Step-through Frames

Bicycles with step-through frames, traditionally known in the U.S. as “women’s bikes”, are slowly gaining in popularity among people of both genders. They’re widely ridden by both men and women of all ages in Europe, and with the increasing number of gender-neutral step-throughs on the market, we’re seeing more on the roads in the U.S. The ease of mounting and dismounting step-throughs can be advantageous for a variety of reasons:

  • Step-throughs enable those with physical limitations (particularly those with hip injuries) to mount and dismount without risking injury
  • Step-throughs are easier to mount than diamond frames when a bike is heavily loaded and rear panniers or cargo are in the way
  • Step-throughs provide clearance in front of the saddle for wearing loose clothes
  • Step-throughs provide quick dismounts for riders making deliveries or running errands at multiple locations

One of my main rides is a Civia Loring with a step-through frame. The Loring is what I think of as a semi-step-through; in other words, it’s half way between a sloping top tube frame and a full step-through frame. Even so, a few people have asked me if I feel self-conscious riding it, the assumption being that it’s a “woman’s bike” and that I might somehow feel threatened by riding it. I can unequivocally say no, I don’t at all feel self-conscious about riding a step-through.

I’m curious, do EcoVelo readers (men or women) feel funny about riding a step-through? Do you see them as less serious than diamond frame bicycles? Would you feel self-conscious riding one?

Would you feel self-conscious riding a bicycle with a step-through frame?

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33 Responses to “Step-through Frames”

  • Tom says:

    I ride a cargo bike with a step-through frame. It allows cargo to be stacked high behind the seat because you don’t have to swing your leg over the rear of the bike.

    I think the many of the newer bikes with steeply-sloping top tubes don’t look very different form the traditional step through.

  • Julian says:

    My Madsen cargo bike and my Globe Live bike (http://totcycle.com/globe/man-enough-for-a-mixte.html) are both step-through. No qualms about riding them. The Madsen is goofy enough with the bucket on the back as it is, and the Globe bike looks nicer as a mixte, so not worried about the “lady frame” stereotype.

    I agree with Tom about rear cargo, and would add that rear child seats also benefit from a step-through frame.

    Step-through frames also allow me (5’9″) to share the bikes with my wife (5’2″), perhaps not with ideal geometry for her, but perfectly usable for short utility trips.

    And according to the Swedes, they’re safer, especially for seniors: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/swedes-say-girl-bikes-safer.php

  • Juan says:

    Yeah, I agree with Tom about all the new sloping top tube bikes, esp. mountain bikes. You might as well call those ‘step-through’. I really like mixte frames. I like that Riv gave their mixte a man color and a different manly name.

  • PJ says:

    I ride my Loring a ton, I was never self-conscious about it but I can’t say I thought it would become my favorite short distance bike either.
    PJ

  • Graham says:

    Honestly, I don’t think this question is that simple for me. If was given the option of riding a powder blue commuter in either a standard diamond frame or a step through, I would choose the standard because with the step through I’d feel like I was riding a “women’s” bike. However, if I was offered the same choice with two cargo bikes, I’d choose the step through because its more practical and obviously adds to its utility.

    So I think that this is a much more layered question than a simple yes or no. Cargo bikes have a job that trumps all other considerations and the mixte frame facilitates that job. A similar argument can be made for mountain bikes, but with regards to safety. Commuter or recreation bicycles, however, seem to me to be more susceptable to the “girl bike” phenomenon.

  • RJ says:

    You mean you don’t need a “man bar”? ;) ha ha!

    I think gender neutral step-throughs are great!

    Even in the road bike world, with “women’s” road bikes– that essentially just have a shorter top tube and maybe close-reach levers– should be slated as “petite” bikes and not “women’s” because smaller men would really benefit from the same design!

    Alas, but there is money to be made if you paint a bike pink and purple and say it is for a woman.

  • Kevin says:

    I commute to WB Studios on my “women’s” Schwinn Voyageur, which has decals plastered all over it reading, “Woman Tuned” (actually these I could do without: it’s even etched on the handle grips) and the only time I miss that potential falsetto-producing bar is when I’m putting it on my car’s bike rack (had to buy a little clamp on bar which extends from handlebars to seat post to substitute… worth it). Anyway, I always wondered why tempt fate with that “man bar” and noticed on my trips out of the country that there didn’t seem to be the same distinction. So, finally, I just bought myself a “girl’s bike.” Someone pointed out that it’s probably less likely to be stolen… don’t know if that’s true (but I can see why someone might think so). Bottom line: when it comes to choosing what you ride, why be a sexist? The important thing is: just ride!

  • BikeManDan.com says:

    One of the unintended bonuses of my Bike Friday is that it has a crazy low stepover. I didn’t even think about this when I ordered but have come to love it!

  • s0fa says:

    I’m self-conscious about mixtes when I’m standing next to them but in my experience that goes away the minute you get on it and ride. If you’re paying attention to traffic like you should be I imagine most people forget about it.

  • townmouse says:

    @RJ – I wish I knew where this obsession with painting things pink and marketing them to women came from. It drives this woman nuts, and I’ve not met a single other cycling woman who feels anything other than faintly patronised at the idea of being sold a pink bike – or a pink trowel or a pink set of spanners either for that matter. Occasionally I do buy pink things – if they have them in no other colour and I really have to get it – but there is much muttering first.

    I rode my Dad’s mixte for years. He bought it because of a leg problem that made a straight top bar impractical. It was, however, definitely NOT pink and was reasonably neutral in design but that didn’t stop everybody I knew asking me why my dad rode a girl’s bike (I told them it was because ‘he couldn’t get his leg over’) (that may only be funny if you’re British)

  • RJ says:

    @townmouse: I don’t mind pink SOMETIMES, like when it’s a hot pink that is more punky than sissy.. but really, the coloring just makes me feel like a 12 year old instead of a grown woman!

    I wonder what it would take for manufacturers to break this pattern.. I think that the current coloring “works” and big companies like Trek aren’t going to take risks.. so.. looks like more pink in our future. :(

  • David says:

    While I’m generally not self-conscious about my appearance (just ask my oft-mortified wife), I would still prefer my sloping top tube hardtail mtb-style frame to a full step-through frame. It offers many of the advantages of the step through without the compromised structure that requires more weight to regain sufficient strength.

    That said, I don’t like the half-measures either. If you’re going to use curved tubing to increase clearance, really put it to work and go full swoop. The Loring’s bent top tube just looks like cosmetics for cosmetics’ sake rather than a functional measure, though I do think the rear triangle form is attractive. Similarly, the Hyland’s curved seat stays just look a cosmetic treatment and out of place on that frame. IMHO, of course.

  • Mark says:

    Much like @BikeManDan, I have also found that the low step-over on my Dahon is very convenient when hopping on and off the bike. My biggest issue now is that I need to remember that I can’t swing my leg through my diamond framed bikes!

  • Rex in Phoenix says:

    “potential falsetto-producing bar…”

    HAHA–So classic.

    I voted no but I feel a bit like Graham in that in extreme cases a bike could be too feminine looking for me. That said we have two step-throughs that I share with my wife and ride regularly. They were both pitched as “womens’ mountain bikes” in the pre-suspension era so they are obvious step-throughs without looking too dainty. One was, until recently, dedicated to a child seat and the other has a front basket and the Wald rear pannier baskets. I discovered that I could bungee a four-gallon water jug on top of the rear basket frame and fetch water with it (Phoenicians don’t like the tap water). It exceeds the common-sense application of the bike and the basket frame but the machine is a 1/2 mile away and I ride slowly with it. It’s just fun being able to pull it off.

    Final observation, our sizable immigrant population here seems to care less about men riding step-throughs, so frequently seeing that combo might have conditioned me to it a little.

    Final observation number two… I have an inexpensive trunk rack on which I am able to put the step-throughs by putting one rack arm under the sloping tube where it meets the head tube and the other rack arm between the seat tube and seat stays. Is this bad? I’ve seen the clamp-on top tubes but never thought I needed one.

  • Eric says:

    Just last night I completed an overhaul of a Motobecane Grand Jubilee mixte for my wife for Valentine’s day. What a beautiful bike. Took it out for a test ride at 11 p.m., amidst the snow and ice in Virginia, and as much as I am excited to give it to her, I want to keep it for myself. Think I might have to invest in the Velo Orange mixte coming out this Spring in a large frame size.

  • John says:

    All of the Folding Bikes are step through and Unisex and I have a Brompton Foldy which can fly around as fast as a normal Bike. There are other Bikes with the same design that are not Foldys and are used by both Sexes. A lot of Old People prefer the Step through as it is easier to get on it. The Postman has a step through Postal Bike and has two big bags of Mail on front and back Carrier.

    I have seen quite a few Men in Ireland with Step throughs,nobody cares anymore what type of a Bike you have.

    I also have a big Dutch Bike which is a Transport Bike with a Detachable front Carrier as well as the Rear Carrier and a lowered step ,it is called a Pastors Fiets Priests Bike for this reason. It has a Crossframe instead of just the one Crossbar and is very strong. Dublin Ireland.

  • antbikemike says:

    Not long ago men had to ride a diamond frame that was several sizes to big for him, just to feel like man. Maybe has something to do with smashing your “Nads’ just to remind you that you have some?
    I like step through bikes and have had them many times in the past. I have been considering making another one for myself [every winter I get this idea, so I can dismount more easliy], maybe even to the extent of making one that goes all the way to the ground [more like a walk through frame]. It just makes common sense to have a city bike like this.
    Now with that said. Diamond frames are, for the most part lighter, stiffer and flex less.

  • John says:

    I ride an Electra Amsterdam Balloon “womens” and it has a very “girly” top tube. At first I was apprehensive about the look of the bike but after swapping out the light brown saddle and cream tyres to black it looked a lot more “masculine”. I knew I wanted a step through bike for my Xtracycle and it’s pretty rare to find one with enormous tyre clearance as well.

  • Bob Baxter says:

    I feel a bit of testosterone wafting through this thread. At 82 y/o mine has thinned out considerably. I have a Betty Foy on orderand have no qualms about riding it in public where everyone can see me. I could get the Yves Gomez for $200 more but I’d rather put the money in accessories. I might balk at pink though.

  • Roland Smith says:

    I really prefer riding my recumbent, actually, it’s the only bike I currently own. :-)

    So it’s not really a matter of self-conscience, but if I’m forced to use a DF bike, I prefer one with a top tube.

    A lot of ladies bikes here in the Netherlands follow the pattern of the classic “oma” (granny) bike, with two tubes (one straight, one curved) running from the region of the bottom bracket to the headset. While this provides a large amount of step-through, it also makes these frames extremely wobbly, especially with a load on the back. That’s why I prefer a bike with a top tube.

  • Andrew says:

    I don’t think I’d feel self-conscious about it, I just couldn’t really see much reason to ride one. I’ve certainly ridden them plenty in the past (i.e. when renting bikes in Southeast Asia), but prefer both the style and improved structure of diamond frame.

    I could certainly change my tune on a cargo bike, but that’s a totally different beast.

    I also definitely prefer traditional curved tube step-throughs to mixtes, which I find visually just way too busy, especially in the rear triangle.

  • Beth says:

    I, too, have Betty foy on order. It’s nice that there is a bike company out there who realizes that smart mixte bicycles do have a market. That market may be small, but it seems to be growing. I am happy to contribute to that growth.

  • Rick says:

    the yves gomez is where it’s at.

  • chad says:

    just say it’s a compact frame… goes faster

  • Russ says:

    Over two years ago I decided that I wanted a step through frame because of loaded rear baskets. See the following link for the bikes I choose.

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2008/09/18/gallery-russ-raleigh-grocery-getters/

  • brett says:

    After a visit to Holland where I rode my hosts’ Oma bikes, I realized how practical they were for city biking. So I got one in Vancouver off Craigslist, ride it every day around town as my only bike, and love it. Much easier to mount and dismount, much easier to carry stuff. I can’t imagine anyone wondering about my bike’s image or my masculinity because I ride a step through frame, and I can’t imagine caring one bit if they did.

    It’s hard for me to understand why anyone could be so insecure about their gender or orientation or anything else as to worry about what misguided people think about practical solutions that work for them. The thought of anyone else thinking anything at all about how my bike looked never even entered into my decision making.

    However, I would be a bit concerned about things that actually matter, like the above comments that the step through frame makes the bike wobbly or less structurally sound. I haven’t noticed anything at all like that, but then I’ve never ridden an upright bike with a top bar, either. So I can only compare my Oma to a typical American hybrid; it seems far more stable and sturdy than those I’ve ridden, but that’s probably more attributable to the fact that my Oma is made of steel instead of aluminum or some other material, and that its upright posture is far more stable than the hunched over hybrid style.

    That’s why I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want anything other than a step through frame — what advantage would it offer that offsets the Oma’s virtues?

  • Phil Barns says:

    My Mundo is a step through frame, I find it ideal when the back is loaded with sacks of manure etcetera. I also enjoy being able to coast up to a stop, swivel a leg through and smoothly dismount.

  • doc says:

    I’d be more self conscious about riding a neon green bike.

  • brad says:

    The folks at Opus Bikes have just revised their Nuovella step-through for 2010 that imitates the look of the 1950s Vespa bikes; I really like this one (there’s a picture at the link below):

    http://opusurbanista.blogspot.com/2010/02/nuovella-2010.html

  • 2whls3spds says:

    I ride bicycles, frame design is not a controlling feature. I really appreciate the step through or mixte frame designs when riding a fully loaded grocery hauler, or when my reoccurring nerve condition pops up, making it difficult to swing a leg over a conventional top bar.

    My biggest problem with getting a step through or mixte is the sizing. Most of them stop at around 48cm with the occasional 57cm. My normal road frame size is 65cm.

    The folders/compact bikes are a huge plus, I do ride a Raleigh Twenty a fair bit of the time.

    Aaron

  • Alan says:

    @Aaron

    I agree; a step-through is super when fully loaded.

    Alan

  • Stephen says:

    I was in Tokyo in December and all of the city bikes had step through (women’s) frames.

    For a while I rode a woman’s Raleigh 3 speed here in the US and nobody seemed to care. (I did since my other bikes needed various repairs and this one was rideable.) Admittedly, no one else in the local bicycle club rides old 3 speeds, so they didn’t find another old 3 speed surprising.

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