The unexpected happened the other day – I wondered if I would like a step-through bike frame. My stomach dropped and my palms started to sweat. What was I thinking?!

I love my bicycle, Fauntleroy. I wouldn’t change a thing about him. In fact, even though he desperately needs a new paint job, I can’t bring myself to decide on actually doing it, picking a color, where would I take him, and how long would we be parted?! From the Danish front basket to the rear rack that is slowly putting a hole in my pannier, there isn’t anything I want to add or subtract. Except…. I’m making another cute A-line skirt…. and although I always wear something modest under my skirts, hitching the narrower ones up enough to swing over the back of my bike is sometimes an annoyance. Except…. I do love riding Capital Bikeshare bikes and casually swinging my right foot in front of me as I pull up to a station to hop off and dock the bike. Except…. hm…..

Nope, wouldn't change a thing!

Nope, wouldn’t change a thing!

See, nice low frame, easy to step through

See, nice low frame, easy to step through

Here’s the problem. I think step-through frames are too girlie. They always are painted in pastel colors and decorated with wicker front baskets, and are often shown with women in skirts or dresses riding them. Well, I wear skirts and dresses often on my bike, but I’ve always appreciated that I’m still badass because I’m riding a men’s mountain bike that was converted by The Mechanic into my commuter bike. Skirt, yes – girlie bike, no. What’s badass about a curvy, swoopy bike frame? Nothing that I can see.

Classic girlie step-through bike, the Pashley Princess. I mean, it's called "the Princess"! At least it isn't pink.

Classic girlie step-through bike, the Pashley Princess. I mean, it’s called “the Princess”! At least it isn’t pink.

When I mentioned my secret thoughts to a colleague, she had the same reaction – a wrinkling of the nose while saying, “But they are all so girlie!” Her thought was, “Can I ride a step-through bike and still be a feminist?” (She’s a bike mechanic and sews, so she’s more badass than I am.)  A women’s bike frame, to us, just seem too cutesy, pink and ruffles, neither of which we are. We both strive to be strong, independent women, and although we both wear skirt and dresses often, I don’t think either of us would describe ourselves, or each other, as being girlie.


Part of the reason why I like riding bikes is because it makes me feel powerful. Okay, some days I ride home too slowly to be even remotely powerful, but some days I enjoy the feeling of powering myself through the streets, dodging pot holes and bad drivers, and enjoying the weather and street scenes as I breeze past, and I feel powerful. These dainty, curvy bikes in their sweet colors and perky baskets don’t scream “powerful” to me. Actually, they probably don’t scream at all. Too well-bred. Too pre-Title IX.

But my colleague and I talked it through, and agreed that it was important to be open-minded, so I did some research online. After looking at a range of styles, from the super-low Biria step-through “Easy Boarding” bikes (try going over any bump in the road on that!), to the fun, customizable Republic Plato Step-Thru, I stumbled across an old photo of me on my first grown-up bike.

Biria Easy Boarding Balloon 7

Biria Easy Boarding Balloon 7

The custom colors I chose on the Republic Plato Step-Thru

The custom colors I chose on the Republic Plato Step-Thru

In the old, fading, square photo of me, in my purple quilted vest and cool purple leg warmers, I realized that I still love that bike. It’s a shiny burgundy, it has fenders and a chain guard, easy handle bars, and look – a step-through frame! But not a curvy one – ah ha!

When Tin Lizzie first rode!

When Tin Lizzie first rode!

I started looking at frames more closely. There’s something about the straight tube that makes them seem a bit less girlie. I really like the Breezer bikes, but there are other brands that are similar.

Looking at the old photo, The Mechanic said, “Why don’t we look for those old Raleighs that you love so much?” He did some research to discover that they might not be quite that bad to modernize (I really don’t want a 3 speed bike. That’s what Capital Bikeshare is for), then poked around the internet a bit for reviews and blogs and the like. Made solidly enough to last until now, apparently they are pretty easy to get ahold of on eBay, Craigslist and the like. We’ve seen several for sale in the area already. The late 60s women’s Raleighs look pretty much like my first bike, with the concave chrome detail on the fork crown that I love so much (it’s just an interesting detail many bikes don’t have). If I can find one I like, in decent shape, for fairly cheap, it might turn into a winter project. It might. I still haven’t decided if it they are too girlie for me or not. I need to test ride one to decide. But it would make it easier to wear, and bike in, pencil skirts!

What are your thoughts on bike frames?

14 thoughts on “Step Through Bike Frames: Girlie or Nah?

  1. Recently I ordered a 2017 Breezer Downtown 8 ST, I like the wider range of the Nexus 8 IGH to cope with steep hills. For the 2019 model year Breezer have changed the Downtown ST to a loop frame, and earlier this year Simcoe closed their doors, so straight double tube step through bikes are becoming less common. Love your timely post on reflective gear.

  2. I go over bumps all the time I never have any problem with that nice low riding low center of gravity bike. It’s great because I can’t lift my leg hardly at all but I can ride that bike now that I don’t have to I don’t have any trouble with bumps I avoid big ones just naturally

  3. Not sure how many you’d find stateside but if you want a badass step-through my first thought was to find a second hand Pashley Royal Mail bike. Ugly as sin but definitely not girlie…

  4. I had no idea there was such strong feelings about step-through bikes and women in skirts riding them! I like the look of the curved bars, and the only thing about the wicker baskets that bug me is they hold so little. For me it’s like the clothes that Kimmy Schmidt wears–she’s completely bright colored and flowery but you have no doubt she could kick your ass if she needed to.

  5. I love my Breezer for it’s step-through frame. Any kind of dress/skirt or tight pants and I can still ride. Mine bike is a dark blue that reads as black and doesn’t feel girlie at all. I think you are pretty badass for all the cycling you do on a daily basis; no matter WHAT kind of bike you ride. I want to be you when I bike! ; ) Good luck with your search!

    • Ooh I do like the Breezers! I didn’t realize you have one. You are too kind – and make me feel guilty for using a Zipcar today (work related stuff, I swear!). Cross your fingers – looking at a bike tomorrow!

  6. I have a step through, a straight-ish one not a low swooping curve. I’m not good with a crossbar and have fallen off one in the past forgetting there was a bar in the way. But you know what? I find I still swing my leg over the saddle tgetting on to my bike.

    • I admit, another reason why I started thinking about a step through is because there have been several times when I’m on my bike after riding a bikeshare bike and forgetting, and *almost* swing my leg in front of me. 😳 I love that you still swing your leg over the saddle!

    • I’ve looked at mixte frames but I don’t like the look of the double top tube/stays. It’s my personal taste. I also don’t want to wear polka dots. However, I know lots of people like both, and that’s great. But I definitely appreciate that this style is intended to be unisex. (My husband just got a WorkCycles step-through, btw, and finds my mixed feelings about step-through frames amusing 😊)

  7. Just saw a little of the Twitter exchange about this. I don’t know why I was surprised by the strong reactions, but I was. I think of bikes in terms of function and comfort, which for me means having a comfortable bike with multiple gears that can take panniers for town riding, and has fenders. I don’t ride a step-through because the position is so upright and I prefer a little more forward lean when I ride. Also, I am addicted to SPDs. There, I said it! My Bike Friday Tikit has multiple gears but a very upright position and I find that over a certain speed I am fighting the bike because I can’t really lean into it.

    I have a mixte frame, not a pure step-through, and it’s been great. Not too upright, but it uses flat bars and thumb shifters, which I like for variety. That said, I am hesitant about taking it on a long ride (over 20 miles) because I don’t know how it would feel and I already have bikes that meet that purpose quite well.

    My eyeglasses person rides a Rivendell Betty Foy, and he is a man. I was surprised by how I assumed/bought into some stereotype that a step-through bike with the name Betty Foy would only be ridden by women. That was silly. The Betty Foy is a fine bike for anyone, and great for commuting!

    • My husband just got a step-through, so you’d think I’d be more eager to get one. And I am. It’s just… I like how different my bike currently is. 😊 For whatever reason, I don’t love the mixte frame style. It’s an aesthetics thing. But I bet I could come around to it. The Betty Foys are lovely, though, I’ve looked at those for a while. I agree with you, too – I wouldn’t want an upright bike for long haul stuff. That’s why we all have multiple bikes!

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