In the past, I've ridden men's frames. I'm 5'10" and there's been a lack of options in women-specific frames, especially for taller women. But recently, a lot of companies have been logging R&D overtime in order to design frames fit for all women. Women tend to have shorter arms, narrower shoulders, smaller hands, a less-balanced leg-to-torso ratio, and we generally tend to weigh 15 percent less than men. The following rigs have been built—and tested—with those dimensions in mind.
--Stephanie Pearson writes the Gear Girl column for Outside
The Specialized X-Works Era Carbon ($8,800—but don’t panic, the Era line starts at $2,800; specialized.com) is the choice of champions like Rebecca Rusch. It’s also my dream mountain bike. Similar in design to the men’s game-changing Epic, the “brain” suspension in the front and rear allows you to ride uphill as if you’re on a hard tail and downhill as if you’re on a cushiony full-suspension bike—because you are. Why the Era is so good for women: The suspension is tuned to average women’s weights (generally 15 percent lighter than men), the carbon frame is super lightweight and designed to fit a female form, and, as is the case with all Specialized women’s bikes, the handlebars are designed for smaller hands and shoulder widths and the seat is designed for a woman’s bum—a beautiful thing when you’re in the saddle all day.
A lot of my female friends ride an Orbea Diva from 2009 or 2010 (orbea.com; still available at a discount under “Shop Specials and Incentives” on the site). Not only does the frame—which is built in Spanish Basque country—look beautifully feminine, it also fits most women like a glove. To accommodate for general anatomical differences like women’s shorter arms and less balanced leg-to-torso ratio, Orbea shortened the top tube, lengthened the head tube, and used different angles than they use on their men’s frame. The big news, however, is that late this summer Orbea is coming out with their new full-carbon women’s Dama Silver ($2,500 for frame, fork, and seatpost) and Gold ($3,500 for frame, fork, and seatpost). Be prepared to love it.
Terry Precision’s tremendously versatile Valkyrie Tour ($3,100; terrybicycles.com) is the direct result of company founder Georgena Terry’s hands-on expertise. She started building bikes in her basement in 1986. The Valkyrie, a hand-built frame (now made in Wisconsin) using Waterford OS2 steel tubing, uses a 26” mountain bike tire instead of a more standard 700c. Not only does that make the bike easier to ride on road and off, it’s also a lot easier to find a tire along the way, should you run out of spares. Best of all, with its extremely low gearing controlled by bar-end shifters, you could climb the side of a mountain hauling 60 pounds of stuff.
It’s hard not to love Nirve’s Hello Kitty-Retro Kitty Cruiser ($350; nirve.com). Any girl who grew up riding a flowered banana-seat bike with a flowery basket will want this classic one speed, complete with fenders, kickstand, and Hello Kitty bell. If the pink and white retro theme is a wee bit over the top, Nirve has a slightly more subdued line of cruisers—all fun for tooling around town.