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Are women’s specific bikes really necessary? It’s a question that has divided the cycling industry for years with arguments over different designs, geometries, and material layups. It’s a question that Canyon set out to address when redesigning its line of women’s bikes. Until recently, the German company offered “women’s” models that were simply unisex frames draped in different paint schemes and with different saddle options. The new Canyon WMN line, however, was designed from the ground up.
Canyon’s product and brand manager for the women’s line, Katrin Neumann explains that while women’s specific bikes are nothing new, they have a bad reputation for sticking women with low-end components and for their extremely upright riding positions. “Women’s bikes weren’t that sexy,” she said. “If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have picked a women’s bike.”
Neumann and her team worked closely with professional riders from Canyon-SRAM and used the company’s online Perfect Position System (PPS) — which collects fit and physiological data from Canyon customers — to design high-performance women’s race bikes that buck the negative stereotypes. I spent three days riding the hills of Northern California on both the Endurace and Ultimate WMN models and was impressed. Canyon’s aggressive geometry is a refreshing take on women’s specific design. The company’s dedication to smaller bike sizes could be a game-changer for smaller riders.
Fit and geometry
Canyon used over 60,000 data entries from its PPS system to study the biometric and anatomical differences between men and women. Unsurprisingly, the data showed that women are shorter and weigh less than men on average. Women also have shorter arms in relation to their torso (2cm on average) and narrower shoulders. However, women’s leg lengths in relation to the rest of the body do not vary significantly from men’s.
Canyon’s data confirms what is widely accepted throughout the bike industry when it comes to women’s specific geometries: Women’s bikes should have shorter reach and taller stack to accommodate shorter arms and narrow shoulders. But this typically leads to very upright riding positions. “I asked, ‘Why is everyone putting a woman in a more upright position if she is a racer,’” Neumann said. “Why shouldn’t she sit in the same position as a man?”
Instead of adapting its existing unisex bikes to fit women, Canyon focused the full WMN line on smaller riders. They designed the line around XS-size bikes since the majority of women fall in this range (166-172cm tall) and created the same riding position as the average men’s bike (size medium). A slightly taller stack and shorter reach on the women’s bike results in the same hip angle as the larger unisex bike without creating a super-upright position.
I tested Canyon’s largest women’s size (medium), and it felt low and aggressive, unlike most women’s bikes I’ve tested. The differences in geometry between the WMN and unisex models are minimal and provide a comfortable but confident position for steep descents or sharp corners. Both the Ultimate and Endurace models felt like races bikes from the handling and acceleration to the rider position.
Canyon Ultimate size medium (unisex/women’s)
- Top tube length: 556mm/555mm
- Head tube length: 148mm/154mm
- Seat tube angle: 73.5 degrees/73.8 degrees
- Head tube angle: 73.25 degrees/72.25 degrees
- Wheelbase: 996mm/999mm
- Stack: 567mm/573mm
- Reach: 391mm/389mm
Smaller wheels for smaller riders
One of Canyon’s biggest challenges was accommodating very small riders without sacrificing performance. Since all bikes are typically built around the same wheel size, the handling and geometry of smaller bikes are negatively affected, Canyon’s Product Engineer Lukas Schuchnigg explained. Small bikes have slack head tube angles and longer wheelbases compared to larger bikes, making handling slower. Former world champion and 5’3” Canyon-SRAM rider Trixi Worrack said she never felt like she could corner well because her bikes were always too long for her size.
To address this issue, Canyon introduced a radical new design for its 2XS and 3XS women’s bike models. Instead of building the bikes around the typical 700C (622mm) wheels, the two smallest sizes use a new 650B (584mm) road wheel standard. This keeps the geometry and ride qualities in line with the larger sizes.
“It’s all about trail,” Schuchnigg explains. “650B wheels help keep the trail number down for better, more aggressive handling.” A bike’s trail number is derived from the relationship between the front tire’s contact patch on the road and the bike’s head tube angle. The larger the trail value, the slower the handling. Traditionally, small bikes have had large trail numbers due to the slack head tube angle needed to accommodate larger wheels. Trail is drastically reduced on the new Canyon 2XS and 3XS WMN bikes. Plus, the head tube angle is steepened and wheelbase shortened for better handling.
Bike manufacturers have toyed with smaller sizes before with the 650C wheel platform reaching its peak in the late 1990s. Emma Pooley won the 2010 Time Trial World Championships on a 650C TT bike. But smaller wheel sizes increase the bike’s rolling resistance making them feel slow, so most bike manufacturers abandoned the small wheel platform.
Canyon’s new 650B wheel platform is not as small as 650C. Schuchnigg says that any added rolling resistance compared to the normal 700c wheels is minimal. In fact, the smaller wheels provide better rotational inertia since the mass is located closer to the hub than larger wheels. This makes for snappier acceleration. Both Worrak and Canyon-SRAM teammate Tiffany Cromwell noted the improved acceleration out of corners on the small women’s bikes.
Only Reynolds and Schwalbe are currently manufacturing wheels and tires for the 650B platform so choices for race equipment are limited. Canyon hopes other brands will follow and hinted that DT Swiss and SRAM have products on the way.
I’m too tall to test Canyon’s extra small bikes, but if they handle and accelerate like the size medium, then small riders are in for a zesty ride. Both the Ultimate and Endurace flew through corners with confidence and accelerated quickly with each pedal stroke. I immediately felt comfortable and confident on each bike and was eager to push the limits uphill and down.
Light, stiff, and discs
Neumann’s goal wasn’t to just build better women’s bikes when starting the Canyon WMN project. She wanted them on par with Canyon’s unisex bikes. Using Computer Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnel testing, they developed lighter, faster, and more comfortable bikes.
The women’s Ultimate SLX race bike is 6.5% lighter and 3% more aerodynamic than the unisex model. It uses lower profile tube shapes while maintaining the same stiffness to weight ratio. “The women’s bike are actually performing better than the unisex bikes,” said Thorsten Lewandowski, Canyon’s Global Communications Manager. “The women’s bikes are setting the benchmark for all of Canyon’s bikes now.”
Interestingly, the new women’s line features only disc brake bike models. Canyon-SRAM was one of the first UCI women’s teams to use disc brakes in races this year. Riders debuted the new Canyon WMN bikes at the Amgen Tour of California. “We were actually surprised when the women asked for disc brake,” said Neumann. “We already wanted to use discs but it was a surprise they asked for it on their own.”
As for the future of Canyon’s bikes, we expect to see more and more disc brake models appearing. “For us [discs] are the future,” Schuchnigg said. “And it doesn’t make sense to develop any bikes with rim brakes because it’s useless.”
The best women’s bikes tested
After several days of riding steep canyon roads, descending sharp switchbacks, and cruising through California countryside, I can confidently say Canyon’s new WMN bikes are the best women’s bikes I’ve tested. They’re comfortable, quick, and extremely fun to ride. And best of all, they offer the aggressive riding position and ride qualities across the board no matter your size. Canyon not only answers the question of whether we need women’s specific bikes but sets a new standard for what women’s specific bikes should be.
** Canyon officially launches its U.S. distribution this August. Prices for the new women’s line of bikes have yet to be determined but will be announced before sales open this summer.