Gendered Bicycles: Justified, Offensive, or Irrelevant?

As a person that works in bicycle rentals, I interact with a variety of different people from a multitude of backgrounds almost daily–most of which, surprisingly, have little to no experience with bikes. I question whether or not I would hear about the issue of gendered bicycles as often as I do if I worked closer with people that rode bicycles more often. Regardless, there are myriad of myths that I would like to debunk, starting with the concept that men and women need to ride different bicycles.

Here’s the real kicker:  due to the fact that bikes are not operated by one’s genitalia–and gender identity is not even determined by genitalia to begin with–there is no such thing as a girl’s or a boy’s bike.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Our most popular rental bikes are the multi-speed hybrids we provide, of which we have two varying styles: a diamond shaped frame and a step-through style frame. The only difference between the two is the top-tube height. The dimensions, size, measurements–what have you–are identical in both styles.

Example of a bicycle with a step-through frame.
Example of a bicycle with a diamond frame.

Thus, since the bikes are identical in size and dimension, I see them as interchangeable for all genders, sexes, sexualities, colors, and shapes. However, other people do not see it that way–what they see is a girl’s bike and a man’s bike. I am continually surprised by this as there is nothing particularly culturally masculine or feminine about these bicycles, they simply have differently shaped top tubes. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles, but ultimately the ride, fit, and feel are exactly the same. The main differences are that with a step-through the rider has the ability to mount and dismount with ease and elegance, and on a diamond frame there are more places to mount bags or water bottles because of the extra tubing.

That all being said, there is logic behind the belief that these are men’s and women’s bikes. Back in the 19th century when the first bicycles were being built and ridden, women were very much excluded because of the heavy, inconvenient skirts they were forced to wear. Each style of bicycle that was first brought to the market had a top tube placement similar to the modern diamond shaped frame or were utterly impossible and dangerous to mount when wearing a heavy, long skirt. The hobby-horse and the penny farthing were the first popular styles of bikes, both of which were inaccessible to women based on what their daily wardrobe consisted of.

An illustration of an early hobby horse
An illustration of an early hobby horse
An illustration of the penny farthing
An illustration of the penny farthing

Soon, with the invention of the safety bicycle and the step-through frame, women were able to join in the fun and ride bicycles because they were able to easily mount these types of bikes in their heavy, unforgiving skirts. Men were and still are reluctant when it comes to allowing women to ride bicycles; however, the invention of the step-through frame really did change the game for women in this area.

Nonetheless, since the original invention of this bicycle in the late 19th century, women have no longer been required to wear heavy skirts that prevent us from partaking in outdoor activities. We do not have to ride horses sideways anymore to accommodate our clothing, and we do not have to ride step-through bicycles in order to avoid showing the world our ankles. I would very much argue that gender roles are still strict, which is clearly evident in the fact that I am asked by men almost daily if they could switch to a “man’s bike”. There is no such thing as a man’s or a woman’s bicycle anymore, you can ride whatever style of bike or frame that you damn well please. However, you shouldn’t choose a bike because you’ve been told that it is the right one for your gender, you should choose a bike based on the fact that it fits your body and your lifestyle.

I would also like to briefly point out that these step-through style frames are really only seen as “women’s bikes” in the United States. In European countries where bicycling is the norm, these bikes are seen as completely gender-neutral. They are now being referred to as Dutch-style bikes, and the idea of there being a man’s or a woman’s bike is very much going out of style. The only thing that would make something a man’s or a woman’s bike would be if a person that identifies with either of those genders rides the bike. Does a trans-man own that step-through bicycle? Good, then it’s a man’s bike. Does a cis-woman own that cargo bike? Cool, it’s a woman’s bike. Have I drilled my point enough?

Many argue that bikes are identified with either sex because males and females need to be sized to bikes differently. While this is sometimes true, it is definitely not a hard science and the statistics vary too much across the board for male and female measurements to consistently apply and make sense. The general consensus is that women have longer legs and shorter torsos than men, and this seems to be true about 65% of the time. But, what about the other 45%? Do they need to ride a “man’s” bike in order to accommodate for their dimensions? The answer is no, because there is no such thing as a man’s or a woman’s bike.The real truth is that everyone needs to be sized to bikes differently because bodies differ so much from one another.  Even if the bike is a step-through covered in pastels, pink, and flowers, it is still not a woman’s bike. It’s just a bike, and anyone can ride it.

Here’s a fact that might also make you think twice about what we see as culturally feminine: back before WWII, pink was seen as a strong, manly color and was used to mark and denote baby boys. It wasn’t until Hitler decided that a pink triangle would be used to mark gay men that it was seen as feminine and ‘weak’ and used for baby girls. Nothing exists in a vacuum, think twice before you gender a bike, color, or even a person.

…And ride whatever damn bike you want!


One thought on “Gendered Bicycles: Justified, Offensive, or Irrelevant?

  1. My husband and I had this conversation today as I struggled to fit a water bottle on my low tubed bike. We bought them together and the bike shop owners just sort of naturally gave us the bikes mentioning that they were the same, just one was a men’s and one was a women’s. We sort of let it go, honestly it wasn’t and still isn’t a big deal, but we certainly have a lot of old inside jokes revolving around me pretending to be a delicate 1850’s girl in hoop skirts every time I get on my bike lol.

    Love your post. Whatever bike your riding is the gender it belongs to lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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