Few bike categories have seen bigger shifts in the past 10 years than women’s bikes. When first introduced, the “shrink it and pink it” mentality reigned supreme, and “women’s bikes” often simply meant smaller frames with stereotypical paint jobs and a lower level of components than their unisex counterparts.
Women’s Frame or Women’s Components?
Then women’s-specific geometry took over. Bike companies started cranking out shorter top-tubed frames to better accommodate the average female body’s tendency toward longer legs and shorter torsos. While some companies like Liv have stuck to that philosophy, others like Trek, Specialized, and Santa Cruz instead favor using the same frame for their men’s and women’s bikes, but adjust some parts–primarily touch points like bar, grips and saddle–for the intended gender. Most women’s mountain bikes also come with forks and shocks that are tuned for lighter riders.
Know Your Fit
For city and mountain bikes, which generally run from XS or S to M or L, it’s easy to estimate the size needed based on your height. Road bike size can get a bit trickier. If you don’t know your bike size, getting measured at a bike shop—or even getting a professional fitter to assess you—can make an enormous difference in helping you choose a road bike that’s comfortable for you. If you often feel stretched out over your top tube while riding a road bike or prefer more endurance-oriented riding, you might want to try a bike with women’s geometry, like the Liv Langma Advanced Disc. If you like a racier, more aggressive positioning, check out the Canyon Aeroad Wmn CF SLX Disc 8.0. If you’re not sure which you prefer, try to test-ride two bikes so you can get a feel for both styles. Just remember you can get a good fit on a women’s frame or a unisex one, it just depends on your body and riding preferences.
Other Features to Consider
With so many different options this year, it’s a great time to be a woman on a bike. In addition to choosing from bike style and fit, you’ve also got frame material to look at: carbon, aluminum, and steel. All are strong options, though carbon is generally the lightest and most expensive, and steel is generally the heaviest and most durable.
You will also want to choose between rim brakes and disc brakes, which cost a little more but offer better stopping power. Discs are pretty standard on mountain bikes and are becoming more common on road bikes that cost more than $1,000. Rim brakes are still popular on city bikes, but discs are gaining popularity there because they offer more control and consistent stopping power in wet conditions.
We’ve tested dozens of women’s bikes in the past year and these are the standouts. While we highlight a top model, most come in different component packages so you can find an option that works for your budget and riding style. Chances are, your next dream bike can be found below.
Canyon Aeroad Wmn CF SLX Disc 8.0
Race-day fast and everyday comfortable
Sharing the same geometry and components as its unisex counterpart, this women’s version of Canyon’s Aeroad CF SLX Disc 8.0 Race sets itself apart with a Selle Italia women’s saddle, shorter stem, and a pop of aqua color on the top tube. It does come in fewer sizes than the men’s version so look closely at the fit. At the the middle of the Aeroad CF SLX range, the 8.0 comes in disc or rim brake models and has Reynolds tubeless-ready carbon wheels and full Shimano Ultegra shifting and braking. It’s a fast race-oriented bike that doesn’t sacrifice comfort at the feet of aerodynamics. Canyon is a direct-to-consumer brand that sells its bikes online, which cuts out your local bike shop but often means you get better parts at a lower price than other models if you’re willing to put in a minor amount of assembly.
Diamondback Arden 2
A go-long road machine that won’t blow up your budget
Want to increase your miles-per-dollar-spent ratio? The Arden 2 is a killer value that will make you want to put in more time in the saddle. With a light, stiff aluminum frame in sizes that go down to XXS, the Arden 2 has everything you need to be comfortable all day on the road, including endurance geometry that puts you in a more upright position. Tektro Lyra flat-mount mechanical disc brakes make it easy to stop quickly on a wet descent, while 9-speed Shimano Sora helps keeps the price under $1,000. If you have a higher budget, check out the $1,349 Arden 3, which comes with a carbon fork, nicer wheels and Shimano’s excellent Shimano 105 components.
Specialized Women’s Tarmac Expert
A light, fast, and stylish race bike
If you’ve been lusting over the Specialized S-Works Women’s Tarmac but can’t swing the cost, check out the scaled-down Women’s Tarmac Expert, which costs half as much. The bike has many of the same aerodynamics as Specialized’s original Venge road bike including a new fork shape, dropped seatstays, and a D-shaped seatpost and seat tube. It combines a unisex carbon frame and fork with women’s features, like a shorter handlebar and crank length and women’s saddle. Striking a balance between strong and lightweight without driving up the price, the Tarmac Expert is equipped with aluminum Roval SLX24 Disc wheels and Shimano Ultegra group with rim brakes. We can’t promise it will win you all the QOMs, but it will definitely win you all the style points.
Trek Émonda SL 5 Women’s
This road bike can crush it all at a great value
An all-arounder made for long rides and hard climbs, this bike is a killer value for women seeking a lightweight carbon bike with a fast feel and a few women’s touches, like a smaller handlebar and crank and women’s saddle. With a quick-shifting Shimano 105 compact drivetrain and tubeless-ready wheels, rim brakes, and a no-cut seatmast, the bike feels smooth and balanced on the road. It’s a comfortable, everyday go-to that has the performance to win races—or give you the confidence to enter your first one.
Scott Contessa Genius 720
Scott’s go-anywhere trail machine gets a makeover
Completely redesigned for 2018, this full suspension trail bike works for almost any trail, all-the time. With 150mm of travel front and rear, Fox suspension, a SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Shimano SLX disc brakes, and Syncros components, the Contessa Genius 720 is ready to make your next trail ride or enduro fast and smooth. Unlike the men’s version, which comes in 27.5 and 29er versions, this bike only comes with 27.5-inch wheels. It will fit 29ers, but you have to supply them. The only other differences that set apart this women’s model apart from the men’s are the stem, bar and saddle; a lighter shock tune; and a smaller, 30-tooth chainring—otherwise it shares the same geometry and rad, balanced ride.
Fairdale Daybird Step-Thru
A timeless beauty ready to conquer the city
Proof that classic three-speed cruisers will never go out of style, the Daybird looks like it just rolled out of a postcard from the ‘60s on a quest for a few contemporary updates. You get it all with this steel city bike: the old-school charm of a Sturmey Archer internally geared hub and thumb shifter, polished aluminum fenders, three-piece cranks, 1-1/8-inch threadless headset, and thick treaded tires to ward off flats. Choose the black diamond-framed model or turquoise step-thru—either is guaranteed to win over the crowd at your local bar or coffee shop.
Liv Langma Advanced Disc
Just the road bike to teach you how to love climbs
Built using women’s endurance geometry, the Advanced Disc packages all the mountain-scaling prowess of Liv’s Langma line in a sleek carbon frame. More than just a lightweight climber, this bike is also a capable descender and cruises across rolling terrain. A mixed Shimano Ultegra/105 drivetrain (50/34 chainrings with 11-32t cassette) helps you spin to the top of any climb; Giant Conduct hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless-ready Giant SLR wheels give you confident stopping power on the way down. This bike’s responsive cornering, climbing chops, and strong value impressed our testers.
Juliana Joplin R Aluminum 29
A short-travel trail bike willing to get wild
We fell for the Joplin’s killer combo of quick and agile handling with rowdy vibe that lets you go bigger than its short-travel status might suggest. The bikes have 110mm of rear travel (120mm front), and use Santa Cruz’s VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension system. There are options in aluminum and carbon frames, and with 27.5-plus (up to 3-inches wide) or 29er tires. The aluminum Joplin R model comes with SRAM Level T brakes, SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain, and a FOX Rhythm 34 fork.
Linus Mixte 3
Put more style in your city commutes
With a three-speed internal hub on a mixte frame, this stylish classic is well-suited for flat commutes and checking off all the errands on your to-do list while looking as Instagrammable as possible. It’s not the lightest city bike, but it’s a joy to ride, with a rear rack, painted fenders, a leather saddle, and lovely, hand-stitched grips that add to the vintage appeal and overall practicality of the bike. The bike comes in three sizes and six colors; all have a steel frame and fork and simple-to-use Shimano twist shifters.
Yeti SB100 Beti
A 29er ready to shred both climbs and descents
This lightweight, short-travel 29er rides like the zippiest cross-country race bike on the climbs while bringing the fun to big descents, too. With the SB100, Yeti adds the brand’s Switch Infinity suspension design—a winner, in our eyes—to a 100mm-rear travel (120mm front) carbon bike with a dropper post. The women’s counterpart to the SB100, the Beti version sets itself apart with a WTB Deva women’s saddle, shorter cranks, a shock tuned for lighter riders, and a coral paint job. This X01 Race Eagle model comes with a SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12 drivetrain and SRAM Level TLM hydraulic disc brakes; less expensive builds are also available with an array of SRAM components.
Co-Op ARD 1.2W
A trustworthy bike that’s up for whatever is planned—or unplanned.
We’re stoked this bike exists. The ARD 1.2W from REI’s Co-Op house brand is a women’s specific, well, bike. It’s a value priced, do everything, go almost anywhere drop-bar bike. With disc brakes, wide range gearing (50/34 rings with an 11-32 cassette) and clearance for 35mm tires, it’s ready for gravel riding. But it’s also ready for racks and fenders, so it could be a commuter or light-duty touring bike. Or just leave it as is with stock 28mm tires and ride roads, and not-roads. Women’s specific geometry offers a shorter, more upright, position for comfort on long days, and the aluminum frame with carbon fork rides very smoothly.