Best women's bikes: a buyer's guide to find what you need

Looking for the best ladies' bike for you? Let us help

Do you want to buy a women’s bike but are unsure what to look for, what type, or how much to spend? How about the differences between women's and unisex or men's bikes? BikeRadar breaks it down, helping you decide what bike is best for your needs and budget, plus guiding you towards plenty of other advice and info, too. 

This BikeRadar buyer's guide to women's bikes will steer you through the basics, including the different types of bikes and some simple tweaks for your current bike to ensure it's comfortable.

Road or mountain, cruiser or pack-laden commuter, there's a women's bike for you and how you want to ride
Road or mountain, cruiser or pack-laden commuter, there's a women's bike for you and how you want to ride

Women's bikes? Men's bikes? Unisex bikes? What's the difference?

Nearly every bike company makes bikes for women. They tend to have a few main differences from men’s or unisex bikes, which the bike brands say are designed to make them more comfortable, easier to ride, or provide better performance. 

  • A shorter reach — this refers to the distance from the saddle to the handlebars. This is accomplished by having a shorter top tube, steeper seat tube angle and/or a shorter stem on the handlebars, all of which reduces the distance your arms have to stretch to the handlebars. This can give the rider a more 'upright' feel on the bike. 
  • Smaller sizes — small and x-small sizes, even xx-small sizes can be found to cater to smaller riders. Sometimes these are the small sizes of the men’s bike, other times it’s a dedicated women’s frame with a unique geometry.
  • Lowered top tube — a lower or sloping top tube allows a lower standover height, making it easier to get on and off. This is not found on road bikes, as it mostly applies to women's hybrid and very low-end mountain bikes. Higher end mountain bikes will typically have lower standover across the board. 

Depending on the bike company, a few other changes can be found:

  • Shorter crank arms — for riders with shorter legs, shorter crank arms (the part linking the pedals to the spindle around which they move) reduce the stretch that the leg needs around the pedal stroke, which reduces strain and makes pedalling easier. Shorter cranks can also be pedaled faster. 
  • Different gearing or gear ratios — some women's bikes may run double or triple cranksets (so two or three chainrings next to the pedals) while unisex equivalents have a single ring, or may have a gear ratio that provides lower (read: easier) gears, both of which help less powerful riders to conquer hills. This is more common at the lower end of the price range. 
  • Narrower handlebars, shallower drops on road handlebars — narrower handlebars are designed to suit narrower shoulders, and the shallower drop on road handlebars means a shorter reach from the seat to the bars. On mountain bikes, smaller diameter grips are common.
  • Fewer bikes within each range — because some women prefer the feel and/or ride of a men’s bike, women's bike ranges typically have two or three models, whereas the unisex range can have five to seven. This can mean less choice for women if they are looking for a women’s specific bike. 

Why are there differences between men’s and women’s bikes? Bike companies say that the research they've done suggests that women have, on average, a shorter reach than men, weigh less and are shorter. 

So how do I choose which bike?

The best bike depends on where you’ll be riding and/or what you want to do with your bike. There are three general types: 

Road bikes

Road bikes are built for riding on tarmac. They’re designed for speed and distance on paved roads, and have lightweight frames, narrow, hard tires, and handlebars with a hook (or drop) for a lower, more aerodynamic position on the bike.

There are mild differences within road bikes, with some built for endurance, comfort and long distances, some for gravel roads, and others for all-out speed. 

Road bikes are amazing for getting fit, having fun with other riders, and even commuting to and from work
Road bikes are amazing for getting fit, having fun with other riders, and even commuting to and from work

Mountain bikes

Mountain bikes are extremely versatile, they’re typically built for off-road use but can be ridden on any road. They have flat handlebars and wider tires, and usually have suspension on either the front wheel (hardtail) or on both wheels (full-suspension), which helps smooth out rough terrain and provides traction for climbing and cornering.

Mountain bikes are perfect for exploring the woods, heading out on singletrack or going to a bike park.

Hybrid bikes

Hybrid bikes, sometimes also known as urban bikes, commuter bikes or city bikes, take elements from both road and mountain bikes in their design. They typically have flat handlebars coupled with an upright riding position that makes them easy to ride and to keep your head up for great visibility.

Some hybrids lean more towards speed and agility with rigid forks and lightweight frames, while others are more general purpose, with a sturdier mountain bike-style frame that's designed to handle rough roads and may have some front suspension.

Hybrid bikes also have attachment points that allow you to screw on fenders, rear racks and bags.

You can commute on any type of bike, but if your commute involves a bus or a train, or you have to haul your bike into the office, a folding bike might be worth considering.

Best women's road bikes

You can buy a road bike from as little as $500, though to get a decent quality bike we'd recommend starting from about $800 if you're planning on using it for longer distances or events.

In general, as you go up in price you'll get a lighter bike, with better quality parts that shift more smoothly and/or are more robust. 

What to expect for your money: 

  • Under $800 – Alloy frame and fork, an eight-speed double crankset (giving you 16 gears), with alloy bars and stem. 
  • $800 to $1,000 – Alloy frame with carbon fibre or alloy fork, and eight- or nine-speed gears (often Shimano Sora or Claris) with a double or triple crankset. 
  • $1,000 to $1,500 – Alloy frame with carbon fiber fork, 10-speed Shimano Tiagra (or similar) with a double crankset, and lighter wheels. 
  • $1,500 to $2,000 – Alloy or lower-level carbon frame with carbon fork, Shimano Tiagra (or similar) 10-speed gearing, rising to Shimano 105 11-speed (so 22 gears) at the higher end of the price scale. Hydraulic disc brake options and lighter components are show up around this price point. 
  • $2,000 to $2,5000 – Carbon frame and carbon fork, lightweight and high-end Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Rival 11-speed gearing, hydraulic disc brakes, carbon bars.
  • $2,500 and $3,500 – Mid-level carbon frame and carbon fork. Expect carbon parts, hydraulic disc brakes or quality rim brakes, lightweight wheels and tubeless tires, plus Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Rival gear shifting. 
  • $3,500 and up – Lots of carbon, frame, fork, cranks, handlebars and wheels at higher price points. Shimano Dura-Ace or SRAM Red, electronic drivetrains at near the top, hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless tires 

Best women's mountain bikes

Mountain bikes can be had for a bit less than road bikes, ranging from as little as $300. If you’re planning on riding off-road trails or singletrack, in addition to or rather than just cycle paths, we'd recommend spending in the region of $600 upwards for higher quality and longer lasting components. It’s worth noting, that while there are full-suspension bikes available for under $1,000, they’re worth avoiding as the lower-end parts and quality make for a poor riding machine. 

Best mountain bike: how to choose the right one for you

Women's specific mountain bikes have unique parts and even frame geometry, but if a unisex bike feels better, go for it
Women's specific mountain bikes have unique parts and even frame geometry, but if a unisex bike feels better, go for it

What to expect for your money: 

  • Under $500 — Alloy frame and rigid, steel or alloy fork, or budget suspension fork, 26in wheels, around 18 gears with a triple crankset, and V-brakes. 
  • $500 to $1,000 — Alloy frame hardtail with around 100 to 120mm travel on fork, 27.5in or 29in wheels, 21 to 24 gears with a double or triple crankset, and low-end hydraulic disc brakes.
  • $1,000 to $1,500 — Alloy frame hardtail, with better quality suspension forks by brands such as RockShox and Manitou, 27.5in or 29in wheels, two ring cranksets for 20 gears, better quality Shimano or SRAM drivetrain. 
  • $1,500 to $2,000 — Full-suspension trail bikes, with around 120mm travel, alloy bars and stem and hydraulic disc brakes. Alternatively, high-quality cross country hardtails (these are lighter and designed to go faster rather than take on the roughest ground), with carbon or alloy frame, quality forks from Fox and RockShox, and 10- or 11-speed gearing from Shimano and SRAM.
  • $2,000 to $2,500 — High-grade alloy full-suspension frame with quality suspension components including Fox or RockShox forks and rear suspension shocks, travel front and rear around 120mm or more, 10- or 11-speed drivetrains 
  • $2,500 and up — High quality alloy or carbon fiber frame with top of the range suspension from Fox or RockShox. Wide-ranging 11-speed gearing with a single-ring crankset, high-end tubeless ready wheels. 

Best women's hybrid and urban bikes

Hybrid bikes start around $250, and while there are less expensive versions to be found, more often than not they weigh a lot, and the parts are low quality. As with all bikes, more money equals lighter weight and better components.

The hybrid classification encompasses a wide variety of bikes, some include racks, panniers and fenders, some do not. So, if you know you need those items and the bike you like doesn’t include them, be sure to add in the cost of those accessories. 

You'll also find a plethora of upright townie bikes, cruiser bikes and bikes with retro-inspired styling. Pricing gets a bit more abstract on some of these models, with fancy, artist branded paint jobs and leather finishing kit raising the price on some, and premium aluminium wheels and higher-quality gearing upping the dollar amount on others. 

Women's hybrid bicycles range from retro cruisers to carbon-framed speedsters and everything in between
Women's hybrid bicycles range from retro cruisers to carbon-framed speedsters and everything in between

What to expect for your money: 

  • $250 to $400 — Expect steel or aluminium frames with steel forks, V-brakes and 21 gears with a triple crankset on the front. At this price point bikes are likely to be weighty but robust. 
  • $400 to $600 — There are a huge number of great quality hybrid bikes available in this price range, with everything from mountain-inspired bikes with front suspension, bright-coloured cruisers and vintage-styled townie bikes to hybrids already equipped with mudguards and pannier racks. Expect aluminium or steel frames and forks and gears ranging from 7 to 27. 
  • $600 to $800 — You'll start to see bikes with mechanical disc brakes or, at the higher end, hydraulic disc brakes plus higher-quality suspension and gearing, as well as lighter wheels. 
  • $800 to $1,000 — This is getting towards the high-end of hybrid bikes. Expect higher quality parts such as saddles, internal hub gears, lighter weight aluminium frames and/or 10-speed Shimano or SRAM gears. 
  • $1,000 and up — Top of the range machines, where you'll begin to see overlap between road bikes and mountain bikes at the same price. Expect high quality alloy frames or even carbon, along with alloy or carbon forks. Gearing can be internally within the rear hub, or 10- or 11-speed Shimano or SRAM. Some are belt driven instead of a chain for less maintenance.
  • Popular women's hybrid bikes include the Specialized Vita, the Fuji Silhouette and the Cannondale Quick. 

How about sizing? 

To figure out the proper size, it’s best to get out on some test rides or even better, demo a bike for the weekend. That said, road, mountain and hybrid bicycles are generally sized two ways: Small, Medium, Large and so on, which typically applies to mountain bikes and some hybrid bikes; or a number, usually in inches or centimeters, often found on road bikes.

It should be noted that bike sizes are not consistent from brand to brand. A Small size bike frame might be another company’s Medium, so it pays to ride a few different models.  

Most bike manufacturers and bike shops will offer a chart featuring the common range of heights for each bike size. For more information and details BikeRadar has also created a simple guide to women's bike sizes that may help.

Do I really need a women's bike? 

Do you have to have a bike designed specifically for women? Nope, but they do exist if you prefer them.

In all honesty, there’s no right or wrong answer other than you should go with what works best for you. Some women get along perfectly with a unisex bike while others much prefer the women’s specific model. The best way to know is to try out as many bikes as you can, and also keep in mind that each brand of bike will fit and ride differently.  

No matter what type of bike you pick, the best way to ensure comfort and riding performance is to get a professional bike fit. A bike fitter will take measurements including your leg length, your flexibility, how far you reach forward when seated on the bike, and will also take notes as you ride on an indoor trainer.

From there, they’ll adjust the saddle position, stem length, handlebar height, and more to give you the best fit possible. To get the right fit, new parts may be required. 

Can my current bike fit better? 

If you like your current bike (that’s awesome!) or are not in the market for a new or different one there are a few ways to make the bike you have fit better, make it easier/faster/more fun to ride, or just experiment to see what works best for you. The six most common tweaks for a better bike fit are:

  1. Changing to a women's-specific saddle
  2. Raising or lowering the seatpost, or swapping in a different one for a new seating position
  3. Trying out a shorter stem for the handlebars to shorten the reach to the bars
  4. Upgrading to a different handlebar, wider or narrower, more upright, more swept back
  5. Changing to shorter cranks for easier spinning and less foot to front wheel contact
  6. Adjusting the reach of your brakes

Whether it's your current bike or a brand new model, there are ways to make your bike more comfortable and fit and perform better
Whether it's your current bike or a brand new model, there are ways to make your bike more comfortable and fit and perform better

Many of these adjustments are relatively easy and simple to do yourself, and if you purchase any new parts from a bike shop they’ll likely set you up free of charge. 

As mentioned above, if riding’s your thing and you’re going to be on the bike a lot, especially a road bike, a professional bike fit is a fantastic idea and well worth the time and money. 

For more specifics, check out how to get your road bike position right, or if the dirt and woods are your preference, see the perfect mountain bike fit

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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