Basic Guide: Cycling for Women

We’ve come a long way from the advent of the bicycle in the late 19th century, when women had to ride in dresses and bloomers. Today, the bicycle is a great equalizer, enabling people from all walks of life to experience the freedom and exhilaration of two-wheeled transportation. Whether riding for fun with the family, lining up for a charity ride, or toeing the start line at a local race, cycling is a sport without gender bias. In turn, the cycling market has answered the call, producing a variety of bikes, components and apparel created specifically for women. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:



Women’s bikes are no longer differentiated by a sloped top-tube, pink paint and floral decals. Today’s designs are just as light and technologically advanced as bikes built for men. Most, but not all women, have longer legs and a shorter upper-torso than men. Women-specific bicycle designs take this into account, decreasing the reach from the seat to the handlebar. Many also provide a shorter reach to the gear shifters and brake levers, taking into consideration slightly smaller hands.

Handlebars also come in widths more consistent with the width of female shoulders, solving a dilemma for women who previously felt like they were driving a bus rather than riding a bicycle. While women-specific bicycles are designed to accommodate a broad range of female body types, they’re not the only solution. Just about any bicycle can be adapted to fit a female rider, so when buying a new bike, select the model that best matches your riding style, technical demands, visual preferences and budget.


A bicycle’s saddle can dramatically affect your riding experience. Women-specific cycling saddles are designed to accommodate the slightly wider pelvic structure of the female anatomy. They allow for the “sit bones” of various hip widths to sit squarely on the seat, while protecting sensitive areas. Most women’s saddles also incorporate various padding levels, gel inserts, or cutouts to increase comfort. Just remember that test riding a saddle is as important as test riding a bike.


Like most women’s fashion, women’s cycling clothing is designed to fit the shape of the female body. It is also crafted to be highly durable and functional, with specific cuts to accommodate multiple riding positions. Cycling jerseys are cut longer in the rear to cover your lower back when you bend over to reach the handlebars. Women-specific jerseys are also cut for women’s arms, can accommodate a bust, and are formed at the waist to avoid pressing or bunching around the stomach. Shorts and tights are cut to accommodate slightly wider hips and thighs, and incorporate either a seamless or “baseball cut” padded insert (“chamois”) for added comfort. Just remember that cycling shorts are meant to be worn without underwear. You may think you want an extra layer between you and the saddle, but the seams and layers can actually bunch and chafe.

Women’s riding gear also includes gloves for smaller hands, shoes built on a woman’s last, and helmets that fit smaller heads. As with bicycles, however, you should not feel limited to the women’s apparel racks at your local bicycle shop.


Whether you’re just getting started or training for an upcoming event, set goals for yourself. One more day a week on the bike, one more hour per week, or one more mile on your ride to work can increase overall fitness. But just like your male counterparts, carving out riding time is often a challenge. Here are some tips to help you maintain your riding regimen:

Join a Club: Cycling clubs aren’t just for racers. They’re also social outlets for people who enjoy riding together at all different levels and speeds. You can ride with friends or a group in an organized event such as a family bike festival or charity ride. Some events are offered solely for women, although it can be just as much fun riding with the guys.

Skills Clinics: Many coaches and bike shops offer skills clinics. They provide a great opportunity to increase abilities, build confidence, and find new riding buddies along the way.

Join a No Drop Ride: No drop rides are frequently scheduled by cycling clubs and bike shops in most cycling friendly areas. “No drop” means that the ride re-groups after hills and other challenges so no one is ever completely left behind.

Riding with faster riders? Start out a little earlier to ride at your own pace and let the others join you up the road. You’ll be driven by the “chase” behind you, and the fitter you become the longer it will take for the others to catch you.

Women's Cycling