes
We’ve loved Giro’s Empire lace ups since they first came out, but retailing above the £200 mark they weren’t available in a women’s fit until this year.
Giro told us they knew some women were just opting to buy the men’s shoes, but the women’s version is built using a women’s ‘last’ – the 3D form which a shoe is designed around.
We had the chance to test these out in Switzerland with some of the Giro product developers, and have been wearing them for every (road) ride ever since.
The shoes come with a comfortable arch support and Easton EC90 ACC carbon fiber soles. Carbon soles are not an essential item for a good, fast ride – but the difference in the way every pedal stroke feels when compared to the push of a cheaper nylon sole is undeniable. These shoes will be in stores soon – but we can’t promise they’ll be cheap.
The shoes are available to match the Chrono kit. Another excellent example of Giro showing dedication to the women's market - every item available in the men's range is available in women's fit and style - and we absolutely loved riding in it.
Liv Avow Triathlon/Time Trial Bike
Liv would definitely not be the first brand to create a female specific time trial or triathlon bike, and some brands who create female specific road bikes don't go in for the idea. The reason for this is that the position is such that anyone (male or female) will invest in dialling the fit to their own body proportions and flexibility. However – it is cool to see the sister brand to Giant spreading its wings and adding a performance triathlon/time trial bikes to their all women’s line up.
The Avow is built for speed – an essential component of which is comfort. In terms of ‘what’s female specific about it?’ the key techy feature is the use of a high-level advanced carbon layup which is tuned for the smaller size and lower weight (and lower power output) of female riders.
Liv have designed a unique geometry, and used Giant’s Trinity Carbon Bar in a narrow width for high adjustability, as well as building in an AeroVault system which means the rider can drink whilst in the aero tuck.
The bike will go right down to a 43cm size, an XXSmall which will use a 650c front and 700c rear wheel. Models will be available from $3,000 to $8,000 and UK pricing and availability is still TBC.
Five Ten Freerider Conact and Kestrel Lace
Five Ten first dipped their toes into the women’s shoe market last year, with their first women’s Freerider – which provided a better fit with a narrower heel and larger size rang. Obviously, the kit went down well, because this year they brought out women’s versions of their Freerider Contact and Kestrel Lace shoes.
The Freerider Contact will be available from October, and features a Stealth Mi6 rubber sole, stiff mid-sole, and added toe protection.
The Kestrel Lace is new for men and women, and is an addition to the existing Boa version of the SPD compatible shoe. The sole is made from EVA foam and features rubber on the front and rear, with a harder rubber around the cleat pocket to make clipping in and out easier. You’ll have to wait until March for these, but we’ll be nagging Five Ten for a pair to review ASAP.
Five Ten sponsor World Cup downhill racers Tracey Hannah, Emmeline Ragot and Jill Kintner, who were involved in the design process, so we know the shoes have been tried and tested.
Helen Wyman Signature Velocio Kit
You can just image the industry conversations muttered in pubs at trade shows - "these women.. they're even doing CYCLOCROSS. They want CYCLOCROSS gear..."
Cyclocross has long (needlessly) been seen as a funny sort of niche activity that people get into when they've been racing bikes for a while, so you can understand why the Pink and Shrink it generation thought it wasn't for women. Thankfully, National Champion Helen Wyman and Velocio know full well that lots of women love cyclocross, and want gear to ride in whilst they're at it.
Wyman collaborated with the brand to create thermal bib shorts - which keep the rider warm enough in the chest whilst letting the legs breath - a jersey, jacket and 'recon pants'. The recon pants (£153) are our favourite from the collection, and are specially designed for testing out the course during warm up, whilst being easy to remove quickly on the start line. See more of the range here.
Specialized Dolce Evo
Finally, Specialized have decided the time is right to release the Dolce Evo – an on and off road, gravel and adventure friendly version of their Dolce which meets similar needs to the adventure model 'Diverge' released in 2014.
What’s nice is that Specialized haven’t tweaked the geometry of the Diverge, and called it female specific – they’ve taken the already female geometry of the Dolce, and bulked it up for off-road use, which makes a lot of sense.
The Dolce Evo has wide, capable tyres, a relaxed geometry and an extra in-built ‘Reserve Rack’ attached to the saddle rails for carrying tools. The bike is available now for £1,200 or £1,800.
HOY Vulpine Gear
We've always loved the way HOY Vulpine - the collaboration between Sir Chris Hoy and Vulpine - has offered all kit in men's and women's fit.
They've done the same with their autumn/winter range - with women's versions of their Roubaix Jersey & Bibs, Randa Soft Shell, Portixol Waterproof, and Trail Trousers.
The Roubiax bibs are £109 and the jersey is £79.99 - the brand are going for affordable quality, offering kit that will keep you warm and comfortable, without emptying your savings account.
As Sir Chris told us when he interviewed him at the launch of the kit: "We don’t want to patronise women and say you should be wearing pink shirts, pink shorts and fluffy things. It is about making cycling appeal to everyone, why should it be different? Obviously there are anatomical differences in the bib shorts and different cuts to make sure it fits the shape [of a woman] but it is more about making it appealing to everybody."
Are there any brands that have released awesome kit that you're planning to get your hands on this season? Let us know.