The Tech Team encourages those who need a bike worked on before a big race to get it in asap — we fill up fast prior to big events!
When Carolyn and I were asked to write a product review for the Ramblin Rose edition of Endurance we were stuck; both of us kept asking ideas of the other and we came to find out neither of us use a lot of women’s specific products. We started quizzing each other: tri shorts – men’s, cycling shorts – men’s, cycling shoes – men’s, bike – men’s. I think the only things we used that we agreed on that were “women’s specific” were running outfits and running shoes. Thus the light bulb went off and we decided to discuss some of the reasons why we choose men’s products.
Carolyn and I both agreed on our use of men’s versions of both tri and cycling shorts. It may be our age but we tend to like having longer shorts! Woman’s cycling and tri shorts tend to be five inches in length. Very rarely can one find seven inches. Men’s will vary in length from seven inches to nine inches or more. This usually equates to landing a couple inches above the knee. In some cases, in particular shorter women, the shorts will come to right above the knee so depending on leg length and preference this may be a huge benefit, since it provides greater compression, does not cut circulation in the middle of the quad and hamstring muscle, and decreases chaffing. Some women also prefer the look of longer bike shorts. Second, with regard to the padding: I’m incredibly picky about this and have been for years. Most companies tend to design a women’s specific chamois with a lot of padding in the rear end underneath the sit bones. When a woman is riding a road bike, the current padding placement makes sense as that is where the pressure is (though I have a lot of padding in that area already!). However, this results in thinner padding up front, under the more sensitive areas and practically none at all when in the aero position. Men’s cycling shorts provide more padding in the front of the short as well as under the area where women tend to experience the most issues. My recommendation for women who experience some discomfort in the crotch area while riding is switch to a men’s short.
Women’s specific jerseys I also take issue with due to the design. I’m sure there are plenty of women who do like a more fitted jersey. Functionally though, the more fitted jersey creates a loss of one of the rear pockets, which unfortunately means being limited in the amount of stuff one can carry on a ride in said pockets. The couple of women’s jerseys I have I only wear in the summer when I know I won’t have to shed much clothing and try and figure out where to put it all. The one benefit of the women’s jersey is the more cut arm design. It’s not as long in the arms as the male version however, this can end up being a negative as it allows for more skin to hit the road in case of an accident…
Many women’s specific “designed” bikes have been sold over the years, all based on the premise that a women’s body different than a man’s and therefore she needs a different bike. For a while it seemed as though the “WSD” bikes were simply a slightly adjusted men’s bike in a couple of areas: the length of the top tube (WSD bikes being a bit shorter), the saddle (women DO tend to like different saddles than men), and the paint job (this one is a bit of a toss-up and is extremely subjective). The trending now, however, seems to be that WSD bikes are basically similarly proportioned yet have a different paint job. Two great examples of this are from two big names in triathlon bikes: Felt and Quintana Roo. The Felt DA4 and DA4W are identical in every way geometrically. The difference lies in the paint scheme and the saddle. The QR CD0.1 men’s and women’s versions also fit the exact same, just like the DA series bikes. There are more sizes available in men’s bikes and generally more “men’s” bikes available in general so sometimes it just seems simpler to buy the “men’s” bike. Other manufacturers, such as Cervelo, have NEVER built a women’s specific bike because they have the staunch belief that there is no need. One option that Cervelo has come to offer is a narrower width of handlebars and a women’s specific saddle on bikes being sold to women. Note that the handlebar width on a road bike generally comes in proportion of the size of the bike. If the bike is a 48cm or 51 then Cervelo puts a 40cm handlebar. As the bike size goes up so does the handlebar size. As a result, some taller women who have a narrower upper body may want to opt for the small handlebar option.
With regards to the saddle, I personally use a women’s specific saddle on both my road and triathlon bike as I find it more comfortable and have had success with them. However, Carolyn does not use a women’s specific and there are several other women who use a ‘men’s’ saddle (side note there are several women who use the Adamo saddle which is typically seen as more of a men’s saddle). Bottom line is that there are all kinds of sizes among humans, but women tend to just be smaller than men. Not always different proportioned, just smaller. Sometimes the paint job is worth looking at the “female” bike but unless you’re dead set on a paint scheme it’s not a bad thing to look at “male” bikes as well!!
Our advice to all women is to read up on the product being considered, instead of just purchasing it because it’s ‘women’s specific’. There are a number of websites to help research products, and sites such as slowtwitch.com offers The Women’s forum where one can post questions and get great reviews on products. Remember that the best option is the one that fits properly and the one that offers most comfort, and in some cases may be unisex or male product.