Stop selling shit bikes to women back. This is a bit of a rant.

I have been working at the bike shop for almost a year now, and here is a true fact: I have seen many couples come in to buy bikes together, and not once — not ONCE! — have I seen a couple leave with a pair of bikes, where the woman’s bike cost substantially more than the man’s. I’ve seen lots of men ride out on fine $1,000 road bikes or high-end hybrids, while the partner chooses a mid-range hybrid, or worse—a clunky “retro” upright or a step-thru ladybike. In the case of couples I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner. I’m waiting for a better explanation, but I haven’t heard one yet.

I am sick of seeing women buy shit bikes. I refuse to cooperate in selling women bikes that will not serve their needs, enhance their mobility, or contribute to their liberation.

What I hate most are the ladybikes. You know, those dainty upright beasts with the fat cushy seats and back-swept handlebars, or the funky steel 3-speeds. They look cute, weigh a ton, and ride like a tank up even the most gradual hill. They’re great on the seawall (or arguably in Amsterdam), but try riding one across Vancouver. No matter which direction you go, you will hit a sizeable hill at some point, and find yourself standing up on the pedals or pushing that ox up the grade. The geometry does not allow for efficient pedalling. Try riding one more than a few kilometres. Try fitting one out with front and rear panniers, or towing a trailer behind. Like high-heeled shoes they are designed to look pretty and slow you down.

I know I’m gonna get a lot of blowback for this, so let me say this: step-thru bikes aren’t always ridiculous. I have gladly sold them to customers when they are in fact the right choice. They work well for people with hip problems who cannot lift a leg over a crossbar – although in general, women have proportionally longer legs than men, so if anyone should be riding the step-thrus it is the guys. Most “leg over crossbar” problems are simply  due to unfamiliarity with riding a bike, and the rider soon gets the knack of it. But in the case of physical hip problems a step-thru can be the right solution.

Step-thrus can be good for people with major back or neck issues, although almost any style of bike can be comfortable if it is well-fitted. If a person has lower-back problems, a bolt-upright bike can cause compression and pain in the lumbar on longer rides.

Step-thrus do make it possible to ride in a long slim skirt, which you can’t do on a crossbar. However, you can ride a regular bike comfortably in a short dress or a loose skirt — I do it all the time. (Btw that whick-whick-whick! you are hearing is the sound of Amelia Bloomer turning over in her grave).

I think step-thus are best as entry-level bikes for women who are so intimidated that only a femmy bike will entice them onto the saddle. Late-learners, elderly women, fashion victims or the terminally timid. They are fine for people who really and truly aspire to nothing more than an occasional leisure cruise on the seawall (oh and don’t forget, you will need to buy a special attachment to put that bike on the car rack to drive it to Stanley Park). If regular bicycles are too scary for them, let them ride step-thrus. Maybe one day they will run up against the limitations of their ride and then they will graduate to a better bike. Or maybe that bike will always serve them well. Anyway, better a step-thru than no bike at all, so whatever gets a reluctant rider onto a bike is ok by me.

As for fashion, as I tell my customers — yes, it matters. You should fall in love with your bike and physical attraction is a factor. When you gaze at your bike,your heart should beat a little faster. Don’t get a colour you hate. Go ahead and accessorize. Decorate! Your bike should look hot and you should feel like you look hot on your bike. But a pretty bike that is a pain to ride won’t look good rusting in your basement.

I love my shop, and we do make a real effort to respect all the clientele. We have probably the highest percentage of women customers of any shop in the city, aside from the one female-focused store. But it still makes me crazy when male sales staff automatically default to selling women cheap, heavy bikes. It is so easy for many women to take the bait and fall for the pretty and comforting bike over the useful and comfortable bike. I have noticed that I am complicit in this tendency. I will tend to steer women toward the less expensive bikes and men to the upper range, knowing that it is easy to upsell men and downsell women. Ladybikes are an easy sell. We can do better.

When a woman enters the shop who seems fit and confident, and she says that is looking for urban transportation with a view to other possibilities, I will always at the very least ask her to test-ride a more powerful “performance” hybrid and compare it to an upright step-thru. If she rides the bikes around the block, up and down the hill, and then prefers the step-thru—fine, so be it. I will do everything I can to assist her with the choice she has made.

If a woman is open to a better, more powerful bike, I will gently try to guide her toward a bike that will fulfill her needs and take her farther than she might have imagined. I have had women thank me sincerely for pushing them a little and opening their eyes.

Women have mostly been taught from birth that we are weak, limited, and incapable. We have been convinced that our needs are not so important, and that we should not “waste” money on our deeper and more empowering desires. We have bought the story that it is more important to look cute than to be strong and self-sufficient. As a pedlar of pedals and an agent of liberation, I refuse to be part of that story.

93 Comments on “Stop selling shit bikes to women

  1. Interesting perspective, and I agree regarding the male/female purchasing disparity seen in bike shops. The woman’s bike is so often an afterthought.

    As far as ladybikes, I have been in a position to test ride literally dozens over the past 4 years, and there have been huge differences between them. Some are much faster than they look, even up considerable hills. Others are scandalously inefficient. Step-through construction notwithstanding, the geometry of such bikes varies hugely, as does frame material and component quality. Ultimately I feel it is about finding a good match for the individual rider.

  2. Upright position in cycling is an heritage from horseriding. It was considered “distinguished” among early dandy bikers. I agree it gives some elegant touch, not only in A’dam, but it’s defenitely not the most efficient way to ride a bike. Old-fashioned uprights have another advantage: not being subject to much tech-frenzy “innovations” they’re more reliable and easy to repair.

  3. While I completely agree with you that there’s a systemic bias towards women riding/ being sold less expensive bikes than men, I think that your hate for the step through is excessive.

    I started bike commuting when I was 16 on a diamond frame, but I never really loved riding my bike on a daily basis until I bought a step through single speed when I lived in Milan Italy. Since then, I’ve become car free, and meet almost all my household’s needs with what I can carry on one of my stable of step through bikes.
    I’m fit, confident, self sufficient and perfectly happy to go a little slower and push a little harder up a hill if it means that I can ride to my professional job in a skirt and heels, pick up a giant load of groceries on the way home and sit in a comfortable upright position where I can easily see traffic around me. There’s a reason that classic Raleighs (and their modern knockoffs) still populate the streets of my town- they don’t demand special clothes or effort, they just fit into people’s lives with a minimum of fuss.

    Again, I completely agree with you that women are an underserved market in the bike industry, and that as a class, “women’s” bikes are not given the attention or specifications they should. However, I don’t think that diamond frames for all is necessarily the answer.

  4. “But a pretty bike that is a pain to ride won’t look good rusting in your basement.”
    Holy Moroni,ain’t it the truth!I’m so over people,male and female,buying shit because they can’t face reality.A bike costs money,both to buy and to maintain.If you ride it you will wear things out.
    The whole “Girls bike” thing makes me crazy as well.Sorry sister,you have to spend a grand,minimum, to ride a real bike.Yes bike shops are complicit in this but it’s up to customer as well,do your homework and face facts.And any male companion who won’t pony up for a real bike for her is setting them both up for disappointment…How are you going to ride together when she’s on a pretend bike?Anyhow sisters ,single or couple you are the one who suffers so take charge!And I’ll see ya out there….

  5. I don’t know, it may be more complicated. My sweet wife bought the bike she wanted, a step- through. It was pretty, yes, functional, I suppose, for her, but it was what she wanted. I couldn’t even get her to even use toe cages, just flat pedal, and she complained up the hills. I so wanted her to ride with me but it never worked out. And maybe that’s the point, she never really wanted to ride, so the details of fit form and function never became an issue of thought. Kind of like when I listen to music. I like to have a fine high fidelity sound system where the music and details are clear and interesting, but she is happy with a cheap tinny wumpy plastic box, monotone almost, it seems to me, but she is happy with that. In contrast she has her own areas of study and detail that don’t interest me much, … so be it. She can garden all day. I quickly get a back ache and feel like I should be riding. I don’t know about the interactions of bike vendors and male/female customers, but maybe it’s more ok than not, and maybe men are just more geeky bike-wise, and women geeky in other important ways. My wife is happy with her bike, so I am happy with it too.

  6. Hmmm. You make a good point about the tendency of some bike shops to sell ‘ladybikes’ over really listening to customers about what they want, but I really think your hate for stepthroughs is a bit OTT.

    I have two bikes – a $200 classic steel stepthrough ‘ladybike’, and a $2k tourer. The stepthrough easily gets the most use because it’s comfortable to ride to work every day, I can leave it locked up outside all day without worrying about it, and the upright position makes it easier for me to see and be seen in traffic. It’s only got 5 gears and it’s not easy to get out of the saddle and climb uphill, but I’ve done 40 mile rides on it without even getting a sore bum. I may not be the fastest, but I can put in a fair turn of speed. It’s a city bike, it’s been designed for riding in town and it does that really well.

    I think women do get a raw deal in some bike shops from staff not listening to what they’re asking for, but assuming that they want a ladybike because they’re a beginner or they don’t really understand bikes is just as patronising. Not everyone wants to ‘graduate’ to a different style of bike, so why not stock some good quality utility bikes and let the customer test ride and reach her own decision?

  7. A reminder that Hub Gears are available in more than just 3-speeds now. And they are great for dealing with stop signs since you can shift while not in motion.

  8. Just echoing other sentiments. Here’s more of your predicted blowback.

    You started with a good premise – why should women have cheaper bikes by default?

    And then quickly disappeared off into anti-step-through dogma.

    The wife has a good quality diamond frame hybrid (more expensive than mine). Rides it round town, likes it. But in Copenhagen we both rented step-through frames, mine with the child seat for the small person. Mainly because they were the only bikes available but it seemed appropriate. They were old and a bit rickety but despite this the wife loved it and now wants one. I can also see the benefits. I’m not ready to swap but if I end up with a bit more money and storage space and can justify an extra bike any time soon there’s something civilized about sitting up. I commute in my work clothes rather than lycra…

    Do you seriously think everyone in the two major cycling capitals of Copenhagen and Amsterdam knows less about cycling than you and is doing it wrong? Or is there something special about the cities which makes them different? Because if it’s the latter, considering how many more cyclists they have maybe we should change our cities and all get step-throughs instead of just resigning ourselves to being sport cyclists?

    Also, I love cycling as a way of getting around. I love the sensation of cycling and it’s been my primary mode of transport for years, but my “bike should look hot”? Seriously? It’s a practical tool to do a job. I want it to run efficiently, smoothly and reliably but looking good has nothing to do with that. In fact I do want to be able to leave it places without worrying it will be stolen. I love the internet, but I don’t feel any need to buy a sexy looking computer. I get that the aesthetic is important to you and that’s all fine, but don’t assume that’s the most important thing for everyone.

  9. I sent this question to Tim, but the email doesn’t seem to reach him:

    Thanks very much for your comment Tim, I am appreciating the lively and informed feedback this post is generating! I’m glad you came to appreciate the step-through in Copenhagen. But I have a question: since style is not important to you and step-thrus are so comfortable and practical for both you and “the wife”, why aren’t you ready to swap in your commuter bike for an upright right now?

    Same question to Chi-Trekker: if a step-thru is good enough for your sweet wife (which from the sounds of it is rusting in the garden shed), why isn’t it good enough for you?

  10. Actually Carmen, it is. A step-through is good enough for me. I have four bikes: a fancy drop bar road bike, a “touring” bike, a step-through set up to carry groceries etc, and a mountain bike. I live ten miles from the nearest grocery store with some killer hills in between. Which one gets used the most? The step through. I so enjoy the dismount when I can just slip my leg through and don’t have to try to swing it over the groceries. I also pull a trailer with dogs or whatever. After that the touring bike, on which I carry my fiddle and ukulele to music sessions, then the mountain bike, and lastly the road bike, which I seem to only ride for I don’t even know what. I bought it because I briefly had the money and though I should have one, because it’s light and pretty, and it is a joy to ride, but I can’t do much work with it, and don’t have a lot of time to just plain ride without a destination. I also bought spandex but hate it and never wear it. I have fit the bikes with clip pedals which are excellent. I follow all traffic rules. Sadly my wife’s bike gets no use, but it is in the bedroom where we can at least gaze at it and it will never rust. I truly love all bikes. I think they are all beautiful.

  11. From one shop lady to another…

    Well written post, but I don’t agree entirely. It’s not always the easy thing to accept, but sometimes the customer does know what they want. Sometimes we’re really helpful when we guide a commuter away from a mountain bike or encourage them to add a rack, but if ladies like riding upright, help them find the best way to do just that.

    I will completely agree that ladies are unwilling to send as much money as guys. If we valued bikes likes guys do, I bet the manufactures would provide more well made lowstep options. Do I have one myself? No, because when I started working at my shop 7 years ago all the guys told me I had to get a fitness hybrid. In the last several years, I’ve been swapping out my bars and changing the seat to my body more upright and happy. I’m just too practical to buy a new bike when my old one still gets me there (which is an odd thing in the bike industry!)

    Thanks for making me think about this!

  12. I am really appreciating all these thoughtful posts – thank you all, keep em coming!

    But to be honest I did not anticipate my post being received as a full-on diatribe against step-thru bikes. As I said, they have their uses, and if a women really wants one I am happy to help her with that.

    What I object to is when women express a desire for a “comfortable” bike (and to my mind comfort is always #1 priority in a bike of any kind), they are automatically shunted toward low-end, low-cost bikes of limited application. At the very least, we pedal peddlers need to explain to customers both the advantages and the limitations of any bike, and to try to direct them to a bike which will make their riding experience both pleasurable and empowering.

    Women don’t need step-thrus, or commuter hybrids, or racing bikes. We need a range of informed options.

  13. Go, Carmen, go!
    My beautiful 18-year-old Marin still makes my heart go pit-a-pat. Other than a house, it has been the most expensive purchase of my life, and worth every penny. I have ridden it in the Prairies, the Kootenays, in Vancouver, and here on Lasqueti and it performs like a champ. I had to switch the handlebars after an accident screwed up my shoulders, so it is now more of an upright ride, but that’s as ladylike as I’ll get. No step-throughs for me.

  14. Just a response to the person who was wondering about what’s different about Amsterdam or Copenhagen. NO HILLS. I’m from Holland, and I grew up “commuting” to school on my 3-speed heavy-duty bike every day. My mom used to carry three small kids plus groceries on hers. Those bikes are perfect for the terrain, and for how they are used there. They are piled against each other, they’re out in rough weather all day every day, and, in Amsterdam, get stolen with high frequency.

    Now I live in NJ, and I got a sporty Cannondale bike with tons of speeds. I use them all, since it’s very hilly here. I also have to carry it up stairs so it has to be lighter. I bike for sport now rather than to get somewhere. So, they all have their place and function.

    As for the big bucks spent on the man’s bike and not the woman’s, I agree, and I see the same with cars in 2-car households. Thanks for calling it out.

  15. I love my cheap (free) step through cruiser as you well know. The love affair is deep and cannot be replicated with my old but once expensive hybrid. I hear you but never underestimate the sheer pleasure of the cruiser! BTW women have a lot of power in their legs, and I can take that no-speed beauty up quite a few steep hills, and the descent, on a fat cushioned cruiser, that just can’t be beat!

  16. I’m guilty of buying my girlfriend a cheap shitty bike only because it was her first one and I wasn’t sure how she’d take to biking with me. I’m proud to say she’s taken to it like a duck to water and has completely outgrown the old bike. We ride a lot of trails and country roads but never hills because her bike can’t manage them. Do you have any reccomendations?

  17. As fellow woman cyclist, I think a lot of presumptions were made with this blog post. I had ‘shit’ bikes when I started because I couldn’t afford anything better that was brand-new when I was younger. Over time, as I learned what I wanted through buying a series of used bikes, I went custom. Now I have 4 custom bikes – including a mixte – and have a bigger stable of bicycles than my husband.

    Fortunately, when I was living in NYC, I was never condescended towards the predominantly male staff at the shops I frequented. Perhaps a heavy, mixte bike that the customer deems stylish and fits within the budget is completely fine. Not every cycling couple in the world is going to have the same needs and wants, and one year in a bike shop doesn’t equal a world of knowledge.

  18. I hear you. Don’t even get me started on the disparity of cycle clothing….

    Want a TdF jersey? Tough shit, men only. Found a really nice looking bib short? Oh it’s male specific chamois. I’m sick of it. it I would say manufacturers create clothing weighted 70-30 to men. There just isn’t the range. Boils my blood.

  19. Is it sad that, although I’m a fairly avid cyclist and a guy, I really love step-throughs around town? They feel way faster getting on and off over and over again.

  20. What I find part of the problem is that many women (my sister included) won’t spend the money on quality because they don’t feel it’s justified. Others want a particular colour regardless of the features.

  21. I bought my wife a “man’s” roadbike because she hates the color schemes of bikes geared toward women. No step through for her. It has an AL frame and a mix of Tiagra/105 and pretty nice wheels all things considered. But I have CF and dura ace, so we certainly fall into the rubric of your screed. But I ride my roadbike thousands and thousands of miles a year. My wife, maybe… maybe puts on 1,500 at best. If she rode the road more, she’d have a bike more commensurate with the amount of riding she does. She has never taken her mountain bike off the road because she’s too scared (which is fine), whereas I ride down mountains at high rates of speed every chance I get. I’d love it if she had a requirement for a better bike. But I don’t think buying her a bike equal to or better than mine makes any sense given the reality of that situation. Conversely, my wife has a $3,000 camera because she’s a professional photographer, and I have an iphone to take photos with.

  22. Hi Jonas – yes i have some suggestions! YOUR GIRLFRIEND SHOULD BUY a good light hybrid, or a roadbike if she is comfortable with drop handlebars. See:

    I repeat, YOUR GIRLFRIEND should buy…etc…

    As opposed to, “you should buy for your girlfriend.” She’s a big girl now, and an experienced bike rider. Let her make her own decisions.

  23. I’m with stevejust here on this one… we’re sort of similar. My husband and I recently bought new road bikes, and his was certainly more upscale (carbon fibre, Tiagra/105) than mine (aluminum and Sora). But we did it on purpose… not only does he ride at least twice as much as I do, so it makes sense for him to have a nicer ride, but I’ve got a sweet ride with ultegra at home too. I wanted my new bike more suited to touring (for instance I can now mount panniers and a rear rack) than the other ride I have. Perhaps my situation is unusual, perhaps not. But I’d prefer not to be judged on the basis of not buying as nice a bike as my husband’s, when in reality I’d been riding a nicer bike than his for years.

    Secondly, I’m kind of tired of being judged for (being a woman) riding mid-range hybirds too. I commuted to school and work on one of those puppies for years. It was the first bike for adult-sized me, and I didn’t have that much money to spend. While not the sexiest, sleekest, most efficient ride out there, I can lock it up outside my work and not worry about it being gone when I get back. I am aware that my road bike is better, but sometimes the situation calls for something that can be left unsupervised for a while. Does that make me less of a cyclist? I hope not. If you’re on a bike and it makes you happy, that’s awesome, and you shouldn’t have to catch any flack for it.

  24. Such ridiculous chip on the shoulder sexism on display here in this blog post. Then in the comments,

    Jonas : “I’m guilty of buying my girlfriend a cheap shitty bike only because it was her first one and I wasn’t sure how she’d take to biking with me”

    To which he receives the reply…

    Carmen : “I repeat, YOUR GIRLFRIEND should buy…etc… As opposed to, “you should buy for your girlfriend.” She’s a big girl now, and an experienced bike rider. Let her make her own decisions.”

    What utter patronising nonsense. The chap may have bought the bike as a present for his girlfriend for all you know. I moved in with my, then girlfriend, some years ago and she bought me a bike. If she’d asked the same question on here would SHE have been given the “YOUR BOYFRIEND should buy” response? Really?

    You could do to take a step back, get that chip off your shoulder and drop the sexism (including the nonsense about the step-throughs and “femmy” bikes – how about letting people decide what their requirement is before projecting your gender based prejudice onto their circumstances, desires and bike purchases).

  25. I was in a bike shop last week, looking for my first new bike as an adult. I told them what I wanted, and step-through was on the list for both my bad hips and my ankle-length skirts. The skirts also added fenders (can rig up a skirt guard) and chain guard to the list. It’s ridiculous how severely wanting a chain guard limits your available options.

    I explained that the last bike I had was a hand-me-down men’s mountain bike, and I could only just barely drag it up the stairs out of my apartment building. Getting both wheels off the ground simultaneously was impossible. And hills resulted in dragging the bike onto the bus (I couldn’t lift it to put it on the bus’s bike rack).

    So the first thing they did was show me a Linus Dutchi 3 and have me check the weight with a rack in place to establish how light I needed. “Will this handle the hills in DC?” was my one worry about the 3-speed. I’ve done Pittsburgh’s hills on a single-speed, but I’m not as in shape as I was when I was 8! They hemmed and hawed, and I got worried. The 8-speed was out of my price range, so the internal gear hub plan was tossed in favor of the Public C7 (which is being shipped, so I can’t say how it is in practice yet).

    I do have to laugh at a quip on Public’s site though: “The derailleur gearing, which requires you to shift gears while pedaling, is most common in the multispeed bikes we learned to ride on.” I have to wonder how old the person who wrote that was when they learned to ride. I’ve never seen a multispeed bike for a 4 year old. They’re all single-speed with coaster brakes. I finally outgrew mine around age 12 or 13. It wasn’t until the first time I rented a bike at a state park in my teens that I ever used a multispeed. At this point, I’ve ridden a multispeed fewer than ten times in my life.

    I’m glad you acknowledged hip problems, but I don’t appreciate then summing that up as “elderly ladies.” I’m 24 years old, and I carry a cane folded up in my bag in case my hip goes out.

    Not sure why you took a jab at wide saddles. Those just keep your butt from hurting!

  26. Hello all you wonderfully engaged bicycle people.

    I really appreciate all your thoughtful comments, whether you ‘agree’ with me or not. I admit that i have a bias against step-thrus, although if you read it again you will see that i do in fact happily help people to buy them if they are making an informed choice. The problem is that often their choice is impulsive and emotionally-based and supported by sales staff who dazzle them with a shiny red thing and a low price-tag. If a step-through is what works for you and what makes you ride your bike, then by all means get one.

    My point is simply that too often, women in particular are not given the full information or options to make an informed choice. When that happens, the bike often ends neglected in the basement, because it looked good on the shop floor but did not address their real needs.

    The one point I would like to add, is that i absolutely DO NOT encourage anyone to spend beyond their budget for snazzy stuff they do not need. Period. I certainly don’t think women should compete with men to get the most ‘status’ bike or whizz-bang components, which is a pitfall that the men are prey to (and which sales staff often leverage). I just don’t want you to pay good money for a bike you will not ride.

  27. Mackenzie, I did not say that only elderly people have hip problems – i said that step-thrus are GOOD for people with hip problems, of any age or gender.

    There are 3 reasons why if anatomy were a factor, step-thrus would be marketed to men rather than women:

    1) men have shorter legs than women (ask anyone who has done any anatomy study or life drawing)
    2) men’s hips are narrower and hip-sockets less mobile (ask any yoga teacher)
    3) men’s danglies dangle. and although falling onto the crossbar hurts, i’ve done it and ouch!, men’s danglies are way more sensitive and vulnerable.

    Of course there are exceptions and everyone’s body is different. My job is to help people find a bike that fits their body and their needs.

    BTW, sounds like you found a great bike shop there, and the staff served you well! You should write them a note of thanks.

  28. Is the only option in this city, speed vs practicality? My husband and I both ride step through frames, while hauling 50-100lbs of children or groceries, and while neither of our bikes cost us over $1000, we are both happier with our current bikes then we’ve ever been with any bike in the past, and we’ve had them all, from road, to hybrid to mountain. The presumption that people need a bike that is lightweight and fast simply because we live in Vancouver is ridiculous. All I want to do is get from my home to the grocery store, work or my kids’ school, which makes the bike I have the perfect one for me. And for the record, I have ridden over 30kms throughout Vancouver on my upright, over many of the steeper grades, and find it EASIER than when I used to lug my ass around on my hybrid, and rarely have to stand up on my pedals to make it to the top.

    Yes, I agree, if someone is looking to train or tour, then a fast lightweight bike makes sense, but for city commuting, there’s no reason to spend a fortune on a bike regardless of gender. I appreciate your gender biased frustration, but a lot of that does have to do with women looking for something practical, likely just for a small commute of joyrides on the seawall, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  29. “I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner.”

    If those are the _only_ two reasons you can muster it seems a bias is getting in the way of your brainstorming skills.

    Did you talk to any of the couples a few months after purchase? Were they happy with their purchases? The right bike is the bike that suits the application and leaves the customer happy not the style of bike you happen to enjoy most. You might be an advanced rider, but not everyone is, not everyone desires to be one, and not everyone is as in love with cycling as you.

    I hope you channel your passion into helping customers get the right bike, because if you do, I think there will be a lot of happy customers.

  30. Hi again Carmen,

    Your article is certainly generating a lot of discussion. As you say, the bike to buy is the one that fits your needs. I can say that I wrote in because of this part of your first paragraph:

    “In the case of couples I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner. I’m waiting for a better explanation, but I haven’t heard one yet.”

    I just wanted to point out that your assumption is a little bit unfair. Do you really believe that the man gets to spend more money on his bicycle because his needs are more important? I imagine there are other factors in play, riding habits being probably most major. I was simply trying to show you an explanation as to why I bought a “lesser bike” than my partner, since you wanted a better explanation than outright sexism.

    All the best and happy riding!

  31. Hi Carmen, thanks for the “rant” I have had five bikes over my adult years and I would agree that male bike sales personnel (for the most part) do not take women seriously when buying a bike. I would also like to extend that to bike designers. Being just over 5’1 my biggest challenge has been to find bike that fits my small frame. I have entered bike shops alone and been ignored or gone back to the store with my new bike and told that I was imagining problems that were not there (only to find someone else who found the same problem). The down sloping top tube is ideal for women who are fearful of that slip of the seat accident rather than the step through design. I also find it amazing that when a couple enter a shop the male staff gravite to the man and I found that discussions about the bike can exclude the woman. I would encourage women to take another woman cyclist (one who knows her bike styles and components0 along with her when thinking about purchasing a bike. I would also encourage bike shops to hire more women.

  32. A couple of years ago, I went road bike shopping with a good friend (a guy) who’s a hard core cyclist (he was my bullshit meter…) – I’d always ridden a mountain bike and this was going to be my first road bike. We went to several local bike shops looking for a road bike with a woman-specific geometry. After trying out a few at different shops (and getting a really interesting range of service), we ended the day at a shop in Kits (that shall remain nameless). When we asked the young guy who came up to help where the women-specific geometry bikes were, he countered with something along the lines of “yeah, well, they don’t really exist – and if they did, they’d have cheaper components and they’d be painted pink…” Uh, hello, young man, welcome to the 21st century … I’m not an idiot. As we left the store, my friend cocked an eyebrow at me and asked “you got that that was bullshit, yes?”. Indeed, I had. Ended up buying my bike (a super-awesome, lightweight, blue and white, Specialized Amira) elsewhere…

  33. My last word on this is this story, posted among the copious comments to this piece on Redditt. Most of the comments were negative, but it had a 76% positive approval rating, so…i know lots of you get it!

    And to ‘chickwithsticks’ who posted this comment, thank you so much – this is EXACTLY the scenario i see every day. You were so fortunate to get a good salesperson who listened to your needs, when he could have easily sold you a ‘cute’ bike you would have hated.

    The story:


    As a woman in Vancouver, I can totally relate… my boyfriend wanted us to get bikes. He got a nice one (not the highest end, mind you, but he paid about $600 or so). He rides 16km to/from work every day. He wanted me to get a bike too because he wanted to be able to go on bike rides with me.

    Anyway we went up to Comor and I was looking at the cute bikes that the author mentioned… the sales guy showed me another one, and while it seemed good, it was not what I was looking for. I knew very little about bikes, and the one he showed me wasn’t as cute as the one I had in mind. Nevertheless, we took them out for a test ride. We took them for a spin around the block, the cute one and the one he suggested. Mind you, this is at Comor on Boundary, so pretty much hills all around. I could hardly get back up the hill on the cute bike. We switched and I tried out the other bike. It was like heaven to ride (compared to the bike I’d just tried, and definitely compared to my Costco bike I had back home before!).

    I’m glad I had a great salesperson because he was really attentive to what I wanted, and what my needs actually were (since I didn’t really know). I’ve got a bad enough hill to ride up every time I want groceries, and this one takes me up it quite easily (well I still huff and puff but that’s me, not the bike).

    I took it on a 37km bike ride yesterday and it was stellar. I doubt I could have taken one of those seawall bikes on my ride around the seawall (well especially to/from the seawall). So all in all, I’m glad no one took advantage of me and tried to sell me a shit bike.

    And every time I look at my bike now, I love it more and more.

  34. What a wonderful subject to get cross about. Frankly I have gone a step too far, having a Bike Friday as my cycling tourer/trailer, and a Brompton( which has a three month waiting list) for getting into town by public transport, and more adventurous trips, as it will carry vast amounts. It’s only off road that calls for a cross bar. Pretty soon you in N. America will wake up to the electric bike , as they are very sturdy a step through is far better. You can even park it across the door and just ‘ step through’ to enter your sacred room PLG (peace,love,gratitude)

  35. I have some balance issues and find it hard nowadays (male age 57) mounting and especially unmounting my men’s bike. Step throughs sound great – better than having to give up biking!

  36. I just ordered a 3-speed upright-style city bike and I’m waiting for it to arrive. I am beyond excited. This will be my third bike, in addition to the mountain bike that retailed for over $1000 which I purchased for myself 18 years ago, when I worked in a bike shop myself (and which mountain bike is lovely, but has not suited my *main* biking needs, possibly ever), and a 40-year-old French 10-speed, which is lovely for speed and more than adequate (and which was given to me at a cost of $0).

    The new bike is upright, and with tax, ran a little over $700. This will be my everyday bike. I am in love with the aesthetics, but spent countless hours researching the best and worst reviews to determine if it was the right bike for me, and then test rode the same model at an LBS and fell in love. This is the first bike (including my >$1000 mountain bike) that feels like it was made just for me and is the only bike since my first coaster Huffy that really makes me feel exuberant. I am lucky enough that where I will be riding, the hills are manageable (and if not, there are alternate routes), and 3 speeds ought to be sufficient. My bike stable will shortly be 3x that of my husband’s, who rarely rides (and whose mountain bike retailed for about 2/3 of mine, same vintage, FWIW). I would love for him to fall in love with cycling again, but I do this for me. I knew what I wanted in a bike before I ever set foot in the bike shop. I specifically avoided one shop after they kept trying to steer me toward hybrids. That isn’t what I wanted, and isn’t what I ultimately purchased.

    Look, I agree that the bike industry skews chauvinistic too often. Part of that is because (at least in the USA), most bike riders are men. When I started researching city bikes, I became discouraged because there are so many people (bloggers and commenters alike) who think that any bike that costs less than $1000 isn’t worth riding (there’s one here, I noticed). I persevered and found many like-minded souls who found joy on the seat of the bike I ended up buying. This post was even more discouraging, if I’m to be frank, for it’s one thing to realize your budget cannot or will not accommodate the “best” bike; it’s another thing to be made to feel like the style of bike you have decided to buy is inherently inferior to another style. My bike is a real bike, with a designated purpose tailored to the need I’m trying to meet. Period.

    Can’t we just agree that women cyclists need to be listened to, and served well, without judging the type of ride they prefer? It doesn’t matter how fabulous the bike is if it isn’t used, and if I had been convinced to purchase the “right” bike for *someone else* (which essentially, the mountain bike is for me 90% of the time, however fabulous it is at its intended use), I wouldn’t ride it. And that would be the shittiest thing of all.

    I think at the heart of things the real problem is a combination of factors: 1. Bike shops and the industry skews sexist in favor of men. 2. People do not do sufficient riding or research before they shop for a bicycle.

    If a woman enters a bike shop to purchase a bicycle because someone else wants her to ride, and without any knowledge about what she needs from a bike (other than potentially finding one to be “pretty”), she is at the mercy of her shopping companion and/or the sales personnel and whatever biases they bring to the table. That’s on her as much as it is on them. Part of being the strong woman is being able to say, “I totally get what you’re saying about the speed and material of that hybrid, but I think it’s hideous and it offers features I simply don’t need, based on my own extensive research, Now let’s talk step-thrus.”

    À chacun son goût.

    Cheers and happy riding!

  37. I like your attitude BUT … I need a step through bike because I have two dodgy hips and can no longer get either of my legs over the bar. I am trying to cycle as much as I can because walking with a useless hip is too painful. All the step thrughs I’ve found are too heavy and too few gears. You seem to know what you’re talking about but I need a step through with at least 21 gears and light weight (to carry and ride up steep hills). I’d love to know what you suggest.

  38. Hey Barb, I hear you! Some people really do need step-thrus, esp. if they have hip issues, and that means you. As I clearly stated in my much-misread article (sigh).

    At The Bike Dr. ( where I worked I sold many a Norco Rideau which is an upright step-thru, with 24 speeds, is aluminum, and relatively light (remember that your experience of ‘lightness’ will have as much to do with what kind of tires it is wearing as what the frame is made of). It sells for about $500. Check it out – it is well made and well assembled (at a reputable bike shop), and not a ‘shit bike’ if it suits your needs, which it very well might.

    The thing to know about upright ‘city comfort’ style bikes is that the geometry is just not ideal for hill-climbing, so you might still find that you end up hopping off to push it up a steep hill. And it is not ideal for long rides (I’d say more than a few kilometres) or touring. But it might just suit your needs and be an enjoyable and practical bike for you.

    I know there are lighter and higher-quality upright/step-thru bikes available, but I’m not sure which shops in Vancouver carry them, but I think you are in the UK. You will need to do some research.

    Just make sure you try out the bike, make sure it fits you and is comfortable, and don’t let someone sell you a bike just because you look cute on it. I am sure you will look cute on whatever bike makes you happy.

    Thanks for asking and for persisting – go find your ride!

  39. My girlfriend loves her Cannondale H300 with a step-thru framethat I gave her for Christmas after finding it on Craigslist for $110 (we’re both basically broke students) and she’s already added front and rear racks from my junque box along with lights, fenders, toolkit etc…the usual touring commuting jazz as she plans to start commuting to work once it warms up and we’re talking about longer trips once I’m done with school.

    I now have the entire day to play on the computer by myself because she’s off doing a 35mi ride with her daughter who rides a Giant Cypress step-through comfort bike that I bought once upon a time for parts to repair my touring bike with and then fixed up for her after she fell in love with her mom’s Cannondale. Neither of them had ever ridden real bikes before, but I can’t keep them off them now.

    Perhaps the real question is: How do I get my girlfriend back since I don’t see her any more?

  40. Hey, wow… I used to have a Bridgestone RB-T that I kinda liked, and it was on sale for $600 bucks and served me well for what I did with it, which wasn’t much. See, it was my husband’s hobby, not mine. I’m guessing that might be the case for some of those couples you see. Just maybe. Because I really could have cared less.

    Thanks to repetitive stress injuries and nerve damage, I literally can not put pressure onto my palms while riding a bicycle, or they’ll go completely numb. So, I have to have a bike where the handlebars are high enough that I’m not putting a lot of pressure on my palms, but on the other hand, they’re not so high that my hands go numb from having them higher than my heart (or elbows).

    I also have to have an orange bike. Don’t ask me why. If I can’t find the right mix of these things in the right size frame, with a big-ayss padded seat, I am NOT going to have a bike at all. Sell that sheite and keep the economy rolling, son.

  41. Whups. Please excuse the “son” there… I may be older now, but I can still catch a mistake. I was looking at the end of Gene’s comment where he mentioned a girlfriend and subconsciously read that as the end of your essay. Blog. You don’t need to publish either of these comments, really. It’s not important to me.

  42. I agree with some of your comments, but not all. *** I WANT a high end, light weight, nine speed, bike *** BUT NO ONE SEEMS TO MAKE THEM IN A STEP THROUGH FRAME — and that’s what I prefer. Period. I’d happily pay for what I want, but I’m having a heck of a time finding it. Just because I don’t feel comfortable hiking my leg up over my rear rack and panniers to get on and off my bike doesn’t make me weak or a wimp. I know my limitations. I know I’m not a teenager. Sometimes having to mount a bike like a horse just doesn’t appeal. Some of us are more prone to falling flat on our faces if we have the need to stop suddenly and aren’t oh-so-coordinated and can’t dismount gracefully with a top bar.

    I’m having hand issues from putting too much weight on them with my current bike. I need something with a more upright geometry now and the choices are so limited it’s infuriating. If I wanted a three speed tank I could select from all sorts of silly, “pretty” bikes. But I don’t live in Amsterdam or Florida. I can’t ride anywhere without hills here and I want the right gearing for the job. I don’t want pink, flowers, or big wicker baskets (although I have nothing against those options if someone else does). I think some of the bike companies need to pull their heads out of the dark place and figure out that they’re overlooking a big pool of customers.

    Apparently manufacturers prefer to ignore the potential market out there for quality bikes for people that either need or want an easier mount/dismount. I guess they haven’t gotten the word that the baby-boomers are getting to the point where they might need a step-through frame. Rivendell got the flick a while ago, but if you don’t want to go custom or don’t want a relatively heavy, touring bike, who else is there?

    As far as the bike shop people go, if I tell you I want a step through, don’t waste your time or mine trying to tell me I need to risk hurting myself riding the bike you think I should. If you have valid, good advice, then I’m willing to listen, but don’t push me into something I don’t want. You can tell me the disadvantages of a bike and advantages of something else, but if I’ve clearly told you what I want don’t push it.

    Yesterday I had a guy that asked me what model bike I currently had and then didn’t believe me. Apparently my model has changed a bit over the past five years and isn’t equipped the same now – no big surprise. His insistence about seeing what I rode to the shop really annoyed me. Standard “stupid woman” treatment from a male salesperson. (She can’t possibly know what equipment is on her bike – she’s a woman!) Needless to say I’m not buying anything from that moron.

    Sorry – you gave your rant alert up front. Afraid I ended up doing more of a rant than a comment too.

    If they build it, we will come. Somebody – make us a good quality step-through bike and we’ll buy it. High quality, well geared bikes shouldn’t be limited to ones with top tubes.

  43. I am SO GLAD I read your post on these heavy cruiser bikes. I might have bought one if it weren’t for reading your thoughtful post. I am not a bike person but my husband is. I have a bad foot that won’t allow me to do any cardio until I have major surgery so I need a bike to get around and keep up with our kids. We have two large but delayed toddlers-they can take off pretty fast on their trikes and don’t listen well-I’d like a baby phaser, set to stun, but people frown on that lol). I’m 42 and have Elhers-Danlos syndrome which means I need a bike that gives me all the mechanical advantage I can buy. I’d like to get to the point that I can pull one of the kids in a burley. I am 5’4 and have a 29-30 inch inseam. I have short arms and don’t want to be leaning forward like on a road bike. The bike needs to be light. Can you recommend a good bike for me? I’d be very, VERY grateful. All the people that work in the bike shops here are men. Thank you for reading.

  44. I started riding bikes again after a decade+ gap. I happened to win a step thru city bike. And sure enough that is exactly the sort if bike I needed. One of the reasons I stopped riding was after a near collision on my hybrid bike. I was fine, but my work clothes got covered with grease stains that didn’t come out. Maybe that sounds minor to you, but I don’t have time to switch clothing, and I didn’t want bike clothes.

    Fast forward to 19+ years later! and I got a public c7i with chain guards, fenders and internal gears. I’ve biked in my dresses and all types of shoes. I haven’t taken a huge hill yet, but I don’t see many cyclists on the huge ones near me either. On the smaller hills I’ve managed ok, and my bike has moved m from being bike-curious to a weekend errand warrior.

    Maybe in a year or two I’ll look for 1-2x more gears to tackle the hills, but I don’t plan on racing anytime soon. A city bike to haul my stuff and wear normal clothing works for me.

    There is a big difference between the cheap cruisers and the more polished city bikes out there.

  45. Thanks Carmen, we women look hot on fast bikes, and have a lot more fun on them too!
    Who would want to get in the way of that ?

  46. i hate girl who rides bike,problem is hat my girlfriend also rides bike andd thats why i feel very irretating to my girl friend!!!!!!!!!!!

  47. Please help me! I’ve been looking for a road bike to fit me at 5’1″. I had a used specialized Dolce that was stolen. It was really fun to ride and I loved the second set of brakes on the top of the drop bars; though it was not a particularly attractive bike in my opinion. This time around, I want to find a bike that has all of that and eyelits for a rear rack. Preferably something used so that I don’t end up spending a lot of money (I live in NYC and bikes eventually get stolen here no matter how well you lock it up). Recently I’ve tried a few vintage terry or terry-style bikes found on craigslist and they feel so wobbly and light-weight. Not sure if I’d get used to it. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  48. Hi! I’m 5’0 and i know, it is very difficult to find good-fitting roadbikes for small people. You will want probably no larger than a 45cm frame. You can get brake extenders attached to pretty much any handlebar so that you can reach better. One of the wonderful things about the ongoing explosion of bike consciousness is that there is now a wide variety of bikes available to suit every need, and many companies are now making good road bikes that are not ‘racing’ bikes but are made for a wide range of uses, including commuting and touring – so they are a little more ‘relaxed’ (extended) geometry and have brazons so you can attach racks and fenders. As you say, you don’t want a ‘wobbly’ or ‘light-weight’ bike, something sturdier and possibly even in the cyclo-cross category which is gaining popularity now because people want exactly that – a slightly more rugged bike with a ‘road’ feel. I know Norco and Surly and DeVinci make such bikes but there are many on the market now under different brands so…go to a good bike shop and talk to some pros!

    As I always say, you don’t need to spend a ‘lot’ of money – but you may need to spend enough to get what you want. In a good-quality road/commuter bike you will probably spend upwards of $800 new, and of course you could get a good deal on a used one but given you size they will be hard to find.

    Re: theft – get a GOOD LOCK, lock your bike safely and well, say a little prayer and hope for the best. Once again i say…don’t get a bike you don’t like riding, or you won’t ride it. No point in that.

    Finally i’d say, there are also a lot of really nice light ‘roady’ hybrids around now – they are fun to ride with the stability of a hybrid. Take one for a spin and see how it feels. You might just find that it suits your body and needs better than a road-style bike. Or not, but i would strongly suggest giving one a try.

    Keep looking, i’m sure you will find your perfect bike. Enjoy!

  49. Great analysis, also when a man buys a bike there is an understanding that he will use it a lot while for a woman it might be just a passing fad, what bike shall I buy? I am not timid or weak but I am very short, rather plump and aged 58. I live in France.

    Many thanks for your well-written and inspiring article.


  50. Yes well that is called self-fulfilling prophecy…when you invest in a good bike that feels great and suits your needs, you’ll ride it lots. If you don’t, you won’t

    I am very short and 51, not so plump, but having a bike you love to ride may make you less plump! I can’t tell you what kind of bike to buy. Go to a good bike shop and talk to a staff who makes you feel respected. If you can find a shop that employs ‘older’ women as sales staff, go to that one. Enjoy!

  51. I read your blog because I am considering buying a step through. I am a woman, fit, love riding bikes and own a road bike and a hybrid. My hybrid is a little bit on the heavy side and I would like to buy a lighter version. I have been riding bikes all my life, I am nearly seventy. I started with a step through because I grew up in Europe where bikes are mostly used to run errands and when I was young, most women still wore skirts. I love my road bike, but for the daily chores I would prefer a bike which is more comfortable to get on and off. This year for the first time I hurt my knee and getting my leg over the bar was difficult. I had problems walking but could still bike well, but for the mounting and descending.
    Considering the choices on the market I do not want to buy a very expensive bike because an expensive bike, I am going to leave at bike racks while shopping, is going to be stolen. One of my hybrids got already stolen last year. It was a Bianchi and I loved it.On the other hand I do not want to buy a Walmart bike, because I am used to good bikes.
    I personally find that the sales people in bike stores are often pushing expensive bikes without really listening to the needs of customers.

    Like you I also find that most women are riding cheaper bikes than their husbands. Actually when I ride my road bike most riders I ride with are men and when I ask why their wives are not riding, I usually get the answer that they do not like it. When I dig a little bit deeper, I nearly always find out that they bought the wife the entry level bike while they are riding something in the two to three thousand dollar range. When I called people who sold used road bikes for women, it was nearly always entry level bikes bought by the husband or boyfriend for a woman, who tried it for a short time and then gave up.

  52. Hey Ann, wonderful! If you are nearing seventy and having problems raising your leg over the crossbar then by all means, go find yourself a light, good-quality step-thru, or mixte, or ‘women-style’ frame with angled top-tube – they do exist, you just need to do some research. You can find a good quality bike in the middle price range, that you will not hesitate to lock on the street – with a very good lock, of course.

    But the fact remains exactly as you say, that many women never get really comfortable riding a bike, because they are sold or gifted a low-quality bike that does not make them happy or meet their needs.

    Ride on!

  53. I’m a 41 yr old male cyclist and get around on a fairly basic norco flat bar roadie. My opinion is that most blokes spend far too much money on bikes with ultra light frames and fancy gears for their training rides but are seldom cycle commuters. If ladies want to get in to that TDF type setup then fine go for it. But if you are after a daily rider commuter city traffic type bike then those bikes are all wrong, man or woman.

    The reason I’m on this blog is because my wife wants a bike. Great. And it is probably going to be a step thru. Light with gears, but a step through with a basket and panniers. If my norco wasn’t still good to go (cost me $250 6 years ago 2nd hand) I’d be getting me a step through bike myself.

    That said if I was cycling 30kms commute I’d be on a decent flat bar roadie, but I live inner city so no need. But I can assure folks that not every lady on a step through is some sort of fashion victim token lady cycle cheap bike type. Those bikes are superb. Half of Europe literally cannot be wrong! Where them men ride those bikes too.

    I figure women buy sensible cars because they are not victims of fashion and are champions of practical. That’s how to choose a bike.. Practical for you. We don’t all drive Ferraris, and we should not all ride ultra carbon fibre highly tuned racing bikes. Unless you are a fashion victim.

    Great blog post but.

  54. Mattb: I disagree at least with recommending to any woman a heavy cruiser bike.

    Nothing wrong with step through bikes. It just needs to be light, light enough for a woman to lift onto Translink’s bus bike racks.

    I’m an excellent example: 5’1″ –100 lbs. over 50 yrs. old. I have 5 bikes. 3 hybrids, 1 folding bike and 1 cheapie mountain bike. Been biking for last 23 yrs. ’cause I’ve been car-free.

    I will NEVER recommend a heavy cruiser bike. Waste of any woman’s money, even for a 70 yr. woman. If anyone sells hard on the fashion angle of a cruiser bike for woman then I would turn her attention to lighter hybrid bikes. Then she can juice up the bike with a fun bell, pannies, bike basket, etc. later.

    A heavy cruiser bike is actually….an experienced, strong woman cyclist who just loves all sorts of bikes. And she already has her road/touring bike(s) /folding bike, etc. in her stable.

  55. Great post! And you remind me how lucky I am. When I started biking several years ago, my husband (by then already on his second bike) insisted on me getting a better bike than what he had. He was really excited when I ended up going over budget a bit, because the bike was light, with good components, and he knew I would enjoy riding it. And bicycling has been something we have been doing together since then.

  56. My girlfriend bought a nice Schwinn Cruiser bike. She’s a (BIG) heavy girl. Unfortunately, she fell hard and fast for the pretty bike. She’s looking for basket for it. Cutesy stuff. Fine. When it arrived, I put it together. Then found out the front fender’s braces were incorrectly proportioned, throwing the rear of the fender right into the tire and there was no way to straighten it. Defective brace. No biggie. Called the manufacturer, got them to send a replacement piece. Will put that on when it arrives. But…the weather just turned gorgeous, got my bike out and ready to go….my GF is all upset, wishing she’d just return the bike because she can’t ride it without the stinking FENDER. Gimme a break. It has ZERO function other than pretty looks if it’s not raining and the roads are dry. I told her the bike functions fine and “don’t wait for the bike to be pretty, wait for the day to be pretty and GET OUT THERE” don’t let a freakin’ fender hold you up! IF it was rainy or the roads were wet, SURE (for me I don’t care). She’s upset that she bought a bike she couldn’t ride for two weeks because “the parts aren’t all there”. “If I wanted a bike with missing parts I’d got it off craigslist or from a yard sale.” Ummmm…the weather was COLD and WET and WINDY. Nobody wanted to be outside. Now the last day or two it’s been pretty nice. But she’s upset because the one lousy little part to hold that damned fender wasn’t right. To be honest, she needs to worry about her ability to RIDE the bike in the first place. She needed a lot of help getting on the seat and that was at it’s lowest position. I love her but I am frustrated with people selling cutesy shit to women, especially those who are a little OCD about stuff.

  57. Maybe your annoyance would be better directed at the bicycle manufacturers, who keep pawning off inferior bicycles as ladies’ models. A step-through frame makes life a lot easier, but that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with a “sit up and beg” riding position, necessarily, and it also doesn’t mean you need to pedal 40+ lbs of bike.

    Personally, I’d love to have a 25 lb. CrMo steel step-through that I could use to run errands around town on days when I want to wear a skirt or a dress, and don’t want to have to deal with lifting my leg so high over the bike that I give the entire town a free show. I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be possible, since a Surly Cross-Check singlespeed comes in around 23 lbs. with a reasonable component spec, according to the scuttlebutt on the web. Add a couple of lightweight aluminium racks, plastic fenders and chainguard, and you should still be well under the 30 lb mark.

    There’s nothing wrong with being a girly-girl, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting or needing a step-through frame. Sure, strength is harder to build in to a step-through, but you’re not likely to need to take a step-through off-road into the hardcore. I really like the look of the 2015 Trek Chelsea and the 2014 Specialised Globe Daily Step-Through, and I’d love to be able to buy a CrMo frame/fork set in a similar design, to build up with the parts I choose.

    The last time I bought new bikes for my gf and I, I bought us two 1999 Specialised Hardrocks, a 21″ Hardrock Comp for me, and a 19″ base model Hardrock for her. She preferred the more upright stem of the base model, and I preferred the flatter stem of the Comp model. Otherwise, the two bikes were nearly identical, save for Grip Shifts on hers and ratcheting lever shifters on mine. Definitely not “shit bikes”, the 99 Hardrocks were some of the last decent, reasonably priced rigid CrMo mountain bikes you could get.

    Right now, my only ride is a 1992 vintage Trek 820 I rescued from a charity shop. It’s a great daily beater that is actually fairly high quality, even if it looks like a POS. I don’t mind its low-budget looks, since that’s a theft deterrent. Riding a “ladies’ bike” is even more of a deterrent to theft.

  58. Ok, So how ca I encourage my wife to spend more moey on a better bike. I’ve been trying for years.

  59. Good question Raxedxwuvs!

    Although of course it isn’t about spending ‘more money on a bike’ – but as you say, to get a *better* bike, or more importantly: one that is better for her.

    The big test is: does she ride the bike she has? Does she enjoy it? If yes, then no reason to spend more money on a bike. If no, then it is simply the wrong bike for her. Possibly wrong size, likely wrong style, maybe just poor quality. Time to get a new bike.

    Ask your wife if she would like to be more comfortable and have more fun riding a bike, and if she did, would she ride it more. If she says no, then just accept the fact that she really doesn’t want to ride. But if she says yes, then encourage her to go to a good bike shop and explain to the sales staff what her problems/needs are. Help her find a bike that is comfortable and EASY TO RIDE (i.e. up hills, not just on the shop floor), and then remind her that paying a bit more for a bike she will actually enjoy riding is worth the price.

  60. Great post! Coming from a guy’s perspective, I was wondering whether the whole idea of slanted top tubes stemmed entirely from some ridiculous, misogynistic crock of shit reason, and indeed google tells me that is in fact the case. It’s ridiculous that in the Year Of Our Lord 2015, manufacturers still crank out slanted top tubes to market exclusively towards women, and people think that is normal because the best explanation they can come up with is “well, that’s always how it’s been done”.

    It always blows my mind when people just accept the outrageous double standards that apply to women in our society.

  61. I am one of those women who rides a bike to work everyday and love step through as I have had back issue in the past.

    So no one should say a step through is just for entry one. I find in UK traffic I want the step style and not have the bars locking me in.

    I do agree that men try to sell cheap bikes to women who are looking for reliable bikes that will not fall apart My bike is like every one else car as I do not drive so it has to cope with the weekly shop and life for me

  62. Really interesting post. I’d just add — what about when you bike with a small child? Is this not an exception? I bike a lot with my 3yo around Brooklyn, where a bike is faster than a car and public transit doesn’t always go where we need. I have a sporty Trek hybrid with 21 gears that’s step-through because I can’t figure out how to mount with a kid on my CoPilot seat with a regular frame (I had a Jamis hybrid, no step-through, but sold it when I got the kid seat when my daughter was about 18mos).
    Next year she will have outgrown the seat, but I’d be nervous with her on a trail-a-bike and me still having to swing over or tilt the bike to mount.

  63. I have a question for you. I haven’t ridden in many years but my husband and I would like to. Casually for me will be fine. I would like a vintage, kind of on the fat side, silly basket, a back rack that might hold something I attach to it, and even a bell for old times sake. Step thru is the ideal for me. Is there such thing as a good bike like this. I don’t want to be ridiculed for it. I want it to be a respectable vehicle. But it will probably be used for leisurely riding. Don’t hate me. I completely respect all levels of the sport of bicycle riding. I just don’t want to be laughed at for riding a bike that could be my grandmother’s refurbished bike from 50 years ago. I want a brand spanking new vintage bike that even Carmen would approve of. No shit bike, something strong, vintage-ish, and maybe a three speed. Does something like this exist?

  64. PS, Carmen: And one of those fat cushy seats would work for me, too. Do serious bike sellers have a product that fits this description and yet be worthy of their respect.

    Thank you.

  65. I am 63 yrs old and have been riding bikes my entire life. I had a knee replacement 2 years ago. As an adult, I rode a street bike first for 10 plus years. Next I rode a mountain bike well into my 50’s. I found that the forward positioning put too much pressure on my hands which caused my hands and wrists to go numb, and I eventually had to have carpal tunnel surgery (due to other reasons too). Has anyone else found this a problem? About 8 years ago, I rode a step through and fell in love with it and bought one. It has 24 speeds, shocks in the front and the seat, and my hands don’t get sore or numb anymore-no pressure on them. I do notice that I go up hills slowly, but I just grind in the 1st gear. It is very heavy and I’m thinking of upgrading but don’t know if any one makes “higher end” step through bikes with lots of gears. Can you recommend any?

  66. Hi Pam,

    Yes putting weight on wrists is a problem, esp. as we get older. In the bike store i was always recommending Ergon grips to people for exactly that reason, carpal tunnel, nerve compression, etc. They are adjustable and offer support to wrists, plus some come with ‘horns’ so you can change your hand position. Cost $50 or so but definitely worth it, i love mine!

    Sounds like you are on exactly the right track for a bike – more upright style (but NOT a ‘cruiser’), with plenty of speeds. For easier hill-climbing you may want to adjust it so you can ride at a slight angle (not bolt-upright), for more powerful strokes. Also make sure you have narrow tires, no fat knobbies to push along the pavement. Get a higher-end, light aluminum one – Linus and Jamis make good ones, but there are lots of other brands. reviews many kinds of bikes, especially city bikes.

    Get that new bike and love it! Never stop riding.


  67. A very good friend of mine has said she often gets patronised and smirked at in bike shops and you do have to believe her when you see the kind of bikes she ends up riding. I personally can’t be bothered with this attitude and send my hubbie in to buy my gear for me, or at least have him by my side when I buy.

  68. Seconding Marian from March 2013: I ride a heavy, steel, cushiony-seat, step-through “lady bike” all over mostly-flat Copenhagen (and out to the suburbs 15km away) a couple months out of every year, and I vastly prefer it to a lighter, speedier, “better” bike. My husband has a lightweight, high-quality hybrid, and even he prefers my bike for most rides. He likes the upright, casual position and super-smooth ride.

    I live the rest of the year in Brooklyn, however, where I find a lighter, sleeker bike is MUCH better for the hills. I still tricked mine out with high handlebars for the upright ride, though, and it’s a step-through–much easier in any kind of dress, I find. And I say that having had a few crossbar lightweight bikes too.

    I think it’s really all a matter of preference. Sometimes a “crap” bike is just the thing, if that’s what you like.

  69. Like o a lot of the correspondents I am looking to upgrade my fairly basic 21 gear step through bike for something a bit faster, lighter frame, I commute to work daily which involves going up hills and i would love something lighter and faster with click gears and either hydraulic or disc brakes.
    But i do like being stop through especially when you have to dismount at lights on a hill and it is much easier to see all the traffic around when you are up right. Has anyone found a fast step through bike ?

  70. I experienced the downsell just last week, and I have been trying to figure out why. I went to my LBS to look at Trek 7.3s; I left with a Fuji Absolute 2.3.

    I needed a step-through bike though, because I have a leg full of metal and as much as I wanted it to work, anything other than the step-through design was impossible for me.

    I am reasonably happy with the Absolute so far, but it’s still confusing why they put me on a $400 bike, when I intended to buy an $800 bike.

  71. Why the downsell? Do you really need to ask? We are trained in the bike retail industry to upsell men and downsell women, and sadly, the technique usually works – perhaps because men generally feel their cycling needs are more important and worthy of investment than women’s. Truth.

    They sold you a cheaper bike because it was an easy sell, rather than taking the time to explain the virtues of a more expensive bike.

    Also, while good-quality step-thrus do exist, it takes more research to find them. Probably that was all they had in the store that would suit your needs in a frame, so that is what they sold you.

    I’m glad you like your bike, and I hope it continues to serve you well. In my books, if you’re riding it and enjoying it, then it’s a good bike for you, for now. Whether it endures in the long term remains to be seen, but if it proves to be the quality of a $400 bike (low-end components are the giveaway), then sell it on Craigs and go buy a new bike … somewhere else. 🙂

  72. “In the case of couples I can only assume this is because a) the woman’s needs are assumed to be less budgetable than the man’s, and b) the man would feel emasculated to ride on a lesser bike than his partner. I’m waiting for a better explanation, but I haven’t heard one yet.”

    Here’s one: women tend to be more risk averse than men. It seems like the couples you’re writing of are new to serious cycling/commuting by bike.

    It’s funny, my partner and I are currently in this position. We’re both thinking of buying our first adult bikes this week. I (the female) am actually more experienced in bike riding than my male partner, even though my experience has mostly been confined to suburbia, which is arguably a safer environment for cyclists than NYC. But I’m the one doing research online to learn about the different types of bikes. He’s just going to wing it in the store. My mentality is, “why should I spend much more than $500 on a bike if I’ve never commuted to work by bike before? And if I’m not entirely comfortable riding on Manhattan streets just yet? What if I end up not using the bike as much as I’m hoping to?”

    For me, buying a bike is a risk, and that risk increases as I spend more money. I’m also now aware of all of the costs of upkeep, the costs of safety, accident/theft prevention, etc. I don’t think my partner is considering these things as deeply. So he’ll probably get the more expensive bike.

    Risk aversion is also a reason there are significantly fewer female bike commuters in NYC. Despite the new bike lanes and the new citi bike share program, biking in NYC is still considered a dangerous activity. Wish me luck!

  73. Hey Julia,

    Wow, that is a very interesting and well-considered take on men’s/women’s attitudes around urban cycling. Thank you so much for taking the time to articulate your thoughts.

    It is true (according to all those studies) that women are more risk-averse – aka ‘timid’ – than men. I’d say that is almost certainly due to societal fear-mongering, but on the other hand according to evolutionary biology men have had more reason (and have thus become more accustomed) to confronting physical danger … so I’ll leave the nature-vs-nurture issue alone, because ultimately, there is no place where one begins and the other ends. But that’s a whole other blog post 😉

    As to cycling, here is the question: are you averse (afraid) to cycle on city streets, or are you afraid to waste money on a bike you won’t use?

    First let me say for about the millionth time, that I am not here to exhort people to spend money. I’m a deep-dish cheapskate myself, as you will see from my most recent post. Don’t spend more than you can really ‘afford’, but don’t cheap out – a bike could be one of the most important things you ever buy!

    Here are two incontrovertible facts:

    1) If you are lured by a low price into buying a bike that isn’t really enjoyable to ride or doesn’t suit your needs, you won’t ride the bike, and you will indeed have wasted your money – whether it is $50 or $1000.

    2) Generally speaking, you will spend more on a bike for two things: efficiency and durability. Efficiency includes SAFETY!

    For example, I have just lived for 1.5 years on a small and hilly island in a rain forest. Many people on the island say they are afraid to bike, and the reason they will cite, is fear of being struck by cars. However, in living memory, no one has ever been struck by a car on the island. But, in the time i lived there, one person has died and several others were injured because THEIR BIKES WERE SHIT. The bikes people ride are often ill-fitted, worn (wheels will simply buckle), headsets loose or rusted, and worst of all: THE BRAKES FAILED. I will tell you this: the greatest safety feature to have been designed for a bike in the past 20 years (since the V-brake) is the DISC BRAKE. When I am riding my bike down a steep wet hill, I thank all the deities and bike engineers in the world for my hydraulic disc brakes – because they virtually never fail, and they feel smooooth as butter. Plus, the brake pads last almost forever, and they cause no wear on your wheel rims – revolutionary! Disc brakes will cost you between $50 and $200 more than conventional brakes – and they are worth it. They can save your life.

    So generally, to your assertion that

    For me, buying a bike is a risk, and that risk increases as I spend more money. I’m also now aware of all of the costs of upkeep, the costs of safety, accident/theft prevention, etc. I don’t think my partner is considering these things as deeply. So he’ll probably get the more expensive bike.

    I say, reduce the risk. Throw down the cash necessary for a bike that fits you, is safe for you, and will last. You will wind up paying far less for upkeep on a quality bike. Most importantly, you’ll like it, and you’ll ride it. It is an investment and worth the price.

    You don’t need luck – you need a good bike, and you deserve one!

  74. Hey Carmen: Is a light weight cruiser bike an oxymoron? I have no gears on my heavy cruiser and at 75, I have to wheel it up hill.

  75. Is there such a thing as a lightweight cruiser bike? Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘cruiser bike’.

    A bike that is sold under the banner of ‘cruiser bike’ is most likely heavy, probably has fat balloon tires (which will always feel slow and heavy), and only one to three speeds. It might look cool and ‘easy’ to ride, but it will feel like a tank when you ride it up a hill. End of story.

    However, there are new aluminum ‘cruiser-style’ bikes that will be much lighter and more versatile than your old clunker. Commonly these are not called ‘cruisers’, they are called ‘city bikes’ or ‘city comfort bikes’, and they are fine for leisurely riding – that is, for occasional jaunts, on mostly flat terrain. They will have a nice upright riding position, and fairly narrow (but not skinny) tires. Some have vintage styling, like funky old-fashioned or mixte or step-thru frames, and style features like pant-guards. They usually have one to seven speeds, although some have up to 24 speeds. The more speeds a bike has, the better it will feel going up and down hills. Generally speaking as with everything, you get what you pay for, so go for quality.

    One thing for sure Larry: get rid of that old cruiser! If you are 75 and have hills to go up, get yourself a good light bike. A lunky old cruiser will never be fun or easy for you to ride. Treat yourself to a new bike, from a reputable bike shop. You deserve it.

  76. I really appreciated your article. I have a lovely Norco upright steel bike with an old style wide saddle and internal hub 9 gears which I love riding around our village with few hills. When I want /need to ride hills (Columbia Valley Hwy) I use my old aluminum Specialized Rockhopper. I know the Rockhopper will need to be replaced sometime soon . My question is, how do women find a bike store that has really knowledgeable staff who will steer me in the right direction. I don’t mind paying for a good bike. Is your store in Vancouver? I don’t mind travelling to Vcr. for a good bike store.

  77. Come on down to the Bike Doctor on Broadway, I’ll help you find a sturdy powerful hybrid that’ll get you up and down those hills in comfort and ease. There are lots of good bike stores, but the Dr. has possibly the largest selection of hybrids in the city. The best way to find a good bike store is to ask your friends (online reviews are dodgy), and visit some stores until you find one where you feel heard and respected. If staff ignores you or tries to steer you to the nearest clunky cruiser, turn on your heel and go to the next shop down the block.

  78. My significant other and I are the opposite. I covet fancy cyclocross bikes and he doesn’t see a need for anything besides his cheap Craigslist mountain bike.

    I think this works better as a condemnation of industry sexism than of frame style. There’s a reason city bike share programs all use step-through bikes. They’re comfortable, they have good visibility, and it’s easy to hop on and off during short trips. I traveled to a city where I used them a while ago, and I kind of missed the riding position (and squishy tires) when I got back on my late-80s steel road bike with horizontal crossbar.

    Right now I can’t afford another bike (and I really only NEED one,) so I do all my rides on the vintage one. It’s not the fastest bike on the streets, but it’s not the slowest either and it’s tremendous fun. However, I really want to supplement it with Yuba’s Boda Boda or a similar step-through cargo bike, especially when/if I have kids. It’s like the minivan of bicycles and sometimes you just need to be able to load a bike up with two toddlers and all your groceries without worrying about kicking someone in the face when you get on.

    Of course, bombproof cargo bikes aren’t the same as cheap underbuilt bikes – the Boda Boda tends to be around $1000. It’s heavy, but I live in a very flat place. And it fits my need to comfortably haul shit around. If I had the needs of a racer, I’d be saving for a racing bike. If I wanted to get into mountain biking, I’d research mountain bikes.

    1. Emily, you are completely right: this ancient tossed-off blog piece that got SO much attention, conflated two issues: bike style, and systemic sexism. Two very different and only occasionally corresponding issues. Mea culpa … if i had had any idea it would go viral, i would have written it much more carefully.

      But anyway, the shop i work in sells Boda Boda, and it is a fabulous functional machine. Get whatever bike(s) serve you best, and use them well.

      BTW, this very week i had a first-ever experience … i sold a pair of bikes to a couple, and hers cost a fair bit more than his! so maybe … things are changing. 😉

  79. I know this is an older article, but… I just bought a step through bike. My knees will not allow me to get on a ‘regular bike’. I bought a 21 speed ‘comfort bike’. I won’t go as fast as a road bike, I don’t want to. But I will be able to climb hills – I have to wether I want to or not, they are kind of in the way. As to weight, the comparable model of ‘regular bike’ is 1″ taller but a mere 3 lbs heavier. A fair trade for ease of use.
    As far as men getting more expensive bikes then women, did it occur to anyone that the men are simply overspending for their needs and buying the trendy, shiny, professional bike that will not be used to it’s full design? While the lady of the couple realizes what she wants and what it will be used for and purchases a bike for the job at hand. She will not need a Ferrari to do the weekly shopping, take a spin to the library or pedal to work.

    Just a thought.

  80. Enjoyed very much your original article. Coincidentally, I am looking for a new bike for my wife. She is 71 years old and exercises about an hour each morning. Ten miles on her 14 year old ladies hybrid Giant bike, several miles on our elliptical, stretching, and several times a week at our neighborhood gym on the weight machines. I would like to buy her a new bike that weighs less than the 35 pound Giant. However the new bike must be a step through as she cannot swing an arthritic hip over a cross bar. So, all this leading up to the following question: are there step through bikes out there weighing less than say 24 pounds? I have not found any so far.
    Thanks much.

  81. Hi Chuck,

    Your wife sounds like a strong and able woman. Don’t ‘buy her a bike’, go with her and support her as she selects a bike. Feel free to brandish your credit card if you like 😉

    I have never found a step-through bike that light. They might exist, but i don’t know of them.

    However ‘lightness’ is a bit of red herring. Don’t obsess about weight. If the bike has narrow(ish) lightly treaded tires and good-quality accurate gears, it will feel light to ride. If it has clunky components and, especially, fat tires or a suspension fork, it’ll feel like a tank to ride. Definitely she can find a good quality aluminum step-through in the 28-30 lb lifting weight, and she will feel like she is flying when she rides it.

    Go to a good bike store, and have her try out several different bikes, going up and down some hills. She should choose whatever feels best to ride.

  82. Hi,

    I noticed that this blog was written about 4 years ago and of course bikes have changed since then. I was Googling “step through geometry reviews” and came across your blog. I was looking at the Specialized fitness bikes–Vita series in particular– and noticed that there were a lot of bikes with the step through geometries. I didn’t know if this was the new fashion or if they actually work pretty well. My husband believes that if they are made right, they wouldn’t be to bad, however, he wasn’t sure how the back wheel would feel if you add weight to it.

    Of course, I would need to try out the bike but I was wondering how you feel about them now as opposed to how you felt about them a few years back. I would want to use the bike mostly for commuting with 2 metal racks on the back. My husband wasn’t sure if this type of geometry would make the back wheel wobblier when you add extra weight to it. Of course, when I try out the bike, I’m not going to have the full load I usually have in the back so testing the bike won’t give me a full idea of whether it’s useful or not. And now I have to admit the only reason why I am considering a step through bike. I every now and then haul about 3 huge bags of groceries on the back of my bike and get tired of trying to figure out how I want to mount my bike. I figured a step through bike would help solve that problem, however, I am more worried about the performance of the bike than my laziness. What is your opinion?

    1. Hi Keow – I still maintain that unless you have a serious hip issue, step-thrus exist for old-fashioned feminine stylishness and no other practical reason – and if anyone should be riding them, it is men, not women. But new designs and materials are constantly being invented, so they may be no worse than straight-crossbar bikes. Try it and see.

      Unless you are carrying a HUGE amount of weight on the back of your bike, it shouldn’t wobble, regardless of frame style. Just mount a rear rack and use two panniers, and try to even out the load on each side.

      As always my advice is, make sure the bike fits you and is properly adjusted (esp. that seat is HIGH ENOUGH for full leg extension), then take it for a test ride, going up and down some hills and switching gears. If it feels good, it is your bike!

      As for mounting dismounting: good point – I often need to show new riders how to get on and off their bikes. Whether step-through or not, you just need to slide forward off the seat to support yourself when you come to a stop – and then, when you are mounting or dismounting, LEAN the bike over a bit and step over the frame. Don’t try to get on or off your bike with it standing bolt upright.

      If you need to load a bunch of stuff onto your bike before you climb aboard, get a sturdy two-legged kickstand, load the bike, then lean it over slightly and climb aboard.

      Whatever well-meaning hubbie may advise, just go to a good bike store and test out some bikes.

  83. I’m having hand issues from putting too much weight on them with my current bike. I need something with a more upright geometry now and the choices are so limited it’s infuriating. If I wanted a three-speed tank I could select from all sorts of silly, “pretty” bikes. But I don’t live in Amsterdam or Florida. I can’t ride anywhere without hills here and I want the right gearing for the job.

  84. Hello Bestshoes,

    True iindeed, especially as we get into the ‘older’ category, we don’t want to put stress on our hands and wrists. A main cause of stress on them is having the wrong size bike – if your bike is too small, i.e. if the reach of the frame is too short, you will put too much weight on your hands—so, make sure your bike fits you! When you squeeze the brake levers you should have a straight line from elbow to knuckle; if your wrists are bent back, your hands will hurt. A really great help for this is ergonomic handlebar grips with a small ‘platform’, which prevent your wrists from collapsing. Make sure the grips are correctly angled for comfortable hand position.

    And/or, maybe you just need to sit more upright. Start with a good, light, quality hybrid bike that fits your body proportions, with as much gear range as you can get for climbing those hills. Then if you still feel like you are putting too much weight on your hands or want to sit more upright, you can modify the bike with a riser stem and/or more up-angled stem, or slightly swept-back handlebars.

    The bottom line is as always, go to a good bike store where the staff listen to your needs, and try before you buy. Enjoy!

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