As part of our mega guide to the best bikes on the market, we help answer the question of whether female riders need to buy a women's specific machine.
TOP TIPS FOR BUYING A WOMEN'S BIKE
- Don’t feel you have to have a women’s bike just because you’re female. Depending on your body measurements, you might fit better on a unisex bike. Try out a few before you make up your mind.
- Women’s specific frame geometry doesn’t mean a bike is going to fit you straight away. ‘Touch points’ are really important for your comfort, especially the saddle and bars. If you’re going to invest in a women’s road bike, make sure these suit your needs (just because it’s a women’s bike doesn’t necessarily mean they will). Most bike shops are happy to help you choose a saddle, and will fit you to your bike. Apart from the usual seat height and reach, this might involve swapping out your stem, adjusting your brake levers, and even swapping bars.
- Relaxed vs racy… women’s bikes come in a bunch of different geometries with different purposes. If you want to go fast, make sure you’re purchasing a bike with more aggressive geometry like the Liv Langma, which will be lower and more aero than bikes intended for ‘endurance’, or more comfortable riding, like the Trek Domane. – Imogen Smith
Liv Langma Advanced Pro 1, $3,599
The Liv range has been without a racy, adaptable road bike for a few years now. The Envie’s aero qualities made it a great bike for criteriums, flat road racing, and short TTs, but it was a little too stiff and twitchy for the hills - which, let’s face it, are a pretty important part of any cyclist’s diet. Apart from the Envie, Liv customers had only the Avail to choose. This endurance roadie’s relaxed, more upright geometry, and disc brake spec at the top of the range, meant it was less suited to the road racing scene. Liv-sponsored women competing at the Rio Olympics rode resprayed Giant TCRs to cover the varied course.
The Langma fills the gap in the Liv road range admirably. This all-round road bike for women took two years to develop and was tested by the women’s pro Sunweb team, debuting at the Giro Rosa in mid-2017. While the Envie might have owned crits, the Langma is designed to climb, sprint, and do everything in between.
The Langma is named for the native Tibetan word for Everest, and it was certainly developed with climbing in mind. The top-of-the-range Langma, the Advanced SL 0, tips the scales at just 6.05kg for a size small, and the Langma frame set is the lightest ever produced by Giant across both women’s and unisex bikes. The Advanced SL 0 frame and fork in small weighs just 1.155kg.
But true to its all-rounder goals, the Langma also sports the latest in aerodynamic frame technology. For example, the downtube has a larger surface area with a flat back, rather than a tapered shape, because Giant have discovered that drag can be reduced by getting air to detach quicker from tubing, rather than just getting it to flow faster over the top of it.
While the Langma Advanced SL 0, with its power meter and SRAM Red E-Tap spec might be a lovely bike, the $10,999 price tag is sure to send a lot of ladies in search of a compromise. The Langma Advanced Pro 1 at $7k less, is likely to be a popular choice for a lot of gals thanks to its reasonable pricing and solid Shimano 105 11-speed group set.
Liv (as well as Giant) this year are using new decals, printed in one sheet, to finish bikes. They weigh a lot less than paint, and digital printing means they look fantastic. Off the showroom floor, the Langma Advanced Pro 1 is a great-looking package, and came with tubeless-ready wheels all set up and nothing to add but my pedals. While we didn’t get a chance to set the tubeless up ourselves as a result, dealers and other Bike editorial staff assure me it’s an easy process.
Out on the road, it’s immediately obvious that the Langma is intended for serious riding. While she’ll be fine for a casual coffee spin or a weekend jaunt to check out the countryside, the Langma is going to come into her own when the chips are down, the cowbells are ringing, and the chequered flag is waving. This bike’s racy geometry and good overall stiffness, particularly the front-end stiffness, lends it to aggressive, out-of-the saddle climbing, as well as sprints and accelerations.
The top-of-the-line Langma Advanced SL 0 comes with a SRAM power meter, so it’s not surprising that as we work our way down through the range, Liv have kept a bit of integrated technology. The Advanced Pro 1, for example, comes equipped with RideSense, a chainstay-integrated wireless data transmitter that sends wheel speed and cadence information directly to any ANT+ compatible computer.
The Langma is an elegant bike to ride. The front-to-rear end stiffness feels well-balanced, and her geometry is a good compromise between whippy and dependable. The bike weighs 7.5kg without pedals and she climbed beautifully.
I’d advise a little bit of caution, though for the recreational rider considering a Langma. It’s nice to have a light, racy bike, but the carbon wheel set and somewhat more aggressive setup doesn’t come for free - a bit of comfort has been exchanged for the competition pedigree. When I went out for a cruise, I felt the set-up was a bit too stiff for a ride that was all about enjoyment - remember Liv has a good range of the gentler endurance roadie, the Avail, for 2018 as well. – Imogen Smith
For Optimum Performance: Canyon Ultimate WMN CF SLX Disc 9.0 Team CSR
The Canyon Ultimate WMN, like the Langma, is bred to race. Compared with the unisex model, the Ultimate WMN has slightly reduced reach and taller stack, which Canyon says puts women in the same race-oriented position as male riders would be on the unisex frame. It’s also lighter, more aerodynamic (saving 2 watts at 45kph, says Canyon), and the two smallest sizes sport 650b wheels. Canyon says this allows the smaller bikes to have similar geometries - and thus handling - as larger sizes.
To ride, the Ultimate WMN pulses with energy. It’s light, smooth, and jumps at every acceleration. Once moving, it has a subtle, slippery aero feel. Handling is responsive but predictable, inspiring you to move with assurance through a churning pack. The position is long and low, but still comfortable for less hard-charging rides. When you’re winding up for a sprint, the bike is solid and provides a sense of direct power transfer. On rough descents, it sticks to the road well. Reynolds Assault LE carbon rims help to plump up the 25mm tyres (the frame fits up to 30mm of rubber). The Ultimate WMN weighs in at 7.0kg (small).
One of Canyon’s strengths is a direct-to-consumer model that enables competitive pricing. For $8,899 you get SRAM eTap, carbon wheels, and disc brakes. – Gloria Liu
RRP: $8,899. Delivery: $199
For Ultimate comfort: Trek Domane Women’s ALR 4 Disc
If it’s comfort you’re after, Trek’s Domane Women’s ALR features Trek’s innovative ‘IsoSpeed decoupler’, which allows the seat tube to flex with the forces of the road, while maintaining the same power transfer and handling of a traditional frame. The Domane’s aluminium frame is tuned to women, and the bike sports a Shimano Tiagra 10-speed group set.
For a reliable all-rounder: Merida Scultura Disc 400 Juliet
If you’ve got a budget but you’re after a well-specced women’s-specific bike with the added stopping reliability of disc brakes, the Merida Scultura Disc 400 Juliet fits the bill. With a Shimano 105 drive train and hydraulic discs, alloy frame, carbon fork, 12x142 through axle, and weighing in at a totally acceptable 8.95kg, this little bike has a lot to offer.
For off-road adventures: Specialized Women's Diverge Comp
When I tested the 2018 Specialized Women’s Diverge Comp, I spent hours searching for new dirt on GravelMap.com. I gamely ignored “no trespassing” signs, gleefully sought out an unmaintained trail called Prison Camp, and - perhaps unwisely - dismissed a “Watch for Ticks!” warning before barreling down an overgrown path to a lakeside cove. The Diverge is ostensibly a road bike, but why stick to the tar when it makes any surface eminently rideable?
Key to the bike’s versatility: fat 38mm tyres (with clearance for up to 42mm) and other bump-damping features like the Future Shock suspension spring in the steerer tube with 20mm of travel. The women’s Diverge has female-friendly touch-points (saddle, narrower handlebar, shorter crankarms) but its geometry is the same as the unisex model. The frame has a lower bottom bracket, slacker head angle, and shorter chainstays compared with the previous model, and handling felt stable and predictable - even when the terrain wasn’t.
When things got sketchy, the hydraulic disc brakes offered reliable control. The bike rode quicker than I expected: The 48/32 crankset and 11–32 cassette let me spin up steep pitches, and the front suspension kept the tyres glued to the road, so I could drill the descents. In the 52cm size, the Diverge Comp weighs in at 9.5kg.
Fender and rack mounts make the Diverge truly adventure-ready—and did I mention you can swap in 650b wheels with clearance for 47mm tyres, plus add a dropper post? However you set this bike up, you’ll likely get into some mischief. So pack extra snacks. And don’t forget the Aeroguard. – Leah Flickinger
For cutting-edge geometry: Canyon Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 9.0 LTD
All-new for 2018, the Canyon Endurace WMN presents cutting-edge technology and thinking around women’s geometry, combining comfort and performance in one slick, stealthy package. The Endurace combines comfort and aero features into the perfect all-rounder, and comes with SRAM Red eTap drivetrain and eTap hydraulic discs, Reynolds Assault carbon wheels, and weighs just 7.2kg (size small). To keep the bike’s excellent handling consistent across all sizes, the Endurace’s smallest two sizes come equipped with 650b wheels.
RRP: AUS$7,899. Delivery: $199