Why Do Men’s Bike Frames Have the Top Crossbar Horizontal, But Women’s are Slanted?

Mary asks: Why do men’s bike frames have the top bar horizontal, while women’s bike frames have it slanted?  Seems more hazardous for men to have it horizontal…

AnswersI think I speak for all men who have accidentally had their foot slip off a bike petal in saying, it is true that the horizontal bar on men’s bike’s frames is a little more ‘hazardous’.  However, the bar is horizontal for a very good reason, namely structural integrity.  In the early days of bike-design, this additional strength was even more important than it is today, as bikes used to be made of materials that weren’t nearly as strong as modern bikes, such as wood.

As to why women’s bikes are typically different, women used to pretty much exclusively wear dresses and getting your leg lifted over a high bar while wearing a dress was quite scandalous in the early days of biking and even today would be slightly hazardous for skirt wearing women’s ability to keep their underwear off the internet with the pervasiveness of high quality cell phone camera’s. 😉  Thus, to protect a women’s virtue, they originally made bikes with slanted crossbars for women to make it easy for the ladies to modestly mount their bike. This obviously reduced the structural integrity of the bike, but better to be injured than potentially show the world your legs or lady bits, apparently.

Given women don’t typically make a habit of going around riding bikes in dresses anymore, today the slanted crossbar for women is mostly just tradition. Although, I knew a woman in college who mostly wore dresses and skirts and rode her bike everywhere, so I’m sure she appreciated the slanted crossbar (particularly as she hated underwear, but that’s another story; she also lived in a VW van on campus… yes the hippie was strong with this one).  With modern materials that bikes are made of it is no longer necessary to maximize the structural integrity of the bike, so no real need to change the tradition, except for with some high end women’s bikes which can achieve the desirable goal of shedding a little weight by maximizing structural integrity.

Bonus Fact: Contrary to popular belief, the gyroscopic effect of your bike wheels spinning have little to do with your ability to ride a bike.  Read more about why not here: Gyroscopic Effects Have Almost Nothing to Do With Your Ability to Ride a Bike

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  • RMS

    Probably, since there is such a hazard for men to ride traditional “men’s bikes” and there isn’t a need for optimized weight these days (at least for most bikers), it makes the most sense for most bikes to be made in the “traditional women’s” style. In the post you say women’s bikes just haven’t made the switch, but it seems to me that it’s men’s bikes that should be switched–pain-free riding for men, and skirt-wearing ability for women, means win-win for all. Plus, I know from experience they are a lot easier to hop on and off of in many (stiff) men’s pants, too.

    FWIW in The Netherlands men often own and ride “women’s style” bikes.

  • Dave

    Nope RMS you have it backwards. Not only is there a perceived need to lower weight, it’s the primary thing that anyone doing it as more than a hobby, pays more for. They’ll tell you it’s durability too but it’s only durability because they need advanced design and materials to have that durability without adding weight.

    Because the straight top tube is more durable, with a modern high strength frame it means that keeping that design allows for less material, lighter frames. It also provides a lot more storage space for triangle frame packs, and a larger area to mount a tire pump and water bottle.

    It just makes more sense in every way except the two mentioned already, but frankly only a fool rides a bike wearing a skirt and slippage onto the bar is practically eliminated with attention to what you’re doing and of course the right shoe and pedal combination.

    The one exception to that is mountain bike (aggressive off-road or BMX asphalt stunts) use but then the strength of the frame matters all that much more.

  • Richard Cheese

    It’s so they don’t smash their fannies on the bar