Mixtes were traditionally known as “women’s” or “girls” bikes, the concept being a low top tube is more well-suited to riding and mounting/dismounting in a skirt. As that stereotype has begun to fade in recent years, more gender-neutral frame designs with low-slung top tubes are showing up. Two examples that come to mind are the Rivendell Yves Gomez and the Civia Loring. When I was a kid, a boy wouldn’t be caught dead on a “girls” frame, but these days, more people of both genders are appreciating the ease of use step-through frames provide.
Ironically, some of the most “macho” frames out there have steeply sloping top tubes and nearly qualify as “step-through”. I’m thinking of modern mountain bike frames and some compact road frames. These frames differ from traditional step-throughs in that they don’t have the seat tube that extends vertically above the sloping top tube (thus requiring extremely long seat posts), but otherwise the top tubes can be nearly as low as on some mixtes.
Take a look at the photo above. I think it’s interesting that these designs are fairly similar, yet because they come from different lineages our perceptions of them are so different. The Raleigh on the right is clearly gender neutral, yet the mixte is clearly a “woman’s” bike. Of course, the way they’re outfitted plays a big part in this case; the pale blue paint and wicker basket exude a definite feminine vibe, whereas the silver and black motif of the Raleigh is more “manly”.
Rivendell came up against this self-image issue frequently enough that they took their Betty Foy mixte, painted it black, and renamed it the “Yves Gomez” for those men who wanted a step-through but didn’t feel comfortable riding what they perceived to be a woman’s bike. I have to admit, if I was going to buy a Betty for myself, I’d probably go with the Yves version instead. That’s probably a reflection of my own insecurities more than anything… LOL.
The bike that probably does the best job of blurring the line between what is traditionally thought of as a woman’s bike and a man’s bike is the Civia Loring (above). The top tube just slightly swoops, and it’s just barely low enough to step over, yet the bike doesn’t clearly say “girl’s bike” or “boy’s bike”. I think the design is subtle and genius, and I really appreciate the fact that it so successfully mixes up and messes with the old streotypes.