Bicycle Sizing for Women

Bicycle Sizing for Women
Cycling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with friends, get around town for work or errands and get some exercise. If you don't have the right size bike or your bike isn't properly fitted, you may not enjoy riding as much as you'd like. Worse, you could end up with muscle aches or joint pains due to incorrect fit. Some aspects of bike fitting apply to men and women equally, but there are a few important differences to keep in mind. Women-specific designs are a good solution for some women, but may not be best for any given individual.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Tape measure
  • Comfortable clothes that allow full range of motion
  • Bike and cycling shoes
  • Bike shop fitter or a friend to help you
  • Goniometer (angle measuring device)
Step 1
Find a good bike shop. Get recommendations from friends who ride, from a local bike club or online. Most shops will fit a bike for free if you buy it from them but will charge for a fit if not. In either case, it's more than worth the cost---bike fitting requires a lot of experience and skill. "I've been fitting for over 30 years and I still learn something new with every fit I do," says Wade Hall, co-owner of The Spokesman Bicycles in Santa Cruz, Calif. For Hall, "nothing is more satisfying than getting a cyclist more comfortable and efficient on their bicycle."
Step 2
Measure your inseam (inside length of leg from floor to crotch) to determine your frame size, the basic starting point in choosing a bike (see Resources). Another measurement that's important for riding comfort and function is the hip flexion angle---the amount you can bend your hip without undue stress or pain. This should be measured when you're lying on your back with one leg fully relaxed, and the other bent at the hip. Seat height should be adjusted so flexion at the top of the pedal stroke does not exceed this angle, and the leg is almost fully extended at the bottom of the stroke.
Step 3
Have someone measure the width of your shoulders across the upper back. Bar width should be matched to shoulder width as closely as possible. In most cases, women's shoulders are significantly narrower than men's, so narrower bars will be needed. Bars that are too wide create undue stress on the arms and shoulders.
Step 4
Adjust the height of your stem (tube on which bars are mounted). Many women new to riding prefer a more upright position, and think that means a high stem--but a stem that's too high can cause hunching of the shoulders and upper back, and transmit excess force to the hands and wrists. This reduces blood flow to the hands, causing pain and fatigue. A proper fit enables a relaxed hand position without restricted blood flow.
Step 5
Check to be sure you can squeeze the brake levers comfortably and fully. Women have smaller hands than men in general, and so may have trouble operating some brakes. You should be able to wrap your index and third finger around the front of the lever without straining.
Step 6
Try out some saddles. The right saddle is crucial for comfort and avoiding damage to the genitals from decreased blood flow while riding. Saddles for women often have a 'cutout' in the center to reduce pressure on delicate tissues. You may need to ride on a few different styles to find the one that's best for you.
Step 7
Buy a good pair of women's cycling shoes. Women's feet are shaped a bit differently from men's, so this is important. Like other women's footwear, these are designed on lasts specific for the female foot. Your bike shop can help you find the best shoes in your price range. If you have a leg length discrepancy, or one of your legs turns inward or outward while pedaling, insoles or shims may be needed.
Step 8
Remember to get a helmet, gloves, bottle cages, racks, lights, computer and other goodies you may need to get the most from your new ride.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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