While the gear may not look much different, mountain bikes for women do have a few important differences from what they make for men.
Everything to do with mountain bikes can and often is tailored just for women. Glove and shoe sizes are only the most obvious examples. But, while many women can ride a standard mountain bike, this central element, too, usually gets a makeover for the female rider.
Women cyclists typically have as much endurance and skill as any male. But, on average, men have more upper body strength and larger thighs. As a result, bikes are sometimes scaled down in several ways.
A women’s mountain bike is made from lighter materials to reduce weight to a minimum. The frame ground clearance is slightly lower to account for their shorter average height. The larger 29″ wheels sometimes favored by men are rarer on women’s mountain bikes. The head angles tend to be sharper to accommodate shorter arms and torsos.
The seat may undergo a transformation. Women’s pelvic bones are wider, so the saddle will be broadened to compensate. Butterfly seats (a triangular design) are much more commonly found on a women’s mountain bike than a man’s. Gel packs are more common in women’s bike seats to accommodate sharp ‘sit points’.
Even grips can be tailored for women. With (again, on average) smaller hands a smaller diameter grip is helpful. Specialty grips with end-wings increase the amount of control and require less wrist and finger strength to produce the needed results.
Hydration systems can be specifically oriented toward a woman’s needs, too. The amount and type of fluid intake for them is somewhat different. Both genders need mineral and water replacement during the ride, but the amount of potassium, sugar, and more is modified to suit their specific needs. Smaller diameter bottles are an option, too.
Women have slightly different internal body temperatures, on average, than men and generate heat at a slower rate. As a result, riding shorts and shirts are created with the two different genders in mind. The location and degree of wicking, padding locations, degree of movement in the back, and more all get special treatment.
Certainly it’s possible for women to ride a man’s mountain bike, use the same seat, to wear the same clothing, and more. In fact, because we’re talking about averages, that can actually be the right decision for a specific woman. But for most, to optimize the ride, it’s best to look for bikes, gear, and apparel with a woman’s attributes in view.