It’s rubbish – there is no such thing. Here’s why –
There is a variety of body types, shapes and sizes. And that has nothing to do with gender. Some will have a longer inseam (legs) than others, just as torso and arms. Height simply does not tell the entire story.
The one of two measurements that matter on a bike is the effective top tube length. I mention “effective” for a reason – on some bikes, the actual tube is sloped. On bikes with a step-through, the top tube is extremely low and sometimes curved. The reason this is important is because if too small, you’ll be hunched over – uncomfortable. You can make this work by compensating with a longer stem, but it will impact steering. If the effective top tube is too long, there’s not really anything that can be done – you’ll be overextended.
The second important measurement is your inseam length. There’s no connection/correlation of torso length to inseam length, on anybody. But the inseam length will give you a starting point for what frame size to be trying.
The length of the crank arm (where the pedals attach) is useless. There are studies to demonstrate that there is no value in having a longer crank arm. In reality, a longer crank arm means:
- more material, thus more weight
- less distance between the tip of the crank arm and the ground when the arm is at the 6 o’clock position – less clearance.
Road crank arms are typically 170 mm, and increment by 2.5 mm. The impact of changing cranks arms that are different lengths? Your seat/saddle needs to be adjusted.
I can not stress how important it is to get a bike fit. Some are incredibly equipped for this – sensors to indicate which leg is dominant when you pedal, and your hip orientation/weighting on the seat/saddle. Someone should be watching you ride to tweak where necessary – the experience must be more than using a plumb bob. A bike fitter should be able to give you information that you can then use to shop for bikes in the future.
What is Women Specific about Bicycles?
The saddle? In reality this is as personal a choice as any component, including the bike. Something that fits your seat bones is the primary concern, but beyond that – some like/want cushion (gel padded seats were once the rage), some don’t. Some prefer something minimalist, like the Adamo. I have a full carbon race saddle. When I say “full carbon”, I mean – it is entirely carbon fiber. I love it – it’s incredibly light at ~100 grams, and I’ve always been comfortable on it (stop wincing). My only complaint is the saddle likes to catch on my cycling bib material when I’m out of the saddle, and has torn the material.
I’ve seen some complaints that women’s bikes should be lighter. Sorry, but clearly these people aren’t aware that everyone wants a lighter bike. It’s a privilege you have to pay for. That said, components don’t get lighter. The reality is that if there were lighter alternatives, men who cycle would buy it too. Even if you put pink on it… One would think that kids bikes would have benefited from crossover with women’s bikes, but that’s yet to be the case. Part of the issue with kids bikes is that kids likely outgrow the bikes…
It’s not that the industry pushed this on the consumer. The reality is that women in general assume that there is something inherently male about bicycles, so the branding was necessary to attract them. Admittedly, the colour options aren’t great. Cycling isn’t as bad as golf, but the spandex/lycra aspect puts it pretty close.
That said, like anything – a custom order will be a better idea for anyone. Which is possible, but again – you will pay more for this vs an off-the-shelf model. On that note, I would never buy someone’s custom bike for the fact it would likely not be good for me.
What Bike Would You Recommend?
For your first “real” bike? Cyclocross (CX).
A CX frame falls between a road and touring for setup. Meaning, it won’t be as aggressive as a road bike, but more aggressive than a touring style bike. That translates into comfort…
Next, a CX frame typically has eyelets/mounts for fenders and a rear rack, and supports wide tires. Road frames typically do not have any of these features. You can Gerry-rig something, but it’s not ideal. There’s nothing that can be done for tire clearance, and most find smaller tires to provide a harsher ride…
It’s apparent why I recommend a CX bike. If you aren’t a pro cyclist, you still have a bike that can do pretty much anything: commuting, touring, road, offroad… If you’re inclined – you can do road racing on a CX frame. But no one recommends riding a road frame on a CX route.