Recently my 77 year old Great Aunt came for a visit. I was lucky enough to spend a serious amount of alone time wandering around Newport. If you ever have the opportunity to pick the brain of an older relative, I highly recommend taking it. The insights she has gained in her life are irreplaceable.
As tends to happen since I started this whole bike-thing, our conversation wandered over to all things bikes. Now, just to set the picture a little better, at 77 my Aunt is more mobile and active than some of the parents of my kids' friends. We spent 4 hours walking all over Newport, RI; hitting such iconic attractions as the Cliff Walk and the shops and wharfs downtown. She did all this without any visible effort or discomfort. What surprised me to learn was that she grew up riding her bike everywhere in her hometown of Minneapolis, MN. She had only gotten her driver's license when she was in her 50's! Prior to that she used a bike bought at J.C. Penny for her primary mode of transportation. She told me that she credited her health and fitness from all her bike rides over the years and she was sad because she had only recently lost the bike she had owned for decades.
It appears that even a woman who has been riding for over 60 years has the occasional accident. While out riding 1 day she hit a gap in the road and bent the rim of her front wheel. Not knowing much about bicycle mechanics she bought into the sales pitch from her local store that she needed a new bike. The store she went to wasn't a bike shop and sold her this new thing, called a "Woman's Bike". The bike she had loved so much throughout the majority of her life was a men's Bike bought because she is tall and it felt right.
It's called WSD or "women's specific design" and was originally marketed with the tag line that it fit women specifically because it was designed to fit women and not men. In general, the average woman tends to average shorter heights, shorter torsos and shorter arms than the average man. This has impacts on the lengths of the different tubes on a bike. People with shorter torsos need short top tubes, shorter people need shorter seat tubes etc. Notice I said people here, not women. As you can imagine there are a lot of opinions out there about whether or not WSD is just a marketing spin done by the bike companies to sell more bikes to a market segment that historically has been under-served. Now, no one will probably ever know if that is true so let's just set it aside for a moment and get back to the real question I've had from women before. "Do women need to worry about buying a WSD?"
This is where opinion counts for more than anything and thanks to my Aunt I have more evidence to back up my own opinion. When my Aunt was sold that WSD she hated it from the very first time she rode it. It always felt awkward, like it was too small and the handle bars never felt at the correct placement for her. As a result she ended up giving her new bike away and hasn't ridden since. Her experience just goes hand in hand with what I was taught years ago, that when you buy a bike you need to fit the bike to you, not fit yourself to the bike. So my Aunt buying a WSD when she is a tall woman may not have been the greatest idea. Not to say there isn't a WSD that would fit her but knowing her fit requirements she more closely resembles a stock men's bike than a stock WSD. So the lesson to learn here is, no matter what someone is trying to sell you always always always get a good bike fitting and test ride the bike so that it fits properly, feels right and you enjoy riding it. Just grabbing a bike off the rack and trying to fit it to your body without the proper measuring and you can end up feeling ripped off and unhappy with your new bike.
A healthy dose of common sense when buying a bike can really help. Don't let the process of walking into a bike shop overwhelm you. When a bike fits, it just feels right. You climb into the saddle and your body just settles naturally into the correct position.
Good luck and happy riding!