Boys bike or girls bike? What does that mean? Didn't we settle this in fifth grade? With a wider variety of frames on the market than ever before, this is a question still being asked. Further complicating the issue is the supposedly unisex step through frame. The step through has become a popular style, especially in Ebikes.
Where We Came From
In the early days of bicycling, it was a pastime considered to be exclusive to men. Frankly, the engineering and bikes that were available would provide a compelling argument that women are clearly the more intelligent sex! As bike design advanced, heavy use of the triangular frame was employed. This was mainly due to bikes being made with materials that lacked structural integrity, such as wood or wrought iron and the corresponding joinery methods used to keep them together provided the needed strength. This led to a frame that is considered a man's style today, with a crossbar running from the stem area to the seat-post.
Things had to change if the sport would be opened to all. Despite being somewhat disputed, consensus is that the first "drop frame" women's bike came from Washington DC and was billed as a "proper" way for women of the time to ride a bike while keeping themselves appropriately modest. It accommodated long skirts that were in vogue while riding, and maybe more importantly, while mounting and dismounting.
Where we Are
Today, men's and women's frames dominate the market. The noticeable difference is the crossbar that is, or isn't running from the seat post to the stem tube. Many companies today will also try to segregate the market with different colors and styles for the different sexes. There is some information that indicates that frame styles and geometry is driven by differences in the anthropomorphic makeup of the sexes, although it seems the most honest information is that body types differ and that comfort should be the main driver for picking a frame style.
Is the Step Through For You?
Enter the step through. Step throughs are considered unisex but there is some resistance to the idea because it does not have an option for the signature crossbar that "masculizes" bikes (while, ironically, occasionally emasculating the rider). Let's examine the facts:
Style - Step throughs are available in a wide variety of commuter and cruiser style bikes. The reason for that is that they provide the best design for quick and easy mounting and dismounting.
Accessibility - Whether you are simply not able to swing your leg over a conventional frame (including some higher drop bar "women's" bikes) or you just don't want to, the step through is a great solution for ANY rider. In the case of physical limitation, it may be the only frame style that will work.
Safety - On/off/on/off. If you find yourself on and off a bike a lot, there are certain muscle groups you might be risking. Not to mention that in the event of an "out of balance" experience, you are much more likely to be able to get both feet on the ground quickly while riding a step through.
Considerations - When selecting a step through, have an open mind and examine carefully the fit and decide if the step through is right for you! Check the height of the step through. Check the frame, keeping in mind that it needs additional reinforcement and larger tubes to accommodate the increased torque without the crossbar. Most importantly, check your fit. The bike should be easily adjustable to your body type and if it is not, move on and find a bike that fits you right! In some ways, the Ebike revolution has driven the step through phenomenon. Ebikes are a great way to get out and get on the road for non-bikers and bikers alike and they provide a vehicle for those who have minor limitations, allowing them the joy of biking again. Getting on and off a bike the old way just isn't an option. For Ebikers, step throughs fill the need for accessibility in an even more pertinent way.
"Haters gonna hate hate hate", but you gotta "shake it off" (thanks, Tswift!). If you like the step through style and it's a good fit for you, then get on one today! It's a great solution for many riders looking to maximize their fun. Get out and enjoy the ride.