Do women need women’s bikes? It’s a debate that has raged for a decade and now one of the world’s biggest bike brands says the answer is ‘no’. (Guest post by Susannah Osborne)
When Specialized launched its genderless 2018 Tarmac SL6, in July this year, over ten years of conviction were called into question.
Since the late 90s the California-based brand, along with its rival Trek, had been a pioneer and advocate of gender-specific geometries. In 2002, Specialized launched its first women’s-specific bikes, the Allez Dolce and Allez Vita, and in 2003 Trek released the 2200 WSD. In the years subsequent, a plethora of brands ploughed hours and many dollars of investment, into developing women’s-specific product ranges. And, just one year earlier in July 2016, gender geometry had been all the rage at the launch of Specialized’s new Ruby.
The Tarmac is the brand’s fastest and most decorated bike - in two years the previous SL5 edition amassed over 200 victories at World Tour level. Built for speed, its target audience was Peter Sagan and any man who wanted to be him. For women who wanted a fast, race-oriented bike Specialized made the women’s-specific Amira.
The news then, that the Amira was no more and that the new Tarmac SL6 was a “shared-platform”, with gender-neutral geometry, caused confusion and a raised eyebrow or two.
According to the brand it was all down to data, new data. But the core of the argument for women’s-specific bikes had always been data too – decades-old anthropomorphic numbers that were collected by the United States Army and not the cycling industry. The old data suggested that women had shorter torsos, shorter arms and longer femurs (thighs) and the industry used this to develop women’s-specific bike geometry – bikes that typically have a shorter top tube and reduced stem length, when compared to a unisex equivalent. These design tweaks both work to reduce the stretch to the bars and for many women, especially petite ones, this makes for a comfortable ride (for taller women it creates an exceptionally short bike). But it would also be more comfortable for a small or petite man. And that, is the point.
When Specialized acquired Retül in 2012 it gained access to over 40,000 data points, taken from the bike fits of men and women. Analysis of this new data threw up some surprising results and informed the brand’s new take on geometry. ‘When we compared men and women of the same height [using this data] we realised that some of these differences were, in fact, not statistically significant,” says Stephanie Kaplan, Specialized’s women’s road product manager. “A good example is the average women’s leg length, compared to the average men’s leg length. Previously we thought they were significantly different but [the new figures showed that they were not.” The company’s move to build bikes for people and not genders is a bold one and, if you remove the confusion and cynicism caused by years of mixed marketing, it makes a lot of sense. For too many years the women’s-specific debate has been an unnecessary distraction when it comes to bike fit and now it may have finally run its course. Women, just like men, are not all the same and they need a bike that fits them personally so when you’re looking for a bike at Road Cycle Exchange don’t just look at bikes labelled as women’s specific. The ‘shrink it and pink it” approach some manufacturers took meant many “women specific” frames were simply a different colour scheme, a shifted S/M/L classification and a female saddle. Male or female, most riders have a favoured saddle and will change the manufacturer’s fitment. Bar width and reach can also be adjusted if required to match your body dimensions. Whether you’re male or female Road Cycle Exchange can help you get riding on a bike that fits you perfectly.