Women Mountain Biking Powderhorn Yeti

Race ready women at Powderhorn, photo by Scott Cotter

Have you ever been offended by the term “women’s mountain bike?” I get where you’re coming from–I’m a woman too. Thankfully, for the most part we’re past the age of “shrink it and pink it,” as the bike industry has genuinely attempted to respond to the needs and wants of women. Like the progression of women’s mountain bikes, the issue of feminism has also come a long way.

If the concept of women’s specific mountain bikes really is new to you, in general, women’s bike designs attempt to accommodate an average-sized woman, so these bikes will typically have a lower standover height, narrower bars, a women’s specific saddle, a shorter crank arm and/or stem, and sometimes even a smaller wheel size.

First, let’s look at why some people find labeling mountain bikes a “women’s” or “women’s specific” bike, offensive. Like it or not, the very nature of a label in and of itself can offend people or groups. To some, a “women’s” label automatically triggers the perception that there is some difference in capabilities–maybe even a weakness. This can be particularly frustrating for many women because for decades we have been trying to break the stereotype of being the “weaker” sex. We’ve found ourselves fulfilling traditional roles like being homemakers or not having a voice and wearing pink. But we continue to fight, kick at the glass ceiling, protest against injustices, and support each other. We’re more empowered than ever and that’s where it gets complicated. How can we stay united when we are so different?

News Flash: Women’s Bodies Come in Different Shapes and Sizes

The biggest argument against having women’s mountain bikes is that women’s bodies can vary just as much men’s bodies, so fitting bikes should be based solely on body measurements, not gender. There is just as much variance in height, weight, arm length, shoulder width, leg length, etc. among women as there is among men.

Great, we agree! The end.

There you go, just another woman telling the industry, “hey I’m human like everyone else and want to be treated equally.”  I’ve read plenty of these articles by well-intentioned women on various women’s blogs and publications, and I think one thing is missing. The women’s movement that we’re in right now isn’t just about breaking stereotypes and resolving gender inequalities; today, we’re actually celebrating the uniqueness of being a woman.

What does that look like?  Most of us agree that women’s bodies come in different shapes and sizes. As women, we accept that. We embrace it. We wear pink. We wear black. We wear men’s shorts. We wear tight pants. We wear high heels. We like tacos. We like flowers. We like beer. We work 60-hour work weeks. We stay at home with our kids. We binge on Game of Thrones. We watch the Bachelor. We drive pickup trucks. We have like 2,000 friends on Facebook. We are introverts. We read The New York Times. We are celebrity Instagrammers. We run for office. We do whatever the hell we want.

And, naturally, we ride whatever bike we want.  We don’t want people telling us what to do–not the bike industry, not men, not even other women. We can’t generalize the needs and wants of women because we define those needs and desires for ourselves.

Womens Mountain Bikes Juliana Specialized Cannondale Transition

Clockwise from top right: Susan Hobson riding a Juliana Joplin, photo: Aaron Chamberlain; Janet Parsons Green riding a Liv Pique via Facebook; Sara Ayn Brink-Kacprowicz with her Cannondale Habit; Rachel Pedley crossing a river with her Specialized S-Works Era; Vivian Sweet with her Transition via Facebook

When we posted the question, “What’s your favorite women’s mountain bike?” on social media, the responses were all over the place, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. While certain brands stood out, the variety of bikes was overwhelming. There are a ton of women out there with long travel bikes, rowdy hardtails, plus bikes, 29ers, even bikes that are pink or purple (gasp!). I loved seeing the photos of my fellow lady shredders! Ultimately the “need” that I found is the need for choice. Very simply put, mountain bikers want choices, I believe males and females across the world can agree with that.

The only one who can decide what bike is best for you, is you. So before we jump to conclusions that women’s mountain bikes are some attempt to divide the mountain bike community by gender, think about your choices. The bike industry has delivered almost infinite choices in mountain bikes and gear from wheel sizes, tire widths, travel and more travel, carbon and fancy carbon, and beyond.

Leah Barber riding Pivot Mach 4 Carbon, photo by Jeff Barber

Leah Barber riding Pivot Mach 4 Carbon, photo by Jeff Barber

Now we have women’s mountain bikes to choose from.

Like I said earlier, for some the “women’s” label is going to conjure up justifiably strong emotions and feminist dialogue.  For others, the “women’s” designation can be interpreted as a shopping shortcut in regards to small or compact geometry, or an honest marketing tactic aimed at encouraging women to get involved in a male-dominated sport.

Womens Mountain Bikes - Specialized Yeti Beti Juliana Liv

Women’s specific mountain bikes clockwise from top left: Specialized Rhyme (Stephanie Davies); Yeti Beti SB5c (Heather Penrose); Liv Hail Enduro (Holly Ann Taylor); Juliana Roubion (Vicky Balfour); all photos submitted by owner via Facebook

If you’re a woman of average height (5′ 4″) or shorter, then a woman’s bike may be a good choice. There are also extra-small unisex frames in many manufacturers’ product lines that may fit just as well. Again, it comes back to choice. Not all size small bikes are going to fit the same, just like not every pair of size 26 jeans are going to fit the same (am I right?!!).

Women, you have a choice to wear jeans or a skirt! You wear what fits and what’s comfortable, and the same goes for bikes. You want to wear a skirt on your Santa Cruz 5010? Yes, please! Do it–I’ll even take a picture of you for Instagram! The industry, or those “big bad men,” aren’t telling you what to ride. You decide. You have the power.

Call it what you will, but personally, I like the idea of women’s mountain bikes because I’m 5 feet tall and appreciate the additional choices. I also empathize with those who despise the assumptions that come with a label. For you, I hope you can trust that women who purchase women’s mountain bikes want the same representation and respect.

# Comments

  • Mr Mojo Risin

    Ahhh the era where everyone is offended by everything. I take personal (that means it’s more offensive) offense to everyone being so offended. In the words of Sergeant Hulka…..”Lighten up Francis”

    • rmap01

      +1. Blows my mind that Leah has to even write the article. How does having a more customized bike – or any segmented product – offend anyone??? There are plenty of women than don’t want a product (bike or otherwise) that looks like a man’s. If a “women’s bike” isn’t spec’ed to your liking don’t buy it! Or maybe you need to upgrade certain parts – guess what, guys do it all the time. And if you prefer a “non-woman’s” bike (I believe they are called “unisex” bikes now – not men’s), that’s great, buy that one! It’s all good. Why do we spend so much time and energy being offended??? Ladies, celebrate your femininity! And for those that either don’t want to – or feel like they can’t, for whatever reason, then don’t… that’s fine, too.

    • Leah Barber

      It is an unending dilemma because some women don’t want to be generalized into this “women’s” category and whatever assumed negative perceptions it may carry, on the other hand some women appreciate the uniqueness of this category. As a woman, I find this disheartening because we’re supposed to be on the same team, unified by our sport or our gender, and bringing each other up.

    • mtnryder

      I’m not the target of the article but I agree with Mr Mojo. If the article was titled “What do you think about women’s specific mountain bikes?”, I don’t think there would be the same backlash as implying that the bikes “offend” you. Nobody is forcing anybody to buy any bike they don’t like so being offended is ridiculous.

  • ericshell

    Everything offends everybody. So I am not surprised someone even dreamed this up.

    • rmap01

      LMAO at your new avatar!

  • craZivn

    Leah, I’m not sure how horrible things are in your neighborhood, but here in Central Wisco this isn’t even an issue. I’m sure a lot of women ride women’s bikes. Some ride men’s bikes. Some of the men might be riding women’s bikes for all I can tell. Nobody cares. The trail is not a place where gender politics has time to rear its ugly head, we have bigger concerns. Like, who can take the sickest line through that rock garden.

    • Leah Barber

      Glad to hear it craZivn! I live in the city and am fortunate to see women doing a lot amazing things on and off the bike! Starting businesses, running for office, and earning some respectable QOMs!

  • Nick Hepler

    Is it possible that women’s bikes are not malicious but instead intended to serve this population? Women are free to purchase and ride “men’s” bikes. The fact that so many can women enjoy the sport as men would is remarkable in itself. I don’t think the industry has any intention of marginalizing, othering, or offending women. Additionally, not all brands (few from what I’ve seen) are built for men or women specifically. Surely, some women might benefit from shorter bar width, shorter wheel base or any of the features mentioned above. Is it a bit of an overshoot for the industry to blankly to ‘gender’ mountain bikes, maybe. Can’t we just escape from social politics and enjoy the greatness of the sport for all that it is?

  • Idahoian

    Here are 3 facts: 1) there are only 2 genders. 2) If we arm wrestle and I win, it doesn’t mean you have to live out your life as a home-maker 3) Women’s specific designs on bikes were designed by women for women in order to…

    … wait for it…


    While you are busy being offended by bicycles, I will be out riding my bike.

    • faust41

      Idaho man. Women specific bikes, especially the first ones, were not built by women for women. They were built by men who thought you can shrink a mans bike and paint it pink. It is where the article is going. With newer, more women-specific geometry, but for smaller riders, the women’s bike is evolving. I think the problem I have with you is that if a women speaks up, and asks for different options, she is viewed as offended and she mispeaks. She should just quit her whining and ride what is available. If a man speaks up and asks an idustry for different options, he is seen as taking charge. See the hypocrisy?

  • Kevin Mills

    As a man i am offended that i am expected to ride a men’s bike. I should be allowed to ride any bike i want to without being stereotyped and labelled. If i want to ride a women’s bike i should be allowed to!

    • halofriendly

      Your comment made me laugh, and then it made me think: it’s funny because it’s absurd, right? It’s an alternate universe, clearly. And it puts our actual universe into stark perspective. 😉

  • Kevin Mills

    A problem i have noticed is that men are more willing to speak up about something they are not happy with when buying a new bike whereas women don’t speak up and instead suffer in silence. So maybe the answer isn’t trying to design women specific bikes but instead we should create an environment where women are more vocal about their needs and wants.

  • Cranky old man

    I don’t believe I’ve ever read an article that was more convoluted, contradictory, or based on more circular logic than this one. “In summary, I am a woman and all women are different and I don’t want to be thought of as a woman when I buy a mountain bike but women’s mountain bikes, like feminism, have come a long way in meeting the particular needs of women who are not built like men and I like the choices that women’s mountain bikes give for short people like me. And that’s why I can empathize with all of you women (or men) who are offended by women’s mountain bikes. Or the color pink.” What do you think about cycling jerseys made for women?

    • Jeff Barber

      Leah is presenting two sides to an argument: womens’ bikes are offensive, and womens’ bikes AREN’T offensive. Which is probably why it seems contradictory. 🙂

      TLDR; everyone has different preferences, and that’s ok.

  • Caren Villaroman

    It is not offensive at all! It’s great that women have choices. I myself don’t ride a women specific bike but im open to considering one if i feel the need to buy another bike. I ride a Santa Cruz Bronson and i find it perfect for me. I bought it because i got a deeper discount than if i bought a Juliana. Sometimes it all comes down with the price.

  • mini ninja

    Thanks for writing this article! As a mini person in the market for a high end bike, it’s hard to know who to believe as almost every single independent review out there is made by a dude riding a medium or larger bike. Some bike companies claim there’s no difference between women/men, only riders. Some companies have gone all in on differences between women/men (Giant and Liv). Personally, I appreciate the choice while not always appreciating the color options. So while deciding what bike to get, I scour the internets nearly every day, looking for reviews, because another problem I face is finding a demo bike in a size that will fit me.

    Also, there’s a helpful way to engage in this conversation as a dude and an unhelpful way. Being supportive and, a lot of times, just listening = helpful. Mansplaining women’s (!) experiences and being dismissive is not helpful.

    • halofriendly

      Mini Ninja, OMG yes on the mansplaining. Thank you.

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