Do I need a women’s specific frame?
While it’s true that many women could benefit from a “women’s specific” frame, most companies don’t actually build frames specifically for their female customers. If you look carefully, you’ll see that, aside from some extra-small sizes, the “women’s specific” models from company “X” will have the exact same geometry and tube lengths as the comparable “men’s” models. Some companies are outright deceptive and measure their “women’s” frames using different reference points on the frame to give the appearance that the bike has been engineered from scratch. While most “women’s” frames may not be different from the equivalent men’s frames, most women’s bikes will come with narrower handlebars and shorter stems, which will usually improve the fit for a female rider. While many women benefit from the narrower bars and shorter stem, so do some men. (Some women also need a longer stem or wider bars). As such modifications can be made by any qualified bike shop, often for free when purchasing a new bike, “women’s specific” bikes are in most cases more marketing than engineering.
There are a few companies which do indeed make women’s specific frames, which, generally speaking will have shorter top tubes then equivalent size “men’s” frames. Assuming the rider needs a smaller “cockpit” (the reach from the seat to the handlebar), a shorter top tube will allow the rider to be in a comfortable and efficient position without compromising the handling of the bike as may be the case when one simply shortens the stem. Again, however, even bikes with shorter top tubes aren’t necessarily using frames engineered specifically for women–though they may be marketed that way. Different companies build bikes with different proportions, and a good bike shop should find the bike with the best top tube length for the rider–man or woman. I’ve fit countless male customers who are better off with short top-tubes and countless female customers who require longer top-tubes.
In short, women’s specific bikes are a pretty good idea for recreational bikes, where it may be unfeasible for shops to swap the components required for proper sizing, but if you’re buying a higher performance bike, get professionally fit and buy what fits best–whether it has a “W” on the frame or not.
That’s all for now.