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The Best Trail Mountain Bikes for Women

Tuesday May 12, 2020
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Searching for the best women's trail mountain bike? We spent days researching nearly every women's mountain bike on the market before purchasing four for side by side testing. Every model in this test was made specifically for and is marketed to female riders with women's specific features like geometry, touch points, shock tunes, and colorways. All of the bikes included are great daily drivers for everyday trail riding. Our team rigorously tested each model for countless hours and hundreds of miles of real-world riding in an effort to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and performance differences.

Related: The Best Trail Mountain Bikes

Top 4 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4
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Best Overall Women's Trail Bike


Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 27.5 12-Speed - Women's


Editors' Choice Award

$4,520 List
List Price
See It

92
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Fun Factor - 35% 10
  • Downhill - 25% 10
  • Climbing - 25% 8
  • Build - 15% 8
Wheel size: 27.5"+ | Rear Travel: 150mm
Modern geometry
Confident descender
Stable at speed
Surprisingly user-friendly
Some underwhelming aspects of the build
Moderately heavy

The Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon Women's outperformed the competition and emerged as the winner of our Editor's Choice Award. This bike deserves accolades not only for its eye-catching looks but for its impressive all-around performance. It consistently outdid the other bikes we tested and is the total package. One of our testers likened the Stumpjumper to a Unicorn for possessing mythical abilities to do everything well. This approachable trail bike doesn't require a professional skill level to enjoy, but those with experience will be rewarded by its adaptability in all types of terrain. Whether you're cruising on smooth flowy trails or charging steep rock gardens, the Stumpy has you covered with a balanced, composed, and confidence-inspiring feel. It's no slouch on the climbs either, and this bike is comfortable and reasonably efficient on the ascents for any length of ride.

The Stumpjumper is no featherweight but considering its 150mm of front and rear wheel travel, its 30 lb 1 oz stature seems pretty reasonable and went mostly unnoticed on the trail. Our test model doesn't come cheap, and for the price, we'd expect a few higher-end components bolted to the frame. That said, the component specification proved to be plenty functional and left our testers with little to complain about. If you've been searching for a Unicorn, look no further.

Read Review: Specialized Stumpjumper Comp Carbon 27.5 12-Speed - Women's

Best Bang for Your Buck Women's Trail Bike


Canyon Spectral WMN CF 7.0


Best Buy Award

$3,799 List
List Price
See It

85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Fun Factor - 35% 9
  • Downhill - 25% 8
  • Climbing - 25% 8
  • Build - 15% 9
Wheel size: 27.5" | Rear Travel: 140mm
Aggressive descender
Nimble and playful
Solid value/great component specification
Only available in 3 sizes
Shorter reach may feel cramped for some riders

The Canyon Spectral WMN CF 7.0 boasts an impressive price to performance ratio and easily took home our Best Buy Award. Canyon's direct to consumer sales model allows them to deliver very nicely equipped bikes at prices that other brands can't even touch. This lightweight carbon-framed trail bike boasts 140mm of rear and 150mm of front wheel travel and comes with women's specific shock tunes. Canyon's Triple Phase suspension platform performs well on both the climbs and the descents with a supple-supportive-and progressive feel. The Spectral is a little shorter in both the wheelbase and reach than other models we tested with similar travel numbers, and the result is a highly maneuverable, flick-able, and playful demeanor. Thanks to the slack-ish front end, generous travel numbers, and quality suspension, the Spectral remains plenty capable of getting rowdy on the descents. This lightweight trail slayer won't hold you back on the climbs either. It scampers up hills with excellent pedaling support, a comfortable body position, and a component grouping that won't let you down.

The Spectral is a little smaller than some of the other bikes that we tested. Our testers did not feel that this affected performance in any way, but riders who prefer a longer reach or are on the cusp of a size may want to consider sizing up for comfort. The women's Spectral is also only offered in three sizes, and taller ladies may end up needing to opt for one of the many men's/unisex models. Overall, testers found the Spectral to be an impressively versatile and highly capable trail bike offered at a reasonable price.

Read Review: Canyon Spectral WMN CF 7.0

Our lead tester hard at work finding the best women's trail mountain bikes.
Our lead tester hard at work finding the best women's trail mountain bikes.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our lead women's trail bike tester is Tasha Thomas. Tasha started biking as a youngster. Eschewing training wheels on her first bike, she started out hard-core, and she's not stopping now. This east coast native started riding on the trail systems in Connecticut and Adirondack State Park. Now a west coaster, she's been racing downhill and enduro in California for six years. She started racing in the pro category four years ago and is a frequent sight on the podium. Tasha's favorite trails are very technical and fast with flowing drops and rock gardens. She loves the raw, rowdy, and loose trails at Mammoth Mountain.

We constantly scour the internet to stay abreast of new women's specific trail mountain bikes. We purchased a selection of four models to test and compare side by side. Our testers rode these bikes for weeks on end and covered hundreds of miles on each one. In the process, they focused on the uphill and downhill performance of each model and how the bike's design, geometry, and components play a role. Additionally, we weighed and measured each model at the OutdoorGearLab office for consistency across all models.

Related: How We Tested Best Women's Mountain Bikes


Women's Versus Unisex Bikes


Women can ride any mountain bike out there. The majority of bikes are considered unisex models. That said, the mountain bike population is skewed significantly to the male side of the gender scale. This results in the suspension components on unisex bikes being tuned to accommodate the weight of the average male rider. Juliana/Santa Cruz determined that the average male weighs about 30 pounds more than a woman of similar height, according to their own study and US anthropometric data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When a 130-pound rider gets on a bike tuned for a 160-pound rider, she or he may struggle to find an air pressure that allows the suspension to deliver nice small bump compliance and deep-stroke support. For example, our hardest-charging female tester weighs 100-pounds. In past experiences, she has had to run her fork with so little air that it doesn't have enough pressure to extend back to its full travel after it cycles.

Luckily, more women are out on the trails than ever before. As a result, the industry is trying to figure out how to make bikes that work better for the female rider.

Sizing  shock tunes  contact points  and colors are the primary differences between unisex and women's bikes.
Sizing, shock tunes, contact points, and colors are the primary differences between unisex and women's bikes.

Women's mountain bikes are part fluff and part substance, with a steady march towards the latter. It's also a large dose of marketing, but that's not such a bad thing. People are more likely to enter a sport where they see themselves represented. Showing more women on bikes — fixing bikes, shredding bikes — makes it obvious that this is a space that women are welcome to occupy. Jen Audia, US Marketing Manager for Liv, puts it this way; "providing women's bikes helps ladies look up at trail strewn mountainsides and say, 'this is my treehouse.'"

Brass tacks. One of the most obvious and common ways that brands differentiate unisex and women's bikes is through their colors. Women's models often have feminine color schemes with full paint jobs or accents like purple or pink. There is even a saying, "shrink it and pink it", that describes some brands approach to making women's gear. Almost all women's bikes are designed to have women's specific contact points. Examples of this are: women's saddles for wider sit bones, shorter cranks for shorter riders, grips for smaller hands, and narrower handlebars for narrower shoulders. It's nice to have a more female-friendly bike out of the box, but the saddles are still basic stock versions, shorter cranks seem unnecessary, handlebars are easy to cut down and grips are inexpensive. These are nice but fluffy, usually pink or purple fluff.

When you only weigh 100 lbs but like to send it  shock tunes can be a real challenge...
When you only weigh 100 lbs but like to send it, shock tunes can be a real challenge...

It's All About Small Sizes and Shock Tunes


The most helpful steps a manufacturer can take to get a smaller, lighter rider on the right bike is to make more bikes in smaller frame sizes and with lighter shock tunes. Likewise, the opposite applies to bigger, heavier riders. They need big frames and burlier shock tunes. Right now, women's specific brands are one of the easiest places to find lighter suspension tunes. Our female testers range from 5'3 to 5'5 and 100 to 135 pounds. They all found it easier to dial in shock pressures on these women's mountain bikes than unisex models they've ridden in the past. Having a light shock tune gives the suspension better small bump compliance while also allowing them to get the full stroke of the shock.

Aside from women's specific brands (e.g., Juliana and Liv) and big brands that make women's bikes (e.g. Canyon, Cannondale, and Norco), few companies make bikes specifically for women. Yeti used to make their Beti models, although they recently decided to refocus on unisex models offered in smaller sizes with lighter shock tunes. The same goes for Trek who scrapped women's models for 2020 although they make most bikes in XS sizes to suit a huge range of rider heights and weights.

Canyon makes their women's frames specifically to fit smaller framed riders. They are not just copies of the unisex frames.
Canyon makes their women's frames specifically to fit smaller framed riders. They are not just copies of the unisex frames.

Women's Specific Geometry


While women's mountain bikes used to offer unique geometry, most companies shifted to providing unisex frame geometry with women's specific components. Santa Cruz, Juliana's parent company, and Juliana use the same frames with different names, colorways, and components. (Note, a men's small is exactly the same as a women's small. A small is a small. A medium is a medium, and so forth.) A couple holdouts from this overall trend are Liv/Giant and Canyon.

Liv's website and US Marketing Manager, Jen Audia, explain that a global body dimension database shows that women have longer legs, shorter torsos, a lower center of gravity, and more leg strength than arm strength when compared to men. (In contrast, Juliana's website notes that the CDC data shows no discernable body pattern difference between the sexes.) As a result, Liv makes bikes with shorter reaches, more upright cockpits, and higher bottom brackets. They claim this is to reduce back and neck pressure caused by stretching over a longer cockpit and to decrease pedal strikes, reasoning that women have lower centers of gravity and won't benefit as much from a lowered bottom bracket.

In some ways, this looks like regressive geometry, resisting the trend of longer, lower, slacker bikes that we've become accustomed to. Many women's bikes are still following the general geometry trends of the trail bike market, however, but the differences are relative.

Women can ride any bike they choose  but the women's models we tested are just as capable as any of the unisex bikes out there.
Women can ride any bike they choose, but the women's models we tested are just as capable as any of the unisex bikes out there.

The Rub


The fact of the matter is that there aren't as many women's mountain bikes as there are unisex bikes, and these days the market has slowly started trending back towards the latter. To enjoy a wider range of bike innovation as a smaller rider, you may still have to deal with shocks that are incorrectly tuned for you. In addition, not all manufacturers offer extra small frames, and some 29ers aren't available in smaller sizes. (Many brands have different wheel sizes across their frame sizes)

Related: How to Select the Right Mountain Bike


Analysis and Test Results


We've put high-end enduro, trail bikes, and hardtails through their paces. Recently we took a good hard look at consumer-direct MTB options. Now we're checking out four women's specific mountain bikes. We got our hands on some of the most compelling women's trail bikes and put them through their paces. We rode these for two summers and rated them on fun-factor (worth 35%), their climbing and descending skills (25% each), and the quality of their build kit (15%). Keep reading to find out how they perform out on the trail.

We love a good value and the consumer-direct Canyon Spectral hits an excellent price to performance ratio.
We love a good value and the consumer-direct Canyon Spectral hits an excellent price to performance ratio.

Value


Are you looking for more bang for your buck on your women's mountain bike? We don't rate bikes based on their price, but we're always big fans of products that are a good value. Our Best Buy Award winner, the Canyon Spectral WMN CF 7.0 is the best value in our test selection. Canyon's consumer-direct sales model gives them the ability to deliver a very high price to component specification and performance ratio.


Fun Factor


Mountain biking is usually pretty fun. Some bikes are more fun than others.


The Specialized Stumpjumper came out on top in terms of fun factor. The Stumpjumper has the most travel and the longest and slackest geometry of any bike in our test, yet testers found that it did just about everything very well, including charging down rowdy terrain with confidence. Despite the Stumpy's downhill abilities, this bike also proved to be a blast on a huge range of terrain, and with an approachable user-friendliness that suits riders of a huge range of ability levels.

All mountain bikes are fun  some more than others  and the Stumpjumper tops that list.
All mountain bikes are fun, some more than others, and the Stumpjumper tops that list.

The Cannondale Habit 1 also proved to be a tester favorite. This mid-travel 29er's versatility came as a bit of a surprise, though the modern geometry and quality component specification made this bike a blast to ride everywhere. The Canyon Spectral WMN CF 7.0 came dressed to party. Sporting progressive angles but somewhat more compact dimensions, The Spectral can tackle the steep and rough while still maintaining a high level of maneuverability and playfulness. This lightweight bike boasts 140/150mm of travel and nails the long end of the mid-travel category with the well-rounded performance you'd expect.

The Juliana Furtado's 130mm of front and rear wheel travel land it squarely in the does-everything-well mid-travel position. This bike climbs as well as it descends, with quick handling and a solid all-around performance that will likely suit most riders in most locations. The Furtado proved to be a blast on all but the absolute roughest of terrain.

You know a bike is fun when it puts a smile on your face.
You know a bike is fun when it puts a smile on your face.

Downhill Performance


Trail bikes are built to balance downhill skills with climbing abilities. Every bike in our selection is fun to ride downhill, but they have distinctly different characters that are related to their geometry, suspension travel, and component specifications.


Not surprisingly, the longest travel bike in our selection took top honors for its downhill performance. It's not just the 150mm of front and rear wheel travel that makes the Stumpjumper a downhill performer, the progressive long and slack geometry also plays a role in giving it excellent stability at speed and confidence-inspiring performance on any descent. Whether riding smooth flow trails, charging down steep rock gardens, or hitting drops, the Stumpy adapts and handles it all with composure and grace.

The Stumpjumper was our top performer on the descents.
The Stumpjumper was our top performer on the descents.

The Canyon Spectral wasn't far off the high bar set by the Stumpjumper. This 140/150mm trail bike is a highly versatile descender with the angles to charge aggressively in steep and rough terrain while the more compact frame helps it maintain a high level of playfulness and flick-ability. The Cannondale Habit also impressed our testers. This mid-travel 29er rides like it has more than 130mm of travel and confidently handles anything that comes down the trail. Despite the big wheels, the Habit is easily controlled, though the most aggressive riders may find the limits of its travel on larger hits.

The Cannondale Habit is smooth  fast  and fun a wide range of terrain.
The Cannondale Habit is smooth, fast, and fun a wide range of terrain.

The mid-travel Juliana Furtado is quite well-rounded on the descents. The geometry is reasonably modern, and it operates with a smooth and predictable manner with the spunkiness and quick handling you'd expect from this 130mm travel rig. Testers found the VPP suspension platform to feel a little squirrely over high-frequency chop, though the small bump compliance and deep stroke support was solid.

Its not all about the down  we appreciate bikes that climb well too.
Its not all about the down, we appreciate bikes that climb well too.

Climbing Performance


None of these trail bikes are piggish on the climbs. All of them have an efficient feel when headed uphill, although a few of them climb with a little more gusto than others.


Testers felt the Juliana Furtado was a solid performer on the climbs. This 130mm travel bike uses the supportive VPP suspension design and a stiff carbon frame for maximum efficiency and power transfer. The modern geometry is dialed, seated position is comfortable, and the components are reliable for tackling any climb. If you like long XC style trail rides with loads of climbing, the Furtado could be for you.

All of our test bikes climb pretty well  some better than others.
All of our test bikes climb pretty well, some better than others.

Despite the longer travel numbers and slacker angles of bikes like the Stumpjumper and the Spectral, both climb with very reasonable efficiency. They may not go uphill with the same spirited approach as the quickest climbers, but they are by no means sluggish. These bikes will comfortably climb up anything you choose, plus they'll give you the option of getting rowdy on the way back down.

The Cannondale Habit also impressed us with its sneaky climbing abilities. The active rear suspension design definitely benefited from the use of the compression damping switch, but this bike's modern geometry provides a comfortable and efficient seated pedaling position, and the 29-inch wheels will help you scramble over just about anything.

The Furtado is a little spendy  but the build is quite impressive.
The Furtado is a little spendy, but the build is quite impressive.

Build


Rating the bikes on their build or component specification is a little tricky because they vary based on price. Most of these bikes are available in several builds that are offered at a range of price points to suit people's varying needs and budgets. Here we discuss the build of the models we tested, which are actually all quite similar with a few exceptions.


Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Stumpjumper Comp Carbon Women's, has a completely functional build, though it is the least impressive of all the models we tested. This bike obviously performed well enough to take top honors, so our complaints about the build should be taken lightly. For the price, we'd have preferred a GX Eagle drivetrain as opposed to the NX that it comes with, and a Fox Performance fork would be a nice touch instead of the lower-end Rhythm. Again, these components are serviceable and work just fine, plus the rest of the build is spot on and ready to party on the trail.

12-speed drivetrains like SRAM GX Eagle are the norm these days.
12-speed drivetrains like SRAM GX Eagle are the norm these days.

The Best Buy winning Canyon Spectral WMN CF 7.0 has a very nice build, especially considering that it's the least expensive model in the test. Canyon's consumer-direct sales model brings lots of value to the consumer, and the price to component specification ratio on the Spectral is jaw-dropping. With GX Eagle, Guide brakes, Fox Performance suspension, and quality wheels and tires, there's nothing wrong with this bike for less than $4K.

The 34 Performance Elite on the Furtado is the most adjustable fork in the test.
The 34 Performance Elite on the Furtado is the most adjustable fork in the test.

In general, the Furtado and Habit have quite similar specs. The exception to this is the Furtado's suspension package which is Fox Performance Elite which is a slight step above the Performance found on the Habit. We've got pretty much no complaints about either of these builds.

The right bike can make all the difference in the world. Get on the trail and get stoked.
The right bike can make all the difference in the world. Get on the trail and get stoked.

Conclusion


Finding your bike among the rows of shiny new machines can feel like a paralyzing task. There is no denying that the wrong choice can be costly. Getting a women's bike no longer means you're sacrificing performance or just getting a different color frame. We hope this detailed review helps you find the right model to suit your riding style, trails, and budget.

Tasha Thomas, Pat Donahue, Jeremy Benson