Best women's road bike: a guide to help you get the right bike for you

Endurance, race or leisure riding – we help you work out what bike is right for you and your budget

If speeding along smooth tarmac, sprinting along flats, flying down descents and conquering climbs is your thing, then there's nothing like the thrill of road cycling. If you're in the market for a women's road bike, we're here to help you find the best bike for you.

This article was last updated on 19 May 2017

Road cycling is the discipline of choice for those who like speed, distance or both. It's also amazing exercise, burning calories, improving your cardiovascular health, and getting those legs toned up and strong, which makes it good cross-training for cyclists from other disciplines such as mountain biking and BMX. Touring is also increasingly popular, and many road bikes can be set up to carry luggage so you can explore the countryside.

This guide will take you through what to look for when purchasing a women's road bike, what you'll get for your money, and suggest some great bikes we've tried and tested.

We put some of the best women's bike on the market to the test
We put some of the best women's bike on the market to the test

What type of road bike do I need?

Road bikes are, as the name suggests, designed primarily for use on the road or paved surfaces. They feature drop handlebars, narrow tyres, and give an efficient and fast riding experience. They’re ideal for covering large distances or just pure sprinting speed.

However, if you’re looking for a bike for commuting on, even if your route is mostly on paved surfaces or the road, you might find a hybrid bike with flat handlebars works better for you. Check out our guide to the best bike for cycle commuting for more info.

Road bikes can be grouped into five main types, though in reality most bikes fit into the first two categories, and the distinctions between the bikes within the other categories are on a sliding scale rather than being discrete.

Race bikes: These bikes are designed to give the best transference of power to forward momentum, and place the rider in a more downward, aggressive, aerodynamic position on the bike. They feel light, fast, nimble and often have features such as aerodynamic frame geometry. On the flip side, they can feel uncomfortable for longer rides. Example: Specialized Amira

Sportive/endurance bikes: These bikes are designed for long rides and big distances. They'll tend to have a more upright position, and the focus is on comfort and efficiency on the road rather than out-and-out speed, though they will often also be light and fast. Example: Specialized Ruby

Gravel, adventure and cyclocross bikes: These could best be described as road bikes that are designed to go off-road. They’ll usually feature tough frames, wider tyres than most purely road-focussed bikes, disc brakes for more powerful stopping power, and plenty of clearance around the tyres in case of mud, or if you want to fit mud guards.

Time trial and triathlon bikes: Both these disciplines are all about out-and-out speed. The bikes themselves usually have a very aerodynamic shape, with elements like aerobars fitted to allow the rider to stay in a streamlined position on the bike.

Touring/adventure: This category can cross over with gravel and adventure bikes, and vice versa. These will usually have a sturdy frame, a comfortable upright riding position, gearing that makes climbing with heavy loads easier, and lugs to allow pannier racks and mudguards to be fitted. Touring bikes are almost a category on their own, crossing over into flat handlebar bikes and even towards the mountain bike end of the spectrum.

We tested a wide selection of the best women's road bikes available on the market
We tested a wide selection of the best women's road bikes available on the market

What's the difference between women's specific and unisex bikes? 

Helpfully, while most brands will have women’s specific bikes in their product lines, there is no unified definition of what ‘women’s specific’ actually means.

For some brands it will mean a unisex frame with women’s specific finishing kit, which may include narrower handlebars, a women’s specific saddle, and sometimes different crank lengths or wheel sizes. Brands that take this approach include Ridley.

Other brands will design bike models specifically for women, based on body geometry information taken from different sources. These bikes will have a distinct frame geometry from unisex equivalents within the brands' ranges, and usually a shorter reach and lower standover, in addition to the features mentioned above. Brands that take this approach include Liv, Specialized and, more recently, Canyon.

Have a look at our article on the main approaches to women’s specific design to get more detail on why and how brands opt for these different philosophies.

Some women find that women’s specific bikes really suit them, other find that unisex bikes work fine. Shorter women in particular may find that the features on women’s specific bikes – such as smaller sizes, shorter reach to brake levers, shorter cranks and in some cases even smaller wheels – result in a better fit and riding experiences.

The best advice is to take any bike you’re considering out for a test ride to see what feels best for you.

Many women's specific bikes come with narrower handlebars with a shallower drop, to suit narrower shoulders and the shorter reach that many women have
Many women's specific bikes come with narrower handlebars with a shallower drop, to suit narrower shoulders and the shorter reach that many women have

What size bike do I need?

Getting the right size bike is of paramount importance. There are some adjustments you can make to fine-tune the fit, such as narrower handle bars or a shorter stem, but you need to have the right frame size to start with.

Most road bikes will come in a range of sizes listed as a measurement; for example, 54cm, 56cm and so on. Other brands will size their bikes small, medium, large, etc. While there'll be some size alignment between brands, it's worth noting that, as with clothing sizes, these aren't standardised across brands and will vary with bike geometry and purpose, so we'd always recommend checking the manufacturer's sizing guidelines.

The size of bike you need to go for is predominantly determined by your height, though there are other measurements to take into account. Our guide to road bike sizing paints a more detailed picture of bike geometry and fit that will help you work out which measurements suit you best.

You can also pop into your local bike shop, which will be happy to advise you, and many brands will also produce smaller framed bikes in their women’s ranges to suit shorter riders.

We’d always recommend taking any bikes you are interested in for a test ride, and also going for a professional bike fit once you’ve made your purchase. A good bike fit will take into account your riding style, the riding you’ll do, any injuries you might have, and ensure that the bike is perfectly set up for you.

Women's road bike features and specs

As mentioned above, some women’s specific bikes will have a unique frame geometry, and others will be based around a unisex frame with different finishing kit designed to suit women.

Handlebars: Handlebar size is related to shoulder width, and since women tend to have narrower shoulders than men, women’s specific bikes will usually have correspondingly narrower handlebars. They may also have brake and gear levers set up with a shorter reach, which give better comfort and control for smaller hands.

Saddle: Most bikes will feature a women’s specific saddle. Often designed with a cutout, these are designed to more comfortably support female anatomy. Read our buyers guide to women’s saddles and women’s road bike saddles for the lowdown.

Cranks: Crank length is related to leg length, and women’s bikes will tend to have shorter crank lengths corresponding to the smaller sizes of bikes. So for example the size 3XS and 2XS Canyon Endurace WMN bikes have 165mm cranks, while the XS has 170mm cranks.

Disc brakes versus rim brakes: As part of our testing for Women’s road bike of the year, we had feedback from our test team that hydraulic disc brakes gave them a lot more confidence on descents. This is because they are more powerful but with an easier lever action, which means they give controlled braking on long descents without needing a lot of pressure to control, which is also more comfortable.

Standover + sizes: Women’s specific bike ranges will usually offer smaller size options to suit the on-average smaller height range of women. If the frame geometry is women’s specific, the bikes may also have a lower standover height.

Wheelsize: A few brands will offer a smaller wheelsize on the smallest frame sizes in its range. This means that handling and performance of the bike will feel uniform throughout the range. The new Canyon Endurance and Ultimate WMN bikes are good examples of this.

How much should I spend? 

The budget you have is going to be the biggest influencing factor when it comes to deciding which bike to go for.

Road bikes vary massively in price, from several hundred dollars for an entry-level bike through to five-figure sums for a carbon-framed pro-level race machine.

Whatever bike you go for, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Road bikes are supplied with either no pedals or basic flat pedals, so keep some money back for a decent set.
  • Key maintenance items will keep your bike running sweetly, so apart from the usual spare inner tubes and tyre levers, a good quality track pump, some bike cleaner and chain lubricant should be on your list.
  • If you haven’t already got them, don’t forget the usual kit and accessories, such as shoes, helmets, lights and locks.

If you shop carefully you can get a lot for your money, once you’ve decided what type of bike you’re going for. Below is a rough guide to the typical features you should get for your cash:

  • Under AU$900 – Alloy frame and fork, a seven-speed double crankset (giving you 14 gears), with alloy bars and stem.
  • AU$900 to AU$1,500 – Alloy frame with carbon or alloy forks, and eight- or nine-speed gears (often Shimano Sora or Claris) with a double or triple crankset.
  • AU$1,500 to AU$2,000 – Alloy frame with carbon or alloy forks, 10-speed Shimano Tiagra (or similar) with a double crankset, and in some cases with mechanical disc brakes.
  • AU$2,000 to AU$3,000 – Alloy 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 likely to feature around this price point.
  • AU$3,000 to AU$5,000 – Carbon frame and carbon forks, lightweight and high-end Shimano Ultegra or similar 11-speed gearing, carbon bars.
  • AU$5,000 and upwards – This is getting towards the level of kit used by professional racers. Expect carbon frames and forks, carbon parts, hydraulic disc brakes or quality rim brakes, lightweight wheels, plus Shimano Di2 electronic gear shifting.

How to get a bargain bike

Looking to score a saving? You can save serious money if you don’t mind having the previous year's model, though of course there may be limited size available.

You could also look to buy a second-hand bike online, with lots of choice on websites such as eBay. There are of course also pitfalls you need to be aware of, so arm yourself by reading our guide to buying a second-hand bike.

You can also save money by buying from a direct sell brand such as Canyon, which often have excellent value for money specs. However, the downside is you don’t get a brick-and-mortar store with staff to talk to in person, or the option to test ride. That said, Canyon does hold demo events where you can try a bike if you’re thinking of getting one.  

Many road bikes now come with disc brakes
Many road bikes now come with disc brakes

Check out the best women's road bikes

BikeRadar tested the best women’s road bikes on the market, many of them head-to-head as part of our Bike of the Year Awards, in conjunction with Cycling Plus magazine.

Check out our round-ups of the best bikes for each price category and our overall winners.

Bigger budget?

If you’ve got more cash to spend or you’re looking for a premium bike for racing or endurance, then check out these top rated women’s road bikes.

Check out the rest of BikeRadar Women for more women's cycling reviews, news, advice, tips and more.

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