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Men’s Vs Women’s Bikes: What’s the Difference?

When buying a new bike, one decision you’ll have to make is whether you want to buy a men’s, women’s, or unisex model. In the past, women’s bikes were just smaller men’s bikes with a downward sloping top tube. They came with cheap components and they were painted in pretty colors. These days, there are plenty of high-quality women’s bikes on the market. They offer the same performance as men’s bikes. This guide explains the difference between men’s vs women’s bikes and lists the pros and cons of each. We cover fit, sizing, frame geometry, component choices, cosmetic differences, and more.

There are some minor differences between men’s and women’s bikes. Women can ride men’s bikes. Most modern bikes are unixes. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the right bike for you, regardless of your gender.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Key Takeaways

– The key differences between men’s and women’s are fit and sizing. Women’s bikes have a frame geometry that is designed to fit women’s shorter torso lengths and longer legs. Women’s bikes frames are also smaller than mens frames because women are shorter, on average.

– Women’s bikes also have different components than men’s bikes. Women’s bikes have wider seats, narrower handlebars, softer suspension, shorter stems, shorter crank arms, shorter reach brake levers, and smaller wheels. These parts fit women’s bodies better.

– Most modern bikes are unisex. You can easily swap out components to make the bike fit male and female riders, as long as the frame size is correct.

– In the past, women’s bikes had step through frames. This is no longer the case. Many women’s bikes are painted in traditionally feminine colors like pink or purple.

– You should ride whatever bike fits your body best. It doesn’t matter who the bike was made for. Women can ride men’s bikes. Men can ride women’s bikes. Taller riders usually fit better on men’s bikes.

Key Differences Between Men’s and Women’s Bikes

The main difference between men’s and women’s bikes is the fit and sizing. The frame size and geometry are different because men and women have different body sizes. Their proportions are also different.

Women are shorter than men, on average. Women also tend to have proportionately shorter torsos and longer legs than men. In addition, women also have narrower shoulders than men. Women also have smaller hands than men. This all affects the fit of the bike. Of course, these are all generalizations. Everyone’s body is different.

To accommodate for these differences, the frame sizes of women’s bike frames are different. Women’s frames are smaller to accommodate the height difference. Sometimes the top tube of women’s bikes is sloping to allow women to ride while wearing a dress.

Oftentimes, the frame geometry of men’s and women’s bikes is also slightly different. Women’s bikes tend to have a shorter stack height to help accommodate for the height difference between. In addition, women’s bikes have a shorter reach to accommodate for the difference in torso length. I’ll explain these difference more in-depth later on.

Two women riding bikes

Sometimes, the components installed on women’s bikes are also different. For example, women’s frames usually have shorter crank arms to accommodate shorter legs. Some women’s bikes come with narrower handlebars to accommodate narrower shoulders. Women’s bikes may come with smaller diameter grips and shorter reach brake levers to accommodate smaller hands. Women’s saddles are often fitted to accommodate different sit bone widths that women have. Some women’s bikes also come with smaller-diameter wheels to improve fit for shorter riders.

A woman riding a bike

Men’s Vs Women’s Bikes

In the following sections, I’ll outline the main differences between men’s and women’s bikes to help you decide which will fit you best.

Frame Sizing

Probably the biggest difference between men’s and women’s bikes is the size of the frame. Women’s bike frames are smaller than men’s bike frames.

Women’s frames need to be smaller because women are typically shorter than men. The average height of a woman in the U.S. is 5’4” while the average height of a man in the U.S. is 5’9”. Women do tend to have proportionately longer legs than men. They still have shorter inseam lengths due to their shorter overall height. For this reason, women’s bike frames need to be smaller to fit properly.

The main benefit of choosing a women’s frame is the smaller frame sizes that are available. The smallest men’s frame may be too large for a petite woman or even a shorter man. A small size small women’s frame will be smaller than a size small men’s frame.

Petite women sometimes have trouble finding a frame that is small enough to fit their bodies. In this case, a women’s bike is the best choice. Taller women can have the opposite problem. Women’s frames may be too small. If you are a taller woman, a woman’s frame may be too small for you. In that case, you may be better off choosing a unisex frame or a men’s frame.

Regardless of your height, you can find a suitable frame, even if you are particularly tall or short. Women’s frames are better for shorter riders. Men’s or unisex frames are better for taller riders.

A man riding a men's bike

Frame Geometry

Men’s and women’s bikes have slightly different frame geometries. This is necessary because men’s and women’s bodies have different proportions.

Women’s bikes usually have a shorter stack height than men’s bikes. Stack height is the vertical distance from the middle of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. The shorter stack height helps to accommodate the height difference between men and women.

Women’s bikes also have a shorter reach than men’s bikes. Reach is the horizontal distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the head tube. The shorter reach helps to make up for the shorter torso length that women usually have.

Not all women’s frames account for differences in body proportions. Some frames are simply scaled down in size. The women’s frame is exactly the same as the men’s, just smaller. These frames are usually lower-end.

Some women’s frames also have a downward-sloping top tube. The purpose of the lower top tube was originally so women could ride their bikes while wearing a dress or skirt. It also makes it easier to mount and dismount the bike. These days, the sloping top tube is done mainly for aesthetic reasons as well as for tradition. Many women’s bikes don’t have a sloping top tube these days.

A woman riding an electric bike

Component Choices

Women’s bikes often use slightly different-sized components than men’s bikes to improve fit. In this section, I’ll outline a few important considerations when it comes to components for men’s and women’s bikes.

Crank Arm Length

Women’s bikes often come with shorter crank arms than men’s bikes. Standard crank arms measure 170, 172.5, or 175mm. Crank arms on women’s bikes may measure 160-165mm. Extra short crank arms are also available all the way down to 150mm.

This may not seem like a major difference but it can play a big role in comfort and efficiency. Women’s bikes often come with shorter crank arms because women usually have shorter legs than men. The shorter cranks make the pedal rotation better fit a shorter rider’s body.

If the cranks are too long, they can cause knee pain and other issues. The bike will also be less efficient to ride. Shorter riders can’t achieve a good pedal stroke with long crank arms.

This is one of the most overlooked differences between men’s and women’s bikes. The crank length is particularly important for very short riders. Standard cranks are too long for many women.

A men's bike

Bike Saddles

The seats on women’s bikes are shaped for women’s anatomy. Women’s saddles tend to be slightly shorter and wider than men’s. Men’s saddles are narrower. This is because women have wider sit bones and wider hips than men. A saddle that is designed for your anatomy can greatly improve comfort by providing support where it’s needed.

The ideal saddle also depends on the type of riding you do. Competitive cyclists often prefer a narrower saddle. This allows for a bit more freedom of pedaling movement and can reduce the friction on the insides of the legs. Recreational riders often prefer a wider saddle with cushioning for extra support and comfort.

Many manufacturers include a basic unisex saddle with all of their bikes. Most riders swap the saddle out. Your saddle is a really personal choice. If you don’t like the saddle on a bike, you can easily swap it out for a different model that fits your anatomy better.


Women typically have narrower shoulders than men. For this reason, narrower handlebars often fit women better. One indication that the handlebars may be too wide is if your shoulders start to get sore while riding. In this case, it’s best to swap out your handlebars for a narrower size.

For mountain biking, women tend to feel more comfortable with 680-740mm wide bars. To compare, men’s bikes usually come with 740-800mm wide bars. In many cases, it is possible to cut handlebars down to size if they’re too wide. Alternatively, they can be swapped out.

For road biking, most women use handlebars that measure around 36-40cm wide. Men use slightly wider drop bars that measure 38-44cm wide. Ideally, drop bars should be as wide as the distance between your AC joints (this is the joint where your collarbone and shoulder blade meet on top of your shoulders.)

For more info on handlebars, check out my guide to drop bars Vs flat bars and my guide to 17 different types of handlebars.

Bike handlebars

Stem Length

Women usually have shorter arms and shorter torsos than men. Swapping out the stem for a shorter or longer length stem of the simplest ways to dial in a bike’s fit. The stem is the piece that connects the bike’s handlebars to the steerer tube of the fork.

A shorter stem can reduce the distance from the handlebars to the saddle. A different stem can also be used to raise the handlebars up a couple of inches. This can make the riding position more comfortable for some riders.

Handlebar geometry is also something you might consider. You may need to consider both the stem and handlebar together to get the best fit. Most bike shops will swap out the stem for free when you buy a new bike.

Brake Levers

hydraulic brake lever

Women usually have smaller hands than men. This can make it hard to reach and operate standard brake levers. There are two ways to solve this issue.

Some women’s bikes come with shorter reach brake levers. These levers reduce the distance from the handlebar grip to the lever. Some brake levers also have adjustment screws that allow you to change the reach distance. You can simply reduce the distance to your fit your fingers.

Handlebar grips

Because women’s hands tend to be smaller than men’s, narrower grips can be a more comfortable. Most mountain bike grips measure 30mm or 32mm in diameter. Consider using a grip with a narrower diameter if you have small hands. Narrow grips might measure 28mm in diameter.

Using grips with the proper diameter can improve comfort. You’re less likely to develop hand numbness or cramping when the grips aren’t too big. A narrower grip can also offer better control. Some riders feel more comfortable with a larger grip. Larger grips can offer more cushioning.

For more info, check out my guide to handlebar grips.


A man riding a full suspension mountain bike

Due to their smaller size, women weigh less than men, on average. An average adult man weighs around 160-180 pounds. An average adult woman weighs around 120-140 pounds. You may have to adjust the suspension for the weight of the rider.

In most cases, the stock suspension will be too stiff for an average-weight woman. Most mountain bikes come with suspension that is tuned for a rider that weighs 160-180 pounds. It will need to be softened to accommodate a lighter rider.

Suspension systems are adjustable for different rider weights. Exactly how you’ll adjust the suspension depends on the suspension design that your bike uses. If your bike comes with a coil fork or coil rear shock, you may have to replace the coil with a softer spring. If your bike comes with an air fork or air shock, you can easily adjust it with a shock pump by simply changing the air pressure in the air chamber. Any bike shop can adjust your suspension for you. You can also adjust your own suspension at home if you have the proper tools.

If the suspension is too stiff, the ride will feel rough. The bike will bounce off obstacles rather than absorb the impact. This makes the ride uncomfortable on rough terrain. If the suspension is too stiff, the bike also won’t handle as well. It’s hard to control a bike that’s bouncing around excessively. Traction will also suffer. When the suspension is properly adjusted, it will absorb impacts and keep the tires firmly planted on the ground. This allows you to ride faster and corner harder. The ride will also be more comfortable.

For more in-depth info on bike suspension, check out my guides: Coil Vs Air Forks and Coil Vs Air Shocks.

Wheel Size

Bikes with smaller frames need smaller diameter wheels as well to maintain their proportions. The three most common wheel sizes listed from largest to smallest are 700c (29″), 650B (27.5″), and 26”. For women’s bikes, smaller 650B or 26” wheels are often a better choice. 700c wheels fit better on men’s frames.

Large wheels on a small frame can throw off the bike’s geometry. For example, the wheel size can affect the bottom bracket height and trail (how far the tire contact patch ‘trails’ behind the steering axis). This affects the ride quality and handling. Large wheels on a small bike can also look kind of funny.  If the wheels are too large, toe overlap also becomes an issue.

Large wheels can also make the bike difficult to ride for a smaller person because they are heavier and they turn slower. This makes it more difficult to navigate technical terrain. A petite woman may have trouble handling a bike with large wheels. It may feel cumbersome. Smaller wheels make the bike much more manageable.

A 700c bike wheel

In the past, pretty much all adult frames came with 700c wheels. These days, manufacturers usually offer smaller wheels on their smaller-sized bikes. For example, size medium and size large bikes may come with 700c wheels while size small may come with 650b. Many women’s bikes come with 650b wheels rather than 700c. 

If you’re shorter than around 5’6” (168 cm) you’re probably better off with 650b or 26” wheels. If you’re a taller woman, you may prefer larger 700c wheels.

For more in-depth info on wheel sizes, check out my guides: 700c Vs 26” wheels and 700c Vs 650B wheels.

silhouette of a woman riding a bike

The Problem with Some Women’s Bikes

Some manufacturers simply reduce the frame size and paint it a pretty color to create their women’s bikes. They install the exact same components that they use on their men’s bikes. This is sometimes referred to as ‘shrink it and pink it.’ This is common in lower-end brands. Many department store bikes and Amazon bikes are like this.

Some companies install lower-quality components on their women’s bikes. Some companies also charge a premium for women’s bikes. This is probably because fewer are sold so they can’t benefit as much from economies of scale.

These bikes don’t solve many of the problems that women face while riding a men’s bike. The handlebars are still too wide. The crank arms are still too long. Fit may still be an issue. For this reason, it’s best to avoid cheap bikes if you’re looking for a bike specifically designed for women.

Higher-end manufacturers take women’s body shapes, proportions, and sizes into consideration to create bikes that are truly designed to fit women. If you’re looking for a bike that is designed for a woman’s body, you’re better off looking at bikes from premium manufacturers. Otherwise, you’re better off buying any bike that will fit and changing the seat, stem, and handlebars to fit you body.

A Note About Step Through Frames on Women’s Bikes

A woman's bike with a step through frame

Historically, women’s bikes had a downward-sloping top tube with a step-through frame. This design goes back to the days when women always wore long skirts and dresses rather than pants. The step through frame design made it possible for women to ride while wearing a skirt or dress.

Some modern women’s bikes still maintain this classic design. This is mostly for aesthetic or traditional purposes. People associate a downward sloping top tube with women’s bikes. A downward-sloping top tube makes it easy to distinguish a women’s bike from a men’s bike at a glance.

Step through frames do still have utility. Some riders appreciate a step through frame because it makes it easier to mount and dismount the bike. You don’t have to lift your leg way up over the top tube. You can simply step into the bike.

This can be helpful for older riders and those with mobility issues. It’s also nice if you have to get on and off your bike frequently. Women who ride in skirts and dresses may also appreciate this feature. For a city bike, commuter bike, or casual bike, you may want to consider a model with a step through frame, regardless of your gender.

Pros of Women’s Bikes

  • Better fit- Women’s bikes can offer some women a better fit. A properly made woman’s bike will feature shorter crank arms that fit shorter legs and narrower handlebars that fit women’s narrower shoulders.
  • Smaller frame sizes are available- If you are a petite woman, unisex and men’s frames may be too large. Women’s frames come in smaller sizes.
  • Looks- Women’s bikes are designed to look feminine. They may have bright paint, a step-through frame, and a wicker basket. Some women prefer this aesthetic.
  • Low top tube- Some women’s bikes come with a low top tube. This allows you to ride while wearing a skirt or dress. This could come in handy if you’re buying a city bike or commuter.
  • They’re made for women- Some women like the idea of riding a bike that was made for them.

Cons of Women’s Bikes

  • Women’s bikes are often more expensive- Women’s bikes often cost more than comparable men’s bikes.
  • Lower-end components- Women’s bikes sometimes come equipped with lower-end components than comparable men’s bikes.
  • Women’s bikes don’t fit some women- Some women find that unisex bikes or men’s bikes offer a better fit.
  • Ride position- Women’s frames tend to have a more upright ride position due to the differences in geometry. This can make the bike slower and less efficient. Riders who care about performance prefer a more aggressive ride position.
  • Aesthetics- Women’s bikes are often painted a feminine color such as pink. They may also have a low top tube that makes the bike identifiable as a woman’s bike. Some women don’t want a feminine-looking bike.
two people riding mountain bikes on a dirt trail.

Pros of Men’s Bikes

  • More bike options- There are more men’s bikes on the market than women’s. This is because more men cycle than women. You can find any type of bike that you want including mountain bikes, road bikes, folding bikes, recumbent bikes, fat bikes, and more.
  • Cheaper- Oftentimes, men’s bikes cost less than comparable women’s bikes. This is probably because more are produced.
  • Higher quality components- Men’s bikes are designed with performance in mind. They often come with better quality components than comparable women’s bikes.
  • Aesthetics- Men’s bikes feature a standard diamond frame.

Cons of Men’s Bikes

  • May be too large for some riders- Men’s bikes are larger than women’s models. Shorter riders may not fit men’s frames.
  • More durable- Men’s bikes often feature beefier frames and components that are more durable and long-lasting.
  • The difference between sizes can be large- If you fall between sizes, you may have to choose a different model.
A bike on a bike stand

Do Men and Women Even Need Different Bikes?

Not really. The differences in body proportions between men and women are pretty minor. In fact, a man and woman of the same height have more or less the same proportions, in most cases. Women may have slightly shorter torsos and slightly longer legs. The differences usually aren’t great enough to justify completely different frames.

There are more significant differences in body proportions between tall people and short people. Shorter people tend to have a longer torso-to-leg ratio than taller people. This isn’t gender specific. This is the reason that different frame sizes are needed for riders of different heights.

You can accommodate slightly different body proportions by simply swapping out components. For example, you can install a different stem, handlebars, and crank arms. With these modifications, a men’s or unisex bike can fit a woman just as well as a women’s specific bike. Every rider will need to make some modifications to make their bike fit.

Many riders find that there is no need for men and women to ride different bikes. Many companies don’t even offer separate men’s and women’s bikes these days. All of their bikes are unisex.

According to this article, Cervélo doesn’t build women’s framesets. That’s because “It’s based on the theory that women have long legs and a short torso. The only problem with the theory is that it’s just not true,” The article goes on to explain that women’s framesets often come with a shorter and steeper geometry and an upright riding position. They’re not designed for performance. The company focuses on making high-performance bikes specifically for smaller people, regardless of their gender.

A man riding a road bike

Women’s Bikes Don’t Fit All Women

The different frame geometries, frame sizes, and component choices of men’s and women’s bikes are based on averages. Women’s bikes are made for women with an average body type. An average woman is shorter than an average man with a short torso length, long legs, narrow shoulders, and small hands. Men’s bikes are made for taller people with broad shoulders, and larger hands. Of course, not all people fit these descriptions. People come in all shapes and sizes.

Your individual body shape and size will play a role in whether you choose a men’s or women’s bike. For example, some women are tall. Some women have short legs and wide shoulders. A particularly tall woman might fit better on a men’s bike. Some shorter men may fit better on a women’s bike.

All bikes are really unisex. There is nothing preventing a woman from riding a man’s bike or a man from riding a women’s bike. You want to ride the bike that fits you best, regardless of who it was designed for. It’s better to choose a bike that best fits your body rather than a bike that is designed for your gender.

Unisex Bikes

Many manufacturers are moving away from offering separate men’s and women’s bikes in their lineup. Instead, they are transitioning to gender-neutral bikes. Instead of offering four different men’s sizes and four different women’s sizes, they may offer a single unisex model with 6 different sizes. This seems to be where the industry is moving.

In this case, the components are sized appropriately for the frame. For example, the extra small and small frames may come with compact handlebars, shorter crank arms, and 26” wheels. The large and extra-large models may come with extra-wide handlebars, longer crank arms, and 700c wheels.  

The benefit of this is that there is a smaller difference between sizes. The step between a small and medium frame is smaller. Riders are less likely to fall between two sizes. This allows a greater range of riders to fit the bike. Riders also don’t have to worry about choosing between a men’s or women’s bike because they’re all the same.

The drawback is that the bikes may require a bit more modification to fit female riders. You still may need to swap out the saddle, stem, grips, crank arms, etc. to get a good fit. It really depends on the bike.

A Brompton folding bike. Most folding bikes are unisex

Men Can Also Ride Women’s Bikes

A shorter man may find that women’s bikes fit them best. Teenage boys who are too big for kids’ bikes but not big enough for adult men’s bikes may also fit best on a women’s bike. Women’s bikes usually have better components than kids bikes.

Of course, many men won’t want to ride a women’s bike, even though it might fit them better. This is a problem with gendered bikes.

A mountain bike

Who Should Ride a Women’s Bike?

  • Shorter riders with a short torso length, long legs, narrow shoulders, and small hands.
  • Those who want a bike with more feminine aesthetics. Many women’s bikes are painted in bright and pretty colors and offer the traditional downward-sloping top tube.
  • Women who plan to ride in a dress or skirt. The downward sloping top tube makes this easier.
  • Those who don’t want to deal with swapping out components. A stock women’s bike may fit better off the shelf than a unisex bike.

Who Should Ride a Men’s Bike or Unisex Bike?

  • Taller riders. If a men’s bike fits you best, that’s what you should ride. Men’s bikes are really unisex bikes.
  • Those who prefer a more neutral-looking bike. Men’s bikes are often available in less flashy colors like black or grey. They also have a standard diamond frame.
  • Those who care about performance. In some cases, men’s bikes still have better quality components.

Final Thoughts

In the past, women’s bikes were simply smaller than men’s bikes. They were also painted in traditionally feminine colors, such as pink or purple. Oftentimes, they came equipped with lower-end components as well. Women’s bikes were designed for gentle recreational riding, not performance. Many models also had a lower top tube to allow for riding in a skirt.

Things have changed in recent years. These days, women’s bikes offer the same build quality and performance as men’s models. Manufacturers vary the frame geometry and component selection to better suit female riders. This allows for a better fit and a more comfortable riding position for women. Some manufacturers have done away with men’s and women’s bikes and simply offer unisex models in more sizes.

The main differences between men’s and women’s bikes are fit and sizing. At the end of the day, all that really matters is that the bike fits your body. You’ll want to take your height, shoulder width, and leg length into consideration when choosing a bike.

For most women, a men’s or unisex bike will fit fine. Some smaller women fit better on women’s specific bikes. Most men fit best on a men’s bike.

In most cases, you’ll have to make some minor modifications to make the bike fit you perfectly. You may have to install a different seat. You may have to install wider or more narrow handlebars or a shorter or longer stem. In addition, you might also have to adjust the suspension to suit your weight. These are all relatively minor adjustments that you should expect to make on any new bike.

When buying a bike, it’s a good idea to try out several different models to find which one fits best. It may be a men’s bike or it may be a women’s bike. Whichever bike you choose, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.

Do you ride a men’s or a women’s bike? Share your experience in the comments below!

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