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

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

In the market to buy a new women's bike but not sure where to start? Want to know what the difference is between women's and unisex or men's bikes? Looking for some guidance on what the best women's bike is for you? You've come to the right place. 

The BikeRadar buyer's guide to women's bikes will run you through everything you need to know, including how to work out what size bike you need and some simple tweaks you can make to ensure it's comfortable. And once you've chosen the best bike for you, we can also help with choosing the right saddle, cycle clothing and accessories. 

Looking for more in-depth information? We've also got lots more detailed advice on many of the types of bikes mentioned below, including mountain bikes, road bikes, commuter or hybrid bikes and folding bikes.

Our buyer's guide will run you through everything you need to know, from how much you should spend to what kind of mountain bike will be best for you. If you're in the market for a ladies bike, here's where you start looking. 

Looking for a women's bike? There are more options than ever, with plenty to choose from no matter what kind of cycling you are planning on doing
Looking for a women's bike? There are more options than ever, with plenty to choose from no matter what kind of cycling you are planning on doing

What's the difference between women's and men's (or unisex) bikes? 

In general, bikes for women tend to have two main differences from unisex bikes (also often referred to as men's bikes) which are designed to make them more comfortable. 

  • A shorter reach — a shorter distance from the saddle to the handlebars, usually achieved by having a shorter top tube, steeper seat tube angle and/or a shorter stem on the handlebars. This can give the rider a more 'upright' feel on the bike
  • Smaller sizes — women's bikes will usually go down to small and extra small sizes, to cater to smaller riders. These can also have the shorter reach as described above, or simply be smaller versions of the men's or unisex frame produced by the company in question
  • Lowered top tube — a lower or sloping top tube allows a lower standover height, and mostly applies to women's hybrid and mountain bikes

They may also have some of the following additional differences, though this will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer:

  • Shorter crank arms — for riders with shorter legs, shorter crank arms (the part linking the pedals to the spindle around which they move) can reduce the stretch the leg needs around the pedal stroke, which can reduce strain and make pedalling more comfortable. Shorter cranks will also affect what gearing the bike needs
  • Different gearing or gear ratios — some women's bikes may run double or triple cranksets (so two or three chainrings next to the pedals) where unisex equivalents have a single ring, or may have a gear ratio that provides lower gears than the unisex equivalent, both of which help less powerful riders claw their way up steep hills. This is also influenced by the length of the cranks, as mentioned above
  • Narrower handlebars, shallower drops on road handlebars — narrower handlebars are designed to suit the narrower shoulders women have on average, and the shallower drop on road handlebars means a shorter reach
  • Fewer bikes within each range — where there might be four or five unisex bikes at different price points within each range, women's bikes typically have two or three. This can mean less choice for women if they are looking for bikes with a particular spec of parts or at a certain price point

What are these design differences based on?

The majority of women's bikes were conceived around information suggesting that women have, on average: longer legs, and a shorter torso and arms than men; prefer a more upright riding position; and are shorter, requiring a lower top tube on the frame.

Bike companies have more data from female riders now and are refining their designs accordingly. You'll find that many brands do make bicycles with geometry designed to suit women, though others simply feel that getting a good fit is more important. 

Do I need a women's bike? 

While many women find that women's-specific bikes suit them, many others also get on fine with unisex bikes. We'd always recommend you take any bike you are considering buying for a test ride to get a feel for it.

It's also worth testing a few bikes at the same time if you can, to compare how different brands or different sizes fit you as there are always slight differences in the way brands size up their bikes. 

One way to ensure that your bike fits you well, whatever type of bike you go for, is to have a bike fit. This is where an experienced bike fitter will take various measurements including your leg length, your flexibility, how far you reach forward when seated on the bike, and will also observe you as you ride the bike in a static trainer.

From this, they can adjust elements of the bike such as the saddle height, reach to the handlebars, etc to give you the best fit possible. This may require swapping out certain parts for others, for example changing road bike handlebars with a deep drop to ones with a shallower drop. 

What's the best women's bike for me? 

There are three main types of bikes, and which one you choose depends on where you're planning on riding. 

Road bikes

Road bikes are designed for speed and distance capabilities on the road, and have lightweight frames, thin tyres and handlebars with a drop that enables you to take a more aerodynamic position on the bike.

Some road bikes are designed with a focus on endurance and comfort, others for speed. These are perfect if you want to cover greater distances, explore the countryside or are planning on doing a bike race or other on-road event. 

Mountain bikes

Mountain bikes are designed for off-road use, and have flat handlebars and wide, knobbly tyres. Mountain bikes usually have suspension which helps smooth out rough terrain, either just at the front in the forks (these are called hardtails) or with both front and rear suspension (full-suspension bikes).

Mountain bikes are ideal for exploring trail centres, natural trails and bike parks, giving an exhilarating ride that develops fitness and skill. 

Hybrid bikes

Hybrid bikes, sometimes also known as urban bikes, commuter bikes or city bikes, usually sit somewhere between road and mountain bikes in their design. They typically have flat handlebars and an upright riding position that makes it easy to keep an eye on your surroundings when riding in traffic.

They may have either a road-style frame that's lightweight with a focus on speed and agility, or a mountain bike-style frame that's designed to handle rough roads, canal paths or fire roads, and may have some front suspension.

Hybrid bikes also have lugs that allow you to attach mudguards (fenders), pannier racks and child seats.

If you mostly need a bike for commuting, then hybrids are the popular choice, though people do often commute on road bikes, so-called 'gravel bikes' (a recent development, road bikes designed to be ridden on rough terrain) or mountain bikes.

If your commute involves a train journey or you don't have secure storage space for a bike at work or at home, then a folding bike might be worth considering.

Best women's road bikes

Whether you want to spend under £3,400 or over £2,000, there's a women's road bike to suit your riding
Whether you want to spend under £3,400 or over £2,000, there's a women's road bike to suit your riding

You can buy a road bike from as little as £200, though to get a decent quality bike we'd recommend starting from about £450 if you're planning on using it for longer distances or events. You can also get excellent bargains if you don't mind buying last year's model – often in the region of a 30 to 40% discount – meaning you get a lot more bike for your money. 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. 

Some of the most popular women's road bikes include the Specialized Dolce, the Trek Lexa, the Scott Contessa Speedster and the Liv Avail. 

What to expect for your money: 

  • Under £500 – Alloy frame and fork, a seven-speed double crankset (giving you 14 gears), with alloy bars and stem. 
  • £500 to £700 – Alloy frame with carbon fibre or alloy forks, and eight- or nine-speed gears (often Shimano Sora or Claris) with a double or triple crankset. 
  • £700 to £1000 – Alloy frame with carbon fibre or alloy forks, 10-speed Shimano Tiagra (or similar) with a double crankset, and in some cases with mechanical disc brakes. 
  • £1000 to £1500 – 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. 
  • £1500 to £2000 – Carbon frame and carbon forks, lightweight and high-end Shimano Ultegra or similar 11-speed gearing, carbon bars.
  • £2000 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. 

Best women's mountain bikes

Whether you want to tackle trail centres or venture out for an all-mountain adventure, there's a women's mountain bike designed for you...but of course, don't discount unisex bikes:
Whether you want to tackle trail centres or venture out for an all-mountain adventure, there's a women's mountain bike designed for you...but of course, don't discount unisex bikes:

As with road bikes, you can get a mountain bike from as little as £200, though if you are planning on riding trail centres or off-road, rather than towpaths or bridleways, we'd recommend spending in the region of £500 upwards and ensuring you get a bike with disc brakes which gives you more stopping power. While there are full-suspension bikes available for under £500, we suggest that you're better off going for a hardtail at this price point as they are simpler and therefore more likely to include quality parts. 

What to expect for your money: 

  • Under £300 – Alloy frame and steel-forked rigid bike (no suspension) or hardtail. Around 18 gears with a triple crankset, and V-brakes. 
  • £350 to £500 – Alloy frame hardtail with around 100mm travel on forks, 21 to 24 gears with a double or triple crankset, and either hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes.
  • £550 to £950 – Alloy frame hard tails, with better quality suspension forks by brands such as RockShox and Suntour. Often have triple cranksets giving a huge range of 27 to 30 gears, using SRAM X5 or equivalent. 
  • £1000 to £2000 – 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 such as RockShox Reba RL, and 10-speed gearing such as Shimano Deore.
  • £2000 to £2500 – High-grade alloy frame with quality suspension components including Fox 32 or 34, or RockShox Pike forks, and Fox Evolution rear suspension shock. 10- or 11-speed chainset, wheels designed to take tubeless tyres (which are less puncture prone and can be run at lower pressures for more grip), and more suspension travel options up to 150mm. 
  • £2500 upwards – High quality alloy or carbon fibre 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. 

Popular mountain bikes for women include the Liv Lust, the Trek Lush, the Scott Contessa Spark and the Juliana Roubion. 

Best women's hybrid and urban bikes

A selection of women's hybrid bicycles:
A selection of women's hybrid bicycles:

The starting price for a hybrid bike is around £150, and though you can find these cheaper, you may find yourself paying in other ways, due to the likely weight and quality of the parts. In general, as you go up in price the bike will get lighter, which is something to bear in mind if you're going to need to carry it anywhere such as upstairs at your home or work. 

While some hybrid bikes will have panniers racks and/or mudguards already fitted, you may want to factor in the additional cost of these if not. 

You'll also find an array of Dutch-style upright bikes, cruiser bikes, and bikes with vintage-inspired styling so if you want something that's beautiful as well as functional, you'll find plenty of options, with many under £500. Prices don't rise uniformly across these different kinds of bikes; for different styles the value comes through in different ways: quality internal hub gears and leather finishing kit for some, premium aluminium and higher-quality gearing for others. 

What to expect for your money: 

  • £150 to £300 - 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. 
  • £300 to £400 – 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 Dutch bikes to hybrids already equipped with mudguards and pannier racks. Expect aluminium or steel frames and forks and gears ranging from 7 to 27. 
  • £400 to £600 – You'll start to see bikes with mechanical disc brakes or, at the higher end, hydraulic disc brakes plus higher-quality suspension and gearing. 
  • £600 to £800 – This is getting towards the high end of hybrid bikes. Expect higher quality parts such as Brooks saddles, Sturmey Archer internal hub gears, premium aluminium frames and/or 10-speed Shimano Deore gears. 
  • £800 to £1000 – 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, alloy or carbon and alloy forks. Spend up to £1500 and you're looking at carbon-framed premium hybrids with Shimano Tiagra or equivalent gearing. 

Popular women's hybrid bikes include the Specialized Vita, the Fuji Silhouette and the Cannondale Quick. 

What size women's bicycle do I need? 

Road, mountain and hybrid bicycles sizes are usually in one of two formats. Small, medium, large and so on, which usually applies to mountain bikes and some hybrid bikes; or a number, usually in inches or centimetres, which often applies to road bikes.

However, each manufacturer may use a different system, and there is no overall uniform convention on bike sizing. It's similar to clothing sizes in this way: a 'medium' bike in from one brand might have slightly different sizing to a 'medium' bike from another.  

Helpfully, bike manufacturers and retailers will list a suggested range of heights for each bike size. These are guidelines only, and we'd still recommend taking the bike for a test ride, particularly if you sit at the cusp of two sizes – in which case you might find it better to take out both sizes so you can compare them. We've also created a simple guide to women's bike sizes that will help.

How can I get my bike to fit better? 

There are some simple things you can do to make your bike fit better, whether it's a women's specific bike or a unisex bike
There are some simple things you can do to make your bike fit better, whether it's a women's specific bike or a unisex bike

If you want to make the bike you have fit better, or adapt a unisex bike, there are some simple changes you can make. The six most common tweaks for a better bike fit are:

  1. Fitting a women's-specific saddle
  2. Changing the seatpost
  3. Swapping in a shorter stem for the handlebars
  4. Checking the width of your handlebars
  5. Changing to shorter cranks
  6. Adjusting the reach of your brakes

Many of these adaptations are easy to do yourself, or if you purchase a bike from a shop then the staff should be able to help. As we've mentioned before, if you're going to be riding a lot – and particularly if you're going to buy a road bike – we'd recommend getting a bike fit. 

If you'd like more detailed information, we've got the lowdown on how to get your road bike position right, and how to achieve 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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