Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bike frame shapes and gender

"The lower bar is meant to allow girls to get onto the bike without heaving a leg over the seat and thus showing their underpants"
"Although "step-through" frames have typically been marketed as women's frames in the USA, they're ridden by both men and women elsewhere. This type of frame is very convenient for utility and commuter bikes in urban areas where one may want to mount/dismount without swinging a leg over the back of the bike"
"Think about it, would you buy a car that you had to climb into, rather than step into gracefully, just because you were told that it was a ‘gents’ version?"
I've heard so many different excuses for why women should step onto their bikes and men should swing their legs over their back wheels. The long skirt one is the most common. The one that seemed most promising to me was that the step-through frame was designed originally for businessmen who didn't want to break their work pants, and then by the time women started cycling, men had switched to cars, and then after that it became a torch carried by marketing. It's a bit shaky as a theory, but it brings up a good point: using a diamond-shaped frame with any kind of formal wear, whether it's a long skirt or formal men's trousers, is a pain.

For me, the main differences between step-through frames and diamond shaped frames are:
  • Step-through frames are so much easier to carry, mount and dismount, making them well-suited to city cycling.
  • Diamond-shaped frames are more rigid, so they offer better performance on smooth roads, while step-through frames (assuming they're steel) are more flexible, so they offer better performance on rougher city terrain.
  • If I'm riding the wrong bike for my gender, I get treated like a bike thief and/or a weirdo. I've been subjected to a bunch of gender harassment just because one of the tubes on my frames isn't ready to get me in the crotch.
There's so many gender studies things in play here, I'd rather just focus on the practicality: I think everyone should have a few bikes... well, of course I think that: I want to sell more bikes to fewer customers! But as a cyclist, I want the choice and I want the backups. I used to think two was enough, but now I want three:
  • One diamond-framed road bike with smooth, narrow tires, lots of speeds, and set up so I'm positioned like a racer... bent over for maximum power and minimum drag.
  • One step-through cruiser with large tires, a one or three speed drive train with a coaster brake, and a basket on the front. And the whole thing has me positioned erect instead of bent-over.
  • The main commuter bike, which is also a step-through frame, but has medium-sized tires, a one-speed drive system with no brake, and then front and rear hand brakes. The body positioning on this frame allows me to sit back and look around, or bend forward to get some speed up or deal with wind. It's the most low-maintenance and flexible design, and it allows for the most maneuverability in urban situations. If somebody just has one bike and they use it in the city, this is what it should be, regardless of their gender.

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