The other day I was helping a couple in the shop who have been riding bikes together for probably a longer time than I’ve been alive (They’re also both awesome and go really fast.) The woman came in with her husband in search of new saddles for both her road and mountain bikes. They initially asked for my help and I pointed her toward the women specific saddle I’d been riding and recommended demoing it. Her husband quickly intervened, pointing to an array of men’s WTB saddles he’s used and loved. She then looked confused. Having worked retail for quite some time, I walked away knowing at that point her husband would further guide her towards the men’s saddles and my recommendations would soon be ignored.
About two weeks later, they came in and picked up a special order for two of the women’s saddles I’d initially suggested. After demoing a few saddles, she found the women’s specific to be the best fit. He apologized for overlooking my initial advice and they went on their merry way.
Here’s a fun fact – women are built differently then men. They even prefer different styles than most men. This means that what men find comfortable on the bike will most likely vary from what women find to be comfortable. To accommodate these differences, companies have developed women’s specific cycling products. These products are not always the best option for every woman, but in some instances it clearly is.
For the longest time I rode my bike in men’s shorts. This was because I could find them for less, mostly because shops were eager to get rid of their XS men’s apparel. Not knowing any different, I had no complaints. However, once I tried the women specific shorts, my thoughts changed significantly.
One of the first noticeable differences was the length. Men’s shorts are typically longer and women’s shorts are typically shorter. Some women like the smaller length because the tan line isn’t as awkward. Shorts like the Pearl Izumi Sugar Shorts will even have a shorter inseam than average, to help keep that tan line up a little higher and a little less noticeable when wearing casual clothes.
After trying an array of women’s specific shorts, I’ve also noticed that the waistbands offer huge improvements over men’s shorts. For example, the Giordana Silverline shorts have a criss-cross yoga waistband. This type of waistband is superior to almost any waistband I’ve ever had on a men’s short. It is far more comfortable while offering a superior fit.
Of course, the chamois is different. The shape changes along with the padding and typically fits better as well.
Men’s jerseys will work, however women’s jerseys usually fit better. Normally, the men’s jerseys are too loose in the arms while fitting too tight around the chest and at the bottom hem. Women’s specific jerseys are shaped more like an hourglass and go down to tinier sizes.
This is a tricky one as there is no single right answer. This tends to be what fits better for each specific person. I am a size 8 in women’s shoes and have happily worn women’s and men’s shoes, however finding a smaller men’s shoe is sometimes a little more work. If you have a bigger foot – size 9/10 and up – you may have more selection when ordering a men’s shoe. In comparison, if you have a smaller foot, men’s shoes won’t typically come in your size and the women specific models will fit better. Shoes are truly best to try on and sizing varies between brands, so be sure to keep that in mind and use programs like Art’s Shoefitr when ordering online. Art’s Cyclery offers free returns on all of our apparel purchases so there is nothing to worry about if the shoes you ordered don’t fit the way you want them to.
Helmets are like shoes; it really comes down to what fits you best. Women’s helmets are typically smaller, so if your noggin is a little more petite, the women’s helmets may fit best. Just keep in mind that there is no difference in shape between a women’s and men’s helmet because there is no corresponding difference in head shape between men and women. So, if you can fit in either a men or women’s helmet, there is no wrong choice. However, some women’s specific helmets will have cool features like hair ports, which just means there is a place for you to loop your ponytail through and keep it out of the way.
Can women get by using cycling gear made for men? Of course, but that’s not the point. Cycling is all about having fun and enjoying that flying sensation that only a bike ride can offer. Having apparel or gear that doesn’t fit your body creates a distraction that detracts from the ride. So do yourself a favor and pick up some gear that is made to fit you. You won’t regret it.