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My wife wants a high-quality commuting bike (riding almost an hour each way five days a week). However, she wants it to be compatible with skirt-wearing and, as a result, refuses to have a frame with a normal top-bar.

Is there even such a thing as a high-quality commuting frame with the low top-bar of a women's bike?

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1  
Could you be more specific about what you mean by "commuting bike"? People use all sorts of bikes for commuting, including Road, Touring, Cyclocross, Hybrid, Mountian, Dutch and just about any other bike. Also, Riding an hour each way in a skirt would be quite sub-optimal. Perhaps in those tennis skirts (skorst?) it would be ok, but riding that long in work clothes wouldn't be enjoyable. And you'd want to change after you got to work anyway. –  Kibbee Apr 11 at 16:19
    
I believe he is referring to a step through frame –  Will Apr 11 at 16:39
    
She commutes about an hour each way 5 days a week, often with full panniers. –  Roger Apr 11 at 20:23

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

If you and she are willing to throw down on a custom, I can personally recommend Violet Crown Cycles. Otherwise, consider the Rivendell Betty Foy/Ivan Gomez or building up a Soma Buena Vista... but she might actually do fine picking up a mass-market step-through that fits well (Electra, Jamis, and Trek have models worth looking at) and upgrading the components as desired.

For a ride that long, I would actually recommend against a Dutch bike; something speedier would likely be better. Believe it or not, an upright posture is not necessarily ideal; I find that a more forward-leaned posture keeps long skirts from blowing back and up in headwinds. (There are other ways to deal with this. The headband-round-one-leg trick works.) Avoid crank-forward/"flat foot" designs for this reason.

I will disagree with Batman above regarding durability. Though I've seen that claim many a time, I have yet to see anyone with a horror story regarding a mixte or step-through frame falling apart or anything similarly catastrophic... or even bothersome, for that matter. I've gotten along just fine with both my step-throughs; if they flex more, I don't notice it.

My somewhat ornery but experience-driven suggestions for skirt-friendly bikes:

  • Fenders (minimally a rear fender)
  • Chain guard. Chains like to eat skirts, as well as deposit grime on them. (Consider a belt drive, rare though they are -- lack of grime is one of the things I dearly love about mine.)
  • Disc brakes and/or a skirt guard on the rear wheel. Rear rim brakes LOVE to eat skirts; I lost two dresses to my Electra Townie in my early days with it because of this. (Check Etsy for aftermarket fabric skirt guards.)
  • Internal gear hub if she likes really long, full skirts. A skirt-eating derailleur is a long shot, but depending on the hanger configuration, it could happen.
  • Decent carrying capacity. I don't mind carrying a messenger bag while in a dress, but she might, especially on that long a ride... and even I (fifteen minutes door to door) sometimes sling mine into a pannier.
  • If the bike she picks only has one set of braze-ons for water-bottle cages (which is common for step-throughs), I recommend adding a handlebar cage mount; these are easy to find aftermarket (e.g. this one by Velo Orange).

And for bike-friendly skirts and dresses:

  • Pencil skirts longer than just above the knee are Right Out. Forget it. She'll tear it to pieces trying to pedal, no matter how it's gored or slit.
  • Shorter skirts can work, but wear bike shorts underneath. (If she's going to do that, though, why not just wear the shorts and change into the skirt at work?)
  • Full skirts work fine if she avoids skirt-eating chains and rim brakes. (The Victorians did it -- so can we!)
  • Maxi-style straight dresses work fine if the material has some stretch, such that knees don't leave unsightly "dents" in it.
  • Camisoles, for any dress neckline that isn't reasonably close-fitting. If she prefers an upright ride, this isn't necessary.

Good luck! I'm not sure the perfect bike for this use-case exists in the mass market (that's why I went custom), but she ought to be able to find something that doesn't compromise too much.

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The first thing is style. There are the conventional step through/lady frames:

stepthrough

and mixties

mixtie

which have the same sort of clearance as step through frames but are stronger. Then there are women specific geometry bikes.

In general, both mixtes and step through bikes are inferior to the standard diamond frame due to reduced strength and stiffness, increased weight and less mounting points for stuff. (Of course, you need to do reasonable comparisons in this case). And they became a lot less common once people stopped riding bikes frequently in skirts.

Trek among other major manufacturers offer women's geometry bikes (Trek marks theirs WSD, Specialized uses slightly different names, and Giant uses LivGiant or something). These are usually variations of the corresponding men's model with a lower top tube. Probably not good for a full length skirt.

Soma also sells some mixtie frames (their buena vista, for example), which you could spec up at your LBS. Velo orange also sold one until quite recently it seems, but if you dig through the manufacturer's websites, you'll find things like the Trek Belleville WSD, Specialized's Globe brand, etc. Rivendell (a high quality boutique manufacturer) sells their Betty Foy as a frame set, but it is a quite expensive one.

Since this is really a shopping question (and is likely to be closed because of that), we should note that your bike shop can help you with bikes available in your market, along with the important bike fit problem. If you ask them for a mixte frame (or even a step through frame) and tell them what its being used for, they can likely find something for you or order a quality frame and build it up with other parts.

Finally, note that many frames from the 70s or 80s are still just fine - if you look at your local used market for a mixte or step through frame/bicycle from that era, get it checked over and tuned up at your LBS (which may involve replacing a bunch of parts on it, admittedly), you can likely get a pretty good quality frame for cheaper than buying one new.

Alternatively, convince your wife to wear pants to cycle to work (if you're cycling 2 hours a day, this is likely to be more comfortable anyway) and use a diamond frame, and then change at work.

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Several options:

  • Public bikes - has several frame styles with step through design
  • Linus bikes - has several frame styles with step through design
  • Soma Buena Vista - a nice mixte frame style, available as a frame or complete bike.

    May want to consider adding fenders with a skirt guard if she frequently rides with a longer skirt.

  • share|improve this answer

    "Women's frame" generally means a frame that's been modified to better suit many women's bodies with a shorter top tube, narrower handlebars, etc. "Step-through" describes what you're looking for.

    I recommend giving "Dutch style" bikes a try. Workcycles bikes are popular and I think a model like the Secret Service is good for illustrating what attributes make a good commuter bike for wearing skirts. The chain guard and skirt/coat guard will help keep clothes from getting dirty and greasy, and fenders are key for staying dry. (Personally, I'd get longer fenders than the one shown on that bike, though). You can mount panniers on the rack or add a basket. The step-through design prevents you from flashing people when mounting/dismounting, but not from wind. A skirt garter will help with that.

    However, if serious hill-climbing is needed, I'd stay away from step-through frames and look more at the slanted-tube models mentioned by others, as the upright posture doesn't make for good hill-climbing.

    If your wife ends up with a diamond frame bike, she can wear light leggings under it for modesty.

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    I have a womens' Dutch bike. I bought it for nipping down to the shops but I wouldn't want to ride it for an hour. It weighs 18kg for a start! –  PeteH Apr 13 at 20:35

    Without budget/loading amount it's difficult to answer, as for light loads a traditional mixte will be OK, but for heavier loads a touring bike really is better.

    Thorn cycles does step through touring frames...these are not cheap however they're a small UK company that has made touring bikes for yoinks so reliability and comfort are guaranteed. Comes with all the braze-ons, so you can put on mudguards, bottle cages, front loaders...the works.

    Dawes Cycles is another option. The disadvantage of a higher more Dutch style bike as the linked one is wind drag but she can wear shorts and carry lots of goods too and the bike comes with everything on it.

    Good luck :)

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    She often carries heavy loads in fully-laden Ortleib rear panniers, and cycles for an hour each way. The Thorn step-through touring frames look great, if expensive—it's the first time I've seen serious, well-built frames in this style. The Dawes bike also looks decent. Thanks! –  Roger Apr 15 at 17:02

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