I've been in the anti-womens-specific bikes box for a while now, despite being one of the industry's 'most outspoken' feminists and an athlete who has repeatedly alienated a large portion of her 'target audience' by standing up for women's equality and equal payout. It's an intricate and complex issue, but at the heart of it, I don't believe that female anatomy demands a separate and wholly different construction of bikes.
I think it's hype. Even worse, it's bad business.
Why? Well, for one, a 'women's specific bike' doesn't actually make physical sense. The current model of 'women's specific bike' is built for smaller-framed women with lighter suspension, smaller grips, shorter frame dimensions, women-specific saddles and often, a belief that this bike will fit women. The only problem with that logic are the millions of women who disprove it. Tall, short, medium heights -- all with different and separate proportions. I'm a walking embodiment of this. At 5'8", I struggle to find shirts that are long enough, yet have the femurs of a person who is 6'2" and the tib/fib lengths of someone 5'4". I am a conglomeration of contrasting parts, which means my bikes must be as well. The kicker here? I'm not an anomaly. In fact, most human dimensions fail to fit the exact specifications of the majority of bikes, which is why 'bike fitting' is a crucial part of the industry. And yet, the entire 'women's specific' bike schtick is predicated that THESE bikes will fit women because all women (or most of the women on bikes) have roughly the same dimensions.
Are you kidding me?
This is a lie. It's also endorsing and perpetuating the problem that's known as 'othering': "to view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself." Women are not 'others'.
Women make up 51% of the planet's human populace. We are not mystical, strange creatures that exist to baffle the male mind and confound even the most sensitive of researchers. We are HUMAN. Part of being human is that we will be diverse and made up of a large variety of human characteristics, regardless of our genitals.
Homosapien embryos are formed using combined DNA from two different and individual DNA strands. In the womb, those embryos are relatively genderless for the first eight weeks until the indifferent gonads separate and become either testes or ovaries. It's a complex process of unpredictable ratios, but the gender of a human being is often decided by genetics, as is the hormone wash that continues throughout the nine-month cycle of birth. A baby comes out as a product of parental DNA and hormones, not to mention hidden (or recessive) genes that can hide for decades. Medical science has established the power of heredity and its effects on the human race, and yet, the bike industry thinks that gender is what defines a rider?
Size, strength, scope of experience and even physical fitness affect what bike will work best for an individual, but gender? Gender does not. Pretending that gender will influence the bike frames women need hasn't mattered since 1895 when women were breaking the Victorian traditions of wearing dresses. To sell an entire category of bicycles to women as though we're strange and alien creatures who defy the title of 'individual' isn't just insulting, but it's sexist.
"What do women want?" Is a question bandied about by billion-dollar companies in their ever-present race to win the female buying power (which is very real). But the question is null, because 'women' don't want anything as a collective group. 'Women' is a gender. That's it. It's not any more important than 'what men want', and it's just as fluid and extensive and nebulous as every individual human is. Why are we so willing to nail down a 'women's-specific' bike when the idea of a 'mens-specific' frame is absolutely absurd? Of course there's no such thing as a men's specific frame, because men are complex and unique with their own separate motivators and skill levels and sizes.
Why can't women be as well? Why does the bike industry feel as though women need a separate class of colors and 'women-specific sizing' when WE ARE NOT ALL THE SAME? We aren't even close to being the same and yet the bike industry (and world) is more than happy to smash us all into the tiny compartment titled 'WOMEN'.
What do women want? Well, we want the same things that men want because, you know, we're people. What do people want? People seem to want variety that fits their budget and skill level. People want accessibility and a proper fit. People want to have fun. Here's the kicker: different people will want different things.
Now, I know that sounds crazy. Differences in the human race in motivations and wants and desires?! Good lord. What will happen next?
I know. It's heavy. But what about offering people a better range of options based on their size and skill levels and individual needs rather than the non-item of gender? Call me crazy, but I have an inkling that if bike companies and bike dealers put as much effort into educating the wider bike-riding populace as they do about promoting the horseshit that is 'women's specific bikes', we'd all be a lot better off. We might even have an informed user base that understands which bikes they'll need based on their body sizes, desires and skill levels! Imagine that!
Women's specific bikes is the dehumanization and 'othering' of a group that is connected solely by gender and gender orientation. It is nothing more. It is nothing less. And it's time we stopped pretending that gender is a barrier between humans, or that it dictates or predicts what human beings need or their individual desires. The theories behind 'women's specific bikes' aren't based in conclusive fact or scientific evidence from an objective third party. The 'science' and 'numbers' have been issued as evidence by companies who have invested millions of dollars in selling the lie that every woman is (or should be) a certain size with specific proportions. That's not remotely true or even physically possible. While it might coincidentally be true for some people, to call a bike with specific and biased proportions a 'women's specific bike' is both alienating to anyone who doesn't fit those proportions and prejudicial for those who do. If a woman happens to fit a 'women's specific bike' but has larger hands or can't use the seat that comes with the bike due to anatomical differences, does that mean she's a freak? Because yes, folks... Not all lady parts are the same. Not all women have lady parts at all, or in the complete array of the 'anatomically correct Bike Ride Barbie'. And what about the guys who need a smaller sized frame with a different seat and smaller grips? Suddenly, they've wandered into the terrible 'girl bikes' section and thanks to our industry's obsessively toxic masculinity, OH MY DEAR GOD. And for women who don't fit the mold? Gee, I guess I'm just too 'manly' for those women-specific bikes. I suppose my proportions make me a completely separate creature rather than a rider who just wants a bike that fits.
Stop telling people what they need and start giving them what they want. If that want is to be special based on gender, then the industry needs to cater to that need equally and start making men's-specific bikes. If the want is to have sizing available from XXS to XXL, then perhaps we need to start building bikes and equipment that fit real people. If the end goal is actual equality, we need to stop perpetuating the myth that women are all made the same and stop selling bikes to women that they don't need. Sell them what they want. Give people options, educate your buyers and then empower them to spend what they can on something that will work best for them as an individual.
The bike industry is peddling damaging myths and lies about an entire gender to benefit the bottom line, and eventually, the pseudo-science behind 'women's specific bikes' is going to emerge as something created to support a crap theory made by sexists who have fabricated evidence to support their sexist beliefs about what women are and should be. When it does, those companies with their sticky fingers in the bullshit pudding will face huge losses of both revenue and public trust.
Women aren't the same because humans aren't the same. End of story.