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Bicycle recommendation for a short woman

Old 01-19-22, 04:11 PM
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UberIM
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Bicycle recommendation for a short woman

I have a long time friend who just retired and wants to get back into biking
Lives in rural Pennsylvania. Wants to be able to ride country roads (rolling hills) and bike paths and dirt roads.
She is 4'11". Not sure how to advise her. BMX? 24" tires? Mtn bike with slicks? 650b? HELLLLP
TIA
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Old 01-19-22, 04:28 PM
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Price range will sway the answers significantly ?

Barry
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Old 01-19-22, 04:28 PM
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Smallest size Surly Disc Trucker might work. My ex is 5’ even and rides one. Great for unpaved trails as it can fit fat tires. And it has pretty low gearing if she won’t mind a triple. 26” wheels.
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Old 01-19-22, 05:32 PM
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You might want to look at junior CX/gravel bikes. Lighter weight might be a plus.

Also at retirement age, there is probably a better chance of moving toward 4’10” than maintaining 4’11” long term.

John
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Old 01-19-22, 06:10 PM
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The person who could certainly provide that bike is Georgena Terry; the founder of the Terry women's bicycles. She stepped away from the company years ago to return to her true love, the hands-on making frames for women. Wouldn't be cheap; your friend would be paying for a full custom frame but that opens up options - fit, wheels, extras, paint ...

Georgena is very approachable. I found her website quickly several years ago, contacted her and got an immediate and welcoming reply. (I spent a year commuting on a ferry with a woman on a so-so fitting men's bike. We would be the first two vehicle off the ferry and climb the hill to the street together. She bought a production Terry. Overnight (literally) she became faster and more comfortable on that hill. Terry made similar innovations to women's seats and added cutouts early on; going to one of the major Italian seat manufacturers. Added a men's seat that's been my favorite since I sat on one 16? years ago to the line.)
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Old 01-19-22, 06:12 PM
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My wife is the same height as your friend. She'll tell you she is 5' even, but that with heels. Anyway, she has several bikes, because of me. What she likes the best is her 1990"s Trek 830 with 26" wheels. That may not work for your friend but it is great for my wife. Her go to bike.

1990's Mountain bikes make great all around bikes. Change to drop handlebars and it is a "gravel" bike. Keep the straight bars for all around riding. Change to North Road type bars for a town bike with plenty of gears to haul groceries a stuff. Change to Crazy bars, Corner bars or butterfly bars and it works well as a touring bike.

With 26" wheels and about a 15' to 17" frame, this should fit her and it won't be some special order bike that you can't find.
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Old 01-19-22, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Velo Mule View Post
1990"s Trek 830 with 26" wheels.
1990's Mountain bikes make great all around bikes. Change to drop handlebars and it is a "gravel" bike. Keep the straight bars for all around riding. Change to North Road type bars for a town bike with plenty of gears to haul groceries a stuff. Change to Crazy bars, Corner bars or butterfly bars and it works well as a touring bike.

With 26" wheels and about a 15' to 17" frame, this should fit her and it won't be some special order bike that you can't find.
Quoted for an upvote!
1990's MTBs are great all-arounders.

All of the major mfgrs built them, so they're easy to find. 26" wheels don't need any weird geometry to accomodate Small/XS 15-17" frames. They're simple, well made, and some of them were very-well spec'ed when new. TREK 800 series seem to be the most common, or their 4000 series (aluminum) frames. Cannondale XS 'CAAD-2' bikes, while not as common, are really nice, and suprisingly light weight, even by modern standards.

I also use these small-frame MTBs as base material for making adaptive bikes for special-needs teens like my son, because they're easy to find, easy to ride, and easy to modify.

UberIM A lot depends on your friend's location (proximity to bike shops) current fitness level, and, of course, budget. Someone mentioned the Surly Disk Trucker, which can be built 'nearly custom' but that's also a ~$2000 bike, off the rack.
People like to bag on Bikes Direct, but it's a good way to get a delivered straight to you, for a decent pride, particularly if you're in an 'underserved market' They seem to stock a lot of 15" frames, as well.
I'd also steer away from 20" or 24" bikes, unless she's the size of a 12-year-old.
Most shops won't carry a whole bunch of bikes in X-Small frames, but one advantage in the current situation, is that they're a lot less likely to have sold than the more common sizes.
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Old 01-19-22, 09:36 PM
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Too bad you aren't in Japan, pretty much every bike seems to be make for people who are 4'11", I have a hard time finding bikes big enough for me to ride.
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Old 01-20-22, 02:00 AM
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My gf is under 5 feet. She rides a Liv devote adv 2. She uses lightspeed carbon wheels for the road and the OEM wheels and tires for the gravel.

Seat tube is 39 cm.
https://www.liv-cycling.com/us/devote-advanced-2





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Old 01-20-22, 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by 70sSanO View Post
You might want to look at junior CX/gravel bikes. Lighter weight might be a plus.

Also at retirement age, there is probably a better chance of moving toward 4’10” than maintaining 4’11” long term.

John
spot on!
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Old 01-21-22, 12:08 AM
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A Bike Friday 20-inch tire folding bike. Other folders would also work, but I prefer the Bike Friday quality.
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Old 01-21-22, 12:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Velo Mule View Post
1990's Mountain bikes make great all around bikes. Change to drop handlebars and it is a "gravel" bike. Keep the straight bars for all around riding. Change to North Road type bars for a town bike with plenty of gears to haul groceries a stuff. Change to Crazy bars, Corner bars or butterfly bars and it works well as a touring bike.

With 26" wheels and about a 15' to 17" frame, this should fit her and it won't be some special order bike that you can't find.
+1
My SO isn't particularly athletically inclined, but does ride occasionally. She'd always been envious of my mtb that, despite looking so much chunkier than her bike, was so much lighter.
So I got her a rather nice 16" frame Merida, put street tires on it, short stem, kinda-sorta North Road bars and a long seat post. And suddenly she had a bike that gave the riding position of a Townie, but with 1/3 of the weight off. And a far greater gear range.
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Old 01-21-22, 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Velo Mule View Post
With 26" wheels and about a 15' to 17" frame, this should fit her and it won't be some special order bike that you can't find.
Sorry but that is a mistaken assumption. A 15” mountain bike frame is far too large for a small woman. Mountain bikes are sized to be 3” to 4” smaller than a road frame but they have the same proportions as the larger road frame. A 15” mountain bike is build for someone who fits on a 49cm (19”) road frame or someone 5’4” to 5’8”. In a road frame, you wife should be riding something closer to a 43cm bike and in a mountain bike frame closer to 12”. You are “Supermaning” the poor woman!

I’ve been getting my wife down to a proper sized bike over the last 30+ years. It’s been difficult since for most of those 30+ years, most manufacturers haven’t made bikes that are the proper size. Her current bike is a 43cm Terry Symmetry with 650c wheels, a XS Specialized Vita with 700c, and a Trek 1600 with 650c wheels.




The 650C bikes are the best fit but the XS Vita works. 650C bikes are rare but the Vita is readily available.

Her mountain bike (which she doesn’t really like) is a 12” bike. Since this picture was taken, I’ve had the fork travel shortened so that the front end isn’t so high.
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Old 01-21-22, 09:17 AM
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Just make certain what ever she gets has the gearing that will be needed to ride the terrain where it's going to be ridden. And fit's comfortably with out thinking from the get go that bars are going to have to be raised obscenely high for that bike or other radical changes.

I'd also consider just getting something on the inexpensive side so if it's decided that type of riding isn't her style, that another bike for whatever style of riding that is leaned toward can be gotten without missing the big pile of money that was dropped on the first bike.

I like to ride at what to me are fast paced efforts and long. My wife will never ride like that. She likes slow leisurely riding and not for very far. So for us to ride together requires some big compromises.
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Old 01-22-22, 04:05 AM
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I would definitely recommend looking at 24" wheel juvenile bikes. I ride one myself at 5'1". Now I have fitted a longer seatpost and a stem riser to mine, yet that's the best place to start from at that height.
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Old 01-22-22, 05:13 AM
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Originally Posted by sean.hwy View Post
My gf is under 5 feet. She rides a Liv devote adv 2. She uses lightspeed carbon wheels for the road and the OEM wheels and tires for the gravel.

Seat tube is 39 cm.
https://www.liv-cycling.com/us/devote-advanced-2
Wow, that bike has a long reach (378). My 4'11" daughter wouldn't be comfortable on that at all. She has a jamis renegade 44cm that has a reach of 351. The renegade is set up for 650B wheels for lots of tire clearance.
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Old 01-22-22, 06:07 AM
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fwiw I got 5' Wifey a pre-owned Trek FX Stagger. it's small, but also the shape of the frame, allows her to get on/off w/o swinging her leg over the back of the bike. resembles the old mixte frames, not quite a step-thru
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Old 01-23-22, 09:15 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Sorry but that is a mistaken assumption. A 15” mountain bike frame is far too large for a small woman. Mountain bikes are sized to be 3” to 4” smaller than a road frame but they have the same proportions as the larger road frame. A 15” mountain bike is build for someone who fits on a 49cm (19”) road frame or someone 5’4” to 5’8”. In a road frame, you wife should be riding something closer to a 43cm bike and in a mountain bike frame closer to 12”. You are “Supermaning” the poor woman!
It depends on what kind of bike she wants. For a drop bar road bike, yes, the stoopid long top tube of the '90s mtbs would be an issue. I understand '80s bikes didn't have that issue, so if she can find something old enough... For pretty much any other riding, they're perfectly fine. With the right stem and bar, they're much more proportional for us shorties. Even with fenders, I have no toe overlap on my 18" mtb. I'm using a 160 mm stem and Velo-Orange Tourist bar. The Princess is super comfortable and takes me wherever I want to go. OP can also look out for a step through mtb so she doesn't have to worry about standover.



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Old 01-23-22, 10:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Korina View Post
It depends on what kind of bike she wants. For a drop bar road bike, yes, the stoopid long top tube of the '90s mtbs would be an issue. I understand '80s bikes didn't have that issue, so if she can find something old enough... For pretty much any other riding, they're perfectly fine.
Sorry but you are incorrect in your assumption. 80s top tubes weren’t that much shorter than in the 90s. Besides, your bike, and the bikes being suggested, is from the 90s or, in other words, the ones with the longer top tubes.

Mountain bikes generally have a longer top tube than road bikes. My 19” mountain bike frames…I’ve owned roughly 20 of them since 1984…have all had longer top tubes than my road bikes of the same era (or even later). That is typical. A smaller mountain bike may have a shorter top tube but they are likely to be longer than a road top tube. If you pick a bike that is larger but proportioned for a rider that is even larger, the problem is exacerbated. That goes for any era of bicycle.


With the right stem and bar, they're much more proportional for us shorties. Even with fenders, I have no toe overlap on my 18" mtb. I'm using a 160 mm stem and Velo-Orange Tourist bar. The Princess is super comfortable and takes me wherever I want to go. OP can also look out for a step through mtb so she doesn't have to worry about standover.
Been there, done that, was there when “back in the day” was “the day”. A short stem and rearward swept handlebars can mess with steering. It makes the bike less stable than a longer stem by pulling weight back from the steering axis. This make the steering quicker but less predictable. A long top tube due to have a large frame pulls more weight back from the front wheel, which makes the bike even less stable.

My wife has tried swept back bars like the Velo Orange ones and found them uncomfortable in the long run. Her wrist angle was wrong with the wrist twisted at an angle. They ended up causing pain and numbness.

I would not expect any kind of toe overlap on a mountain bike of just about any kind. The top tube may be longer but the head angle is more slack as well which pushes the front wheel out further. With proportionally smaller feet, small people should never overlap issue with that kind of geometry. Road bikes might because they use steeper head angles, especially with fenders.

My wife is 5’ tall. I have put her on some pretty horrible bikes for a few reasons. First, and foremost, was because people just didn’t make a bike that was small enough for most of 3 decades. She also learned to ride on a bike that was my size and it took a lot of arguing to convince her that a 22” frame with 27” wheels that she had to hook a leg over to get only one foot on the ground was too large. She was used to that size and everything else felt too small.

I got her down to a 19” road frame in the 90s but was kind of stuck there for a while. In the early 2000s, I finally convinced her to try a Terry Symmetry with the 24” (520mm) wheel on the front. She liked that one but found the smaller front wheel to be a bit sketchy. About 2014, we found the aluminum Terry Symmetry with 650C (571mm) wheel and she found a bike that she could love. It fits, it’s stable, and it’s comfortable. It doesn’t require compromises.

All kinds of people will go on and on about how important frame fit is for comfort but then will ask a small person to “just deal” with what’s available. As an avid cyclist, I would never ride a mountain bike of any kind that is close to the same size as my road bike. A 22” mountain bike is huge and no amount of sliding the seat forward or putting on a super short stem or sweeping back the bars would make it more appropriate for me to ride. I’ve ridden bikes that are the wrong size but I’ve never ridden them for much more than a ride around the block. My wife isn’t nearly as avid a cyclist as I am and it’s taken a long tome for me to understand why.
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Old 01-23-22, 10:49 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
Smallest size Surly Disc Trucker might work. My ex is 5’ even and rides one. Great for unpaved trails as it can fit fat tires. And it has pretty low gearing if she won’t mind a triple. 26” wheels.
The Surly is a good option. Our 4'11 daughter rides a 42 cm Surly Long Haul Trucker. Indyfabz is correct; it can be ridden on about any surface.


I think it could use a longer stem, but she likes it the way it is.


However, she fits pretty well on her Mom's 50 cm road bike. She is in the front on the road bike.

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Old 01-23-22, 11:00 PM
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TL:dr version of my rant above: There are lots and lots and lots of options today. No small person needs to be put on a bike that is too large. The Specialized, Surly (above), Trek, and most every other manufacturer offers bikes that are properly sized for small people, many of them at reasonable prices. There’s no need to buy the wrong bike and modify it to fit.
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Old 01-24-22, 11:57 AM
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Numbers are always good to illustrate a point. I took a shallow dive compared to how far down I could have gone but bellow is a pretty good representation of top tube lengths vs seat tube lengths over time. I included the smallest sizes of each bike I looked at as well as ones that people suggest to small people.

As you can see, the earliest mountain bike has a top tube length of 55cm for the smallest frame they made…an 18”. A road bike of the same era with the same seat tube length has a top tube length that is 2cm shorter. Someone riding an 18” mountain bike should be riding a 54cm road bike which has the same top tube length as the mountain bike.

In 1994, the top tube did lengthen in the 18” size. The 15” size got the shorter top tube (but still long) of the mountain bike 10 years earlier. A 50cm Trek road bike similar to the 1200 kept the same 53cm top tube length. The 15” mountain bike is closer to what someone riding a 50 cm road bike would be riding but still too large for someone who should be riding a 43cm (17”) road bike





If you move on another 10 years, the top tubes lengthen a bit more. The 18” Specialized Hard Rock is longer than the 1994 Trek mountain bike but they were making smaller bikes by that time. The 13” mountain bike is closer to what someone who is riding a 42cm bike should be riding (3 to 4” smaller than road).

The real interesting stuff starts to happen in the late 2000s with the introduction of women specific designs. The bikes started to come in smaller sizes and the top tube length shortened significantly. Look at the length of the top tube of the 1989 50cm Trek which is what any women smaller than 5’4” got stuck on. It’s 53cm. All of the bikes after the 2007 Trek have top tubes that are between 1 and 5cm shorter than that road bike. They are 5 to a whopping 11cm shorter than the mountain bikes.

Saving the part that makes most people mad for the last, standover height has to be considered as well. People who don’t have to ride bikes that are too large for them always say that standover is unimportant. But if you have to spend your life trying to dodge a top tube with the sensitive bits, it becomes something that is very important. An 18” mountain bike has a standover of 76cm. The Terry in the above chart has a standover of 67cm. Gaining 9 cm of clearance is not insignificant and can make a huge difference if the rider just wants to comfortably dismount the bike…never mind if they have to do it in a hurry.

Bottom line: Women don’t have to settle for the wrong size anymore. Just as no women should have to buy a pair of size 12 men’s shoes and then stuff them with socks to make them fit, no woman should have to bike a bike that is far too large and stuff the bike with the bicycle equivalent of socks.
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Old 01-24-22, 01:31 PM
  #23  
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I hate to say it, but comparing changes in mtb geometry over the years is absolutely worthless. Focusing on top tube length is even less value. I still have a 140mm Control Tech quill stem that came on a 1990 GT mtb. The whole concept of mtb riding and design has completely changed over the years.

Ironically, the specs for my 1988 Cannondale Criterium to a 2022 Trek Emonda are not that much different. The obvious difference is standover height. I'm not saying that my old bike is comparable to new technology, just that road bikes have not seen anything close to the transformation of mtb's.

I agree that women should get bikes that fit and not have to settle for smaller downsized men's specs.

John
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Old 01-24-22, 06:39 PM
  #24  
cyccommute 
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Originally Posted by 70sSanO View Post
I hate to say it, but comparing changes in mtb geometry over the years is absolutely worthless. Focusing on top tube length is even less value. I still have a 140mm Control Tech quill stem that came on a 1990 GT mtb. The whole concept of mtb riding and design has completely changed over the years.

Ironically, the specs for my 1988 Cannondale Criterium to a 2022 Trek Emonda are not that much different. The obvious difference is standover height. I'm not saying that my old bike is comparable to new technology, just that road bikes have not seen anything close to the transformation of mtb's.

I agree that women should get bikes that fit and not have to settle for smaller downsized men's specs.

John
It’s comparable because people keep recommending the old bikes for small women. If they made 13” mountain bikes in the 80s and early 90s, suggesting those would certainly be a valid and reasonable suggestion. Suggesting a 15” mountain bike to someone who rides a 15” bike is just wrong.

As for which frame spec to compare, the top tube and seat tube are the only frame measurements that are consistent from the 80s to now. I suspect there is a formula for calculating reach from the frame specifications but the top tube length is one that is readily available and has a long history of use. I didn’t include reach in the above table because that measure is only available for about 4 of the frames on the list.
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Old 01-24-22, 07:34 PM
  #25  
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Another vote for a Terry. We have a few I found for my wife and daughter. They have a little more height than 4'11", but not much. My girl's really like the fit of the Terry bikes, both road and mountain. These were the earlier mass produced Terry's, but do have a comfortable fit.
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