One of the great things about mountain biking is the opportunity it affords you to explore your local area off the beaten path. You can head into the wild or keep it local, blast around the woods or climb mountains. You don’t need to contend with traffic on the roads, it’s just you and your bike, and the gorgeous trail that lies ahead.
So what makes a women's mountain bike women-specific, and why don’t all brands make them? Let’s get the contentious part out of the way first: some companies don’t believe that gender needs to factor into bike design as much as size. Companies like Specialized and Trek have (mostly) done away with their women-specific models to develop a range of unisex bikes that cater to all sizes. This means their smaller bikes are more suitable for shorter and lighter riders, by way of tuning the frame and dialling suspension appropriately.
This works for lots of people, after all, there is no single female body type, and therefore those who are on the taller end of the spectrum, with longer limbs, will find that they prefer larger unisex bikes for the spacious room they offer. Others, however, might feel more reassured by having a bike that was designed specifically for women’s individual physical needs.
That’s why there does still exist a small handful of companies that produce bikes specifically for women, like Liv, Canyon and Juliana. These bikes are designed based on global body metric data, and also offer women-specific contact points, like an ergonomic saddle, narrower handlebars and shorter cranks.
Whether you’re completely new to mountain biking and looking for your first-ever off-road bike, or you’re a seasoned racer on the prowl for your next speed-machine, we’ve rounded up our picks of the best women’s mountain bikes available. If you’re still not sure what you should be looking for, you can skip down to our handy guide on choosing the best women’s mountain bike for you.
Best women's entry level hardtail mountain bikes
When you’re just starting out with mountain biking, the sheer number of different bikes available, along with their corresponding technology and gadgets, can be a bit overwhelming. Right now you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and you probably don’t want to get sucked into the jargon. That’s why we’ve chosen a couple of entry-level hardtail (no rear-suspension) mountain bikes that are designed specifically for women and do the job well without overcomplicating things.
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Ideal for beginners and cautious mountain bikers, the Liv Tempt is an aluminum hardtail with Tektro hydraulic disc brakes for modulated and controlled braking power in the wet and dry. A women-for-women brand, Liv designs all its bikes to maximize on women’s physical strengths, making the most of our powerful legs and designing the geometry to fit around our (general) physique. Of course, there’s no one female body-type, and so Liv’s 3F design model (fit, form and function) may not be appropriate for everyone.
However, for most women starting out in the sport, the Tempt is an excellent entry-level bike to get you started. With a 100mm travel fork (80mm in size XS) and a choice between 27.5 and 29-inch wheels (for sizes S and M), you can effectively tailor the bike to how you want to ride it. Opt for the bigger 29er wheels if you want to roll over things as quickly as possible, or combine the smaller 27.5-inch ones with 2.4-inch tires if you fancy something more nimble and playful that offers all the grip you need. The XS Tempt only comes with 27.5-inch wheels, while the L only comes with 29ers, namely to keep the geometry in proportion and the ride feel as it’s designed to be.
While Trek has generally left its WSD (women-specific design) behind in many of its other ranges, the Marlin still has its own WSD model available. Designed to offer a comfortable fit, stability, power and control, it makes a good all-rounder option that can double up as a commuter bike during the week and an adventure bike at the weekend. This is mainly down to the fact that it has mounts for mudguards, a rack and a kickstand, as well as a comfortable riding position.
The aluminum frame is decked out with Tektro hydraulic disc brakes for smooth braking in all weathers, an SR Suntour XCE 28 suspension fork to cushion the bumps on the trails, 21 gears for efficient climbing and a choice between 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheels. The two smaller frame sizes come with short-reach brake levers, ideal for women with small hands, as they can still brake comfortably and confidently.
Best women's cross-country mountain bikes
Cross-country (XC) is all about racing along a mixture of forest paths and fire roads, with some rough singletrack thrown in for good measure. Since they’re more race-oriented, XC mountain bikes tend to have shorter travel and larger wheels combined with narrow tires, so they can fly over most terrain and speed up the climbs towards the finish line.
This racing hardtail from Canyon comes with its own gear ratio, saddle and handlebar width to optimize it for female riders. It’s built for speed, with carbon wheels to help you accelerate quickly. These come in slightly different sizes rim widths for maximum efficiency: the 30mm rim upfront offers traction, while the 28mm at the rear reduces rolling resistance. It’s a combination to help you stay upright and rolling no matter how technical the terrain gets.
Canyon’s streamlined integrated seatpost clamp features a rubber seal and the same tube profile found on the Inflite (their World Championships winning model). It’s designed to shed mud quickly, so you’re not weighed down by that extra load. Meanwhile, the integrated Impact Protection Unit provides a layer of armor preventing damage to the carbon frame from over-rotating handlebars.
The Exceed CF 7 WMN, with its ‘unicorn’ paint job, is equipped with a RockShox fork, Reynolds carbon wheels with Schwalbe tires and a Selle Italia women-specific saddle, making it an awesome women’s race hardtail for anyone looking to ride cross-country.
The Liv Pique is a full-suspension XC-oriented bike, designed to fly over mixed terrain with its 29er wheels unhindered, while the 100mm suspension at the front and rear soaks up the bumps for a comfortable ride. The ALUXX SL-grade aluminum frame is the brand’s lightweight but strong metal of choice, combined with Boost spacing and 15mm bolt thru-axles, the Pique 29 is designed to be strong and hold up to the pressures of XC racing.
Shimano SLX 1x gearing offers simplicity and efficiency, with a decently wide range of gears to help you power up most climbs, while the Fox 32 Float SC Performance fork helps you remain in control when the terrain gets technical. One of the most interesting features of the Pique is the fact that 29er wheels come with all models in the range, even down to the size XS. This is something that most other brands avoid, in order to keep to traditional proportions. Making the smallest models in this range 29er-compatible is a big deal for smaller riders who feel like they’re always robbed of the advantages that bigger wheels offer. However there is a downside with the Pique, and that’s the fact it’s only available in sizes XS-M, so taller riders will unfortunately miss out.
Best women's trail mountain bikes
Trail riding is generally a more aggressive version of XC, with fewer fire roads and more technical singletrack. It also refers to the runs at modern trail centers, which tend to be a mixture of tricky and technical features, and fast, flowing descents. For this reason, trail bikes tend to be full-suspension and have a bit more travel - around 120-140mm - at the front and rear. Because they’re dealing with rougher terrain, they tend to have smaller wheels combined with wider tires, offering better traction on the loose stuff.
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The Furtado is the do-it-all answer to trail bikes from Juliana, the sister company to Santa Cruz. It shares its frame design with the 5010, with its progressive geometry: a slack head angle, steep seat angle and long reach. 27.5-inch wheels are mated to 2.4-inch Maxxis Minion DHR II tires to offer superior traction in wet and loose conditions, while the 130mm rear and 140mm front suspension help the bike to practically float over chunky surfaces.
The chainstay lengths vary throughout the range according to size, coupling with the relaxed 65-degree head angle to deliver an agile and confidence-inspiring ride feel. The rear suspension is tuned specifically for lighter riders, making sure you can get full use of the travel, keeping you in control at all times.
The most interesting thing about the Furtado is the flip-chip which allows you to adjust the geometry of the bike, tailoring it to the trails you’re riding. You can switch from a low and slack setting to a steeper and higher mode to maximize on climbing. This also makes the Furtado a very capable XC bike as well, further backing up Juliana’s claims that it’s the ultimate do-it-all machine.
With an ALUXX SL-Grade aluminum frame and Advanced Forged Composite linkage, the Liv Intrigue 29 1 is ultra-light and torsionally stiff, ideal for meeting all the demands of the trail. The brand’s 3F design philosophy informs the women-specific geometry, alongside the shock tuned specifically for women by women. With the flip-chip you can switch between two different geometry settings, tailoring your ride to the undulating terrain: make it higher and steeper when you need to climb and relax it when the time comes to descend.
The 29er wheels come set up tubeless straight out of the box, meaning you can more or less hit the trails as soon as you have it. Plus with the extra cushioning this provides, you can afford to run a slightly shorter travel setup if you wish, and you won’t lose any of the fun. Up front is a 140mm Fox 36 Float Performance Elite fork, alongside a 125mm Fox Float DPS Performance at the rear.
Best women's enduro mountain bikes
Enduro racing involves timed stages over rough terrain, with timed downhill sections and some timed uphills as well. Each stage is joined together by neutral ‘transfer’ runs from one to the next. Enduro bikes tend to be more burly versions of trail bikes, with even more front and rear travel - between 150 and 160mm - to soak up the bumps and keep the momentum going.
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Canyon’s women-specific version of the Spectral comes with its own travel, geometry and specification. The suspension setup was specifically developed for lighter riders, and coupled with a lightweight aluminum frame, it strikes a balance between confident control and a thrilling, lively ride. If you’re racing enduro, you can take full advantage of the Fox suspension - Fox 34 Rhythm fork, Fox Float DPS Performance shock, both 150mm travel - as well as the Shimano 1x12 gearing to get you up and over climbs, ready for the next downhill stage. A GRIP damper helps to enhance the durability and longevity of the fork, while the air shock works beautifully with Canyon’s three-phase kinematic linkage. This effectively allows for efficient climbing and serious downhill traction.
Built to be thrashed about, the Spectral has integrated armor to protect the frame, including a downtube cover and cable guide which are barely visible. Meanwhile, the integrated seatpost clamp sheds mud at lightning speed to help rid you of excess weight while you race against the clock. Kitted out with an Iridium dropper post and a women’s Ergon saddle, the Canyon Spectral 6 WMN is an awesome bike to get you into enduro.
Inspired by the legendary Trans-Provence and named after one of Anka Martin’s favorite stages, the Juliana Roubion is a burly brawler that gets better the harder you push it. The combination of the RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate shock with 150mm travel, a 160mm RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork, and a slack 65-degree head tube angle, makes this enduro bike destined to carve a line through the most thrilling descents and tackle grueling trails with ease.
With Juliana, you get what you pay for, and in this particular case you get a lot (because you’re also paying a lot). The Roubion is equipped with a SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain, Santa Cruz’s carbon Reserve wheels, and the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post to deliver a powerful race performance.
Adopting the Santa Cruz Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension design, the Roubion can be tuned to find that sweet spot between pedaling efficiency and all-out rowdiness. It means that every turn of the pedal is transferred into trajectory power, while a lower-link mounted shock configuration delivers suspension performance capable of meeting heavy demands. With no links in the rear triangle, VPP produces a one-piece unified carbon swingarm that makes it easier to maintain traction in the roughest conditions. Roubion was designed to get you to the point where you won’t hesitate to charge towards the obstacles that used to leave you feeling cautious.
How to choose the best women's mountain bike for you
Regardless of whether or not you feel gender should play into the design of bikes, it’s important to choose the right kind of bike that matches your discipline, your current skill level, the kind of experience you want to have, and your budget.
If you’re brand new to mountain biking then we’d recommend you start with an entry-level hardtail. While full-suspension bikes are more comfortable to ride off-road, they cushion so much of the terrain that you lose out on the opportunity to practice technique and hone your skills. You may be able to roll over almost anything on one, but that won’t make you a good rider. With a hardtail, you’re much more connected to the surface of the trail and more in tune with the landscape and your surroundings.
Cross-country mountain bikes are best if you want fast and efficient pedaling on trails that are reasonably tame. These are also best if your local trails tend to undulate and require a lot of climbing.
Trail bikes tend to make a good ‘in-between’ if you’re not sure whether or not you want to get into enduro or just stick to the rougher tracks at your local trail center. Provided you’re not going too big with the terrain, you can have a great experience on a trail bike pretty much anywhere.
Enduro bikes, on the other hand, are designed for a very specific type of racing which involves going big with confidence on the trickier descents. They’re ideal if you’re likely to be frequenting trail centers and making use of the uplifts, so you can maximize on your fast and flowy downhill time.
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As we mentioned earlier, aside from geometry and suspension tuning, women-specific bikes tend to come with women-specific contact points: the saddle, handlebars and cranks.
The handlebars on a women’s mountain bike will generally be narrower than on a unisex one, however if this is your first foray into off-road riding, they’ll seem much wider than you’re used to. The most common size for women tends to be between 740 and 760mm. The handlebars are wider on a mountain bike in order to offer more control when driving it through flowy descents and into berms. However, it’s possible for them to be too wide, which will just make the bike feel unwieldy and difficult to control. It’s best to try them out for a while first and later decide if you want them to be trimmed down by your local bike shop. As a side note, another difference will be that most women’s mountain bikes will feature narrower grips on the handlebars as well, to accommodate smaller hands.
The other most important aspect is the saddle. A women-specific mountain bike will come with a saddle designed for female anatomy, and will most likely be more comfortable than the saddle that comes on unisex bike. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily get on with it. Saddles are incredibly personal because we’re all shaped differently ‘down there’, and only you will know if it’s giving you the support you need without ‘intruding’. The best thing you can do try out your stock saddle first, identify where (if at all) you experience chafing or discomfort and use trial and error to determine the type of shape that would suit you best. Ask your local bike shop to help you, test as many saddles as you can, and you’ll soon find the ideal one for you.