Mountain Bike Setup for Girls

article038The BIGGEST frustration in AR for the guys on the team is usually the inability of the girl in the team to manage a MTB performance that comes close to the rock-hopping feats or death defying descents that the boys manage – I can think of more than one team that falls short (temporarily) of the 50(0) m rule on a good downhill, or tests the limits of their mutual tolerance for each others riding styles through thick sand or over rocks.

The good news is it’s not the woman’s fault – she is riding a bike built for a man, unless lucky enough to use a rare (in South Africa), and expensive, woman’s geometry bike. After getting on my girlfriend’s now sex-changed bike for a spin around the garden I can vouch for the discomfort and difficulty of piloting a bicycle from the other side of the gender fence.

Sex education – Girls have longer legs and shorter torsos than guys do. They also have smaller hands and generally weigh 20-30kg’s less (that’s 1/3 of most guys’ body mass) – still don’t understand why the bike doesn’t behave like it should?

So here we go – 5 steps to transform a standard MTB to a she-bike:

  1. Shorten the handlebar stem. (R300-R350). The biggest difference in shape (apart from the obvious) is the relative difference in torso length as alluded to above. Most shops will sell you a bike based on leg length, which makes the saddle-to-handlebar gap too big for most women. The only way to change this is to replace the handlebar stem (the piece between the fork stem and the handlebars) with a shorter one. This prevents you from overextending, and allows you to move your weight more towards the back of the bike – which helps on the downhills – as well as requiring less arm movement to steer, which is good if you don’t have knee-level arms. 
  2. Adjust the brake levers to “take” later. Most bike mechanics will set up a your brakes to take the moment you touch the brake lever. This is not so great if your hand barely spans the gap between handlebar and brake lever and you have to use your fingernail-tips to brake. The brake lever should rather be adjusted so that it takes nearer to the handlebar where you can comfortably rest the palms of your hands on the padded bar. Some brake levers include an adjustment screw to make them sit closer to the handlebars as well. It may also help to position the brakes in a flatter position (parallel to the ground) so that you don’t have to curl your hands around the bar. 
  3. Buy a ladies saddle (R350 – R700). A woman’s coccyx (tailbone) doesn’t go on a man’s saddle – long offroad rides can cause localised inflammation (a condition called coccydinea) that, reportedly, hurts a lot when you sit on it. Enough said. 
  4. Buy thinner tyres and pump them less (2xR200, or find a guy friend who’ll swop for yours – his replacement fatty’s are probably twice as expensive). The frictional coefficient is a function of force and area – if I remember my high-school physics. A lighter person therefore needs a smaller area on which to exert her mass to get the same result – grip. Thinner tyres also help in sand or goo where they cut through the soft stuff to find the harder support beneath; no tyre will provide any traction floating on top of the goo if you’re not heavy enough to sink it through.
    Pumping your tyres less is probably obvious, but often not considered by a male riding partner or an eager second. A lesser weight on a rock-hard tyre bounces more. Rather soften the tyre a bit – put away that high-pressure pump for your road bike. 
  5. Soften the shock. I used to ride with a guy who weighed 95kg and the standard non-adjustable shock on his bike worked just fine. If you weigh 50kg you need to adjust your shock to a soft setting if you can, or talk to a bike mechanic about tuning a non-adjustable shock to something more appropriate to your weight.

Happy riding!

Thanks to Fourie Kotze for his inspiring article, which he prepared earlier this year. His advice has helped me transform my girlfriend’s MTB’ing from something barely preferable to rugby-watching to a pastime she relishes and an asset to our team

he BIGGEST frustration in AR for the guys on the team is usually the inability of the girl in the team to manage a MTB performance that comes close to the rock-hopping feats or death defying descents that the boys manage – I can think of more than one team that falls short (temporarily) of the 50(0) m rule on a good downhill, or tests the limits of their mutual tolerance for each others riding styles through thick sand or over rocks.

The good news is it’s not the woman’s fault – she is riding a bike built for a man, unless lucky enough to use a rare (in South Africa), and expensive, woman’s geometry bike. After getting on my girlfriend’s now sex-changed bike for a spin around the garden I can vouch for the discomfort and difficulty of piloting a bicycle from the other side of the gender fence.

Sex education – Girls have longer legs and shorter torsos than guys do. They also have smaller hands and generally weigh 20-30kg’s less (that’s 1/3 of most guys’ body mass) – still don’t understand why the bike doesn’t behave like it should?

So here we go – 5 steps to transform a standard MTB to a she-bike:

  1. Shorten the handlebar stem. (R300-R350). The biggest difference in shape (apart from the obvious) is the relative difference in torso length as alluded to above. Most shops will sell you a bike based on leg length, which makes the saddle-to-handlebar gap too big for most women. The only way to change this is to replace the handlebar stem (the piece between the fork stem and the handlebars) with a shorter one. This prevents you from overextending, and allows you to move your weight more towards the back of the bike – which helps on the downhills – as well as requiring less arm movement to steer, which is good if you don’t have knee-level arms. 
  2. Adjust the brake levers to “take” later. Most bike mechanics will set up a your brakes to take the moment you touch the brake lever. This is not so great if your hand barely spans the gap between handlebar and brake lever and you have to use your fingernail-tips to brake. The brake lever should rather be adjusted so that it takes nearer to the handlebar where you can comfortably rest the palms of your hands on the padded bar. Some brake levers include an adjustment screw to make them sit closer to the handlebars as well. It may also help to position the brakes in a flatter position (parallel to the ground) so that you don’t have to curl your hands around the bar. 
  3. Buy a ladies saddle (R350 – R700). A woman’s coccyx (tailbone) doesn’t go on a man’s saddle – long offroad rides can cause localised inflammation (a condition called coccydinea) that, reportedly, hurts a lot when you sit on it. Enough said. 
  4. Buy thinner tyres and pump them less (2xR200, or find a guy friend who’ll swop for yours – his replacement fatty’s are probably twice as expensive). The frictional coefficient is a function of force and area – if I remember my high-school physics. A lighter person therefore needs a smaller area on which to exert her mass to get the same result – grip. Thinner tyres also help in sand or goo where they cut through the soft stuff to find the harder support beneath; no tyre will provide any traction floating on top of the goo if you’re not heavy enough to sink it through.
    Pumping your tyres less is probably obvious, but often not considered by a male riding partner or an eager second. A lesser weight on a rock-hard tyre bounces more. Rather soften the tyre a bit – put away that high-pressure pump for your road bike. 
  5. Soften the shock. I used to ride with a guy who weighed 95kg and the standard non-adjustable shock on his bike worked just fine. If you weigh 50kg you need to adjust your shock to a soft setting if you can, or talk to a bike mechanic about tuning a non-adjustable shock to something more appropriate to your weight.

Happy riding!

Thanks to Fourie Kotze for his inspiring article, which he prepared earlier this year. His advice has helped me transform my girlfriend’s MTB’ing from something barely preferable to rugby-watching to a pastime she relishes and an asset to our team.

Author: Michael Dalby