Monday, June 27, 2016

In the Dark on Women's Bike Fit? Why a Gendered Approach Falls Short



It seems like every now and again discussions flare up on the importance of proper (road)bike fit for women, and on the industry’s failure to cater to female customers in this regard. Speaking very broadly, these discussions tend to polarise around one of two points of view:

A. that female-specific body proportions warrant a distinct approach to bike fit, and that not enough off-the-shelf bicycles are produced with it in mind.

B. that female-specific proportions are a myth. What women need is greater variety in smaller frame sizes, and industry staff that don't talk down to them.

As last week's article in Total Women's Cycling hints at, there is also an inherent bias built into these discussions, depending on who is speaking: Mainstream bicycle manufacturers are motivated to convince women they can fit just fine on the off-the-shelf bicycles already being produced. Custom fitters are motivated to cultivate the idea of problems in this regard, to which they can offer solutions.

So, who are we to believe? Whenever I am asked this question, all I can say is "we can only believe our own bodies!" For no matter what a manufacturer - or a bike fitter - tells us, we must ultimately go with what actually feels right and comfortable. But as far as a more general opinion, my own take on it is this:

While I believe that female-specific proportions are indeed real and not "a myth," I am not convinced that a gendered approach to bike fit is useful.

Let's start with gender differences in human anatomy. Throughout my former career in psychology and neuroscience, I was involved in quite a bit of research relating to this subject, albeit indirectly. And based on everything I know on the topic, there is no question in my mind that there are differences in men's and women's body proportions. Listing only the ones most relevant to bicycle fit, these include:

leg to body ratio
arm to body ratio
hand size
muscle mass
centre of gravity

That is to say: On average, all other factors remaining equal, women tend to have longer legs, shorter arms, and smaller hands than men. Likewise, women tend to have less muscle mass than men. And their centre of gravity tends to be lower.

Now, notice the words I used above. On average. Tend to. All else remaining equal. This is statistical speak about generalised differences in populations. It is a language that deals in hypotheticals, averages, probabilities.

If pressed to translate this into a practical, real-life scenario you could picture, the best I can do would be this: If we were to pick a man and a woman at random from a participant pool where factors such as ethnic background and various developmental factors (including diet and levels of physical activity from birth to present time) were kept as homogenous as possible, and if the pair of them were the same height and weight, chances are the woman would have longer legs, shorter arms, smaller hands, less muscle mass than the man, and that her centre of gravity would be hip-level, whereas his would be chest-level. And notice I am still using words like "chances are." No matter what the statistics say, and no matter how well we control for "all other factors," any given individual's proportions are a wildcard.

For this reason alone, the fact that anatomical differences between men and women exist at a statistical level does not translate into: "women have longer legs and shorter torsos than men; therefore they need bikes with shorter top tubes and higher head tubes." In an ethnically and developmentally diverse society especially, it is difficult to predict what sort of fit the proportions of any individual man or woman will require. The woman-specific philosophy of roadbike fit is well-intentioned. However, when applied in practice, it is just as likely to alienate women for not fitting some hypothetical stereotyped mold, as to offer solutions.

But I am going to go a step further still and suggest that even for a woman with stereotypically female proportions, the so-called woman-specific roadbike fit is not necessarily suitable. Take me as an example. Although I am under 5'7" in height, my legs are so long in proportion to the rest of my body, that when I stand beside my 5'11" husband our pelvic regions nearly line up.

And yet, I can fit just fine on unisex off-the-shelf roadbikes with top tubes in the 52-54cm range, with the help of 9-11cm stems and adjustable saddle setback. Women-specific designs, on the other hand, tend to feel far too upright and poorly balanced for me. I also find the idea of shrinking the top tube on what is already a small frame size, without also going down in wheel size, an inherently problematic approach: It either introduces dramatic amounts of toe overlap, or requires excessive slackening of both headtube and fork rake (assuming the manufacturer wants to keep the front end geometry constant, compared to other frame sizes).

Now, some bicycle industry folks have told me (without ever having seen me ride, I might add- just by looking at my bike!) that my roadbike position looks "aggressive for a woman," and suggested I might be more comfortable with a more upright fit. I assure them, however, that comfort-seeking was exactly how I arrived at my current position, which has been bliss for the past 4 years.

Then again, one fitter I've encountered had a different perspective. "I can see why you like to be forward and low on the bike," he said, looking me up and down with clinical interest. "You are bottom-heavy, but don't have the chest to balance that out like some women; you are trying to counteract the forces pulling you back." Well, whatever words he actually used were much more tactful than these, but I am paraphrasing the gist of it. And the personal theory on bike fit he then launched into was actually quite interesting, resonating with my own experiences more so than any other I'd heard to date. His idea was that we could make no assumptions about a person's fit - male or female - until we see how they move, sit, and balance their weight - things determined not only by their gender and body-mass distribution, but also by posture, spine curvature, and a myriad of other factors that do not come into light until we see the cyclist in action.

Which brings me to my main point in all this: When it comes to human roadbike fit - men's or women's - there is still so much we do not understand. So many factors unaccounted for. More than anything, further research is needed - and that research needs to be less simplistic, more nuanced, and not so rigidly centered on gender.

And then, once some common fit issues are identified and ways to address them developed, perhaps new categories of fit might emerge - with versatile and non-gendered terms used to describe them? That way, if a woman or a man requires a bicycle with, say, short reach, they can walk into a shop and request to see a short-reach model. Without it necessarily being labeled as a gender-specific model, painted fuchsia, or equipped with lower-end components.

On a final note, I would like to offer some food for thought when it comes to men's roadbike fit. In nearly all the articles on women's fit I read, there seems to be an assumption that the overwhelming majority of male cyclists fit standard off-the-shelf roadbikes just fine. However, the anecdotal evidence I continually gather contradicts this. It is possible that men too experience frequent problems with fit, but - due to gender stereotypes and expectations still at play in society - perhaps feel unable to articulate their discomfort, for fear of being perceived as weak, fussy, or overly delicate (after all - sport is about pain, real men are supposed to be able to take it! et cetera). Once again, I believe it is helpful to think of bike fit as an individual and a pan-human issue, not a gendered one. Whether we are old or young, able bodied or injured, female or male, experienced or beginners, everyone will benefit from feeling comfortable on their bicycle. It is not useful to make assumptions on what a person's position on the bike ought to be, based on their gender alone.



36 comments:

  1. This is about airplane cockpit measurements, not bicycles, but you might find it interesting. Turns out there's no such thing as an 'average pilot', even when only measuring male pilots.

    https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/01/16/when-us-air-force-discovered-the-flaw-of-averages.html

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    1. Very relevant indeed. The flaw of averages!

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  2. Yes, obviously you get it! Both men and women come in different sizes, the basic counter between Long body, short legs/arms and Long Arms/Legs with Short body is how I break it down, BUT within that dynamic I find that the extremes seem to be more exaggerated with women. From reading your Blog I know that I am about the same height as your Husband with a similar build and that your inseam must be pretty close to mine, because inevitably you ride the same size bikes as I do. BUT, at one time I had a girlfriend who although your same height, had legs so long she looked silly straddling my bike and then there's my Dad's wife who was more or less the same height, but had VERY short legs and could not even get her leg over my bike. For this reason I think it's not surprising that manufacturers beat their head against the wall when it come to "ladies" bikes!
    Of course this leads on to a more general discussion about bike sizing in general! There is not one size fits all! I sort of like how many frames these days are S, M, L, etc. Rather than 48cm, 52cm or even 16", 18", 20" and so on. There are so many factors which can com into play when sizing a frame this way, Road, track, Cycle cross, touring, offroad, Mountain bike, Etc.!? Then wheel/tire sizing, etc. It's gotten to the point where I just look at the Minimum stand over (if it's listed) I know at least 77CM stand over is good and over 78cm is too much for me on a roadish bike and I need a bit more stand over on a mountain bike/offroad bike. With this measurement in hand one should be able to adjust Stem & saddle to accommodate individual differences in Body type. - masmojo

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  3. Quite right. Further to your argument, even for one individual bike fit seems to be fluid, e.g. I feel quite comfortable with a long and low set-up when (less un)fit in the peak of Summer; mid-winter my saddle will be 1-1.5 cm lower.

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  4. Right on! As a male with very long legs and arms, and a short torso I've spent a lot of time attempting to dial in a comfortable bike fit because it is difficult to find shorter top tube frames when the seat tube measurement works (58). Fames with higher head tubes, short stems (fore and aft measurement) and short reach drop bars have mostly solved it for me.

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  5. As with clothing, its our current body size that dictates how comfortable we feel on our bikes. Level of fitness effects our body shape, waist size and flexibility. As we age our height and muscle tone changes along with our strength , and don't start on power output and motivation. The "science" of modern bike fit and cycling cloths is a huge factor in the marketing of bicycles and our "need" to acquire the latest and the greatest in these areas. Lets face it some days nothing fits , not your shorts, your shoes , your jersey or even your socks. Other days it feels like that machine beneath you was made by the Velo Gods themselves, just for you. All things being equal the ideal would be a bespoke frame , made to measure by a master craftsperson , in hand selected material with the best available components fitted. Only a very few get that. Given the advances in fit, form and tech spec now available to the average cyclist, one's willing to invest a reasonable amount of money in their chosen hobby, or mode of transport , then things are moving well in the right direction and getting better all the time.

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  6. It's all so confusing. Years ago I thought I'd follow your advice and you suggested buying a bike with the biggest frame that one could comfortably stand over. Didn't work and was very frustrating. Then I went to a fitter and he took many measurements and did many flexibility tests and asked lots of questions and the result was a frame set-up which worked for my road bike needs. Since then it's been bliss. I guess my body type did not fit the mass produced mold.

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    1. The advice was not mine, but rather advice that I myself was following when I first waded into roadbike territory. It is Rivendell's fit philosophy. And it may or may not suit, depending on the sort of cycling one intends to do.

      Obviously, it did not suit me just as it did not suit you. By the time I had anything resembling a professional fit, I already knew this. But that is another thing about bicycle fit: There is more than one approach. Depending on what fitter we go to, or which manufacturer's advice we follow, we may end up on very differently sized bicycles.

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    2. The advice was given by you in answer to a comment in one of your old posts and, yes, it illustrations that there are different ideas floating around in print all the time.

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  7. I agree, but I think you left one thing out when you listed average differences: height. The average height of a woman in the US is somewhere between 5'4" and 5'5". I'm right at the average, which means loads of women are shorter than me, and it isn't easy to find a variety of small frames that fit. I can often go with the smallest frame of a particular bike, but only if I lower the saddle so much that there is barely 2 cm of seat post showing. That affects very simple things like which saddle bag will work. Even when I find a frame with adequate standover clearance and a short enough top tube, it almost always has 700c wheels, which produces a ridiculous amount of toe overlap. I wish more bike manufacturers offered bikes with smaller wheel sizes.

    And all of these issues are present for a woman of *average* height. What in the heck do the even shorter of stature do if they can't afford a custom frame?

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    1. Oh you are right. In fact height is the most obvious factor. In my discussion of differences, I was addressing specifically proportions (assuming same height) - in response to the idea that female-specific proportions are a myth.

      At 5'6.5" I am above average height for a woman, and yet often require the smallest frame size available from a manufacturer. That means a woman of average or below average height has no options from same manufacturer, assuming she wants a similar fit. With 5'6" being the cutoff for assuring proper off-the-shelf roadbike fit, there is a significant portion of the population not being catered to. And again, I would argue that the industry is doing their customers and themselves a disservice if, whenever they do offer smaller sizes, they present bikes in those sizes as women-specific. They make all sorts of assumptions regarding proportions, colourscheme preferences, and component preferences, that will not hold true for many of the women - limiting the usefulness of those small sizes.

      The wheel size issue also needs to be addressed. Based on everything I know about frame geometry, it is absolutely necessary to switch to 650 wheels if you want a shorter person to enjoy the same fit and handling as are available to taller persons. Manufacturers are extremely reluctant to do this though. First, because designing and producing the same model around different wheel sizes increases costs. And second because they worry roadbikes with smaller wheels simply won't sell, as customers believe it will make the bike slower. Regarding the latter, I do believe a conscious campaign in the form of marketing, magazine features, etc., can overcome this, and the impetus is on the industry.

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    2. You know, I don't believe there is a specific size of bike rider, BUT (just playing devils advocate here) is it possible that, cycling favors a certain size of person? I mean if you look at the peloton of the Tour de France, those riders tend to be in the 5'9" to 5'11" range with long arms and legs and short torso's, but even within the peloton it breaks down more, Climbers more lithe, Sprinters a bit taller/bigger. Just as Basketball tends to favor tall people and people with great vertical jumping ability is it possible that many smaller people don't ride, because maybe they just don't enjoy it or excel at it rather than the bikes just don't fit??? It would be easy to say that small people don't ride, because they can't find a bike that fits, but could it also be that the mechanics of bike riding does not favor a rider below a certain height!? At my size, I tend to find that people of approximately my same size tend to like the same sort of bikes that I do!? It could hardly be coincidence!? How this works (or doesn't) in relation to small adults Vs. Children I am not sure!? Just something I've been pondering, because like you I am not "Short", but a number of times, "My Size" was the smallest available!!! Several years ago Rawland was going to do some Titanium Drakkars & I really wanted one but the smallest size offered was too big for me!???? Booo! - masmojo

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    3. I know. Even the Rawland Nordavinden 650B, which they offered in a size "Small," was still somewhat too bog for me, considering how I wanted to fit it. Then again Rawland favours a more upright fit; not quite Rivendellian, but close.

      This gentleman, for instance, is only a tad taller than me and rides a size medium: http://lovelybike.blogspot.com/2012/04/look-at-rawland-rsogn.html

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    4. I recently helped a 4'8" friend buy a bike. Requirement #1 was it must have full size wheels. He absolutely would not accept anything which by any interpretation could possibly be considered a children's bike. Requirement #2 was, in spite of obvious hip mobility issues, he would not have any low step over frame that could possibly be considered a ladies bike. Requirement #3 was that the entire universe of vintage bikes was closed, he would only have a new bike.

      Any who have ever worked in retail will recognize such requirements. Manufacturers can try to please the customer I am describing or they can try to please the customers on this blog or they can try to please everyone. Or they can throw up their hands and build what they want to build. Trying to go through catalogs with my friend it became more and more clear that he could not, would not get into the fine points of frame dimensions. He was shopping pictures and paint colors. The only dimension was "frame size".

      With all these limitations there were still lots of bikes to look at. Fortunately he wanted a basic bike, not a rando or a pretend TdF or bamboo with hemp twine. And he bought a bike. It could have fit. I could make that bike fit him. But now he wants to be like everyone else and have a good long length of seat post showing. That seat post has graphics on it and those graphics have to be shown. If a logo were interrupted then he would feel like a short person when riding his bike.

      My 4'8" friend does ride that bike and he rides it a lot. He has a junker 80s MTB with big baskets for grocery shopping that fits him far better, that is in excellent mechanical condition. That is his junker bike. He is proud of his new shiny bike. A satisfied customer.

      My work in the industry is in the distant past. Any who have ever been in the position of having others look to them for guidance about acquiring bikes has endless stories. When we all have story after story about putting very short people on bikes it does get hard to hear the tales of how zip zero nada nil exists for average riders. Any industry lives by selling products to average people.

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    5. I have had exactly the same thoughts as you on wheel size, but wonder why, in these kinds of discussions, people don't consider 26" (559) wheels in addition to 650B? They are even smaller, and tires are widely available, even skinny tires. If one considers a 56 cm seat tube bicycle the standard and scale proportionately, I ride a 52 and should have a wheel size half way between 26" and 650B, and my wife who rides a 48, should have a wheel even smaller than a 26". (Surly does provide 26" wheels on some of their smaller frames.)

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    6. Kendra

      To make a saddlebag of any size work you will need an uplift. I ride a 60cm frame and use an uplift for anything bigger than a Barley. An uplift looks like this: http://www.carradice.co.uk/index.php?page_id=product&product_id=136&under=range#prettyPhoto

      Uplifts have been made by Brooks, Holdsworth, Karrimor, RonKit, Vilosport, and Tonard. And I've probably missed a few. An essential part of tweed cycling. Please someone buy a Carradice before they are discontinued too.

      If a frame otherwise fits and has a mere 2cm of seatpost exposed, then the frame fits. It just doesn't matter if you show a lot of post or just a little post.

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    7. Yes, I think the Rsogn's predecessor was available when I got my Drakkar, I went with the Drakkar, because it had more sloping top tube and lower standover. I am not sure what happened with Sean over @ Rawland? But at some point I noticed that the Web site stopped being updated, then there was a new website and maybe he got a business partner or a day job or something?? Still going near as I can tell, but there's definitely been some sort of major sea change? - mas

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    8. Mas -
      Cycle sport allows almost any body type. Jean Robic won the Tour de France at a claimed height of 161cm (5'3"). Most observers reported a man more like 5'1" or 5'0". In early photos he looks like he could scarcely weigh 40 kilos. For descents and windy days he used lead water bottles until the referees stopped that. 48 and 49cm frames with lugs and level top tubes and normal tubulars. All his bikes had lots of tire clearance and what would now be called long reach brakes.
      Eileen Sheridan was top competition in English time trialling at a height of 4'11". She used 597 wheels or tubulars. Until Hercules decided to sponsor her she raced very ordinary factory production bikes.
      At the other end of the scale Torchy Peden had an advertised race weight of "1/8 of a ton", or 250 pounds. Possibly some hyperbole there, the man I knew was a big man. He needed special cranks and cotters to handle his power, otherwise his bikes were standard. He raced the 1937 London Six Day on a bike purchased straight off the showroom floor.
      Big riders who want to compete will necessarily be sprinters. They will compete with much smaller sprinters. I can't think of another sport where so many different types compete directly and successfully.

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    9. I was going to email you this link, but alas, I can't find your email. Not sure if that is intentional or not and don't feel obliged to publish this, BUT here's another cool bike that you and I probably can't fit! - Mas
      https://www.crustbikes.com/products/the-romanceur-presale

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  8. Yes, I too as a man would like to see some kind of matrix sizing rather than just getting whatever top tube length etc. comes with a particular seat tube length.

    Being decidedly middle aged has brought the arthritis in my neck to the point where I need a more upright position than most, but I want to ride drop bars as I find them much easier on the hands. Despite my very long arms and short legs (think monkey) I find myself with a rather small frame and a lot of seatpost sticking out, just so I can fit a reasonable length stem and get the bars up close and high enough. Occasionally I'll flip the stem over, and I can feel the added benefit of all the big back muscles coming into play, but the neck just won't permit it any more. So despite my proportions I actually need a taller frame with shorter top tube than one might think.

    Of course the expensive frames come in more variants, but what about the rider who wants a decently fitting bike for a modest price?

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  9. On a slightly off-topic note, I dislike the gendered colours on bikes and bike clothing. Every time I go into a bike shop I look over the bikes and racks of clothes and I'm drawn to the purples and so on. Then I realise that I'm in the women's section and that all the men's gear is black and navy. Ho hum.

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  10. Understood that males and females are different.....and also understood that in order to meet human needs, products and services cannot ignore or de prioritize a full half of humanity.

    That said, this article is "spot on". Looking into the "perfect fit" I've been measured, marked and weighed at length. Bringing this to a custom builder, the response was - "good to start, but what would work best is for us to go on a ride together and see how you ride, and what works and doesn't work for you now"

    I thought about it. Each of us has different times when we will ride different ways. Each of us will change and age with time. Comfort, flexibility and valuations change. How can it not be obvious that a bicycle "fit" cannot be a static thing?

    Gender generally boolean, but bodies are not.

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    1. I've always been uncomfortable on road bikes and had to alter the off the shelf models until finding some level of satisfaction. When younger and stronger this was less an issue but now fit is even more important and to enjoy a bike I needed something better. So I met with a fitter and was immensely impressed with the interaction. We did not go for a ride but there were many questions about riding styles, use of bike, history, injuries, tests with balance and flexibility, and then measurements were taken as a starting point to eventually positioning me on a bike in a manner which would be efficient and comfortable. The fit also came with follow-up meetings to fine tune the set-up once the bike arrived. A collaboration between fitter, frame builder, and willing customer with the results being quite magical. And yes, in the four years that I've ridden this bike there have been minor changes but all on a frame which finally provided the correct base for my evolving form.

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  11. Funny you should mention these issues. As a man, I had "women's" fit issues, in that my legs were long and my arms short for a man of my height. (Of course, those things didn't change when I became a woman.) For years, I rode frames that were the "right" size (according to my height or leg length) with short (80-90mm) stems. Now I have bikes with short top tubes--custom, of course.

    "Aggressive for a woman". Hmm...I've been called that.

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  12. About a hundred years ago a local woman bought an old Lola T204 Formula Ford to go vintage racing. She's not particularly tall, maybe 5'8", but perhaps not even that, anyway, she didn't fit in it very well and she had to drag that car from race shop to race shop till she finally found someone who was willing to help her make the mods that she needed.

    In the end it took a longer steering shaft, relocated shifter, messing around with the pedals to move them farther away and some creative massaging of the seat pan and cockpit to allow her to bend her legs enough to deal with the laid back driving position. I made her a set of mirror brackets to get them out where she could see them without sticking her neck up out of the pocket. She kept being told "You wont be able to drive the car set up like that" or "You're ruining the value of that car and you'll never be able to sell it" and on and on. One guy(who isn't a nice guy) informed her that women shouldn't be driving single seaters at all because they didn't have the right "temperament" and she was just ruining a perfectly good racecar for no reason. Without exception those people told her she just needed to drive(buy?) a lot of cars to find one she was more comfortable in, ignoring the fact that all those other cars were also built to accommodate the same ideal of a tiny, lightweight skinny-assed man-boy Racecar Driver.

    Of course she ended up doing fine, running hard and doing better than some people who threw LOTS more money at it than she did. Never causing stupid trouble and just having a good time and usually running up at the front. A couple of male drivers who could never get comfortable in their cars because of less typical proportions tried her car and realized you didn't have to endure cramps, sore necks and everything else they were just putting up with.

    Some of what I hear Old Farts repeat over and over about bike fit reminds me of what she was getting about how to set up HER racecar.

    Spindizzy

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    1. Jeez, Spin. It took me a while of trying to picture a Lola T204 Formula Ford vintage bicycle, till I realised it was a car!

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    2. Oh c'mon, everybody knows what a T204 is, it's like a Lotus 51 with a flat rad intake...

      Duh.

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  13. I think an important contributor to better bicycle fit is the bathing suit selfie because if drives people to transfer bike riding time into cross fit time where they actually can increase core strength and flexibility which renders the endless millimeter/milliradian/milligram bike adjustment silliness to be unnecessary.

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    1. I doubt you mean to take a "Shame yourself to better bike comfort" approach but that's kinda how this comes across...

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  14. I'm grateful for Liv bikes.

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    1. There are some very nice models in Liv bikes.

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  15. A gendered approach to anything is fraught with serious gaps.

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  16. I would imagine that the 650b renaissance has opened up this topic considerably for smaller-framed persons of either gender. As yet another person, of the male persuasion, with an odd set of proportional anomalies, I think I too would be better served by the smaller wheel with a 42 tire. Taking it back to Grant Peterson, I would say that the idea of proportional wheel sets for frame sizes is a must, while the "largest bike you can ride" may be an indirect way to advocate use of North Road bars, i.e. permission to eschew drop bars. I'd be interested to learn how stack and reach fares with regard to gender neutrality in bike fit.

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  17. I imagine that women's specific bike design is an attempt to produce a bike for women off the shelf, which may be easier to 'dial in' than a standard bike - I don't see any problem with it though I don't see there is any reason to over look other bikes when choosing.
    A person's fit requirements will probably change over the life time of their cycling - I see several older gentlemen who are riding bikes in quite an upright position, possibly because they previously rode in a more aerodynamic position and this is no longer comfortable.
    Other factors must play a part, individual flexibility, balance and core strength for example. As you noted, some have thought your riding position to be 'aggressive', yet for you it is very comfortable, likewise your bike looks to my mind to be very small, yet this is your preference. I am approximately 168cms (just over 5'6') but prefer a longer top tube, my road bike has a 55 cm top tube
    In all my years of riding I have never had any problem with bicycle fit, other than making the usual adjustment for saddle height and position and all my bikes have been purchased from my local bike shop. Nor have I had the horrendous saddle issues described in a previous post - so an exact science is happily not necessary for all of us. Thank goodness because I have always considered bikes and cycling to be easy and without complications.

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  18. I am 76 and I ride a used Dawes Julia. It was bought as a frame and fork, then built up with some very nice bits and pieces. Here is a tag to a photo of it on the Dawes web site. http://dawescycles.com/riders-gallery/you-and-your-dawes/ It is in 18 clicks and it is the blue one in a park holder. Under Skip Davis. I have short legs and long top. This has a 50cm decal on the seat tube. It is the best fit I have ever had. I comes it at 23lbs as seen with 32cm tires, toolkit, pump and two tubes. Oh! It is running a triple 24-39-50 and a cogs set of 12/32.

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  19. This is discussion is something that I have been living for some 40 years. I am 5'10" and whilst still a girl, I started riding men's bikes because I had no interest in girly bikes. In 1976, I got my own men's bike, a Raleigh road bike. Lasted four years until I ran into a campus security cart. I still remember the amused look on the bike store's service man when I asked him to fix the cracked fork). Then a Motobecane Super Mirage which I rode until I realized how heavy it was an went to a Univega Gran Premio. These were big bikes. My upper body could have gone down a size, but with a PBH of 91, I didn't want to look like a "monkey on a unicyle" with massive exposed seat post. I had kids and decided I wanted to ride upright, thus starting an expensive and disappointing search for a comfortable bike, the search for The Ring undertaken by someone who is as geometry challenged as one could be (it is an actual deficit, not just I don't try, or I would be an architect).

    What I learned was that women's specific bikes were important for short women, who were stretched out over too long bikes in a miserable fashion. For taller women, the benefits eroded rapidly because the tighter geometry of a WSD bike created a weird, uncomfortable, unstable ride. I don't think rideable geometries remain in a constant ratio as the frame size changes; there is an ideal size where the geometry performs at its peak, and sizes on either side are simply not as good. I don't know that; I just know that I have ridden some women's specific bikes that were pretty intolerable to ride. Of course, I have ridden some men's bikes that were great except those handlebars were an awfully long way away... It doesn't take too much of extending this and shortening that before a bike is pretty far out of whack.

    The multitude of issues I had in bike fitment still exist, but I no longer expect to find a bike with perfect geometry. My long legs have very long femurs which cause me to want to put a seat waaay back which is hard to compensate for in a drop bar bike, and puts weight too far back on a bike with short chain stay length, and I am happily riding upright these days. I have more in the trunk than the rack (thank you for adding that to my fitment awareness) which was balanced by the handlebar bag I used for years.

    I think the most helpful thing in bike fitting would be a decision tree or chart that suggests compensatory design elements. I poured over geometry charts for years, but really did not understand the impact of much of what I was reading. I could feel things on a bike, but did not have someone to tell the reason for that observation.

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