I’ve been road riding for 15 years now and one thing I’ve noticed is the change in women’s road cycling gear that is marketed specifically for women. Not long after I started riding and buying women’s road cycling gear, I noted the efforts of some of the larger manufacturers like Specialized, Trek and Giant in attracting women to buy women’s specific bikes and gear.
I’m sure if you went back 20 years there was almost no women’s specific road riding bikes or gear, and the products that were offered were made in various shades of pink. Thankfully by the time I came along they had moved past that ‘shrink it and pink it’ era and appeared to be going all in with women’s gear.
However, in the past five years, most of the manufacturers that created all these wonderful women’s specific products have abandoned that idea and moved back to ‘unisex’ products. Specialized and Trek have both made a hasty retreat from their women’s specific bikes, saddles, helmets, shoes, and more. Specialized says that their many years of bike fit data has made them realise that there are fewer differences between the sexes and that the real differences are amongst people in general.
Perhaps they are right, although it does smack of a great excuse to consolidate their product lines and save money on product development and the all-important production line.
On the bike front, I agree with them. During the heady days of the women’s specific bike offerings, I rode a Specialized Amira road bike which was the women’s equivalent of the popular Tarmac race bike. I was comfortable and happy on my Amira, but after its demise a few years ago I decided to change over to a Tarmac. While this was mainly to move to disc brakes, I wasn’t sad to be moving to the Tarmac which is equally comfortable as my Amira.
Although I am disappointed in Specialized and the bike manufacturers in general for the small choice of colours they offer across the range. However, I was lucky enough to buy a Tarmac frame in a colour I really like, and then have my local bike shop build it for me, but I’m sure there are a lot of people (both women and men) who have to compromise.
The exception to this industry trend is Giant with their women’s only brand Liv. Giant produces a wide range of women’s specific bikes and gear and continues to back the idea that women need and want women’s gear.
The other strange exception is women’s cycling clothing. There is a plethora of women’s road cycling kit in an array of colours, styles and sizes, so at least we can look good while we’re riding around on our unisex bikes, wearing other unisex items.
One of the other consequences of this trend to smaller ranges of unisex products from the large brands that focused so much on women’s gear is there are fewer extra small size road bikes available on the market.
By far my most popular blog posts over the 12 years I’ve been writing Women Who Cycle is about road bikes for short women. When I first wrote about the topic in 2013, there were eight brands of road bikes that I found that offered extra small size bikes that would suit a person around 152 cm (5 foot). I most recently covered it again two years ago, and this time I found six brands with extra small road bikes, but all offered fewer models than before.
A few months ago, I was contacted by a man in the US who was trying to buy his wife an extra small road bike and he was struggling to find any bike at all for her. I pointed him to my most recent blog post on the subject and he said he’d tried all of those companies with no luck!!
So, to come to the point, I agree with the bike manufacturers about frame geometry, but I would like to see the major brands offering more colours that appeal to women and men, in more sizes, to offset the demise of women’s specific bikes. I’d also like to see them offer more women’s parts swaps on all road bikes like handlebars (women generally need narrower bars) and saddles (women generally need wider saddles than men of the same height).
I’d also like to see the big brands develop women-specific gear like shoes and helmets. It’s not just about the colours, but the fit as well. And to ensure they have sufficient choices in the smaller sizes for those really short women (and men).