In a previous era, bicycles manufactured with a standard diamond frame geometry (or similar) were called ‘men’s bikes’, while bicycles manufactured where the top tube meets the seat tube much lower were called ‘women’s bikes.’ The latter frame style has been traditionally named such because the shorter standover height is an attractive option for anyone riding in skirts or anyone that doesn’t want to have to swing one of their legs all the way over the seat to mount or dismount.
Generally speaking, the bicycle industry is moving away from this convention, replacing ‘women’s bike’ with the term ‘step-through’. There are plenty of men who prefer step-through frames for various reasons, and there are plenty of bicycles designed specifically for women that utilize traditional diamond frame geometry. Manufacturers are also flattening the diamond frame style significantly enough that they provide many of the benefits of a step-through frame. And there are probably a bunch of Scottish men in kilts that secretly wish they could ride step-through frames without being called sissies. While there are still reputable manufacturers using the term ‘womens’ to describe the step-through geometry, it is probably a marketing technique more than a description of any technical specs. It’s probably true that the majority of step-through frames are owned by women – and that’s not likely to change whether we call them ‘womens’ bikes or not – as long as women are more likely to wear skirts than men, we will probably see more women on step-through bikes than men.
One particular type of step-through frame is called a mixte. In a mixte frame, the top tube of the traditional diamond frame is replaced with a pair of smaller tubes running from the top of the head tube all the way back to the rear axle, connecting at the seat tube on the way. The normal seat stays and chain stays are retained. This provides the greater standover height of a step-through frame bicycle while avoiding some of the additional stresses the step-through frame bicycle places on the seat tube.A direct appropriation of the French word meaning “mixed” or “unisex”, “mixte” is pronounced “MEExt”, although the usual North American bicycle industry pronunciation of this loan word is “MIX-ty”. Both pronunciations are widely used.