Bicycle riding has been experiencing a huge surge in popularity over the last few years, seeing many women either dust off old steeds and get back in the saddle, or discover the world of cycling for the first time.
In Australia, women’s participation in recreational cycling has grown by over 50% since 2005 - twice the rate of growth as men*. Popular female-focused initiatives such as She Rides, Wheel Women and Gear Up Girl are all designed to get people riding from beginner level.
From the health conscious to the adrenaline junkies, original earthy hipsters, environmentally conscious commuters or just women who want to try a fun new challenge, we all have one thing in common - we love our bicycles.
From the sleek, sexy lines of a road bike to the hardcore mountain bike, versatile hybrid and summer ready cruiser, we’re spoiled for choice. But what if you’re keen to get cycling, and need to pick just one? How do you choose, where do you go and what do you look for? Different brands, materials, componentry, ‘women’s specific’ features…the options can be overwhelming.
Buying a bike should be a fun, exciting process. If you take the time to consider these key questions before heading out shopping, you’ll likely end up with your perfect match.
- What will I use my bike for?
- Where will I be riding?
- How far will I ride?
- How often will I ride?
- What is my ‘next step’ riding goal?
Once you’ve got an idea about your riding style, these are some of the most popular categories to consider:
These models tend to have a more upright riding position, lower top tube and look more classic, or ‘ladylike’ in design. If you want a bike to ride around town wearing your normal clothes and maybe add a basket for your shopping or bits and pieces - this is your girl!
Cons: Not so suitable if you have longer distances or big hills to cover, and can be a bit heavier to maneuver up and down stairs.
These sturdy multipurpose bikes are typically a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike, making them suitable for both on and offroad surfaces. They’ll often have a big gear range, powerful disc braking and a bit of front suspension to take the edge off things.
If you want a bike to do a bit of everything, a hybrid is a great choice.
Cons: they won’t be as light and quick on road as a pure road bike, or as comfortable and controlled offroad as a mountain bike.
A road bike is your lightest, quickest option for longer rides, bunch riding, and cycling events. With their narrow handlebars and forward position they can feel a little ‘twitchy’ at first, but only until you get used to them. Most brands offer a ‘race’ or ‘endurance’ option geometry, so consider whether speed or comfort is your main aim. If you plan on competing in triathlons, want to join a road cycling club or do some racing, this is your new baby!
Cons: The price can really start to climb in the road bike category. You’ll be spending a lot of time in one position, so a good bike fit is a must.
With their sturdy frames, wide bars, chunky tyres, powerful disc braking systems and suspension, mountain bikes are designed for maximum comfort and stability offroad. Hardtails (front suspension only) give you more bang for your buck while full suspension models offer more comfort and control. On a mountain bike you’ll be ready for anything, including rock hopping and tree dodging.
If you’re considering riding off-road, hitting the trails rather than the streets, or competing in cross-country events, choose a mountain bike.
Cons: Wider tires, a smaller wheel circumference, and heavier frames makes them slower on road.
Bicycle prices vary considerably from inexpensive to 'dream bike' status, so we suggest you have a budget in mind before you begin your search.
Price is largely dictated by two things:
1. The material that the frames are made from. Aluminium frames are light, stiff, and don’t dig too deeply into the budget. As you go up through the range, you’ll find more carbon fibre in the mix, which acts as a shock absorber for a smoother ride. The top road and mountain bike frames in particular are nearly all carbon fibre, from frame to handlebars. All carbon fibre is not created equal - you’ll pay more for a lighter grade.
2. The components on the bike. These include all moving metal items such as the gear and brake levers, brake callipers, front and rear derailleurs, crankset, cassette - oh, and the wheelset, too! The componentry level steps up with each model in a range. Higher quality componentry is lighter and smoother to use. On mountain bikes you’ll also have increasing braking system and suspension quality.
In addition to the bike, remember to allocate funds for a helmet, suitable clothing, maintenance items, and in some cases clip in cycling shoes and pedals. If you’re buying a bicycle and all the accessories you should be able to negotiate pricing for a total cycling package.
Where do you buy your bike?
Once you have decided on the type of bike and your budget, these are the things next to think about.
1. Select a shop that offers a warranty package with your bike, on-site service and experienced staff who can size and fit you for a bike. Staff should be friendly and knowledgeable and go out of their way to educate you about your options.
Our advice: find a 'local' shop that you want to frequent for at least the life of your bike. If possible you should definitely try to test ride the bikes you prefer.
2. Don’t just buy a bike because the colour appeals to you, it's the latest model or because it's a brand name you are familiar with. It needs to fit properly and offer a comfortable ride!
3. Most manufacturers now offer women-specific bikes that accommodate for a woman’s build with adjusted frame sizes, geometry, handlebar width, saddle type and crank size and yes, even colour and design differences that may appeal more to female riders!
Even if you’re tall, women tend to have narrower shoulders and a shorter ‘reach’ - arms and torso - than a man the same height. So if you’re looking at a unisex model, talk to the shop staff about swapping on a narrower handlebar, shorter stem and women’s specific saddle for you as part of the sale.
Good Luck and Happy Riding!
(*Cycling Australia Women’s Stakeholder findings, 2013 Public Report)