In Custom Tunes, Mountain Biking, Women

At Dirtlabs, we approach mountain biking from a suspension perspective, and from that view point, there’s not really a suspension set up specific to women riders. Women shred, we know that. We consider each rider’s weight, height and riding style, which is as individual as the person in the cockpit. Women do tend to be smaller and lighter, so we sometimes use a lighter fork oil, a different shim stack or custom spring rate to get the most out of the travel with the right sag. But a well-tuned suspension is really whatever what feels right and gives the individual rider the most confidence.

Other aspects of mountain biking benefit more from being very women’s specific. Here are four areas paying closer attention to what women want: Bikes, Saddles, Apparel/Helmets and Clubs

BIKES: Most brands know one-size does not fit all, especially between men and women. Many now offer XS and XXL sizing, sometimes with wheel-size options on individual models. Juliana, LIV, and Scott Contessa are women’s specific brands making top-of-the-line bikes calling on advanced technology from their parent brands — Santa Cruz, Giant, and Scott, respectively.  Other major manufacturers also make models for women with some real-world differences.

A woman’s torso-to-leg-length ratio is typically shorter than a man’s, which means a women’s specific bike frame geometry accommodates a smaller human frame. Some brands’ forks and shocks come with a lighter tuned suspension to react appropriately to less weight. Shorter-reach brake levers, wider saddles (more on this next), shorter crank arms and narrower bars are all fit considerations for women — whether you’re buying a women’s-specific bike or are modding a men’s/unisex frame.

SADDLES: Do you know what an ischial tuberosity is? Yeah, we didn’t either. But it’s the actual name of what we call sit or sitz bones. It’s also where your weight is distributed when you sit. If you hadn’t noticed, there is an actual physiological difference between men’s and women’s backsides, and women’s sit bones are generally positioned wider apart. Most saddles are torturously narrow, so women owe it to themselves to get a properly fitted saddle in the right width. We recommend you start by going in to your bike shop and getting sized, but here’s a solid DIY article if you prefer. Once you know your size, there are some great women’s saddles to choose from. As a place to start, check out options from Specialized, Fi’zi:k,  Ergon and WTB.

APPAREL/HELMETS: In the 80s and early 90s, cycling apparel manufacturers went headlong into apparel for women. Initially that meant an men’s XS in pink. But over time, a serious selection of quality made-for-women apparel emerged. The first exclusively female focused brand was arguably Terry, which started in 1985 and is still making excellent women’s chamoises. Shebeest, Wild-Rye, Revel Rider and Shredly are others designing for women’s bodies and tastes. Even major brands are now offering some legitimate women’s gear that’s legit cute. Or fun. Or elegant. It’s all out there now.

It hardly needs to be said that your head is worth the absolute best protection you can buy. Women’s helmets of course offer the same protection-level as their male counterparts but can have thoughtful details like a ponytail “window” in the back and styling that differentiates you from the pack of dudes you likely ride with from time to time. Depending on your discipline (XC, DH, enduro) you’ll have different models and varying levels of venting and coverage. Some manufacturers size their helmets smaller for women (even though we all know who has the bigger brains, but at the end of the day, the best helmet for anyone is the one that fits and gets worn.

CLUBS/ORGANIZATIONS: Despite the unbelievable accomplishments of top racers like Rachel Atherton, or the rise of the next wave of inspirational riders such as Nina Hoffman, Camille Balanche and Valentina Holl, we’re still at the beginning of the rise of women in downhill. If you’re keen to armor up and try it out, head for your nearest bike park or lift-serve ski hill, or ask your local shop for beta. (Remember: pre-ride, re-ride, free ride). If XC is more your style, there’s a good chance your local shop has a women’s weekly ride. Even the reluctant often find that an all-girls ride has a great vibe that’s low stress with a high crack-up factor. Femme Cyclist has a great comprehensive list of groups and clubs for women that’s broken down by state. Revel Rider also has some resources to check out. If you’re a more experienced woman rider, consider mentoring for an organization like The Cycle Effect or other clubs and rides that help get more women into mountain biking.

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