“Shrink it and pink it” is a well-known phrase in the marketing world, and the bike industry has been guilty of this time and time again. In the not too distant past, women’s road bikes were just smaller, pastel versions of men’s bikes, often with lower-end components. These days however, women’s bikes range from entry level to professional race quality, and are designed to fit the female body. Is this new wave of women’s specific design just another marketing scam? Being a skeptic and a bike racer naturally inclined to snub “pinked up” anything, I did a little exploration into the best road bikes for women.
Specialized Ruby Elite Compact
I put one women’s specific road bike, the Specialized Ruby Elite Compact, through the wringer and reluctantly admitted that I actually enjoyed it. The Ruby is part of the Specialized Endurance line, designed to provide a smooth ride for longer sessions. Its glossy white paint job with turquoise bar tape was a little too girly for my preference, but after pedaling it around a bit, I was sold on this women’s specific road bike.
Being a whopping 5’2” tall, I tested a 44 cm Ruby road bike, which comes with 36 cm width handlebars. Having always struggled to find a fit on too large men’s race bikes, the narrower bars felt like a breath of fresh air. They fit my small frame perfectly, allowing a more comfortable shoulder and arm position.
Reach & Effective Top Tube
The main difference between men’s and women’s frame geometry, on both mountain and road bikes, is the effective top tube length. Because women tend to have longer legs than men in proportion to our torsos, men’s bikes often feel ‘reachy’ - meaning that female upper bodies feel uncomfortably stretched out on a traditional men’s bike. Women’s specific bikes take this into account and have shortened the effective top tube length, allowing women a better fit without running a ridiculously short stem. The Ruby felt perfect in this regard. The size 44cm that I tried had a 509 mm effective top tube and a reasonable 75mm stem on it, which handled great and hit the Goldilocks medium - I was not too stretched out and not too crunched up.
Another issue for bike manufacturers struggling to accommodate smaller riders on road bikes has been toe overlap. Many smaller sized road bikes often put the rider’s lead foot too close to the front wheel. This causes the tire to rub on the foot when making tight turns - uncomfortable and dangerous, to say the least. Specialized has engineered the Ruby to have none of that - my front foot cleared the wheel no matter how tight I turned.
This component is based purely on personal preference and is easily interchangeable - many road bikers don’t even consider riding a stock saddle, instead preferring to chuck it straightaway and put on one of their own choice. However, the Specialized Lithia Comp Gel Saddle that comes on the Ruby Elite Compact was pretty dang comfortable and I’d happily ride a century on it - that is, if I were to ever ride 100 miles… An ergonomic cut-out design with generous but not over the top padding makes this saddle ideal for most female road riders.
The Ruby comes with a compact crankset with 50/34 chainrings. Combined with the 11-28 cassette, this crankset allows female road bikers a wide range of gears for spinning up or hauling down our steep mountain passes in the Wasatch.
The Specialized Ruby Elite Compact is definitely not a race bike, which is a GOOD thing. Road racing bikes are often uncomfortable for recreational riders, even those who put in serious mileage. Although the Ruby Elite Compact boasts an exceptionally lightweight carbon frame, it’s designed with a less aggressive geometry more suited for comfort on long rides. The vibration-dampening chainstays and fork keep your butt happy and your arms less fatigued at the end of a long day of pedaling. That said, the Ruby’s handling and climbing efficiency felt great, even for someone more used to racing-oriented bikes.
I picture the Specialized Ruby Elite Compact as the perfect companion for long rides in the Alps and sipping espresso outside Italian cafes in tiny mountain villages. Realistically though, it would also be great for pedaling out my door in Salt Lake City up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, fueled by Poptarts from my local 7-11. I wouldn’t even let the My Little Pony color scheme distract me from its fun, comfortable and efficient performance.
Fall is a great time for road riding in Utah - cooler temps and golden Aspen leaves make for some spectacular afternoon sessions. We’ve still got a few Specialized Ruby Elite Compacts in stock at White Pine Touring on Bonanza Drive so swing in and check one out for yourself.
Eveyn Dong, content writer