I have noticed recently that there have been many articles flying around about women’s bikes, but so far nobody has given a review of a women’s specific design bike for racing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you can’t race on one – for the past two years I have been riding a female specific Boardman, which I bought from Halfords for £1,000, but I have always complained about the sub-standard groupset, despite the bike being very light. I also don’t like racing on clinchers, so I upgraded the wheels that came with the bike and changed the saddle to one I am used to using.
So what are your options?
If you read the vast majority of articles on women’s bikes, you would think that there are loads to choose from. That may be the case, but the majority of brochures for women’s bikes talk about comfort on long rides, and the women’s geometry is supposed to be more relaxed to compensate for this. But if you’re looking for a bike to race on, this might not be what you’re looking for, so do yourself a favour and look at both the men’s and women’s options but bear in mind the main differences between men’s and women’s bikes, namely:
- Women’s bikes tend to have worse groupsets than their “male” alternative (although some manufacturers are starting to buck this trend);
- Men’s bikes tend to have wider handlebars, making control difficult for women who tend to be more petite in width;
- The top end men’s bikes are very light and very stiff – most women don’t benefit from a stiff frame as much as men due to the difference in power output.
It is possible to change components on the bike before you buy, you just have to be prepared to negotiate with the shop before you buy. Some changes are easy to make, for example by asking for narrower handlebars or women’s specific ones, which tend to have a shallower drop. Furthermore, many bikes have compact chainsets, with 50/34 chainrings, but you may prefer to change it for a double, with 53/39 chainrings, depending on who you are going to race with and what events you intend to ride.
My Top Tips
Remember my top tips and get what bike you want:
- Research the bike you want before setting foot in the shop – if you have a top price in mind, try not to go above it;
- Ask fellow cyclists for their opinion, but remember that its your money and ultimately your decision;
- Remember that just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you can’t ride a men’s bike;
- If you’re going for the full bike, ask to take it for a test ride;
- Remember that you can change components at a later date, although some are easier (and cheaper) to change than others;
- Take advantage of a bike fit;
- Don’t pick the bike because of the colour – get one that fits both you and the purpose you want it for (this also means that you have to be honest with yourself in order to get the right bike);
- Be prepared to negotiate with the shop to change the components;
- Buy what you want not what the shop assistant says you should buy.
Putting my own advice into practice
This year, I decided to buy a new bike. I didn’t want to spend more than £3,000 (which still seems a lot considering). The women’s specific bike that I was going to buy seemed to have weird sizing and I knew before I made the final decision that I wouldn’t want to keep the wheels (the majority of wheels that come with full bikes are not as good as the wheels that you would want to race on), or the compact chainset or the saddle.
I have ridden Giant bikes for quite a while – men’s and women’s – and I like the compact frame (Giant call it “Compact Road Design”). I had a look at the men’s bikes, as well as the women’s, and for £3,499 RRP I could buy a full bike (the men’s TCR Advanced and the women’s Avail Advanced), both with Ultegra Di2, but the women’s version came under the heading “Endurance” not “Performance”. Indeed, it is described as a bike for “sportives, centuries, fast group rides and epic solo days” – no mention of a race. This did put me off, as I was looking to upgrade my race bike.
I decided to go with the men’s frameset option instead – the tag line for this bike is “if road bike racing is in your DNA, this is your machine” – well, it mentioned racing so that was a good start! I was keen to buy a 10 speed double groupset (rather than a compact) before everything changes to 11 speed, and I was lucky enough to buy it for a really good price online. I shopped around and got some slightly narrower handlebars too. My local bike shop did a phenomenal job in building it up for me, even managing to get hold of matching bottle cages!
As for the Boardman, well that has been transformed into my new low profile time trial bike – there will be an article on that in the coming weeks. Until then, enjoy your riding!