Girls’ bike redux

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.

I’ve been riding the Urbana Bike almost exclusively for the past three weeks to get to and from work, for my medical appointments and grocery store runs. Urbana is a commuter bicycle that’s really fun to ride.

You might recall the Urbana is “obviously a woman’s bike,” according to the German Redhead, because of the lack of a top tube on this bicycle. I disagree and believe step through bikes like this are not just for the likes of Tim Curry dressed in drag.

Urbana Bikes

It took a while, but I finally got used to mounting and dismounting by demurely moving my leg through the open slot of the bike. It’s easy and quick. I can even do a bikey Time Warp Dance on the Urbana with a little jump to the left and a step to the right as I bring my knees in tight. I stop at the pelvic thrust of insanity because that’s getting just a little more intimate with my bike than I like.

This morning, I rode my go fast road bicycle. It has skinny tires, 30 speeds, a light weight carbon fiber frame and fork, 20 spoke wheels, “Zertz” seat stay inserts, and other gee whiz space age technology for fast, fun en danseuse cycling. When you look carefully at the product image of this bike below, you might notice another important feature of this bike: a top tube.

Specialized Roubaix bicycle

The top tube of a bicycle adds rigidity to the bike frame. “Girls bikes” without a top tube must be much heavier than a traditional triangle frame because extra tube thickness must be added to keep the frame from flexing unreasonably.

The top tube also necessitates a different style of mounting and dismounting the bike. This crotch height obstruction means a cyclist must swing a leg up and over to mount the bike. This is obvious to even newbie cyclists, but it’s surprising how habit forming a step through frame can become.

When I arrived at the office this morning, I tried to dismount as if the top tube wasn’t there. I released my right shoe cleat from the pedal, moved my right leg to the left and was confused by the obstruction stopping my thigh. My right foot, however, continued through on it’s journey to meet the ground on the left side of my bike, while my left foot was still connected to the left pedal.

As you can imagine, hilarity ensued for the voyeuristic bystander observing my awkward stance. I’m sure I looked as if I was spaced out and under sedation when I pretzled my legs through the front triangle and toppled over with an insane pelvic thrust in my abortive Time Warp dance with the pavement.

Hot patootie, bless my soul, I really love that girls’ bike form. Some people consider it transsexual; I think it’s just practical.

Random Six Degrees of Trivia: My best friend from high school is married to the daughter of Anne Francis.


  1. Oooh step-through frames… I sure love them. It makes riding in a skirt that much more demure.

    So this weight difference between step-thru and diamond… do you know how much of a difference it actually is? I'm glad there is the compromise of strength/weight in mixtes!

  2. When I got on the Gazelle, I also was impressed at how a heavy bike that's well-engineered is completely, utterly different than a CPOS. It's a Mercedez-Benz tractor trailer, thank you very much.
    So this thing has disk brakes? but… no chain guard? Still need the ankle straps, eh?

  3. Reese, that Urbana weighs 40 lbs, which is pretty stocky for a bike. On this bike a lot of it is component selection (the 8 speed hub is about 4 lbs, for example, and those wheels and tires aren't lightweight), but there's significant bracing at the bottom of the frame to meet Urbana's design goal of “torsional stiffness.”

    And you're right: the mixte is a compromise to allow you to retain some stiffness with a triangle while giving you a little bit of room over the top.

  4. My first impression (before I actually tried the bike) was “Heavy = slow and uncomfortable.” But your'e right, a well engineered bike is very different from your run of the mill cheap junk, even with a step through frame.

    There's the little “bash guard” style disk over the chainring to prevent pants-in-chain mishap. Urbana has an available chainguard but I haven't had a problem with getting my pants greasy. No ankle strap has been needed (so far).

  5. N00b has informed me that the prevailing opinion among “normal people” is that “girls' bikes” have either a distinct S-shape* or a sloping top tube, and that their reaction to a U-frame is more “WTF is that?” than “Why are you riding a girls' bike?” The color also makes a big difference, which I was surprised to hear. I guess I've forgotten that it matters to people, now that I'm in the habit of thinking of bikes like cars, most of which come in really boring colors.

    *Like the Trek WSD 7000 series used to; it looks like they've been made more asexually U-shaped since my coworker got hers a few years ago. They're still being sold under “Women,” though.

  6. Using the terminology of “women's” and “men's” bicycles is unfortunate and detrimental. It is actually off-putting to cycling newcomers because it reinforces the idea that you have to get one particular type of bicycle, when in fact there is nothing gender-specific about either a step-through or diamond frame (or mixte).

    We must stop telling bicycle beginners that only a specific type of bicycle will work for them. That is an unnecessary barrier. Any bike that fits your height will work. Even your brother's or sister's. You do NOT have to buy a whole new one to start.

    The only “women's bike” really are road bikes which have subtle proportional differences for the smaller frame sizes (and have a top tube).

  7. I found one case where I (a dude) really prefer the “girl's bike frame”: I put an over-the-back-wheel baby seat on my wife's bike, and when I want to take the kid for a ride, I take hers. When you get on or off, or just stop mid-ride, with a little one strapped in back there, you really want to keep the bike vertical, and getting off the seat and putting both feet on the ground makes it work.

  8. For commuters who ride in all weather, chain protection isn't about keeping grease off pants. It's about keeping water, grit, and salt (from anti-ice salting of winter roads) off the chain. It's a shame to have the internal gear hub without the full chain case that it enables. The new Schwinn World NX7 has one at a nice price point. (Link from my name.)

  9. The benefits of a full chaincase is probably worth a discussion of its own. I have several winters of cycling on icy, gritty, salted roads — a front fender seems to keep most of the junk away from the chain and bottom bracket. My only experience with full chaincases, however, has been in relatively mild winters in Japan and California. I'll try to bring this discussion up later this week and ask around for other opinions. People whose opinions I respect both love and hate chaincases.

  10. What do you think of the color of my bike? Urbana calls this “Sangria,” I think of it as kind of cranberry-ish. The Europeans I know all call it “PINK” (they actually pronounce the all caps).

  11. Great, I'll look forward to it.

    Yes, front fenders help a lot, especially with a big mudflap.

    One benefit I find with a chain case, that I didn't appreciate when I first got a bike with one, is that it solves some of the rock-and-hard-place dilemmas of chain care. With an exposed chain, one hopes for a magic lube formula that dirt doesn't stick to, but that still lubricates and protects against corrosion adequately, and one tries to apply just enough to be adequate without applying too much. With a chain case, there's no need for avoid sticky oil, and you can slobber it on liberally. I use soy-based oil, but nothing special is required.

    Similarly, there's the dilemma of whether it's OK to lube a chain without cleaning first–the danger is that you wash road grit into the chain by oiling before cleaning, but that can lead to avoiding lubing when it really needs it. With the chain case, there's no grit on the surface, so there's no reason to avoid lubing. At the same time, the frequency of needing to oil is less, because you can apply plenty and it doesn't get washed off. Rather than being between a rock and a hard place, you are between a sofa and a couch.

  12. I want to take the kid for a ride, I take hers. When you get on or
    off, or just stop mid-ride, with a little one strapped in back there,
    you really want to keep the bike vertical, and getting off the seat and
    putting both feet on the ground makes it work.

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