A few years ago, there was a trend to have women specific bikes, and some remain, like the brand Liv. However, there is no need to have women specific bikes. Most women ride a unisex bike. Looking at all the bike components there are just a few things to think about when buying a bike:
This needs to be the correct size for you – which for most women means a bit smaller than a bike for a man. Most of the manufacturers create unisex frames now as there are not significant anatomical differences in the female/male arm/back/leg. The average female leg will be longer and their back shorter than the average male, but this is only averaging and plenty of people are not average – so a good bike fit will overcome this by correct frame sizing and stem length.
This should be the same size (width) as your shoulders. Stock bikes will come with a generic size which fits only some people – so you should ask the bike shop to swap this out for the correct size for you. Most good bike shops will do this for you.
Make sure that the set-up of the brakes accommodates your hand size. The generic bike set up often seems to be for a rider with larger hands. Your bike shop can set this up correctly for you.
Saddle preference is highly individual and will come down to the actual size of your pelvis and your position on the bike. The female pelvis is a different shape to the male pelvis (required anatomically so that women can give birth). Saddles come in a range of sizes and shapes. It is highly likely that you will need a female specific saddle due to that pelvis difference. The best thing is to go to a bike shop, sit on a specific tool that measures your pelvis’s “sit bones” (Ischial Tuberosities) to estimate your size, and try several out. Most shops will do a saddle test ride. When you find one you love, consider buying an extra one, as there is nothing worse than finding that the manufacturer has stopped making your favourite saddle.
Some find that with manual gears the front derailleur can be heavy and hard to shift. If this is the case for you there are two choices: speak to the bike shop to get them adjusted or go for electronic gears (the slightly more expensive option) – which are a joy in the lightness of touch required to change gear.
If you have short (or particularly long) legs you may want to try a different crank length. Industry standard tend to fit longer length cranks than the average rider under 5’8” requires, so consider if this needs to be changed on your bike. Those with a strong core and good flexibility are less likely to notice any problems caused by a less than perfect crank size, but if you have any knee/hip/back issues this should be addressed.
Emma Pooley (Olympic cyclist) is a big advocate for smaller wheels (650) for smaller riders. However, these are more difficult to source with limited range, so most women settle for the standard wheel size (700c), and accept that this can result in the wheel overlapping with the toe – so you need to be aware of this and take care when doing sharp turns.