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.
Is this company really trying to sell to women?
There’s been quite a lot of discussion of late about how to make bike shops and cycling in general more attractive for women, and while I’ve not weighed in to the various discussions until now I thought I’d put in my views.I’m reasonably well qualified to do so. I work in a bike shop and although I’m relatively new to it (two years) it gives me a unique perspective because I can still remember back to when I was a customer of women’s cycling gear.
One of my own issues is actually about the use of the word ‘lady’ instead of my preference for the word ‘woman’. My blog isn’t called ‘Ladies Who Cycle’ and that’s a very deliberate decision on my part. To me the word ‘lady’ is verging on being derogatory because the way in which it is used, often infers that women are inferior when it comes to riding a bike.
Total Women’s Cycling which is a UK-based women’s cycling site recently wrote about a cycling brand that launched a new range of women’s bikes suggesting that women only like to amble along on mountain bikes. Read it for yourself if you want to know more but it’s quite extraordinary. Unsurprisingly the bike range is called ‘MBT Lady’.
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.
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’.
This year’s Christmas list is a little extravagant and is really a bike bling wish list for me. I guarantee that if the special women in your life is a dedicated road cyclist, then she’ll love these suggestions or something similar in her favourite colours. My favourite bike colours are unashamedly white, red & black in combination.
Specialized Amira Pro
This gorgeous bike has a carbon frame and is powered by SRAM Force gearing and includes Roval Rapide carbon wheels. It’s also available in a Specialized-lululemon team replica version and is a bargain at $5,699.
Before I worked in the bike industry (a mere one year ago), I was of the view that if you wanted to buy a road bike then your focus should be on the gearing of the bike, but the more I learn about road bikes, the more I realise that the frame is far more important than the gearing which plays a secondary role.
Just like many road bike buyers, when I bought my current carbon-framed bike I used the level of gearing on the bike as the key determinate. I first decided whether I wanted an aluminium or carbon frame and then I decided that I wanted Ultegra level gearing or better. Once that decision was made, I set about developing a short list of bikes that met this criteria. I also decided that I wanted to buy a women’s specific bike. You can read more about this topic in a couple of previous blog posts I’ve written.
But back to the frame. Just to give you an example which concerns a friend of mine (a male friend). He cracked his carbon bike frame recently. Lets call the brand M. I believe the frame had a manufacturing fault and over time the weak point gave way and it literally snapped and tossed him off, just behind me on a weekend ride.