Friday, October 28, 2011
Women's Bikes, Then and Now
Morgan Hill, Cali. (Bicycling.com) — Walk into a bike shop today and you’ll probably see any number of bicycles and accessories marketed specifically to women, but of course this hasn’t always been the case. One reason for that, and it’s certainly no secret, is that the bike industry has traditionally focused on men. So what exactly are “women’s bikes” and what features differentiate them from men’s?
Rachael Lambert, women’s product and marketing manager at Specialized, recently spoke with Bicycling about the evolution of bikes and accessories designed for women. She offered insight into women’s products today, how far they've come, and what it means when the company labels a bike, pair of shoes, or a saddle as such. “The biggest advance we’ve made in women’s cycling is learning how to make women comfortable on bikes,” she says. “That advance is a result of product research and extensive feedback from cyclists.”
Early days—'just shrink it and pink it'
The industry began making bikes designed for and marketed to women about 15 years ago. Before then, women either adjusted men’s bikes to fit them or went to builders to get custom framesets. After all, shoes, helmets, and other accessories were designed to fit men because men dominated the sport. Unsurprisingly, the first women’s products rarely matched the top-end men’s equipment in quality, and it was common for observers to mock those early women’s products for reflecting a “shrink it and pink it” philosophy.
Specialized claims its Jett Expert is the best-fitting 29er on the market for women.
Specialized rolled out its first women’s road bike, the Allez Dolce, in 2003. It was adapted from the men’s Allez and featured graphics by none other than Mario Cipollini. “It wasn’t what we’d call a women’s bike today,” says Lambert. “To some extent, it was shrink it and pink it. We knew we needed to figure out how you make a smaller bike and how you make it so it’s not 650c wheels.”
The smallest Allez Dolce was a 44-centimeter and had 700c wheels. Specialized offered two models, the Allez Dolce and the Allez Vita, which differed in the quality of their components. At the time, it was common in the industry for the major companies to offer only one or two bikes for women. “Ten years ago there was one women’s bike in everybody’s line, and it was a token product,” says Lambert, explaining that though some of the bikes were quality products, they didn’t account for the variety of riders’ needs. After all, not all women want the same characteristics in a bike, any more than all men do.
Today there are considerably more options for women. “Most major companies believe that regardless of your experience as a rider, we have a product for you.” Specialized, for instance, has the Ruby, a carbon frameset designed for long-distance riding. But if racing is the goal, the company just came out with the 2012 Amira, a high-end road frame designed to be light and fast.