I mentioned in my last blog that looking for data that verified that women have shorter torsos than men lead to dead ends. The data I found did indicate that in all cultures, on average, men are taller than women.
Since bike fit typically begins with stand-over height, I looked at body dimension differences for men and women of equal leg lengths. For a male and a female having equal leg lengths, their torsos lengths are within 0.1 inches (0.3 cm) of each other-pretty close.
Although torso lengths are very close on my sample subjects, the reach distance to the brake levers differed by nearly 2 inches (5.1 cm). This dimension difference comes from women having shorter arms and smaller hands, on average. If women tend to have shorter arms and smaller hands, steering the bike and squeezing brake levers designed for an average male becomes more challenging for a female.
The data I used in the investigation came from a mixed population of men and women in the U.S. military in the late 1970s. This data has some issues and to name a few:
Certain selection criteria has to be met in order to be accepted into the military. The physical standard eliminated small and obese people.
I do not have the data to back this statement up, yet, but I doubt the average U.S. military person in the late 1970s is the same as the average person in the U.S. military in 2007.
People of certain ethnic populations are not well represented in this data. For example, Southeast Asian males are on average smaller than U.S males. They also have smaller hands.
When looking at bike design and marketing in 2007, heading into 2008, it is getting better for the gals all the time. Manufacturers are producing a larger range of bicycles, with several offering high performance models in the smaller frame sizes. It used to be a "women's specific" bike was a smaller version of the men's bikes with lower grade materials and pink paint. While this can still be the case for some, others are putting serious thought into quality, performance-oriented bicycles for women.
Something to ponder...women are at an advantage in that they can purchase women's specific gear or men's gear with no social backlash. The guys, however, are generally not as lucky. Have you ever seen a male intentionally purchasing and riding a women's specific bike?
And, what if a "women's specific" design is a better fit for a sizeable piece of the male population under 5-feet, 8-inches tall?
While you are busying pondering the pros and cons of marketing smaller bikes with some changes in design to women, I have a homework assignment for you.
Pick up any magazine you subscribe to, or purchase from the news stand, that is not a gender-specific magazine. Something endurance- or outdoor-sport related is what I'd like you to select. Thumb through the magazine and count the number of male images and the number of female images you see in the main magazine body (not the small add section at the back of the magazine). Count the head shots of authors and publishers. Include ad photographs. Include story photos and race results.
While you're counting, make a mental note of the photos. Is there a difference between how the males are portrayed versus the females? Look for these general categories:
Strong, athletic, powerful
Let's touch bases in a couple of days....