Women Mountain Bikes
Women Mountain Bikes: From entry-level cross-country builds to those designed for more technical terrain, women-specific bikes now span the entire mountain bike spectrum. Geometry tweaks are giving all bikes, especially 29ers, lower standover heights, which makes them accessible to smaller riders. Short-suspension bikes now have slacker geometries that don’t impact climbing and make going downhill a more stable affair. Big-travel bikes are better than ever at pedaling uphill, and many can now handle a range of conditions from technical trails to those found in bike parks.
Check out five of the top women’s mountain bikes below, then keep reading for buying advice and more great options.
What is a Women's Mountain Bike?
Women Mountain Bikes: Much like there is no single female body type, there’s no single geometry tweak or feature set that differentiates women’s bikes from men’s or unisex bikes. But most brands agree that the average woman is shorter and lighter than the average man. Women-specific bikes often come in small sizes not offered in unisex versions, including XS and XXS. Some companies, like Specialized and Santa Cruz, think that a great bike doesn’t need a different geometry to work for male or female riders.
All those brands’ women’s models offer are a shock tuned for a lighter rider and female-specific touch points, like a women-specific saddle, narrower handlebar, and shorter cranks. Other brands, like Liv and Canyon, take it a step further, as they believe women are best served by frames tuned based on empirical research of female musculature.
Why Don’t All Brands Make Women-Specific Bikes?
Women Mountain Bikes: Some companies believe that it’s more important to focus on the differences between small and large riders, rather than the difference between male and female riders. These unisex-bike manufacturers have moved toward making their smaller bikes better for shorter, lighter riders all around by tuning the frame and using suspension technology to address those differences and create a bike that rides best for you based on your size, rather than your gender.
Last July, Yeti discontinued its Beti line, which included women’s versions of the SB5 and the SB100. (Those bikes, like Juliana options from Santa Cruz, had grips, seats, bars, and a shock tuned for women). But Yeti found that riders usually swap out those parts anyway based on personal preference. And shocks have gotten so good that engineers say they can meet the needs of lighter riders with stock settings so they no longer needed custom tunes. “The change was really driven by the women who work here—20 percent of our employees are women,” said Kristi Jackson, Yeti’s marketing director.
Points of Contact
The main points of contact that a cyclist has with her bike are the handlebar and the saddle.
First, the handlebar. Many women’s bikes now come with 740mm, 760mm, or wider setups. Even if a wide bar feels unfamiliar, give it a try before you have your shop pull out the cutting tools. A wider bar can give you more control, though a bar that’s too wide can can have the opposite effect. Take your time to find the sweet spot, and remember that a handlebar can be cut a little at a time. Many women’s bikes also come with narrower grips.
Second, the saddle. Even if your new bike comes with a women-specific saddle, it may not be right for you. Just like testing a bike, you should be able to test saddles at your local shop. Once you find one or more that you like, you can learn to easily make this swap, and subsequent adjustments, at home.
The Right Bike for You
Women Mountain Bikes: Absolutely more important than what gender your bike is designed for is the kind of riding you want to use it for. Before purchasing a mountain bike, think about what kind of experience you want on the trails, what your current skill level is, where you’ll be riding, and, of course, your budget. A cross-country bike is best for fast and efficient pedaling on smooth trails. Trail bikes are best for a mix of climbing and descending. Enduro bikes are for going big with confidence on technical downhills—though, thanks to modern suspension design, many can handle some climbing, too.
Try Before You Buy
Women Mountain Bikes: It’s good practice to test a few bikes before you buy one. If you’re able to demo mountain bikes at your local shop, be sure to ask the mechanics to set up the suspension specifically for you. Also ask that they check the compression and rebound settings before you roll out. If these things aren’t set up properly, a bike that might be ideal for you could feel terrible during a ride. Finally, before you head out on your test rides, double check the tire pressure and make sure you can use the full length of the bike’s dropper post (if it comes with one).
How We Chose These Bikes
Women Mountain Bikes: Every bike on this list has been carefully selected by our test team based on their value, quality of parts (most of which we’ve tested separately), our experience riding similar models, and how the overall package meets the intended buyer’s needs. We’ve put most of these bikes to the test at product launches and on the trails around our home office, sending, descending, hucking, climbing, and just plain riding and enjoying them to determine the best options. Whether you want to go big or spend small, one of these women’s mountain bike models is sure to meet your needs, skill level, and budget.