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Is this bike suitable for men?

  • 12
    If it fits, ride it.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 22:40
  • 1
    @Benjamin That post asked about mixte frames, which is not what the OP is asking about here. The OP is asking about a women's specific bike. However, some elements of women's specific design (WSD) were covered in the answers there. However (yes, that's two howevers!), some of the assumptions of WSD that were prevalent in 2013 have since been challenged. So, this question may deserve to be asked and answered anew. Or it may not. It's complicated.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 22:55
  • As a woman I would be very uncomfortable using a frame like that, (not able to step through the frame,) and I would name is a bike build for men. But I have never seen a reason for men not to use the (real) step through frames which used to be build only for women.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 10:52

4 Answers 4


The Older Paradigm of Women's Specific Bikes

Argenti and Kaz both are correct, but let's dive a bit deeper into women's specific design (WSD). Their answers allude to an old paradigm of WSD. It appears to be based on anthropometric measurements collected by the US Army around the 1950s. Here is a relevant 2017 interview with Stephanie Kaplan, a product manager with Specialized. These data showed that the average woman had relatively longer legs and a shorter torso than an average man of the same height.

Operating from those data, manufacturers would typically make a WSD bike that had a relatively shorter top tube than a men's bike in the same size. Obviously, they would also offer smaller sizes (the average woman is shorter than the average man, which is probably beyond debate), women's specific saddles, and narrower handlebars.

Compare Boardman's current MTX 8.6 women's bike to the men's version of the same bike, you can see this paradigm in operation. A frame's reach is basically how long it is, and its stack is basically how tall it is. I'm comparing two frames whose absolute size is relatively similar below.

Medium women's MTX8.6: Recommended rider height 157-170cm Stack 615mm Reach 387mm

Small men's MTX 8.6: Recommended rider height 160-172cm Stack 602mm Reach 391mm

Basically, compared to the equivalent men's frame, the women's frame has a more upright position, and it's slightly shorter.

Some Companies are Challenging the Old Paradigm

Some manufacturers, like Trek and Specialized, initially embraced the older WSD paradigm by offering different frames. More recently, at least these two manufacturers have gone more to a modified unisex approach. They offer the same frame measurements to men and women. However, they make sure to offer smaller sizes, and they alter the contact points for the bikes actually sold to women.

In the interview I linked, Kaplan discussed the data that Specialized obtained from their Retül service. Retül was an independent bike fitting company that Specialized bought, so Specialized now have current and accurate measurements on riders. Kaplan said that in that data, they didn't see any justification for offering different geometries in the same frame size. Thus, they feel able to accommodate female riders with the same basic frame. A graph from their analysis is below;

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However, given a frame size, the saddles are different, and women may have narrower handlebars. Additionally, they expanded their size range. For example, I am 5'5". I recall that when I first bought a road bike in 2001, I had a 48cm Specialized Allez, and that was the smallest frame offered. Current road bikes now have a 44cm size.

Bonnie Tu, who runs Liv (a sister company of Giant Bicycles that only offers women's bikes), has said that a unisex approach basically means that the bikes are made for men. She is clearly correct in at least some instances; my current gravel bike is a small Parlee Chebacco, and Parlee only offers 4 sizes, small through extra large. Shorter female riders are likely to have fit problems on the small frame. Whatever good things I have to say about the Parlee, they clearly didn't consider women's sizing at all. The approach taken by Trek and Specialized is far more thoughtful.

Not all manufacturers are going the unisex route! This 2017 review of Canyon's women's CF SLX bike outlined Canyon's approach:

Canyon’s online ordering system collects body dimension data from all its customers, including height, weight, and leg and arm length. While this information helped people identify which frame size to purchase, the data — now over 60,000 entries strong — also gave the engineers at Canyon a clear picture of the biometric and anatomical make-up and requirements of its customers.

That data not only showed some fundamental differences in the male and female dimensions, but also the exact nature of those differences. Most notably, Canyon found that, contrary to popular belief, women’s legs are only marginally longer than men’s legs for a given height. However, their arms are consistently shorter (by 2cm on average) for a given torso length. According to Canyon’s data, women also tend to be shorter and lighter, and they have greater pelvic flexibility.

Taking all of this data into account, Canyon designed the new WMN frame geometries with slightly higher stacks and shorter reaches compared to the unisex frames. The WMN frames are also lighter than the unisex versions for a given size, feature more aerodynamic profiles, and the size range now extends down to 3XS to cover rider heights as low as 152cm (5’ 0″).

Which approach to bike geometry is correct? That may be impossible to answer without getting anthropometric measurements from a true random sample of the population. One criticism of the older measurements is that they are much less ethnically diverse than the global market, and they may not have been taken consistently. I believe Kaplan argued in the podcast I linked or elsewhere that the Retül measurements are much more accurate than the US Army ones were. However, the people who get fits from Retül are different from the people who shop online for Canyon bikes, and both are different from the general population. Their data could be biased - although if you believe the US Army data are correct, it is hard to come up with a scenario explaining how Specialized's sampling scheme would bias their data that way.

We Want All Riders to Have Access to Bikes That Meet Their Needs

There is another dimension to the question "is this bike suitable": does this bike have the capability to meet my needs? I think this doesn't apply to your situation, but the old WSD paradigm was to "shrink and pink" the bikes, and also to down-spec them.

It's possible that some spec changes are warranted. Some of those issues are discussed here and here. For example, the Specialized Allez and Dolce are entry level road bikes, but the Dolce is a women's frame and the Allez is unisex. The Dolce has less aggressive geometry (more upright, steers slower) and has more vibration damping features than the Allez. This may make sense for entry-level female vs male riders. (Alternatively, it may be what the male-dominated bike industry thinks women want, and they may be wrong.) Canyon, in the quote above, said that its women's frames use lighter (but more aerodynamic) tubing than same-size men's bikes. I am guessing their assumption is that on average and controlling for height, women will put out less power than men. They don't need heavier tubing; they won't benefit from the additional lateral stiffness, and they will benefit from greater vertical compliance. (Note: frame stiffness may not matter that much for any rider, but this is another story.) In addition, Bonnie Tu has emphasized that

It takes a female cyclist to understand what makes a ride painful or uncomfortable, and what will make a woman feel more relaxed. It needs to come from a personal experience, so it has got to be designed by women.

She might be wrong, but the bike industry has historically failed to disprove her.

Aside from warranted spec changes, we don't want women's bikes to be crummier versions of the stuff available to men. In a podcast interview with Velonews, Berne Broudy discussed how she and multiple pro or competitive female athletes she knew would often ask for the men's bikes, because those had the component specifications they wanted. As another example, I recall than the 2010 Specialized S-Works women's shoes had a lower stiffness rating than the men's S-Works shoes - I know this because I have a pair of the women's shoes due to fit reasons (discussed below).

More subjectively, Broudy discussed on the podcast that the early marketing and overall messaging for women's bikes and products was ultimately condescending and sexist. This impeded take up as well. Further, Broudy pointed out in the podcast and the excellent companion article that some products originally designed for women were adopted by men side as well. She pointed towards the cut out saddles pioneered by Georgena Terry and the later Specialized Power Mimic saddle. Thus, it is possible to make at least some unisex products that actually serve all genders well.

That Frame Could Potentially Suit a Male Rider, and it Might Suit You

Back to the original question! Does the frame fit you? You can move the stem lower on the steerer tube if the stock position is too high for you.

Its components aside from the saddle may have been identical to the men's version. Hence, color aside, this bike is potentially suitable for some men, perhaps even many men. It will not be suitable for all men. We can't say for sure if it's suitable for you personally. That is what matters. If it fits (or it can be adjusted to fit) and the components meet your needs, then you could consider it. I will assume that Boardman specced a women's saddle, and it's more likely you'd want to change that (but it's not guaranteed). If so, I suspect it will be wider than the average men's saddle. I'm not familiar with front suspensions, but I guess it's possible that the suspension they chose was selected for the average weight of a female rider in the height range it was designed for. If you're heavier than this, it's possible you might find it's too compliant for you (i.e. your weight pushes it down more than it was designed for). This is speculation on my part.

Getting into the social aspects of WSD bikes is going to be primarily opinion based, and thus not really suitable for discussion on Stack Exchange. I will say that some fairly knowledgeable cyclists will know you're on a WSD frame. I think that most of these people would not judge you for it. I think that those who do judge you are doing humanity a disservice. The average person on the street probably won't know. The average rider I met never made a remark about my ladies shoes. The distinction between men's and women's paint schemes may be getting less distinct. Besides, pastels may well come into fashion for men. You could be setting a trend. (My shoes were all white and they matched my bike.)

On a Personal Note

As a side note, I'm a 5' 5" male cyclist. My bike is white with pink accents. I have a pretty long torso. I'm 1 inch taller than my wife, but my hips are actually a bit lower than hers. I have actually worn one pair of women's specific Specialized shoes because the last was identical but for the tighter heel cup, which fit my feet.

So, while I'm proportioned more like a stereotypical male under the old WSD paradigm, issues of fit definitely resonate with me. I can typically ride the smallest unisex bikes of (I think) all major bike manufacturers, although their seat tube angles are a bit more slack than I prefer. This typically causes some toe overlap, which isn't relevant on road bikes, but may sometimes be an issue off road. Also, a lot of shoes don't fit my feet well!!


The graph is from a document called When to Share Product Platforms: An Anthropometric Review. I'm not sure this link will persist, but it was downloaded here. The paper is undated, but it cites data collected in North America from 2016 to 2018 at Retul, a fitting service owned by Specialized. It's unclear how many riders were represented, but one graph claims N = 7,917 male and 1,914 female riders for a total of 9,831, whereas a different section may say that some of the data stem from 7,750 total fit sessions.

  • 1
    You cannot mention the 1950's Airforce study without explaining the outcomes thestar.com/news/insight/2016/01/16/…. Given ajustablity of bike frames for correct fit to the rider but adjustment and component swap, its hard to believe womans frames are more than a marketing gimmick.
    – mattnz
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 2:05

Boardman have a page which tries to explain what they mean by a woman's bicycle. See here.

This means that with our Women's range we use the same frame design and only minor changes to the geometries of our men's bikes, but offer smaller sizes and tailor the contact points to suit the needs of female riders.

You cannot tell by looking at the photo. The bike does have a sloped top bar, which reduces the SOH (stand-over height). But that amount of slope is seen on plenty of bikes sold as men's.

Men are not all tall. If a couple are shopping for a pair of bicycles, and she is taller than he, does it still make sense for him to get a men's bike and her a women's?

I'd use this bike. The light blue frame finish doesn't look particularly feminine, especially with all the black trim; it conveys light sportiness. Moreover, the brand has "man" in its name (what is more, unprefixed by "wo") if anyone still questions the bike's masculinity.


Generally women's specific geometry bikes tend to have less effective reach (horizontal distance from bottom bracket to bars), either through a shorter frame or shorter stem, as women tend to have proportionally shorter arms than men.

if the geometry works for you, then it's fine. That bike has a fairly short stem so you could replace it with a longer one if you need to.

  • 4
    Actually, Specialized and Trek have both determined that women don't have less reach than men of the same height. What you describe is the old paradigm of women's specific design. It may have been based on older anthropomorphic measurements. I'm not sure if it's correct or not, but Specialized definitely claimed that based on modern data from their Retül bike fitting service, there was no gender difference in reach versus stack ratios. Thus, Specialized don't really offer gender-specific frames. If @Kaz's answer is correct, Boardman are going with the 'new' paradigm.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 23:10

I have had a bicycle with the same frame size called Cannondale for over a 2 years though it wasn't new when I got it. The bike was light and hence portable if you wanted to carry it in a boot and travel elsewhere with it. It's frame geometry and lightness made it likable and rideable by anyone including a kid. Besides your bike there has a "man" on its name 🤣🤣🤣

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