Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why do bicycles have gender?

For some reason even I'm not really clear on, I've been thinking about getting a bike lately. They're kind of intimidatingly expensive, so I've also been keeping an eye out on Craigslist for a used one. It's gradually started to bug me about why bicycles have gender; that is, why are there "men's bikes" and "women's bikes"? (Actually, if you look at the Schwinn website, you'll see there are "bicycles" and "women's bicycles.")

The only difference between them that I can tell, is the location of the crossbar that goes from just under the handlebars to the stem on which the seat sits. On men's bicycles it's high. On women's bikes, it's low. Really, that's all I can find. Pink tassels on the handlebars notwithstanding.

The standard explanation I've always heard (and this is from way back when) is that men and boys are more likely to treat their bike roughly, and so they need a more sturdy frame. So why not just make them all that way? Is it just "Oh, you're a lady and ladies need a more feminine, breakable bike"?

To be fair, I just looked around a bit, and the "sport" type bikes that are likely to be ridden offroad or by professional athletes all appear to have the higher crossbar, I assume because the frame is stronger.

Is there really some reason behind this, or is it just an unnecessary gender difference and marketing scam?

UPDATE: OK, based on the comments here, the comments on Facebook after Bryan posted a link to this, and my mother calling me the other night, the most reasonable explanation is that women's bikes have the crossbar where it is so women can wear dresses without getting them all rumply.

I can't imagine that's particularly important anymore, though. Unless you're a fundamentalist Mormon woman riding a bicycle around the compound (because no fundamentalist Mormon woman would ever need to ride a bicycle off of her husband's compound), the need to accommodate long skirts just doesn't seem all that important anymore. I haven't seen many women riding a bike in a tea-length gown lately, have you?


Matthew said...

Ok, as someone who's been riding a bicycle since he was a little kid, and had the same question many years ago, I'll give you the answer that was always given to me.

NOTE: I am not saying I necessarily think it's correct, just relaying it to you...

The reason I was always given for the different in bicycle genders is because of male/female anatomy --- simple as that. It wouldn't be good for a woman if there was something that happened in which she would come forward off the seat and happen to, ahem, slam down on the straight-acrss bar that's on a man's bike. Hence, the lower, slanted downward bar on women's bikes, and the straight-across bar on men's bikes.

Now, as I got older, this explanation didn't seem to make as much sense, because it wouldn't seem like a walk in the park for a man to slam down on the straight-across bar, either. I do, however, admit to being somewhat less knowledgeable about the female anatomy because 1) I'm not a woman, and 2) I'm gay.

Of course, it could also be some sort of macho thing, where bicycle designers think that men can handle the pain better than women. But, anyway, that's the reason I've always heard. Make of it what you will

David said...

That's what I've always heard as well. Without getting too graphic, a man's junk is a little more, shall we say, "up front" than a woman's.

I've always wondered whether it was also a "daintiness" issue, akin to women once having to ride sidesaddle because it wasn't appropriate to straddle a normal saddle. Eliminating the bar on a woman's bike allowed them to disembark a little more gracefully than swinging their leg over like a guy.

David said...

Also, way back in the old days, women usually wore dresses. It wouldn't be appropriate (or even safe, maybe) to have the bar there interfering with the dress.

Jonathan said...

back in the day, it would be "un-ladylike" for a woman in a dress to swing her leg over a crossbar as she dismounted.. hence the lower bar.

but the crossbar itself is a bad idea for both genders, as that crossbar can hit a sensitive area in an accident.

having mens/women's bikes is pure gender role BS. It makes no sense to me.

Glock21 said...

The way I've always understood it was by imagining myself riding a bike in a kilt... would I really want to flash the neighbors as I got on or off the bike?

Would I like to have the kilt being constantly shifted left and right over the bar as I peddled... eventually wearing right through the kilt itself (as was as possibly being uncomfortable?

And would I like to be able to peddle with my knees closer together to avoid a parachuting effect with the kilt blowing up?

The genital injury scenarios are the most common I hear, but they don't make a lick of sense.

The reason that makes sense to me is that "girls" bikes are designed to allow dresses, while mens bikes are assumed not to need that awkward and otherwise unnecessary design adjustment.

Now the big question would be is if there is a difference of bikes in Scotland according to gender? Or are they merely differentiated by sport vs non-sport or some such thing?

Fig said...

Actually, I do see "women of a certain age" and young hipster women biking around in below the knee skirts. They're usually on the riding the old fashion fat-tire, fat-frame bikes that are in style again but I've seen young women in voluminous skirts biking on men's bikes with their skirts bunched onto the cross bar specifically so they don't get caught in the wheels.

moongrrl said...

I just want my banana seat bike back.

Anonymous said...

When I bought my bike from a bike shop in Decatur the owner told me the proportion of a womens bike was slightly different. He said on the same size mans bike I'd have a further reach to the handle bars. On a properly sized gendered bike, men and women ride at the same angle. The right size bike makes a big difference for comfort, I've found.

Christopher Stratton Smith said...

Wow, I'm really getting a laugh out of these speculations. :D

The reason is that before women used to wear more skirts and dresses. The lower, diagonal top tube allows the dress to hang down a bit instead of flashing the rider's knickers every time she peddles.

In Finland, a LOT of men enjoy riding old women's bikes because you can just hop off from the front without lifting your leg over the rear of the bike. On the other hand, one of the reasons behind Finnish mens' bikes having a horizontal top tube is that during our war against the Russians, bicycles were an invaluable way to move quietly through the forests and lots of equipment was hung from the top tube to take some of the load off the soldier's shoulders.

Anyhoo, that's my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Because, you know, any woman wanting to wear a dress, biking or otherwise, is an old-style religious nutcake. Get off you feminism high-horse and learn a little culture, babycakes.

Anonymous said...

Why any woman would choose having to get on and off with that stupid high cross-bar, I have no idea, except that you have to prove something. Why assume that the high cross-bar is better? It only makes a bike slightly more stable under only the most extreme conditions. Go for comfort and quit worrying about guys getting the better deal. They're not.