Editor’s Note: This post was written by RoadBikeReview contributor Willa Williford. All photos are courtesy Specialized.
One conspicuous absence at the Specialized Roubaix launch was the Ruby, the women specific analog for the past decade. Specialized is making the argument, based on data compiled from their Retül fit system, that there is likely more variation between athletes of the same gender than between male and female athletes. As a result, the Roubaix will now be a gender-neutral frame platform, or as one person said, “Ruby took his name.”
This reviewer, a 5’7” woman who rides a 54cm frame, is embracing the shift. Coming of age as a cyclist in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my approach was, “Find the best gear you can afford and hope it comes in men’s extra small.”
Get up to speed with the newest iteration of the Specialized Roubaix.
As more women-specific products entered the cycling market, I welcomed the recognition of women as an emerging market and the increased choices. But over time, the “shrink it and pink it” ethos began to grate. I struggled with the sneaking suspicion I was getting a lesser product for the same price, or that I was making some sort of political choice if I just preferred the men’s version. My hunch was that separate was not equal, especially with the strong male legacy of cycling and the continued focus on the celebrities of the male peloton. And, I don’t love pink that much.
Hats off to Specialized for their commitment to stop inventing a difference where there may not be one (bike frames, shoes), and for investing research and development to create good products for men and women where there may be a difference (saddles, chamois). Ideally, this approach will create additional bandwidth to focus on greater choices for people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and financial means. Let’s grow beyond our white, male roots.
One caveat to my endorsement of the “beyond gender” approach: Our sport and our industry still have so far to go with regard to equality for women. I’m concerned it could revert to the old assumption “all bikes are for men.”
Visiting the Flander’s Cycling Museum and the Roubaix Velodrome during the recent press launch of the new Specilaized Roubaix, I saw nothing that would inspire a young girl to see herself and her future reflected in the depiction of cycling’s past. Anytime I put on a number plate, my field is a fraction the size of the men’s. And, it’s an old song, but it probably bears repeating: The female athletes at the top of our sport have far fewer race opportunities, less financial support, less media coverage, etc.
My long-term hope: Great bike choices for everyone, diverse participation, and equal prize money and sponsorship. Maybe I should throw world peace on that list, too? Probably. But for now, let’s hope Specialized’s move away from gender specific frames will aid in moving the industry towards more choices and opportunities for women.
Head over to www.specialized.com for more details on the new Roubaix.