His & Hers Step-Throughs

When Michael was little, she always wondered why “boys” bikes had the high bar since they were the ones who had something to damage. Makes sense to me. Perhaps it’s time to officially declare the step-through “gender-neutral” or even “man-friendly”.

34 Responses to “His & Hers Step-Throughs”

  • Androo says:

    Haha, perhaps the true reason for the ubiquity of the sloped-tube-MTB-as-commuter explained?

  • Adrienne says:

    I think diamond frames are made for population control. Last year, my daughter came to a sudden stop on her bicycle right in front of her brother. He stopped before hitting her, but not before landing scrotum first on the top tube. I thought we would have to take him to the doctor (still wish we had) he was in so much pain. It took almost 2 weeks for the bruising to go away (something he didn’t share with me until much later). I still worry that there might have been some permanent damage to him. In spite of this, he will not ride a bike with a drop tube because it “looks silly”.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Heh! I wondered that too when I was a kid, and I think I even asked my parents about it : )
    No, I don’t think they replied anything useful.

  • jim says:

    I snapped a chain while standing to pedal away from a traffic light about. 10 years ago and. I still think about it every time I get up on the pedals. OUCH!!!

  • Bob Baxter says:

    At this stage of my life I find the step-through frame to be a blessing.

  • allan says:

    I believe that the design was made so that women could ride a bike while wearing a skirt. It still makes sense for this purpose…

  • Moopheus says:

    Wasn’t the mixte frame originally intended as unisex? The top tube does not go down quite as low as some traditional “girls’ bikes” step-through designs. But then, I know some women (such as my wife) who won’t ride step-thoughs because she doesn’t want a “girl’s bike.” She always resents the idea that women should ride an inherently weaker design.

  • solatic says:

    The drop tube is traditional, it was designed as such for women wearing dresses who cannot mount the bike from behind (else the train of the dress can drag on the rear tire while it is being folded under the buttocks before riding). Also, a drop tube allows the hem of a longer dress to face down towards the ground, rather than out perpendicular to the ground, to make winds blowing up skirts less of an issue.

    Of course, nowadays longer dresses have fallen out of style for most American women, so it’s irrelevant. The fact that drop tube bicycles have the seat closer to the handlebars (so that the knees don’t approach as much to the handlebars) can sometimes help people with knee joint problems (i.e. my father, who on a traditional bike felt his total knee replacement bouncing around so much in normal motion that it caused him pain; on a drop tube it lessened to discomfort).

  • Frits B says:

    There was a time in European history when little boys wore skirts – not even that long ago. Very practical. But I doubt that you could do that anymore.

  • B Amer says:

    When I get to be an old guy, I’m getting a bike w/ the lowest bar I can find. And screw any youngsters who laugh! :) It’s hard enough getting my leg over the thing now.

  • Steve Grimmer says:

    ‘Girl’s Bikes’ had step-through frames because back in the day, almost all girls wore skirts, making it impossible (or unseemly) to swing the leg over the back of the saddle!

  • Jonathan says:

    I always understood it to be a hold over from the days when modesty/long dresses required a different frame.

  • Pete says:

    I would love for this stereotype to change, but I’m not holding my breath.
    Having just set up my Sam H with the proper saddle height for my 6’3″ self, I quickly realized that someday, not very far off, I’ll no longer be able to swing my leg over a saddle that’s 40″ off the ground! It’ll be mixte time for sure. At that point, though, I hope I’m old enough to not care.

  • Eric says:

    If you’re on a frame that fits, this shouldn’t really be an issue, right? Isn’t this why they say to have an inch of standover clearance on road biked and 3-4″ on mountain bikes?

  • Joel van Allen says:

    As a kid, girls’ bikes always had drop tubes and boys’ bikes always had diamond frames– usually dirt bikes. In retrospect, I think the frame design only became gendered because drop-tube bikes were usually accompanied with handle bar tassles and My Little Pony paint jobs and glittery banana seats, maybe even a basket on the front– totally contradictory to my boyhood sensibilities about raising hell. Boys, I think, were much more interested in BMX-style frames sporting lightning bolts or fire or a dangerous animal with claws and fangs, and top tube and handlebar pads were totally in fashion. Drop tube bikes never had pads, or more importantly, needed them, and this unconsciously implied to we boys that drop tubes were for riders who, if what we’d heard about on the playground was correct, had strangely different parts than ours.

  • Alistair Williamson says:

    The diamond traditional frame with the high top tube showed up in the 1880’s, and being a great structural design it’s dominated ever since.

    Advances in materials mean that where weight is not the be all and end all you can still have a stiff light bike as a step through. But it’s what we think of as a bike so it’s how bikes still are, but not how they have to be. Time for a change.

    Cheers, Alistair

  • Joseph E says:

    I would have bought a drop-tube Breezer Uptown (were they in stock in my size).

    The advantages:
    1) Easy to mount and dismount. Good at lights, with loaded rear panniers or especially with bulky items on top of the rack.
    2) Better with long coats or skirts
    3) Fit a wide range of heights, if stem and handlebars are ajustable
    4) Stylish (certainly for women, but many modern bike-share fralmes, Mixte frames and some classic step-thru frames look great on men as well)

    1) Heavier, by a few ounces
    2) Slightly more vertical flex in the frame, with steel frames. Probably not an issue with thick alloy tubes.
    3) Less room for water bottle cages or frame pumps, if you are into that.
    4) A few front-mounted child seats use the top tube, or an equivalent, for the seat, so you lose the step-thru benefits.
    5) Culturally inappropriate for men and some women, in certain communities.

    I think disadvantage #5 if the key problem most everywhere; the other deficiencies are almost always offset by ease of dismounting, especially with stiff modern frames.

  • Brian C says:

    Last summer I had the pleasure of cycling in Europe. There step through frames are the norm; they are definitely not gender specific. For those who think that these frames are only for girls, go to Europe for a few weeks (I recommend Holland, the Danube, Berlin, and Copenhagen).

    And notice that most bike share programs are using unisex bikes, which tend to a step through frame – with the nice added feature that it accommodates those who find it difficult to get over what we deem to be a more conventional bike.

  • Frits B says:

    Marc at amsterdamize.com has just uploaded several new sets of photos of cyclists in Amsterdam. Count the number of step thru bikes ridden by men and compare that number to the number of diamond frames. I think it’s just a cultural thing.

  • Rex says:

    Interestingly enough my wife recently gave up on step-throughs, despite very much preferring them precisely because she thinks they look more feminine. The problem is that our primary bike source consists of good deals on used bikes that we fix up and aside from the Rivendell offerings it’s hard to find step-throughs that are big enough for her.

    Finally she embraced accepted the reality that choosing “a man’s bike” makes finding a good fit easier and is thrilled with her latest acquisition, proclaiming that it fits better than any of her previous bikes.

    Just an interesting example of how the issue can play out.

    As for me, I’m not bothered by the feminine perception of riding a step-through, and have been known to ride one. I have everything I want in the classic diamond frame steel road bike, however, so unless and until something comes along to change those needs, I won’t be going out of my way to acquire a step through for myself.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    PS: Looking at the picture, I am struck by how nicely these two bikes look together. The shades of green and blue go together well, as doe their geometries and rack/basket/handlebar setups. An unexpected match!

  • Jim says:

    I rode an old step-through ten-speed for a year or so, and it was great. Very practical, especially in stop-and-go traffic and in all varieties of clothing. (Like pants. Formal pants. Not dresses.)

  • erin says:

    Oh Michael, thank goodness! I worried I was the only one who thought that.

  • Bob B says:

    Mixtes are great. I rebuilt an 80s Azuki mixte 10-speed for my wife and would love to have a Rivendell Yves G for myself. Here is what Wikipedia says: “A direct appropriation of the French word meaning “mixed” or “unisex”, “mixte” is pronounced “MEExt”, although the usual North American bicycle industry pronunciation of this loan word is “MIX-ty”. Both pronunciations are widely used.” From: http://bit.ly/aAYRyd

  • Jim says:

    Take a look at the international man’s mixte. http://www.flickr.com/photos/45715354@N06/4831311475/

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    “PS: Looking at the picture, I am struck by how nicely these two bikes look together. The shades of green and blue go together well, as doe their geometries and rack/basket/handlebar setups. An unexpected match!”

    We planned it all along… ;-) Thanks….

  • Alan says:


    I’d love to have an Yves Gomez..

  • Lou says:

    Recently while pedaling along on my Brompton in city traffic, the bolt connecting the pedal to the crank literally snapped in half, and the pedal flew out from under my foot. I was standing up on the pedals at the time, but somehow, I managed not to crash. Looking back, had I been riding an ordinary diamond frame bike, I would have REALLY nailed myself. I’m female, but still, you don’t want to land crotch-first on a steel tube!

    I like the look of diamond frames better than step-throughs; I’m not sure why. I just picked up a Trek Belleville, which has a slightly relaxed diamond frame.

  • Jennifer S. says:

    Mixte are better if you have a load on the back rack and find it difficult to swing your leg over. I have a mixte bike for running errands and a diamond frame road bike for recreation.

  • Chris says:

    In Paris last year, riding the U-framed Velibs was a revelation. In slow traffic — sometimes foot traffic, ride to bike to an almost stall, and then step right out into a walk yourself through the open frame.
    Told my wife I didn’t want a top tube bike any more (as nice as a horizontal top tube lugged frame bike looks!). Thought about getting an Yves Gomez from Riv; instead … bought a Brompton! No cultural issue there – gender neutral step through frames!



  • RJ says:

    An old friend of mine called the top bar on “boy” bikes “man bars.” HAHA!

    He declared, “why do I have to have a MAN BAR? I want a step-through too!”

  • Joel van Allen says:

    Citing the traditional preference for step-throughs in Europe, as well as the gendered personalities we’ve assigned to both types of frames, I wonder if step-throughs (i.e., “feminine” frames) are accepted in Europe because bicycling for both sexes (and all ages, as recent Ecovelo vids have shown) is as much a transportation norm as the car, and riders don’t have to feel as aggressive when riding; whereas in the U.S., the popularity of the diamond frame (i.e., “masculine” frame) might indicate the alienation bikers feel when pitted against a car culture, which as many of us know, can be an aggressive/competitive relationship, particularly in urban areas.

    Also, I think the Dutch in particular managed to eliminate gendered frame styles by establishing and proudly adhering to traditional criteria, not only for frame style, but color, i.e., black, as one symbol of national (and, arguably, political) identity. We were doing the same thing with Ford’s Model T’s back in the day, interestingly, but our competitive market culture coupled with our reverence for individualism makes one style or one color a long-term profit liability for manufacturers because American consumers desire uniqueness but also the perpetual possibility of one-upability.

  • MohjhoRyder says:

    It was my understanding that the Mixte frame was designed for the clergy class with their long robes way back in the day. I have no reference to back this up.

  • Brent says:

    …and I used to wonder why women wear dresses and men wear trousers, when dresses might accomodate the male equipment down south a whole lot easier…

© 2011 EcoVelo™