Step-Through vs. Standard Bikes: What Style is Right for You?
June 12, 2020
If you’re new to the sport of cycling or have recently taken it up after years of not riding a bike, we know that it can be intimidating and overwhelming to learn about bikes or get back into riding. Like everything else, bikes have changed quite a bit over the years, electric bikes are a great example of that evolution. If you’re old school, you might remember the days of 8 speed steel frame road bikes with downtube shifters. Nowadays, road bike frames are usually made of carbon fiber or aluminum alloy. Eleven or twelve speed gearing is standard on professional road racing bikes. On higher end bikes, electronic shifting is quite common now, but they do cost significantly more than mechanical shifting.
Over the years, frame styles have also changed to better align with the many different riding disciplines that exist. For the sake of simplification, we will use “frame style” to talk about different bike geometries. If you’re not aware, bike geometry is the actual measurements of each part of the bike frame and the way the bike frame is curved or angled at different points in the bike frame. Road bikes now have aerodynamic, endurance, and triathlon frame styles. Mountain bikes have different geometries for cross country, trail, and downhill type of riding. And it gets even more complicated with the recent popularity of gravel riding and cyclocross racing.
Which electric bike is best?
Regardless of frame style and geometry, the basic parts of a bike frame are all very similar. In general, a bike frame has a top tube, which is the main structural part of the bicycle, it has a head tube, down tube, bottom bracket shell, seat tube, seat stays, and chain stays (see image). A frame and fork sold as a combination are referred to as a frameset.
Now you can see why newcomers to the cycling community can have a tough time navigating through the wealth of information about different bike geometry and their intended uses. One of the most common questions we receive about our ebikes is “which model is best for me?”. We’ve created this helpful comparison page about our ebikes that will help you decide.
What is a step through bike?
If you do decide to purchase the Pace 500 or the Pace 350 electric bike models, you have a decision to make since we offer them in a traditional frame and a step-through model (Sometimes you might see the step-through referred to as “step-thru” or “ST”). In case you’re not familiar with their differences, traditional bikes have a “top tube” that runs horizontally to the ground that connects the front of the bike to the seat. Back in the day, they were also called “diamond frames” because the top tube, down tube and seat tube form a diamond (see image above). Step-through bikes lack the top tube and instead the front of the bike slopes downward as it extends towards the back of the bike.
How do you decide if you’re more suited for a traditional or step-through model? Are step-through bikes made for women and traditional bikes made for men? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each frame style? What are the deciding factors that you should take into consideration when you are ready to purchase a Pace 500 or Pace 350?
Before we get into answering those questions and help you find which frame style is best for you, let’s take a look at the reasons why there are traditional and step-through frames, their history, and how they’ve changed over time.
Which women's electric bike is best?
In the past, step-through bike frames were primarily used as utility electric bikes to transport goods or for delivery because it was easy for riders to get on and off the bike. The rider didn’t have to “step over” the top tube of the electric bike making it convenient for quick mount and dismount during frequent stops. When bikes first became more popular and had wider usage before cars were mainstream and affordable, women were basically required to wear traditional dresses and long skirts, which made it harder to ride on a traditional bike frame. Those dresses and long skirts were impossible to wear when riding a bike with a horizontal top tube. The step-through frame allowed women to ride on bikes easily and ride them safely. This is why step-through bikes became popular with women and came to become known as the preferred ride for women. It has nothing to do with women's bodies or men's bodies—the bicycle was designed solely because women were required to wear dresses at the time bicycles became popular.
Let’s think about this for a second. Back then, women weren’t allowed to wear pants like men, so the step-through frame style was invented to accommodate them riding with dresses. It then became a liberating tool for women to enjoy more freedoms. According to Susan B. Anthony, a woman’s right activist who helped secure voting rights for women, the bicycle helped further women’s rights in the United States. She's quoted as saying, "I think that the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than any other thing in the world. I rejoice each time I see a woman riding by on a bicycle. It creates for her a feeling of self-reliance, and of independence, the moment she gets in the seat."
You might be wondering, if women are no longer required to wear dresses, why are there still step-through bikes? The simple answer is that step-through bikes are practical, useful, and functional. As you might remember from earlier in the blog, they were also ideal for transporting and delivering goods with ease. This is still true, step-through bikes are simply more convenient for people to get on and off a bike.
There are many advantages to step-through bikes but here are the main ones:
They're easy to get on and off. This is probably the biggest advantage of a bike with a step-through frame. It’s the main reason why they're still used today by many riders. They're a great option for riders who don't have a full range of motion or limited motion. This is especially true if you are an older rider or if you have a disability. If you have difficulty lifting your leg over a horizontal top tube, a step-through frame is perfect for you. It is also a great option for those who've had knee or hip surgery, giving them a great way to stay active. For riders with limited ranges of motions, it's literally the difference between being able to bike and not being able to bike and not riding a bike. This is the reason for choosing a step-through bike model, it gives everyone a chance to ride a bike, and we love that!
They're a great option for riders riding with cargo in stop-and-then-go traffic. If you've got your bike rack loaded up with cargo such as bags, boxes and the like, a step-through electric bike can be a great advantage to hop off the seat and put your feet steadily on the ground without worrying about the top tube getting in the way.
They have old school advantages. Yes, they really are a better option for riders wearing dresses and long skirts. That's what they were originally made for, and if you're in a long, flowing dress during the summer, a step-through bike is that way to go to allow you to enjoy riding in any attire. Perfect for high court judges! (Okay, we’re joking here, but you get the point.) You might notice that a lot of electric bikes in bike share programs have step-through frames. There's a good reason for that. It’s because many of the riders who use these bike share programs are in urban hubs with riders using these electric bikes in skirts or dresses or other restrictive business attire.
There are really only a few minor disadvantages to a step-through bike and frankly, it’s not really worth going into details about, but we will. Without a top tube, step-through bikes are a bit harder to accessorize for obvious reasons. They are a bit harder to balance between your legs at a full stop without a top tube and you’ll need to hold the handlebar to keep your bike upright. Lastly, you’ll need an additional accessory to clamp down on the step-through to transport your bike on a vehicle rack.
As you can see, the old way of thinking that step-through bikes are just for women is outdated and unfortunately many people are still misinformed about this. The historical reason for the difference between men’s and women's electric bikes was based on antiquated social norms and restrictive clothing. They’re definitely not based on any sort of logic related to a man or womans body shape. In fact, most bike manufacturers these days don’t have specific bike models for men vs. women. In this sense, gender equality has been achieved with bike frame geometry. And, most bike brands offer step-through options to allow people of all ages and physicalities to ride a bike!
We hope that we've been able to clear up any misconceptions about step-through bikes for you. When you are ready to purchase the Pace 500 or Pace 350, your number one deciding factor on whether to go with the step-through or traditional should be based on your flexibility and comfort, regardless of your gender.
Thanks for reading.
The Aventon Team