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

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

If you’re just getting started with cycling, are searching for a bike but aren’t sure what to look for, what type of bike would be best for you, or how much you should spend then this guide is aimed at you.

We break it all down, helping you decide what bike is best for your needs and budget, plus guide you towards lots of other useful advice and info to help you get out and riding.

This buyer's guide to women's bikes will steer you through the basics, including the different types of bikes available, what the differences are between women’s specific bikes and unisex bikes and some simple tweaks for your current bike to ensure it's comfortable.

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 — just follow the links.

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.

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

What's the difference between women's and unisex/men's bikes?

Nearly every bike company makes bikes specifically targeted at women.

Some will have a distinct frame design, which the companies say suit female riders better, while others will have a unisex frame. All will have contact points that are designed for women, the points where the rider touches the bike, such as a women’s specific saddle.

Because each brand has its own approach to women’s bike design, there isn’t a universal consensus on what makes a bike women’s specific. However, there are a few features most will have in common:

  • 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/unisex bike, other times it’s a dedicated women’s frame with a unique geometry
  • Lowered top tube — this mostly applies to hybrid or commuter bikes. They’ll have a lower or sloping top tube which allows a lower standover height, making it easier to get on and off
  • A shorter reach — this refers to the distance from the saddle to the handlebars. Bikes with a frame designed for female riders will sometimes have this when compared to equivalent men’s or unisex models. This can sometimes mean that, combined with other frame design elements like a higher front end, the result is a more upright position for the rider
  • 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 pedalled faster
  • 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
  • Smaller range choice — women’s bike ranges typically have three or four models, whereas a unisex range can have many more. This can mean less choice for women if they are looking for a women’s specific bike, but many women find unisex bikes suits them fine
  • Lighter shock tune — mountain bikes which feature suspension will have this set up to accommodate the lighter on average weight of female riders
  • Women’s saddle — all women's bikes will come with a saddle that's been designed to be comfortable for female bike riders, although saddles are a very personal thing so you may still find you want to try something different

What are these design differences based on?

Bike companies have undertaken research into physiological differences between male and female bike riders, and some have come to the conclusion that there are significant enough differences between the average rider of each gender to warrant a specific frame design.

Others have concluded that a unisex bike fitted to the rider is a better solution.

Do I need a women's bike?

Some women find they get a better fit on them, others find that they notice no fit difference between women’s and unisex bikes, and others prefer unisex bikes completely.

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 because 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 on 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 a handlebar with a shallower drop.

What type of bike do I need?

The best bike for you 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 designed for speed and distance capabilities on the road, and have lightweight frames, thin tires 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 options are ideal if you want to cover greater distances, explore the countryside or are planning on doing a bike race or other on-road event.

Road bikes are ideal for speeding along, trying a sportive or race, or just riding with friends
Road bikes are ideal for speeding along, trying a sportive or race, or just riding with friends

Mountain bikes

Mountain bikes are extremely versatile. They’re typically built for off-road use but can be ridden on any road, though they’ll be slower going than a road bike.

They have flat handlebars and wider tires, and usually have suspension on either the front only (hardtail) or on the front and rear (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, usually sit somewhere between road and mountain bikes in their design. They typically have flat handlebars and an upright riding position, which 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 rougher roads, and some front suspension.

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

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, you might want to consider a folding bike. As the name suggests, these fold up to a small size that makes taking them on a train or storing them under your desk much easier.

Cyclocross, gravel and adventure bikes

These bikes are based around road bike design, with lightweight frames and handlebars with drops, but are designed to be ridden off-road as well as on.

They’ll usually have a more rugged frame design, fatter tires with a tread for plenty of grip on grass, mud and gravel tracks, and attachment points for adding fenders and luggage.

Cyclocross is a type of bike racing, so these bikes will have a more aggressive geometry that puts the rider in a racier position on the bike, while gravel and adventure bikes are designed for comfort over long distances on rough surfaces.

Some of these bikes even come with types of suspension similar to mountain bikes to increase comfort and grip.

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.

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 percent discount — meaning you get a lot more bike for your money.

What to expect for your money: 

  • Under $700 — Alloy frame and fork which may feature carbon blades, an 8-speed double crankset, with alloy bars and stem. Brakes are either rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes
  • $700 to  $900 — Alloy frame with carbon or alloy forks, and up to 10-speed gears with a double or sometimes triple crankset. Rim or mechanical disc brakes
  • $900 to $1,200 — Alloy frame with carbon or alloy forks, Shimano Tiagra or 105 groupset with good quality rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes, occasionally hydraulic disc brakes
  • $1,200 to $2,500 — Alloy frame with carbon or alloy forks or carbon frames, Shimano 105 groupset. Hydraulic disc brake options and lighter components are likely to feature around this price point
  • $2,500 to $4,000 — Carbon frame and carbon forks, lightweight and high-end Shimano Ultegra or similar 11-speed gearing with some electronic groupset options, carbon bars and seatpost,
  • $4,000 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 top-end mechanical or electronic shifting.
Popular women's road bikes include the Trek Domane, the Liv Avail and the Canyon Endurace WMN

Best women's mountain bikes

As with road bikes, you can get a mountain bike from as little as $300, but if you're planning on riding trail centres or off-road, rather than cycle paths, 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.

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. 

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

What to expect for your money: 

  • Under $500 — Alloy frame and steel-forked rigid bike (no suspension) or hardtail. Around 18 gears with V-brakes or mechanical disc brakes
  • $600 to $900 — Alloy frame hardtail with around 100mm travel on forks, 21 to 24 gears with a double crankset, and either hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes
  • $1,000 to $1,500 — Alloy frame hardtails and some full-suspension options, with better quality suspension forks by brands such as RockShox and Suntour
  • $2,000 to $3,500 — Full-suspension alloy or carbon trail bikes, alloy bars and stem and hydraulic disc brakes and 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 and 11-speed or 12-speed gearing
  • $3,500 to $5,000 — High-grade alloy or carbon frame with quality suspension components including Fox 34 or 36, or RockShox Pike forks and quality rear suspension shock. 12-speed chainset, wheels designed to take tubeless tires (which are less puncture prone and can be run at lower pressures for more grip) and more suspension travel options
  • $5,000 upwards — High quality carbon fibre frame with top of the range suspension from Fox or RockShox. Wide-ranging 12-speed gearing with a single-ring crankset, high-end tubeless-ready carbon or alloy wheels
Popular women's mountain bikes include the Juliana Joplin, the Canyon Spectral WMN and the Scott Contessa Spark

Best women's hybrid and urban bikes

The starting price for a hybrid bike is around $250, and although you can find 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 pannier racks and/or fenders 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.

Prices don't rise uniformly across these different kinds of bikes though; for different styles the value comes through in different ways such as quality internal hub gears and leather finishing kit for some, and premium aluminium and higher-quality gearing for 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 fenders 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 branded 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 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, or you might find an electric or e-bike like the Specialized Turbo Vado suits your riding needs. 

What size women's bicycle do I need? 

Most bikes are sized in one of two ways: small, medium and large, etc, which usually applies to mountain bikes and some hybrid bikes, or a numerical quantity in centimetres or inches (eg 54cm, 17 inches, etc).

Like clothes, sizing isn’t consistent across brands so don’t expect one brand’s size medium to feel exactly the same as another brand's size medium.

All bike brands will have an online size guide that will recommend a size based on your height, or elements such as your inner leg length. This is where you should start.

We suggest you try and demo the bike to see how it actually feels when you ride it. This is particularly important if you sit between sizes because it will help you work out which size to go for.

For more information we have also created a simple guide to women's bike sizes that may help.

How can I get my bike to fit 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
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

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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