As regular readers of this blog probably know I work in a bike shop and one of the most regular questions I’m asked by both men and women is: Should I buy a flat bar road bike and a drop bar road bike. So I thought it would be useful to talk about the pros and cons of both types of road bike.
Firstly I have to confess that I ride a drop bar road bike and love it, so I won’t be changing to a flat bar any time soon, but I can see some merit in them, and for some riders they are definitely the best option.
A flat bar road bike is similar to a standard road bike, but with flat bars as opposed to the drop bars seen on most road bicycles. Some people call them hybrids but strictly speaking a hybrid normally has front suspension which flat bar road bikes do not.
It was fantastic to visit Eurobike in Friedrichshafen in Germany last week. It is unlike any trade show I’ve visited before. Here’s a few statistics just to give you an idea: 1,350 exhibitors; 46,000 visitors from 100 different countries; 2,000 journalists including Women Who Cycle from 40 nations; 100,000 square metres of exhibition space.
Huge is the only description I can give you. Hundreds of well known brands but also lots and lots I’d never heard of before. It took a whole day and a half to walk slowly through the major halls and I’m sure I didn’t see it all.
Based on what I saw e-bikes are set to become more and more popular. There were literally hundreds of exhibitors with everything from electric downhill mountain bikes to electric conversion kits for existing bikes.
Specialized’s Amy Shreve (centre) with her small 29er mountain bike
One of the interesting/rewarding things about writing a blog is that you can check out how many people are viewing it. My analysis isn’t particularly sophisticated, but it is very interesting to see what topics are the most popular with my readers. By far the most popular blog posts I’ve written are about bikes for short women.
I can’t be sure why this is occurring but my best guess is that short women are not getting the information they need when they visit a local bike shop. To me it’s a sad indictment of the bike industry because there are plenty of bikes available for short women. I know this because I work in a bike shop and I constantly have short female customers who ask me about buying kid’s bikes to ride themselves. I always reply that despite their short stature, nearly all women can buy an adult women’s bike. Some are still insistent that they want to buy a kid’s bike but I’ve never met a short female customer who I couldn’t find an adult sized bike to sell them.
The majority of decent bike manufacturers make bikes in extra small sizes. By decent, I mean main stream brands like Specialized, Trek, Giant and many others. You will find that very cheap bikes like those sold in discount department stores probably won’t be available in extra small sizing, but if you’re buying something of such poor quality, you can’t expect a big choice.
You may have read my blog post a couple of months ago about women’s product development at Specialized. I also made contact with a few other companies at the same time and so here’s the women’s development story from Trek. I would have preferred to have spoken to someone from Trek, instead here’s some Q&A via email from Emily Bremer who is based at Trek HQ in the US and among other roles is responsible for the marketing of women’s products.
How many people at Trek work on women’s product development? Are they all women?
Women’s specific product development at Trek is a group effort, and certainly not done just by women. From industrial designers, to engineers, to marketing, and everything in between, women’s product development across categories is a top priority, and I think this is really reflected in the quality of Trek products. Trek is a global company, so it’s really hard to pinpoint a specific number of people working on our women’s specific product. Both men and women work on all Trek and Bontrager products, regardless of riding category or gender.
Erin in action, testing products
As you may have read in my previous post I attended the Specialized dealer launch on the Gold Coast last month and enjoyed seeing and hearing about the emphasis being put on women’s products by Specialized. It got me thinking about how the products are actually developed. I’ve often heard other people from Specialized talking about the women’s product development team so I decided to delve deeper and find out how it all works.
Erin Sprague who heads up the women’s product development team in California was kind enough to chat with me last week via Skype. Erin heads up a team of six including three product managers who oversee the categories of mountain, road and fitness/family plus a product marketing specialist and one other. This team then works with other specialists like engineers, designers and those who focus on product development.
All Specialized’s women’s products are developed by the team of women who have a variety of backgrounds like triathlon, road, mountain, so that they can really understand the requirements of each of these segments.
Three years and one week ago, I was attending a talk about social media, and how we as business people could utilise it better. For me at the time, it was very relevant because I was working as a public relations consultant and the woman delivering the talk was of the same profession. One thing that she said really resonated with me, “I write a personal blog……………” and a thought jumped into my head. If I’m so interested in women’s cycling, why not start a blog about it.
A week later – 13 August 2011, Women Who Cycle was born. At the time I was very committed to the idea but I hadn’t really thought past my first few blog posts and the basic structure of my site. I looked at other people’s blogs and saw that many of them had been going for years and wondered how they sustained it. I also looked at many blogs that had been started and abandoned down the track, some very fleetingly, and others that hung on for a few years and then petered out.
2015 Dolce Elite
Over the last few days I’ve been lucky enough to attend the annual Specialized dealer launch held this year on Queensland’s sunny Gold Coast.
I’ve seen a plethora of product – the whole 2015 range and I’ve been impressed by the range of women’s specific offerings. Specialized has nominated women’s specific products as one of its key areas of focus for the next few years.
In the presentation I attended they divided the market into a number of experiences (a little bit cheesy I know but it sort of made sense). The ‘experiences’ are: fitness; endurance road; triathlon/performance road; sport trail; and performance XC. For each of these there are a number of bikes and accessories.
Here’s a few highlights for both bikes and accessories (complete with Iphone pics – see the Specialized.com website for better shots):
My saddle choice – Specialized Oura
For me it’s a no brainer that women need different bike saddles than men. Nowhere on the body is it more evident that women have different needs to men, than in the area of the body that makes contact with the bike seat, known as the saddle.
The saddle is the key contact area of the bike. It takes most of your weight and therefore it is crucially important to having a comfortable seat.
If you buy a women’s specific bike then chances are it will already be fitted with a women’s specific saddle but it’s not necessarily the right one for you. My recommendation when you buy a new bike is to try the supplied saddle first, but be prepared to change it if it proves to be uncomfortable.
In my experience, everyone will feel a degree of discomfort when they first start riding a road bike because it’s a new activity and your whole body needs to adapt. However, if after a month or so you are still uncomfortable then you should seek help.
S-Works Amira is available in a 44 cm frame size
About this time last year I wrote a blog post about road bikes that are specifically built for short women, and ever since my monitoring has shown that this is a really popular topic. So I thought I should update the information for all you shorties.
I’m a relatively short woman at 160 cm (5 foot 3 inches) but I’ve met quite a few female road cyclists who are shorter than me and one of them mentioned to me that she and other short stature women have trouble finding bikes to ‘fit’.
A lot of people are dubious about the whole women’s specific bike concept and question whether it’s just marketing hype but I’m a real believer in the philosophy. Read my past posts on this subject and make up your own mind. From my perspective the women’s specific bike becomes more important the shorter you are, so women who measure in at 5 foot or below should really consider a women’s specific bike. Thankfully plenty of bike manufacturers have responded to the short end of the market and many produce extra small road bikes.
To give you an idea of the sizing Specialized produces a sizing chart which suggests that a 44 cm Dolce, Ruby, Alias or Amira (the women’s specific road bike models) will suit a women who is 143-152 cm or 4”8’ to 5”0’.
As a keen roadie I’m quite biased towards road bikes, but I’m also well aware as a person who sells bikes that a road bike is not every women’s perfect bike, so here’s my quick summary on a few options you could consider when buying your ideal bike. It’s by no means exhaustive.
I had to start with my personal favourite! The road bike is a fast and light machine and as the name suggests it is best ridden on roads, or at least on bitumen or paved surfaces. It’s skinny tyres will not last long on other terrain.
To me it’s just a pure pleasure to ride my Specialized Amira. It’s a women’s specific road bike which means it is designed for women and that’s not just about pretty colours. Specialized women’s road bikes are designed to meet the needs of women and that includes the frame geometry, saddle, handlebar width, gear/brake reach and compact gearing and cranks. Lots of people, and particularly bike shop owners trying to clear last year’s stock, will tell you can ride any road bike, but I’m a great believer in women’s specific road bikes and I’ve written a few blog posts on this topic previously.