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Bikes for short unstable women?

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Bikes for short unstable women?

Old 09-14-21, 09:19 AM
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lbholla
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Bikes for short unstable women?

I'm sure this has been answered here before, but I'm having no luck finding the answer! I am an inexperienced/unconfident cyclist that is also fairly short, with short legs (5'1"). I currently have a Trek M-2025 SR suntour 3700, 16", and I don't like it at all. I cannot easily touch the ground from the seat at it's lowest position, and I always feel unsafe because of it. I have to hit the breaks HARD to stop, so that I'm pushed forward off the seat by my momentum and can reach the ground (I can't slowly come to a stop because I can't reach the ground from the seat without tipping the bike excessively). I never feel like I'm really confident about my balance on this bike, and I've spent the past year practicing on it, so I'm thinking the issue is more the bike than me - I hope! I also don't like all the gears - I find it confusing and distracting, and it makes me nervous I will shift into the wrong gear and have issues maintaining my balance. Should I just get a tricycle - do I simply have bad balance - or do you think I would benefit from a better fitting bike? If so, can you recommend a bike for short inexperienced adults?
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Old 09-14-21, 10:37 AM
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1. you'll get better with time. the anxiety is understandable, but with practice, that will fade. spend time in an empty parking lot to avoid the stress of traffic and intersections.
2. most of us cannot put our foot down when in the saddle, and, frankly, you should not expect to do that. when it's time to stop, you stand on the pedals, usually with one foot low, and then put the opposite foot on the ground when the motion stops. Notice that this implies you can stand over the top bar when stopped. (if you can't do that, you do likely need a smaller bike).
3. for a "start" to checking the fit, you should have a friend hold your bike while you're on the seat, still, and you should put your heel on the pedal. Your leg should be close to straight, not reaching, not significantly flexed at the knee - then your seat is "in the ballpark".
4. I'm confused that you're saying "hit the brakes HARD to stop." Brakes should feel pretty relaxed when they're doing their job, else they need adjustment. You need a local bike shop (LBS) or a knowledgeable friend to take a look at those. Something isn't right there.
5. Sorry, but 5'1" does not get you into the "super short" category. I've ridden with some much more vertically challenged than that.
6. spend some time with an online "fit calculator" and see if you think you need a different sized bike. the calculators aren't gospel, but they (again) get you in the ballpark. try this one:
https://www.jensonusa.com/bike-fit-calculator
7. be optimistic. you're not as far from bike-happy as you might think.
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Old 09-14-21, 10:43 AM
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Visit your local bike shop! They can help you get a bike that is properly fitted to your body and suited to your needs.
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Old 09-14-21, 11:20 AM
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Don't exclude recumbents. Both trikes or bikes. Though I have no experience with them.

A bike with smaller diameter wheels might feel more comfortable. But if you look at specifically "road bikes" you might only find 700C wheels on them. But many people your size do feel comfortable on them. My wife isn't one of them though.

Cruisers and commuter bikes are more her thing. They'll come in models that have large and smaller diameter wheels.

With the current inventory shortage, I don't know how much selection you'll have in your area. The shops here say mid 2022 for the bike inventory shortage to start getting better.
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Old 09-14-21, 11:31 AM
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If you can touch the ground with both feet while on the saddle, your saddle is too low. Proper pedalling is achieved when you have your leg almost completely straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and since there has to be space between the pedal and the ground, a proper saddle height will not allow you to comfortably reach the ground from the saddle. You must slide forward off the saddle and stand over the frame when you stop, and this is generally true for all heights of rider.

HOWEVER a 16" frame is probably bigger than ideal for a person 5'1". My spouse is about 5'3" and fits neatly on most 14" frames. NB this will not really effect the ability to touch the ground while seated, but might make the 5'1" person more comfortable while riding.

If two wheeled bikes are uncomfortable in general, then consider a recumbent trike.
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Old 09-14-21, 02:52 PM
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I bought this bike from a local bike shop, used but expensive (for my budget). It was a splurge purchase that I had hoped would help me gain confidence, but so far it hasn't helped. The guy who sold it to me didn't really seem to understand my needs as an unconfident adult rider. I've been at the stage of riding a bike around a parking lot for 20 years, spent many hours and days trying to build up my confidence, but I still don't feel comfortable even on a straight wide bike path (what if someone comes from the other direction! what if someone ahead of me stops short!). Maybe I'm too much of a nervous nelly for bikes? or maybe I have bad balance.. or maybe I've only ever had bad fitting bikes.. I just don't know! All I know is that I can't waste much more money or time on it without seeing any progress. I wish I could join my kids on bike trails and family expeditions! I have noticed that when my kids learned, they gained a lot of confidence on bikes that were technically too small for them. They were able to touch the ground easily with both feet (not heels) while on the seat, and use their bikes like glide bikes without engaging the peddles. With my current bike, I can only barely touch the ground with one tip toe while on the seat, so I slam the breaks hard when I want to stop (so that the force of the braking pushes me nearly off the seat and I can touch the ground more fully) - I don't feel that I can safely stop without doing this. The weight of the bike (it's heavy and cumbersome) and myself (short but stout) is maybe too much for that one little tip toe that can reach the ground? I constantly feel like I'm one inch from disaster on this bike.
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Old 09-14-21, 03:56 PM
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Gosh, you describe all your experiences on your bike just like my wife. However I have been with her all day so she couldn't have posted this. <grin>

Do you ride paved roads and paved trails. If so, stay away from bikes with a front suspension. They just add weight, IMO. Though there are plenty of bikes without suspension that are heavy too.

When you stop, you don't have to keep the bike perfectly vertical. You can lean to one side and just stand on one leg. If the bike too heavy to do that, then I'd think that it must be way too big a frame for you because you shouldn't have to lean it that much.

If you are going to look for another bike and give it a try, then keep looking. Go to all the shops you can and just look and try them out. The salesperson that sold my wife her bike was a little less than understanding of how big it felt to her. And so too was I. So when you buy, make sure you your vote on whether it's right for you has veto power over everyone else that says it's the right bike.

Bad time to look for bikes though, store inventory is low and sellers of used bikes know they can ask more than ever.
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Old 09-14-21, 08:56 PM
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This all depends on how far and fast you want to ride! There are street bikes called "pedal forward" bikes:

These are not as fast nor as comfortable for long distances, but something like this might be just right for you. The sixthreezero bikes come with various transmissions as well as single speed (no gears). Not having any gears would make riding uphill harder, but if you live in a flat area, might be fine.

If you want to keep your present bike, the way to stop is to stop pedaling with the pedals vertical, gently apply the brakes and when the bike is almost stopped move forward off the saddle, lean to the side with the upper foot and put that foot down. You can dab along for a couple of feet with that toe if you haven't quite stopped.
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Old 09-15-21, 06:06 AM
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Originally Posted by lbholla View Post
I'm sure this has been answered here before, but I'm having no luck finding the answer! I am an inexperienced/unconfident cyclist that is also fairly short, with short legs (5'1"). I currently have a Trek M-2025 SR suntour 3700, 16", and I don't like it at all. I cannot easily touch the ground from the seat at it's lowest position, and I always feel unsafe because of it. I have to hit the breaks HARD to stop, so that I'm pushed forward off the seat by my momentum and can reach the ground (I can't slowly come to a stop because I can't reach the ground from the seat without tipping the bike excessively). I never feel like I'm really confident about my balance on this bike, and I've spent the past year practicing on it, so I'm thinking the issue is more the bike than me - I hope! I also don't like all the gears - I find it confusing and distracting, and it makes me nervous I will shift into the wrong gear and have issues maintaining my balance. Should I just get a tricycle - do I simply have bad balance - or do you think I would benefit from a better fitting bike? If so, can you recommend a bike for short inexperienced adults?
A folding bike with 20" wheels might help. Talk to the owner, he is helpful.
The gears are sealed. Belt drive. Easy to change and low maintenance.

https://www.downtube.com/pages/bicycle-blog.htmldowntube-news-moving-sale/
https://www.downtube.com/8h-internal-hub-belt-drive-folding-bike/
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Old 09-15-21, 12:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Iride01 View Post
Don't exclude recumbents. Both trikes or bikes. .....
Recumbent bikes are very tricky to balance. I had an OSS SWB recumbent at one point, and the low speed balancing took a lot of effort to learn. For some reasons counter-steering either doesn't work, or works very slowly with these recumbents, so high speed behavior can be unsettling as well. If you can imagine a twitchy, nervous, yet slow turning bike- that is the recumbent bike. The USS models even worse. I strongly advice the OP to stay away from them until she is completely comfortable with a regular bike.

Originally Posted by ClydeClydeson View Post
If you can touch the ground with both feet while on the saddle, your saddle is too low. Proper pedalling is achieved when you have your leg almost completely straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and since there has to be space between the pedal and the ground, a proper saddle height will not allow you to comfortably reach the ground from the saddle. You must slide forward off the saddle and stand over the frame when you stop, and this is generally true for all heights of rider.....
Generally true for all riders. But not true for beginners, which the OP obviously is. For a beginner, the seat should be low enough for you to put both feet , if not flat on the ground, at least comfortably on the ground (ie. not tip-toeing). When the OP is comfortable with riding a bike, then she can raise the seat gradually until she gets to the optimal position.

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Old 09-15-21, 12:36 PM
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Originally Posted by icemilkcoffee View Post
<seat high enough for proper pedalling> true for all riders. But not true for beginners, which the OP obviously is. For a beginner, the seat should be low enough for you to put both feet , if not flat on the ground, at least comfortably on the ground (ie. not tip-toeing). When the OP is comfortable with riding a bike, then she can raise the seat gradually until she gets to the optimal position.
Fair point. The other issue is that OP said the saddle is as low as it can go but is still too high to put feet on the ground, which confirms my point about the 16" frame being too big for a person 5'1"
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Old 09-15-21, 06:52 PM
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They don't make this particular bike any more but there are similar bikes still available, it is a Giant Revive crank forward bike. My wife started having trouble getting on and off her hybrid and cruiser due to hip problems and wasn't as comfortable starting and stopping much as you have described. I picked this up used off FB Marketplace earlier this year. I don't care for it myself but she took to it like a duck to water. It's very easy for her to mount and dismount and she can reach the ground from the saddle, she loves it.

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Old 09-16-21, 07:20 AM
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Here's a technique to try. The fundamental principle is this. You do not stop, or start actually, in the saddle. You stop/start from in front of the saddle. To stop you place your weight on one pedal (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and as you come close to a stop, just break with one hand and hold the bars securely with the other. Move yourself forwards of the saddle and lower yourself to the ground. Definitly lean a little to the side that you will put your foot down on as you really don't want to lean towards the side that you still have on the pedal.

Start from about the same position yet with the pedals at the 9-3 position. You push down and push yourself up onto the saddle in one motion.
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Old 09-16-21, 10:54 AM
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If you've been at this for 20 years, as you mention above, then this isn't for you. Free yourself from this particular anxiety. You just don't like it, and that's OK. Not sure why you're still doing this. Spend your time on things that you find 100% fun.
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Old 09-16-21, 11:07 AM
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Originally Posted by lbholla View Post
I am an inexperienced/unconfident cyclist that is also fairly short, with short legs (5'1"). I currently have a Trek M-2025 SR suntour 3700, 16", and I don't like it at all. I cannot easily touch the ground from the seat at it's lowest position, and I always feel unsafe because of it. I have to hit the breaks HARD to stop, so that I'm pushed forward off the seat by my momentum ... I never feel like I'm really confident about my balance on this bike, and ...
Until you have more time in the saddle, more time riding over a variety of terrain, it's hard to say how soon you'll feel better-balanced and more-confident with cycling.

As others have suggested, a different bike might help.

The Trek Electra crank-forward (pedal-forward) bikes might suit you well. They tend to have lower seating positions due to the cranks being farther forward, allowing you to touch the feet from the saddle when needing to, yet having your knee bend during pedaling at the appropriate amount. Plus, more-upright handlebars sound like they'd be better for you. On a pedal-forward bike (Electra is just one line of bikes of this sort) and an upright-style handlebar, you'll change your weight distribution and be closer to the ground. In the step-through frame models, you'll also be able mount, ride and dismount without having to worry about a tall top tube keeping your feet from easily and safely getting to/from the ground.

Definnitely worth test-riding two or three of these types of bikes, to compare. Might well be able to trade, if it gets you in a better position that's better-balanced and allows you greater confidence riding.

https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/b...bikes/c/EB600/
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Old 10-03-21, 06:24 PM
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It sounds like the handlebars are too high, and too far away. Without adequate weight on the front wheel the bike will always feel squirrelly and nervous, and the front wheel will wander around as you try to climb a hill. Try and figure out how you can distribute more weight to the front wheel by putting a shorter, lower stem on, or by using swept-back U shaped bars tilted down towards the back. Maybe you can find parts and help from your local community bicycle cooperative, or maybe they would allow you to swap this bike for a used smaller bike that fits you better. If there's a community bicycle cooperative where you live they'll gladly help you out for free, that's what they're there for.

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Old 10-08-21, 02:03 PM
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The braking bit sounds odd to me. Before you give up on this bike or your current setup become more confident rolling slowly to a stop. Most cyclists do this so often they don’t even think about it. When you are going fast the gyroscopic effect from your wheels makes your bike stable, but as you slow down to come to a stop you have to ‘counter steer’, ie turning the handlebars slightly in the opposite direction as your bike starts to lean and fall over, to keep the bike upright. Right before you come to a full stop take your foot of the pedal and let your toes find the ground while holding firmly on to the handlebars and squeezing both brakes. You should wind up standing over the top tube with one foot on the ground and one foot on the pedal with the bike leaned just slightly.

Try going to a grassy playground and practice rolling slowly to a stop until you can do it confidently.

here is a little YouTube video:
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Old 10-26-21, 02:55 PM
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I have a few thoughts on this. My partner had similar issues after a long hiatus from cycling. She's roughly 5'3".
  • I'm not sure a mountain bike was the best choice for a beginner. Something with a step-through frame would probably be better as it would give you a more direct line of escape if necessary. That said, I think the bike is probably a rational size for you if it's the woman's version but if it's a man's version, the reach (basically the distance to the handlebars) may be too long for you. As others have noted, it's important to get the seat and handlebars adjusted properly and, depending on how mechanically inclined you are, there are modifications you can make to the bike to provide further adjustment. I'm not sure swapping stems and such, without some experienced advice, is a good idea, because putting a shorter stem on a bike than the bike was designed for can affect the steering and handling of the bike making it feel even less stable. swapping the handlebars for something with more back sweep is a good suggestion as well as seeking out your local bike co-op.
  • also be sure your tires are properly inflated. underinflated tires, especially those big 2" mountain bike tires, and when moving slowly, can cause an unstable squishy feel on pavement. it can also cause a blowout.
  • As for gears, you probably don't want to do too much shifting until you gain your balance so put them both in the middle for now. If it's too hard to pedal, downshift with your right hand. Find a gear that works for taking off but doesn't leave you spinning your pedals once you get going and just leave it there. When you gain more confidence, you can start learning how to shift. Basically, the idea of shifting gears is to adapt to varying terrain while trying to maintain a consistent pedaling cadence and level of effort. When you're in your cruising speed gear and you start going down hill, you shift to a higher gear so you can keep pedaling without spinning out. As you start going up hill, you shift to a lower gear to make it easier to climb the hill.
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Old 11-10-21, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by lbholla View Post
I bought this bike from a local bike shop, used but expensive (for my budget). It was a splurge purchase that I had hoped would help me gain confidence, but so far it hasn't helped. The guy who sold it to me didn't really seem to understand my needs as an unconfident adult rider. I've been at the stage of riding a bike around a parking lot for 20 years, spent many hours and days trying to build up my confidence, but I still don't feel comfortable even on a straight wide bike path (what if someone comes from the other direction! what if someone ahead of me stops short!). Maybe I'm too much of a nervous nelly for bikes? or maybe I have bad balance.. or maybe I've only ever had bad fitting bikes.. I just don't know! All I know is that I can't waste much more money or time on it without seeing any progress. I wish I could join my kids on bike trails and family expeditions! I have noticed that when my kids learned, they gained a lot of confidence on bikes that were technically too small for them. They were able to touch the ground easily with both feet (not heels) while on the seat, and use their bikes like glide bikes without engaging the peddles. With my current bike, I can only barely touch the ground with one tip toe while on the seat, so I slam the breaks hard when I want to stop (so that the force of the braking pushes me nearly off the seat and I can touch the ground more fully) - I don't feel that I can safely stop without doing this. The weight of the bike (it's heavy and cumbersome) and myself (short but stout) is maybe too much for that one little tip toe that can reach the ground? I constantly feel like I'm one inch from disaster on this bike.
I read the OP's original post and this comment a couple times, and while many have commented on sizing, bike choice and such, I have a slightly different take. Yes, I'd think the bike is a bit big (I'm an inch taller and ride a smaller MTB) BUT what is being described to me is not a bike fit issue. It is a riding/coaching issue. Good news: this can be fixed. My ideal situation would be this: look for your local bike club and contact them. Explain the situation as you described here and ask for help. I don't know where you live, but unless it's the absolute middle of nowhere there should be a bike group. I'm willing to bet there's (ideally) a lady rider in the group who could ride some with you who can give you pointers on proper riding, working then towards proper seat height and such, which at this stage you absolutely do not have. After all, there's not likely a bike club around that doesn't want to encourage and educate more riders. My local club does beginner rides, for just that purpose. Reaching out here is good, but from reading what you say, this is a situation handled best in an in person situation. Pictures of you on your bike could help diagnose, but I stick by y suggestion. Failing that, a good friend who is an experienced rider who can ride with you, in some nice comfortable area, and help you with the riding skills would be next best option, IMHO.

Confidence comes with small successes that build on each other.

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Old 11-12-21, 07:27 PM
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The best thing I can recommend is if you have a buddy who's familiar with bikes and wouldn't mind going on short (1 hour or less), slow rides with you to help you build confidence on the bike. They'll also be able to give you pointers. The people that I've taught how to ride (of all heights and ages), I have them spend the first four rides just riding around in a parking lot or quiet open area as they get used to stopping, starting, turning, and balancing. Then I take them on those short rides as they increase their confidence on the bike.

Cycling is kind of like driving, where you build up each skill as you get more comfortable. In a car, you learn how to stop and start, then turn. Once you can do that, then you learn how to use turn signals, fiddle with the heater, etc. Cycling is the same way. Work up to learning how to shift gears and take a hand off the bars to signal. One thing at a time or it gets too overwhelming. For now, pick a gear that is easy to pedal and don't worry about shifting just yet.

To address your height concerns while slowing down, see this video.
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Old 01-27-22, 01:41 PM
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Originally Posted by lbholla View Post
I'm sure this has been answered here before, but I'm having no luck finding the answer! I am an inexperienced/unconfident cyclist that is also fairly short, with short legs (5'1"). I currently have a Trek M-2025 SR suntour 3700, 16", and I don't like it at all. I cannot easily touch the ground from the seat at it's lowest position, and I always feel unsafe because of it. I have to hit the breaks HARD to stop, so that I'm pushed forward off the seat by my momentum and can reach the ground (I can't slowly come to a stop because I can't reach the ground from the seat without tipping the bike excessively). I never feel like I'm really confident about my balance on this bike, and I've spent the past year practicing on it, so I'm thinking the issue is more the bike than me - I hope! I also don't like all the gears - I find it confusing and distracting, and it makes me nervous I will shift into the wrong gear and have issues maintaining my balance. Should I just get a tricycle - do I simply have bad balance - or do you think I would benefit from a better fitting bike? If so, can you recommend a bike for short inexperienced adults?
The problem is the bike. Trek does not know how to design bikes for short rider. To start with that bike has a severely high bottom bracket. Bottom bracket is the horizontal tube the cranks mount in. If the bottom bracket were two inches lower the cranks would be lower and the pedals would be lower. You would have fewer problems. Next up the suspension fork and the riser stem mean the handlebars can only be high. Sitting way up in the air of course the bike feels unstable.

The high BB and the suspension fork are leftovers from mountain bikes. You do not need or want a mountain bike. In current market 99% of what you will find is very much like the Trek.

The opinion that dismounting is required when stopping the bike is an opinion. It has become the dominant opinion in recent years and remains an opinion. In my 400,000 miles of cycling I have not once left the saddle when stopping. My wife is 5’3”. She stops both ways. It is never a problem for her to put a foot on the ground while seated in saddle. On her Raleigh Twenty, which does have an unusually low bracket, she puts a foot down and remains in saddle every time.

You aren’t getting anywhere until you find a bike shop or a local cyclist who has a clue about short riders. My best suggestions would all be very old bikes. Bikes built when low bottom brackets were normal. The Raleigh Twenty mentioned above is really good. They have some oddities and you will need a mechanic. Raleigh Sports, Model DL-22L with ladies 19” frame is my best suggestion. These are old bikes now and you want to find one in top condition not a scrap heap bike. I have been surprised twice putting 4’11” women on 19” Raleigh’s, they needed nothing special, no modifications, everything worked perfectly the first time. One even needs the saddle slightly above lowest position. Have also put a 4’9” woman on a 19” Raleigh, that needed some work. Final suggestion would be a Schwinn Breeze. Or really any old ladies frame Schwinn. Talking about Chicago built Schwinns so we are back to the 1970s and before. Fortunately there are many Schwinn enthusiasts keeping these wonderful bikes alive.

I have read Frank Schwinn’s wartime Boca Raton diaries in which he designed everything Schwinn did the next thirty years. Read the original manuscript in the Mattei collection. His discussion of small frames is simply brilliant. He assumed that learning riders would want both feet flat on the ground. Designed accordingly. Commenters who think they know more than Frank Schwinn......
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Old 01-30-22, 06:37 AM
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PeteHski
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Originally Posted by ClydeClydeson View Post
If you can touch the ground with both feet while on the saddle, your saddle is too low. Proper pedalling is achieved when you have your leg almost completely straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and since there has to be space between the pedal and the ground, a proper saddle height will not allow you to comfortably reach the ground from the saddle. You must slide forward off the saddle and stand over the frame when you stop, and this is generally true for all heights of rider.

HOWEVER a 16" frame is probably bigger than ideal for a person 5'1". My spouse is about 5'3" and fits neatly on most 14" frames. NB this will not really effect the ability to touch the ground while seated, but might make the 5'1" person more comfortable while riding.

If two wheeled bikes are uncomfortable in general, then consider a recumbent trike.

I don't agree about your seat height comments. Leg "almost completely straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke" will result in a saddle height far too high, especially for a beginner. But it is true that you might struggle to touch the ground with both feet on the saddle. I can actually do it on tiptoe, but certainly not feet flat on the ground.

Anyway my advice for a beginner is to set the seat considerably lower than optimum. "Optimum" being roughly leg straight at lowest point with your heel on the pedal - in your normal pedalling position with ball of foot on pedal that will give you a safe amount of leg extension. But you can then go at least an inch lower than this position without giving away any significant performance and it will feel far more comfortable and stable for a beginner. If your knees and hips don't feel excessively cramped at the top of the pedal stroke then go even lower, at least initially.

Edit: I see the OP is already at the lowest saddle position and struggling to touch the ground. So the bike is basically too big for a nervous beginner to make progress. In this case a smaller bike would almost certainly be a significant improvement. I've watched both my girls grow up on bikes with the seat set way too low so they could get their feet easily on the ground. As they gained confidence they gradually raised their saddles for improved pedalling efficiency.

Last edited by PeteHski; 01-30-22 at 06:49 AM.
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