Specialized have been making female specific bikes since 2003.
Their technology and attention to detail has come on a great deal since the original Allez Dolce and Vita Dolce models.
Now, the brand make female specific bikes designed to suit a woman’s body where they can see that we need something different – be that due to biomechanical differences, or what they call experiential and motivational differences.
Describing the brand's approach, Women's Brand Manager Stephanie Kaplan explained: "I think as we move more into the ‘digital age’ and we gain more and more access to fit data and rider feedback, we’re able to see that there is more at play than simply gender. As we uncover that data – and I think a lot of that has happened in the last 2 to 3 years – we are able to have greater insight into what women’s needs really are and how we can make changes and improve our products to provide a performance benefit.
"It’s ultimately about doing what’s right for the rider, even if it means ‘proving ourselves wrong’"
"Through our exhaustive research we are going back to the drawing board, with no pre-determined conclusions, and truly looking at what we can do. If we can make changes that provide a benefit to a female rider – whether that’s geometry, custom-tuned suspension, etc. – we are committed to doing that and making the best bike for the rider. If we don’t find any marked differences and we can serve the rider with a shared platform, we’ll consider that as well. It’s ultimately about doing what’s right for the rider, even if it means ‘proving ourselves wrong’ and being willing to admit that how we did it before may not best serve the rider, and figuring out what we can do better."
Biomechanical differences are tracked using customer data from Retul fits across the country – and Specialized tell us that they’re finding women have an average wingspan around 3cm shorter than men of the same height, which is why their women’s bikes are often shorter in the top tube, allowing for a shorter reach without using a shorter stem which can affect handling. This approach is seen in the much loved Amira road race bike, as well as the Dolce road sportive bike, which evolved this year to include the Dolce Evo – the first women’s specific adventure road bike on the market.
Each bike is considered individually – with developers looking for areas where women might need something different. There is no better example of this than in the Hellga fat bike. The major difference here is a lower standover – which when considered would be particularly helpful when riding in snow and sand, conditions the bike is designed for.
On women’s specific models, the brand also pay attention to weight, altering carbon lay-ups to respond to the fact that women typically weigh less than men and produce less power. We don't want or need to pay an extra weight penalty for stiffness we don't require.
Kaplan told us: "All of our bikes from the Amira Base to the S-Works have stringent guidelines on stiffness and performance, and all of them come close to one another in offering the amazing ride that the family is known for. As you move through the model line, you will see we use different carbon layups. Our S-Works Platform, which uses an 11R layup, and will be able to meet all of our performance targets utilizing more expensive, higher quality, stiffer carbon plies which allow for less material and thus a lighter weight bike overall."
Experiential and motivational differences are harder to nail down, and come from extensive customer questionnaires and information given at bike fits. The best example of this comes in the mountain bike arena, with the Ruze and the Ryhme. The Ruze is a 27.5+ hardtail especially for women after the simplicity of a hardtail, with the added dampening offered by super wide tyres. It’s based specifically on needs Specialized identified woman as having – there isn’t a men’s version and the frame is built for a women, with female specific contact points.
The Rhyme however is a female equivalent to the men’s Stumpjumper. Here, the brand interviewed women and identified that their needs and requirements were the same as those harboured by male Stumpjumper riders, so the frame remains identical, but with women’s Rx Tuned suspension, women’s myth saddle, shorter cranks and narrower bars.
Another example is in the Specialized Alias – a road bike that comes with clip on aero bars and an extra seat post so that female triathletes and time trialists can have one bike, but set it up for tri and TT duties whilst using it for road rides the rest of the time. There is no men’s version of this, because Specialized felt women were more likely to want to have one bike for all jobs. The full time trial rig – the Shiv, however, is a unisex bike through and through. With adjustable bars that can be shortened to cater for a shorter reach, there really is no need in their eyes to create two gender versions here.
"Ultimately, our number one goal as working on the women’s product is to introduce more women to the sport of cycling"
Keeping it simple, Kaplan explains the overall ethos - saying: "Ultimately, our number one goal working on the women’s product is to introduce more women to the sport of cycling, and break down barriers so that more women can get involved and enjoy the sport that has changed all of our lives for the better. We try and optimise our products for female riders as best we can – just like our men’s bikes are optimised out of the box for the average male rider – so that we can remove one less barrier to buying a bicycle."
Advising those choosing between unisex and female specific bikes, she said: "Often times women - and men, for that matter - may be better served on a platform that was designed initially for the opposite sex, and that is totally fine! What I would say is consider starting with a women’s-specific bike design. Chances are, there will be less to change on the bike after purchase, and if it doesn’t work for you, try other bikes as well. Don’t limit yourself to to either category, as you might be surprised what works for you. We have many men in our office riding the Amira because it simply fits them better. It’s all about being comfortable and confident on the bike so you can get out there and enjoy riding and achieve your goals."