Recent data released by Strava showed that 60 per cent of women opted for a female specific bike, but strikingly irrespective of choice all rated comfort as the most prominent reason for their decision.
The debate over whether women need adjusted geometry is ongoing. Initially, the suggestion was that women generally had long legs and short bodies, so our bikes needed to be designed differently. Then it was largely claimed that we’d been duped by marketing spiel and just needed unisex bikes to be tailored via saddle, stem and handlebar choice. Now the trend is moving back as some bike designers say data suggests women have a shorter wingspan so as a generalisation can’t find optimal fit on bikes designed for men.
The most insightful and interesting information has to come from the people who measure bodies and design bikes specifically to fit them, as opposed to those who have created a bike and need to justify their choices: custom frame designers. We’ve already spoken to one such designer – Caren Hartley – who was against off-the-peg women’s bikes. Today, we received a call from Lee Prescott who fits bodies to bikes at Velo Atelier and told us he believed the market was making compromises that meant women weren’t able to easily find a good fit.
It is worth remembering that Prescott has a motive in selling custom frames, and is discussing small sample sizes – but his observations are undeniably interesting…
Prescott’s bike fit findings
Former designer-in-chief at Pashley, Prescott designs custom frames as well as fitting bodies to existing bikes. When doing so, he sits the client on a rig, adjusts it to find their optimum position, then searches a library of off-the-peg unisex and women’s frames to see which will suit. He told us that when doing so women are usually presented with 10 per cent of the choices men have and the last three women he’s fitted have been unable to find a suitable option on the market.
Describing the most recent case he said: “We just had one lady that came in – she was very, very uncomfortable on her own bike, in various areas, we tried to get her comfortable on her bike but couldn’t. So I put her on the rig and wound it into a position where she was feeling great, did a search and it came out that no bikes would fit her.”
Prescott says that the woman in question wasn’t particularly unusual in terms of her proportions, and has provided us with a view of the report. The 544 bikes checked were women’s and unisex frames: