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Ladies Bicycles: How to Choose a New or Used Ladies Bicycle/Bike
Choosing a ladies bicycle is different to choosing other types of bicycles. While cycling tends to be regarded as a sport almost as much as a casual past time or means of transport, the bulk of the material on the internet about bicycles presents them as an expensive, precision instrument in a fairly male-dominated sport.
Which is fine. But it’s time for bicycles to become a little more accessible to everyone – not just the die-hard lycra-wearing enthusiasts. After all, cycling is for everyone. Or at least it should be!
To that end, this guide hopes to provide advice on choosing a ladies bicycle. I’ve tried hard utilise my own considerable knowledge of bicycles in combination with what i’ve found to be women’s principal concerns when it comes to bicycles, focusing specifically on comfort, appearance, & practicality.
This guide is for you, not me. Can it be better? Let me know at the bottom!
What Matters in a Ladies Bicycle?
What do you look for when choosing a bicycle?
Looking Good in Copenhagen
What Makes a Ladies Bicycle Different?
However and whatever you like to ride, there are a few qualities that nearly all ladies bicycles have in common:
It’s no secret that men are from Mars, and women from Venus. And nowhere is this more obvious than in physical form. Beyond the obvious anatomical differences between men and women (the fun bits), men and women actually have very different body shapes. So much so that riding a bicycle for the “wrong gender” can give an unstable – and genuinely uncomfortable - ride.
Broadly, the differences between men and women in this respect include average length of legs, weight distribution through the body, and the average arm length. Typically, a woman’s body will have a lower centre of gravity than a man’s. Ladies bicycles are designed to factor this in.
Of course, there will always be people who straddle the boundaries of these guides, but most people will fit into the guide above.
Different Seat Design
Keeping the “fun bits” fun can be a big problem for many riders. As a concession to the anatomical differences of men and women, ladies bicycle seats are quite different to male seats. Ladies bicycle seats are characterised by more padding, a wider rear section, and the general addition of more padding to the areas where pressure contact is greatest.
Choosing the right seat is important, but setting up your ladies bicycle for maximum comfort can also help tremendously.
Lower Centre Bar
Part tradition, part method to achieve the different geometry required for a ladies bicycle (outlined above), the lowered centre bar on many ladies bicycles originates from the early days of bicycle riding where women were often quite elaborately dressed – the lower centre bar allowing them to mount and dismount with ladylike dignity.
With the rise of cycling for real, everyday people, this feature is again becoming important.
Looking Good in Paris
Fashion Cycle, not Cycle Fashion
Types of Ladies Bicycle
Probably the most popular type of ladies bicycle, town bikes – or hybrids as they are sometimes known – have become increasingly popular – both due the rise in daily commuting by bicycle, and due to the resurgence in vintage and dutch-style ladies bicycles.
Characterised by an extremely relaxed riding position, dramatically lowered centre bars (to allow easy mount and dismount in a dress/skirt), attractive curves, and either a rack and/or basket, town bikes are a perfect blend of style, function and convenience.
Next down the list, mountain bikes – even if you never take them anywhere near a mountain – provide a good cycling solution for anyone who has to travel over uneven surfaces. Perfectly usable in urban or country environments, mountain bikes blend the convenience But it often comes at the cost of being physically attractive. Sure, mountain bikes don’t look that bad – but you don’t
Generally made to be in some way competitive, these bicycles are characterised by a preference for speed over comfort. Similar to men’s bicycles in this genre, a ladies bicycle will be characterised usually by a slightly lowered centre bar on the frame, as a concession to the differences in geometry between a woman & man’s body. Beyond that though, the differences tend to be minimal. With speed being the priority, ladies road bicycles can vary in frame composition and set up as much as men.
But there’s plenty written elsewhere on the internet about this type of cycle. This guide is dedicated to the more relaxed, casual cyclist who values practicality, comfort and style above raw speed.
Know Quality: Lugged Joins vs. Welded Joins
Lugged joins are a sleeve-like decorative bracket that join the components of a frame. Typically a bicycle frame constructed in this way will be of high quality.
Welded joins - although not as attractive - are just as strong, though depending on the type of bicycle can be indicative of the quality of the rest of the bicycle.
Single Speed or Fixed Gear?
There are two types of bicycle that have only one gear: single speed, and fixed gear bicycles.
Single speed bicycles allow the rear wheel to "run free" - meaning that you can stop pedalling and the bike will continue moving.
Fixed gear bicycles by contrast, compel the pedals to move as long as the bike is moving.
Both have the advantage of decreased maintenance and increased fitness - but are not for everyone. The specialised nature of these types of bicycle have created a "cult following" amongst many bicycle riders.
How To Choose the Right Ladies Bicycle
Choosing the right ladies bicycle is as much about personal preference as it is about practicalities. Consider these factors before making a decision on which ladies bicycle to buy.
What will you use it for? Commuting? Off road racing? Have a firm idea of what the main use will be for your bicycle.
Not all ladies bicycles are created equal. Using the wrong kind of bicycle for the wrong kind of task is possible – but can both dramatically reduce your enjoyment of cycling, and the actual life-span of your ladies bicycle.
New or Old? With the resurgence of vintage bicycles, restored bicycles the market for reconditioned bicycles has become a lot stronger. As someone who has restored multiple bicycles, I can tell you there is absolutely nothing wrong with a reconditioned bicycle. In fact, the bicycles of 10, 20, even 30+ years ago can in many instances be far superior to anything made today.
My favourite bicycle had a frame older than I was (it was 35+ years old), and stood up to a horrendous amount of abuse without ever flinching or missing a beat. Sometimes, older bicycles are better than newer bicycles. It really depends on the purpose you want to use your bicycle for. Vintage or reconditioned bicycles are especially well suited to urban commuting – and the customisation available with a reconditioned bicycle makes them especially aesthetically pleasing.
Whichever you choose, be aware that for every $3,000 superbike that is advertised, there will be 10 reconditioned vintage bicycles capable of very similar levels of performance and bought for a fraction of the price.
How Comfortable can you Make it? Features to look for when it comes to increasing a bicycle’s comfort factor include seat adjustability (can the seat be raised, lowered, shifted forwards or backwards?), distance of the seat from the handlebars, the type of handle bars, the size of wheels and whether or not mud guards come with the bicycle.
Of course, setting up your ladies bicycle for optimal comfort will help.
Steel or Aluminium? What will your frame be made of? Steel frames, while generally cheaper than aluminium frames, are typically heavier. Noticably so. On the other hand, aluminium frames tend to be considerably lighter
Most newer frames on quality ladies bicycles are aluminium. On some mass-produced models, it is steel. On nearly all vintage bicycles, the frames are made of steel.
There’s no “perfect material” for a bicycle frame – just be mindful of the impact that the frame’s composition can have on your ladies bicycle’s handling, and cost.
Be Mindful of Quality. Related to the issue of frame material is quality. Look at the joins in the frame. Mass-produced bicycles – while often adequate for most tasks – will generally be welded at the joints. Sometimes poorly. This has more of an effect on the appearance of the bicycle than anything else, though in exceptional cases can compromise the integrity of the frame. Though generally, a quality bicycle – particularly a vintage one – will have its frame components joined with steel lugs: a decorative sleeve that the frame components slip into and are heat fixed in. Both are strong, though steel lugs tend to make a bicycle look quite a bit better. Regardless of your preference, be mindful of small signs like this that indicate the larger concern for quality that the manufacturer has for the bicycle.
What ratio of gearing will you need? Most bicycles these days incorporate some form of gearing. Though some riders prefer single speed or fixed gear bicycles (myself included), these are generally inappropriate for the commuting purposes which most ladies bicycles are purchased. In choosing the “right” gearing for your ladies bicycle, consider how hilly your regular riding route will be? How fast, on average will you like to go? Will you be carrying loads often? How large will those loads be?
As a good rule of thumb the greater the amount of hills that you will climb, or load that you will carry, the larger the number of gears you will need. For instance, in a city like London, which is mostly level, you can use either a single speed bicycle, or a 3 speed. In a city like Brisbane, Australia, or San Francisco in the US, the number and height of hills generally necessitate a 7, 8 or 9 Speed ration for most casual cyclists.
Additional to that is the issue of chainrings, or sprockets – the little cogs at the rear of the bicycle, and the larger cogs near the pedal.
Once you have decided how many speeds your bicycle will need, you can further adjust the gearing ratio by changing the size of the chainrings and sprocket on your bicycle. Done correctly, this can give you an almost infinite level of customisation for your bicycle, allowing you to travel any distance, carrying any load, up any sized hill, without looking ruffled or like “you’ve just stepped off a bicycle.”
Maintenance: Will you maintain the bike yourself, or have a bicycle mechanic service the bike? Maintaining and servicing a ladies bicycle is not difficult, though there are a few qualities you should look for in a ladies bicycle if you wish to maintain it yourself. I’ve covered them here.
Adaptability: Whichever kind of bicycle you choose, be mindful of its ability to be adapted to different tasks, within reason. Today, a range of features can be bought “as standard” on many bicycles to make this possible. An example are braze-ons: small fixing points with a screw on the bicycle that allow you to quickly fix a luggage rack or basket. Of course, it’s always possible to find a way to fix a luggage rack or basket on to a bicycle without these, but purchasing a bicycle with them already on can give you great flexibility down the road.
X-Factor: Does it make you buzz? At the end of the day, no factor will influence your appetite for bicycle riding more than your passion for the bicycle.
When it comes to purchasing a ladies bicycle, above all else make an emotional decision. If you want to get the most out of living with bicycles, you need to LOVE your ladies bicycle.
What do you look for in a ladies bicycle? What stops you riding more than you’d like? Tell us!
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