As the upward trajectory of women's cycling is on a constant march, many brands are thinking more carefully about what women actually need - and want - from a road bike.
First off, it might be a surprise, but not every female rider will want a women's specific bike. We'll take you through the difference between 'female-specific' and unisex frames further down - this is just to highlight now that our guide will also be including some of the best unisex road bikes, which can also also make a great ride for female cyclists and are well worth considering
While we are probably pretty much aligned on the need for the best women specific cycling shorts, and even the best women's cycling saddles, the jury is actually still out when it comes to the question 'is women's specific geometry still relevant' ,
Some manufacturers - like Liv and Canyon - believe that differences in limb lengths and weight distribution mean that women are best served with female specific frames, created from the ground up using women's data.
Others brands, such as Specialized and Trek, argue that their bike fit numbers shows no statistical differences between the genders which require a separate frame platform; they feel that adjusted contact points (saddle, handlebars and cranks) are where it's at.
Further down this page, we explain the different approaches brands take when creating women's bikes, and how to make sure you choose the very best bike for you, so take a read if you're still deciding what's best for you.
But first, here are some great women's bikes that have really impressed us...
Best women's road bikes
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Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Liv refreshed its EnviLiv platform in March 2023 with a new model. We've currently got that in on test and, when the results are in, we'll be updating this entry. Just now, there are some great discounts on the 'old' model, so you can currently really grab yourself a bargain.
The Liv Enviliv Advanced Pro 2 Disc absolutely smashed the aero bike category when we had it in on review, making it an easy pick for our Editor's Choice Award and cementing its place as one of the best female specific bikes we've tested.
The Advance Grade Composite carbon frame and fork manages to perfectly balance weight, stiffness and compliance, making this a lightweight rapid ride that's also comfortable for long rides.
Equipped with the much-respected Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic brakes, this one of the best women's bikes we've ever seen and a total dream ride. Even with the Giant SLR1 42mm front and 65mm rear wheelset, it was pulling on every climb and stable on the descents, as well as rocket-like on the flats.
As one of, if not the only brand for women's bikes, LIV has a lot of options for anyone looking for a range of two wheels designed specifically for them.
In terms of the aero range, the Advanced Pro 2 is the start of the range of three Enviliv Advance Pro bikes, with the Advance Pro 0 Disc a headliner with SRAM Force eTap AXS, and Quark Power Meter for a couple of grand more. Or, there's the Advanced Pro 1 Disc which comes with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and Giant Power Pro power meter for around a grand more.
Read more: Liv Enviliv Advanced Pro 2 Disc full review
2. Cannondale Synapse Disc women's Sora
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Reasons to avoid
Cannondale is one of the bike brands that keeps on delivering the goods so, as consequence, it's been hard to just pick one from its women's specific range of six bikes. But we've decided to go with the Synapse as it easily offers the best-of-both-worlds package - and with four in the range to choose from, there's one to suite most budgets.
We've seen a few Cannondale Synapse models along the way, and most recently the Cannondale Synapse SmartSense. But this 9-speed Shimano Sora version is the Synapse entry-level option, and comes with Promax Decoder R cable actuated disc brakes, an alloy frame and full carbon fork.
As with the Boardman SLR 9.2 above, Cannondale women's specific bikes follow the same geometry as the men's/unisex version, but just comes in smaller size options, with women's specific touch points. In this case, it's the Cannondale Stage Ergo Women's saddle.
This is a great women's road bike for anyone starting out on their cycling journey, with it's long wheelbase for stability, and the ability of running up to 32mm tyres for comfort, and, thanks to a removable bridge mount, a full fenders/mud-guards, so you should expect a bike that's capable enough to ride on road or gravel.
Over time you might find you need more gears, and consider upgrading the cable pull disc brakes to hydraulic ones, but you'll have a great time finding a passion for life on two wheels with this bike.
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The Trek Domane 6 is probably one of the most versatile bikes on the market, with century rides, touring rides, and even fast paced group rides all being taken in its stride when we tested it. In fact, we loved it so much we had to give it an Editor's Choice Award.
Similar to the way Liv Enviliv Advance Pro 2 Disc stretched it's aero categorisation, the Trek Domane 6 does the same for it's 'endurance' one. On test we found it a great do-all bike, managing to be sprightly, if a little heavy on the hills, as well as comfortable.
The ride-smoothing ISOSpeed frame comes with decouplers at the rear of the top tube and in the head tube, making it a very comfortable ride.
Any concerns that this inbuilt suspension would compromise power transfer were quickly put to bed, with its oversized tubing assisting in its responsiveness to seated and out-the-saddle efforts.
In 2020, Trek did away with the gender categorisation, and is now offering smaller sizes across the board, giving all riders more fit and colour options. In the words of Trek, they're all women's bikes, and they're all men's bikes.
Read more: Trek Domane SL6 full review
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Reasons to avoid
Ridden by the likes of Marianne Vos, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasioand the rest of the CCC-Liv Women's WorldTour Team, the Liv Langma Advanced Pro 1 is a direct descendant of the professionally ridden one.
It's also worth noting that Liv has launched an update for the 2022 Langma, with a stiffer fork, although it seems to have kept the front cables that we weren't keen on.
The bike's biggest claim to fame is its low weight, and our review model - with disc brakes and Shimano Ultegra - came in at 15.7lbs/ 7.13kg, but the top-end rim brake options sit under the UCI weight limit of 6.8kg and had to be bolstered for pro riders.
The low weight, however, hasn't reduced its stiffness - even a sprinter like Coryn Rivera can race this bike to success - and we found it offered ample platform for power transfer, with optimised components like the Giant PowerCore bottom bracket and Overdrive II steerer.
Its another stand out bike, and hard to compare against it's peers, but the latest version reminded our Cycling Weekly Tech Ed of the Specialised Aethos that she loved so much.
While we await a full review of the new model, the current one was a top scorer at nearly full marks, and is easily a GC contender, and will more than hold its own on all but off-road terrain, meaning there is a great deal to really like about the bike.
Read more: Liv Langma Advanced SL Disc full review
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Stand down, grammar police: it's not a typo - Canyon has intentionally dropped the 'n' from its Endurace bike, as it's designed to accommodate all-day riding with a chassis still nimble enough to hustle in a fast paced ride or sprint.
On test, we found it a very well-balanced bike on the road, offering a sweet-spot of comfort and performance. It's an exceptionally well spec'ed bike, packing in a Shimano 105 complete groupset and a DT Swiss Wheels, a package that punch well above its price bracket.
The Canyon Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 7.0 is a great bike for what you would pay for it, and certainly gives the Trek Domane SL 6 a good run for its money, but it's been around a while now and we'd love to see an update which would probably see it lose a few ounces in weight which if it did, would rocket this to top spot.
Read more: Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 7.0 full review
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
We absolutely loved the Boardman SLR 8.9 offering from Boardman. The carbon frame and fork makes this one of the lightest bikes when compared to others around the same price point, and is impressively teamed with the highly respected Shimano 105 drivetrain.
The Tektro caliper brakes might be a slight turn off for some, but again at the price point they delivered far better stopping power and speed modulation than a mechanical disc, which features on the similarly priced Genesis XCDA 30 or the Giant Contend AR 4.
Looking like an aero frame, you might be surprised to learn that the Boardman SLR is actually part of the endurance range, so best compared more to the Liv Langma Advanced Pro Disc or the Canyon Endurace WMN CF SL Disc 7.0, both below.
There are both male and female versions of the bike available, more or less exactly mirroring each other, with the women's version coming with a Boardman SLR saddle, and a short reach stem and narrow handlebars to help achieve a perfect fit.
Read more: Boardman SLR 8.9 full review
What makes a women's road bike female specific?
There is no simple black and white answer here. Rather unhelpfully, it depends who you ask.
However, whilst manufacturers have to make their decisions based on what they feel will suit the 'average rider', remember that when buying a bike you're an individual.
To get the best women's road bike for you all you need to do is choose a bike for you. Test riding women's specific and unisex bikes will probably give you your answer.
There are two clear approaches that brands take:
Brands offering women's road bikes with female specific frame geometry
Some brands build a frame to be completely women's specific.
This is often represented in a shorter top tube, and taller head tube. The result is a slightly more upright geometry. Many of the best women's road bikes also feature a slacker head angle and longer rake - which does tend to position the bike closer to that of a unisex endurance bike.
The reasons for this vary: some brands say their research suggests women have a shorter wingspan (arms), meaning a shorter reach is ideal. Others suggest a women's lower upper body mass and centre of gravity make this a more suitable option, while some explain that women position their pelvis differently to avoid soft tissue compression. The results of focus groups and studies imply that many women want to ride in a more upright position.
Brands creating a bike with female specific frame geometry will spec the bike with components that match the intended rider - the handlebars, stems, saddles, cranks and gearing will all be female friendly (more on that below).
Brands offering women's road bikes with unisex geometry and female specific components
Other brands choose not to create a female specific frame, but instead to offer the same chassis as the unisex bikes, but with components adjusted to better suit the average woman's requirements.
Components that are often changed on a female specific bike include:
Handlebars: women generally have narrower shoulders, and ideally your handlebars should measure a similar width to your shoulders. So a well fitting women's road bike will have narrow handlebars. Shifters are often wound in to suit smaller hands (though you can do this for free at home on Shimano or SRAM shifters).
Stem: While frames built from 'the ground up' to suit women often have a shorter reach, those providing a unisex frame will nearly always fit a shorter stem. This does the same job of decreasing the reach, but can affect the handling.
Cranks: Women are typically shorter than men, so usually have shorter legs. Crank length is a debate on its own - but as a rule, reducing the length of the crank allows smaller riders to get the most from each pedal stroke. In the case of a very small frame, the cranks also need to be reduced in size to prevent toe overlap with the front wheel.
Gearing: If we're comparing Joe Bloggs and Lizzie Deignan, it's not realistic to say that the female rider will produce less power. But if we're comparing Joe Bloggs and Joanna Bloggs, it's an understandable assumption. It's therefore hightly likely to find the best women's road bikes featuring a compact or semi compact chainset (50/34 or 52/36 respectively) and wide ratio cassette (11-28 or 11-32).
Standover height: Some women's bikes have a sloping top tube, to reduce standover height. This applies more to hybrid bikes and mountain bikes.
Sizes: A unisex frame with female components marketed as the women's version will usually be available in smaller sizes. In an ideal world, the brand will scale down other elements of the geometry and aspects such as fork angle will change too.
Saddle: Women frequently report saddle discomfort putting them off cycling. Most riders will swap the saddle on their bike early on - but a women's model will come with a women's saddle, giving a slightly higher chance of getting on with the perch after just a few rides.
Brands offering unisex frames with non-adjusted components
Many women choose to buy a standard unisex frame, and adjust the components above to suit. Indeed, many men will adjust these on unisex bikes in time.
If you're at a stage in your riding career where you know you'll do this anyway, then it doesn't make much difference.
However, picking a great women's road bike with these components already tweaked can make the first few months of bike ownership much cheaper - especially for beginners who don't have the standard cyclist's garage full of spare stems, handlebars and saddles.
Is it all about the saddle?
Mike Smith is one of Britain’s top Retül bike fitters and runs Velomotion in Milton Keynes. He believes that the major difference in men's and women's bike fit lies in saddle comfort.
He commented: “I think it all comes around the saddle which makes the real difference to a female rider. Women are a lot more sensitive to putting weight through their perineum, soft tissue and their pubic bone.
“They prefer to sit to the back of the saddle where they put more weight through their sit bones.”
This sensitivity can be relieved by using a saddle with a cut-out, though thought should still be given to saddle width. “Spacing between the sit bones means the average woman would favour a wider saddle compared to a male rider,” Smith added.
Failure to address the saddle issue will see the rider sitting way back on her saddle, bending at the waist, not the hips, to give an upright position that makes the bike feel longer than it really is. This is a problem manufacturers mitigate with the aforementioned different tube lengths.
What type of women's road bike should you look for?
Before you enter a bike shop, get a clear idea of what you want your perfect women's road bike for. If you want the speed and aerodynamic benefits of a drop bar bike, then you're in the road bike camp - and the next step is to decide if you want an endurance focused on more aggressive race orientated frame.
Key road bike categories include:
Endurance focused women's road bikes
Endurance women's road bikes will generally feature a shorter reach, and a taller stack - putting the rider in a more upright position. Disc brakes are more popular in this category, along with a longer wheelbase to aid stability and the material will be fine tuned to offer greater compliance - or comfort. The Trek Domane is an example of an endurance road bike.
Race focused women's road bikes
Race bikes are created to offer nippy handling and a lower, more aero position - usually with a longer reach, lower stack and short wheelbase. The fork angles will be tuned for quick and responsive handling. Some of the best women's road bikes in this style will have disc brakes, which in our opinion are fantastic when hydraulic, and less so when mechanical (cable- actuated), so don't be immediately put off rim / caliper brakes for the sake of any disc options.
Best women's gravel bikes
If you are sold on the idea of owning a bike that fits your gender best, but want to hit the rough stuff, you might find that our guide on best women's gravel bikes a great help.
There's a lot of variation between cyclocross, adventure road and gravel bikes. They're all designed for riding on and off road - just to different degrees. gravel bikes bikes are one of the most versatile, suited to both road and trails, with higher bottom brackets to help you avoid roots and rocks, with more space for tyre clearance. Adventure road are similar, but closer to an endurance road bike, while a cyclocross bike will be designed purely for being nimble on rough terrain.
Best women's hybrid bikes
If you are looking for the best wheels for both rough and smooth, then our page on the best women's hybrid bikes is the one for you.
For city slickers who want flat bars and the option of hopping onto rough park tracks and canal paths, then a wider tyre hybrid with disc brakes like the Trek FX Disc Women's or Carrera Subway could be the thing. These will have flat handlebars, and offer a great deal of stability, though handling won't be quite as nippy as a road bike.
Electric women's road bikes
You might find that added vavavoom from one of the best women's electric bikes is what you've been missing on your rides.
If you would benefit from an extra boost up the difficult climbs or so you don't get so sweaty on your commute into the city, there are electric versions of road bikes. These will vary from ones with a hub-based or frame-mounted motor—and can offer different levels of assistance and range of battery life.
You don't have to use the electric assistance on these bikes at all times but it is always there for when you want it. But bear in mind, the e-bikes with the more powerful motors (and best assistance) are often heavier which can make cycling harder than usual when switched off. Therefore, keeping an eye on your battery levels and choosing a bike which has a big enough battery capacity for your riding is essential.
Women's road bike size chart
Road bikes are generally sold in sizes along the lines of 48cm, 50cm, 52cm and so on - though some brands choose instead to go for 'Small', 'Medium' and 'Large'.
There's no real standardisation in road bike sizing - which means one road bike brand's 48cm might suit a rider on a 50cm frame from one of their competitors. Not only that, but the same brand might call a unisex frame a 50cm, whilst the same rider might fit a 52cm frame in their women's range. Confusing, right?
The first option for many is to start by using the brand's designated sizing chart, dictating the ideal height range for each frame size.
Above is an example of a what sized women's bike you would need depending on your height. However, this is just to give you a rough idea of where to start your search.
Ideally you need a test ride before making any decisions. A rider with a shorter torso will generally go for a smaller frame than a rider with a long torso, even if they're the same height, as most of their length is in the leg (saddle height is much more adjustable than reach). Getting the right size is down to personal preference rather than black-and-white measurements.
We've got lots of hints and tips on how to find exactly the right sized women's bike for you on our road bike size guide (opens in new tab) , which can actually be applied to all styles of bikes.
Tips for choosing an ideal women's road bike for you
Once you know what sort of bike you're after, shop around online, and produce a list of bikes you're interested in. Most brands frame families will come available in a range of models, with different levels of specification.
More expensive groupsets will be lighter and longer lasting - and it is generally considered that it is better to spend at the top end of your budget to avoid further expenditure through upgrades.
With a few choice models selected, ask for test rides, using the experience to help you decide what you like. Remember when testing unisex bikes that wider handlebars and a less-than-perfect saddle might be altering the ride quality.
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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