Looking to take your mountain biking adventures to that next level? Or want to get into trail riding but are intimidated by the sea of male-oriented mountain bikes? By simply arming yourself with a clear understanding of key features to look for in the best mountain bikes for women, you can have your bike and ride it too!
As women now make up 25% of the recreational cyclist market share, many bike companies have been steadily increasing their focus on women. This trend kicked off back to 1999, when the first ever women-specific mountain biking frame design was created. It was called the Juliana (Santa Cruz’ sister brand), designed by legendary pro mountain biker Juli Furtado.
How are Mountain Bikes for Women Different From Other Mountain Bikes?
As mountain bikes evolved over time, though, they became more unisex – naturally making them more women-friendly. They’re now lighter with more reactive front suspension, easier gearing, shorter cranks and a more upright position with shorter reach. They’re also increasingly offered in smaller sizes (for smaller riders) with smaller wheels for maintaining optimal handling. Hence, it’s no longer absolutely necessary to have a women’s specific frame geometry for it to be considered a “women’s bike”, but rather it now comes down to the details in finding your ultimate ride.
What to look for when choosing the best mountain bikes for women
If you’re on the smaller side, look for a bike brand that offers smaller sized frames. Nowadays, as there are many brands offering smaller sizes, it’s no longer necessary to settle for an oversized bike with super tiny stem.
In recent years, mountain bike wheels are now offered in different sizes. If opting for a small frame size, be sure to go for a wheel size that is proportionate to the frame for optimal handling. For example, many MTBs are now offering 27.5-inch wheels with their smaller frames in place of their standard 29 inch wheels.
Smaller bikes are now spec’d with shorter crank arms as standard, such as 165-170 mm length. For shorter riders, this shorter length is more effective as it’s easier to turn over the pedals.
By simply opting for a shorter stem, you can instantly decrease your handlebar reach. As women tend to have shorter upper bodies, a slightly shorter reach ensures that you have max control over your MTB. Today, it’s quite easy to find a stem as short as 3 mm.
To accommodate a shorter reach, narrower handlebars are now commonplace. By narrowing the bar, your whole cockpit such as shifting and braking levers are moved more inbound to make them easier to control.
Thanks to technological advances in the machining of frames and components as well as in materials, mountain bikes are now much lighter than in years past. Even so, weights still vary wildly. Opt for a bike that’s on the lighter side so it’s much easier to handle it at all times. This can also help to build confidence for new riders.
Be sure to choose a front suspension that can be adjusted for lighter riders so you get max benefit from your suspension. In this way, you win a smoother ride and extra control. Rear suspension is also ideally adjustable for lighter riders.
As women tend not to be as strong as men, it is best to choose gearing that’s slightly on the easier side so you can remain on the MTB, even when the trails get incredibly steep. It will also make it easier to maintain a high cadence on the climbs for optimal efficiency. With modern 12 speed drivetrains, this is much less of a consideration.
By going for disc brakes with pinpoint precision, you’ll be assured stopping control – even if you weigh on the lighter side. Disc brakes are also ideal as it takes little effort on the lever to adjust your speed.
While saddle preference is a personal choice, one benefit of a women’s specific saddle is that it tends to be slightly wider in the sit bone area to accommodate for women’s wider hips. Do keep in mind, though, that a female-specific saddle does not work for every woman as all bodies are different. You may even find yourself preferring a male-targeted saddle as it may fit your body better – especially if you have narrow hips.
Which type of mountain bike is best for you?
Now that you’ve decided it’s time to buy a new mountain bike and you’re clear on what to look for when choosing the best women’s mountain bike for your unique needs, all that’s left to do is figure out which type and style of MTB it should be. Check out the main categories below to determine which MTB best fits your needs and riding style:
Types of Mountain Bikes
These mountain bikes have absolutely no suspension. This makes them both lightweight and super responsive as there is nothing to dampen handling of the bike. They are ideal for easy off-road terrain such as fire roads and light technical sections.
Suspension fork in the front, rigid (no suspension) in the rear. This is, by far, the most common MTB version because they’re a solid balance of weight, maneuverability and capability. Perfect for every level of rider, from beginner to professional. It’s a mountain bike that can grow with you as you further develop your skills.
AKA dual suspension. Suspension fork in the front, built-in suspension in the rear triangle of the bike. Most comfy on bumpy terrain, and are built to handle everything thrown at them. They do, however, tend to be on the heavier side and are not terribly beneficial for very light riders.
Used by riders of all cycling levels, this is the most popular mountain bike style. It’s lightweight, agile and can handle most terrains – except for hardcore downhill.
Basically the right bike for (almost) anything! A blend between cross country and downhill bikes.
All-Mountain or Enduro
More downhill-oriented than a trail bike, its strength lies more in dominating the downhills than climbing. Typically you won't see many options here for women's specific.
The Best Mountain Bikes for Women
To help get you started on your search, here are some of the best mountain bikes for women that stand out above the rest for accommodating the typical female build.
Marin Wildcat Trail WFG
Designed specifically for women riders, and offered in sizes as compact as XS with 27.5-inch wheels, these women’s specific mountain bikes sport a custom frame design that’s matched to a woman’s body. This includes lower standover and shorter reach. Female-targeted components such as saddle, grips and short-reach brake levers complete the ultimate package. Offered in different colors that are also carefully selected for making that lasting impression wherever the trail takes you! Check it out here.
Marin Rift Zone 27.5 1
A great value, this playful MTB with 27.5-inch wheels is an excellent choice for smaller riders. A cross between cross country and trail, this full suspension bike with disc brakes is designed for aptly handling a wide variety of terrains. This includes the bike park! Available in XS frame sizes and equipped with short chainstays, it’s lighter and stiffer for delivering enhanced power transfer with quick acceleration yet also delivers a stable ride experience. You can also expect agile handling and improved traction of the rear wheel for lifting your technical skill level. Learn more about it here.
Diamondback Atroz 2
Full suspension typically comes with a big jump in price. That’s not the case here. The Atroz utilizes sealed cartridge bearings in an understated single-pivot design to deliver smooth, durable performance for getting out on the trail. It frame is also sized to accommodate the needs for shorter and lighter riders for a great fit that is confidence inspiring. Check it out here.
Diamondback Release 29 1
The Release 29 1 is a big-wheeled ripper made for long days and big lines with frame sizes that accommodate a wide range of riders. This aluminum 29er is built on the same 130mm travel Level Link suspension platform as its smaller-wheeled siblings like the Atroz. Diamondback adjusted the geometry for 29-inch wheels while keeping a playful attitude. Get the details here.
Found your (almost) dream MTB?
Do keep in mind that if you find a mountain bike that you absolutely love but isn't quite the right fit, it's frequently possible to transform it into your dream bike with a few tweaks and component changes. Components such as crankset, stem, handlebar, suspension, gearing, brakes and saddle can all be switched out for parts that better suit your unique needs. Get in touch with our knowledgeable staff and they'll be happy to help you out! They can also help you to get yourself equipped with all necessary gear to get the most out of your riding experience.
Before you ride
Once you’re on the road with your brand new MTB, check out these tips for keeping safe. And to keep the wheels rolling, be sure to read how to quickly and easily change a flat tire. Lastly, by properly maintaining your MTB, you help it to perform at its best for a long time to come.
Check out GovVelo's selection of the best women's mountain bikes here.