Unisex, drop-tube, and female-specific bikes: What to consider

Consumer Reports News: July 21, 2010 03:11 PM

They don’t make bikes the way they used to. Back in the day, all women’s bikes had a step-through frame. The top tube was dropped down to make it easier to get on the bike in a skirt without having to swing a leg over the saddle. While women still wear skirts, you won’t see many doing so while riding a bike anymore.

Companies still make drop-tube bikes (pictured at right), but now there are also female-specific bikes with frame geometry (the angles and length of the tubes that make up the bike frame) designed to better fit the average woman. They look very similar to unisex bikes (what used to be called men’s bikes, pictured at right, below) but bring the handlebars closer to the rider to accommodate the shorter reach of most women.

Unisex bike1 We tested the unisex versions vs. the female-specific versions of the same bike and found some women preferred the unisex version for fit. Before you buy a new bike, make sure you try both versions and get the bike that’s most comfortable and fits you best.

A drop-tube bike might make it easier to get on the bike and is fine for most recreational riding, but may not be as rigid as a traditional unisex style frame. If you plan to do more than recreational riding, a unisex frame or female-specific frame will be more rigid, allowing for greater efficiency and often sportier handling.

Rich Handel, Consumer Reports project leader

For more on choosing a bike to suit your casual lifestyle, see our budget bikes report  and Ratings  (available to subscribers)

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