I don't wanna be too short to ride a bike.
August 17, 2010 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find a cheap bike for a short woman in NYC?

I am about to give back the bike I borrowed from my brother for the summer, and I want to buy my very first bike as an adult. This has turned out to be annoying and difficult. I'm now used to riding a hybrid which has me leaning forward a bit, and that's about all I know about it, so I guess I want something similar.

The issues:

1. Size! I went to four bike shops today, and only one of them had bikes small enough for me (and those started at $400). I'm about 5'2", and two bike shops told me I need a 14" frame, though a third had me trying out 15" frames with low enough top bars that they worked just fine anyway.

2. Price! I am astonished by how expensive bikes are nowadays! Before I started looking, I thought I wanted to spend about $100. Ha. The cheapest reasonable bike at a local store so far has been $350. I've since adjusted my expectations, and am trying to decide if I should just bite the bullet and order this bike for $240 (wish I could find more reviews of the brand, though). I just hate the idea of spending more than that on a bike that's likely to just end up getting stolen anyway, especially since I need to buy helmet and lock and lights on top of that.

(A friend suggested ordering this one instead, but I fail to see how that's not just spending an extra $60 for the honor of having to buy my own kickstand separately once it arrives.)

Now, since I doubt one of you will just happen to have a used bike that fits me that you're willing to sell, my real question is:

Where in NYC should I go shopping for low-end but safe-enough bikes that actually fit short women? Is there some sort of special for-short-people bike store in the area? A used bike store that caters to short cyclists, explicitly or coincidentally? Good times of week to check out used bike stores in the area for shorter bikes? Any help or advice?

Thanks for any help. I'm so sick of wasting my time with stores that think I'm too short and/or too poor to ride a bike!
posted by Eshkol to Shopping (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Please don't be insulted by this suggestion, but this is a solution that may work for you (I had the same parameters for a bike when I was a grad student):

Go to a Kmart or a Target and check out the large bikes for children. There are sales a few times a year with these bikes, too, so I was able to get one for ~$50 (I think it was for sale right before the start of the academic year, but I can't remember). The bike was affordable, new (so no unforseen mechanical probs), and the fit was fine (I'm close to your size). Warning, though: the bike weighed a lot and wasn't that comfortable for long distances but from your descrtption, I'm guessing that the weight of the bike is not that important to you.
posted by Wolfster at 9:36 PM on August 17, 2010

Contact Petite Bike Fit. As the name says, she specializes in fitting petite women for bikes. She is not in New York (she's in L.A.), but she has clients throughout the west for sure, maybe even the rest of country. If you contact her, she will talk to you and try to help you out. Good luck!
posted by vignettist at 9:53 PM on August 17, 2010

As a fellow short woman (5'1"ish) who didn't want to pay more than about $150, I recommend Craigslist. It might take a little while for the right size to show up but you can set up a rss feed with your search terms so any results just get sent to you.
posted by grapesaresour at 10:12 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A combination of what Wolfster and grapesaresour said: I'm about 5'2" with short legs, and some of my previous bikes have been kids or juniors mountain bikes gotten off Craigslist once an 8th grade boy hit his grown spurt. If you're not picky about what you get, this will work fine, cheaply, and eventually (most junior bikes that show up will be heavyish mountain bikes; if you want something fancier/lighter/less chunky it will take longer).
posted by charmedimsure at 10:42 PM on August 17, 2010

If you're 5'2" you should be able to ride 49/50cm bike, which is the smallest size that is commonly manufactured. Just about every manufacturer builds frames in this size, and with te seat, stem and bars correctly adjusted you should have problem finding a bike that fits you comfortably.

I don't think you're having a sizing issue, so much as a pricing issue. Bike shops sell decent quality bikes, so there is really no chance of finding a bike at a shop in that price range (many NYC bike shops are also terribly overpriced, but that's a different thread). Think about it this way, even the cheapest tire you can buy is about $20, a tube is at least $5, so you're at $50 already.

There's a few options. Craigslist can be good, but the NYC bikes for sale section of CL tends to be filled with a lot of overpriced, impractical bikes. It is also notorious for rip-off artists who sell junk. If you have a bike savvy friend, you can definitely find what you need here, but I would be cautious.

A better bet for what you want is to try some of the thrift shops in the outer boroughs, or NJ. Many people donate pretty decent used bikes, and with some searching you'll score. This is a shop on 72nd and Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn that often has decent bikes for sale in the $40-$60 range. The Salvation Army shop in Dover/Rockaway NJ also has decent cheap bikes.

A third option is www.nashbar.com on the web. They are a large bike discounter, with lots of very cheap closeouts. Here, your smaller size works for you, because most of teh closeout bikes tend to be the smallest and largest frame sizes. The catch here is the bike will come only partially assembled.

The issue that will arise with almost any used bike, or one from Nashbar, is will need a once over from a mechanic. Tubes, tires, cables, brake pads and chains all wear out rather quickly. The money you save on the initial purchase will get sucked up in initial repairs to get the bike safe and on the road.

It's not impossible to find a bike in your size and price range, but it will take some legwork, so you might be better off shelling out $200-$250, for a bike in the correct size that will be ready to ride. The bike you linked to isn't bad for the price. It's a fact that 90% of modern bikes come out of the same few factories in Taiwan, so the name brand matters very little until you get into the higher end of things. Good luck on the hunt!
posted by EvilPRGuy at 10:55 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm about your height and found a bike here in New York no problem.

The only issue I've had is that I love diamond frame bikes in non-pink colors, and it's apparently difficult to find that sort of thing in a small size. You will find it easier to find "ladies' style" and mixte frames in your size.

$350 is a pretty typical price for a new lower end model of a quality bike brand these days. You can go a little cheaper if you want a used or vintage bike. I would not order on ebay, though, unless you are really familiar with the model and size and are pretty much sure it's what you want without a test ride. There are lots of places around the city to buy used bikes, in addition to craigslist.

A big box children's bike is a waste of your money.

Where in NYC do you live? I find that the better bike shops are in downtown Manhattan and "brownstone" Brooklyn. Especially in terms of used bikes - most of the bike shops I run across between Williamsburg and Park Slope have a good selection of vintage/refurbished bikes at affordable prices. I also recommend the guy who sells used bikes at the Brooklyn Flea - I got my bike from him and have nothing but good things to say.

You could also consider asking at your local shop if they can snag a 48 or 50 cm for you in a style/brand you like next time they do an order. You're not limited to just the bikes on the sales floor.
posted by Sara C. at 6:19 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Echoing most of what has been said:

(1) new nice bike: Hard to get below $250. If you go this route you can browse online bike catalogs, find the dealer and go ask them to order. Actual price should be 80-90% of MSRP if that's listed online. As EvilPRGuy said, you should fit the smallest sizes of most bike models, in particular the women's ones. The stores just may not have them in stock.

(2) if shopping online, look for frames no larger than 15", and if the standover height is listed in the geometry, that should be less than your inseam at least by an inch. you can squeak by with no room, but it's not comfortable, especially for a relatively new rider. step-through ("women's") frames usually will be fine for you.

(3) if you're not in a hurry I would recommend trying craigslist even though it can be time-consuming.

(4) used bike store: call and ask the people there what time is the best to go for a good selection.

(5) tuneup/repairs for a used/crappy bike will run you at least $50, easily up to $100, and possibly more.

(6) kids' bikes with 24" wheels from good makers are an option for you. A lot of short women ride those, but at your height, you're really not limited to them.

(7) Department store or ebay bikes: The problem with these is that chances are that things will break within a year or two unless you're very lucky. You may need a lot of adjustments right off the bat. If you have a bike-savvy friend, this may not be such a hassle, otherwise you're looking at $50 at the bike shop and possibly a jerk mechanic complaining about how cheap your bike is. But once that's done those should be plenty safe to ride for normal city riding. Just don't take it on the trails.

I'm 4'10" with short legs and I've been able to hunt down a 15" Norco mtb (a steal at $20 but add another $120 for repairs) in a used bike store in Vancouver *when I went on the day they recommended I go* and a kids' Trek mtb ($150 in great condition) on craiglist in a tiny town.
posted by bread-eater at 7:12 AM on August 18, 2010

I am almost exactly your size (5' 2 1/2, female) and I had a great experience in December of '08 with Bicycle Station, which has since moved to under the BQE in Ft Greene/Clinton Hill. I went in and told them what I wanted (ten speed, under $150) and they refurbished something used for me in a few days. They apparently have backstock of used bikes, not all of which are on the showroom floor. My bike is a men's frame hybrid but gives me no problems at all besides routine maintenance. Check them out: Bicycle Station. They don't offer the friendliest service but they definitely know their stuff.
posted by sideofwry at 7:50 AM on August 18, 2010

You might try calling Recycle-A-Bicycle. They have locations in both the east village and brooklyn. They take used bikes, get students to refurbish them as a youth training initiative, and resell them. When I was bike shopping they were great about trying to find something that was the perfect fit. You could talk to 'em, tell them what you're looking for, and if they don't have one, they might well get it soon...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 8:26 AM on August 18, 2010

I've used Bicycle Station for minor repairs and supplies and the like - they're great. They've always been really nice to me, too.

The bike shop that moved into their old space on Vanderbilt between Bergen and Dean, Brooklyn Bike & Board, is also a great place to ask about used refurbished bikes. The prices I've seen there are usually over $150, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.
posted by Sara C. at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2010

Recycle a Bicycle is a fantastic organization and a great resource for anyone in New York City -- or, hell, within a day's travel of New York City -- who wants a bicycle. Check them out!
posted by gum at 11:08 AM on August 18, 2010

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