Best bike for a really, really short woman?
June 8, 2014 9:09 AM   Subscribe

I have a bike that is way too big for me and as a result, I don't ride it much. I'd like to change that and am looking at WSD bikes.

My specs:

- I'm just barely 5" tall and my limbs are proportionate to that
- I'm in so-so shape (I walk about an hour a day--2 x 30 min--at a brisk city pace, and twice that on the weekends, but that's my only exercise)
- my commute is about 7 km each way, on city streets, paved paths and a short distance of packed dirt path (city paths that have a lot of riders, not rugged mountain bike-y paths)
- I want to stay in the $500-600 range

I've been looking a lot online and am going this afternoon to try out the most entry level Specialized Vita in extra small. The other bike I'd like to try is the entry level Trek 7.2 FX WSD

Any short women out there with experience with either of these bikes? Or short women with other suggestions?

I appreciate people wanting to be helpful, but I'm really looking for feedback on how these bikes work specifically for really short women's bodies, so if you're over 5'3" and/or a guy, that's not really the answer I'm looking for.
posted by looli to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 5'1" with proportionally short legs, longish torso. I used to have a Trek 7.2 fx WSD. I had the step-through frame, so I can't speak to fit on the regular frame, but I will say it fit me pretty well. I did a lot of commuting and even touring on that bike, thanks to installing a rear rack so I could use panniers.

I did find that I kind of "outgrew" that bike fairly quickly, as I ended up falling in love with biking a lot and my use changed beyond just casual rides and short commutes. The more upright geometry made me feel like kind of a sail in the wind, so I felt slower and less efficient than I would have liked. And flat bars didn't give me different options for hand positions for longer rides. But that's just because that's how I ended up progressing as a cyclist, and adding some bar ends actually helped with both those issues for a while.

The step-through frame might help with stand-over height issues (no bonking your lady bits on a top tube), but I found that it made locking up in the city really difficult. The geometry of the frame + fat aluminum tubes made it hard to get the frame + front wheel + bike rack all in one u-lock - I had to get an extra long lock.

But overall, I think the Trek (and probably the Specialized) are pretty great choices for the kind of riding you describe. It'll probably come down to just which one feels better for you.

If you were willing to spend a bit more, I'd also look into the smaller size of the Surly Long Haul Trucker, which comes with 26" rather than 700c wheels. But it's more expensive and not so much of the hybrid type of bike that you're looking at. My current commuter/touring bike is a Bianchi Volpe. That too is out of your price range though.
posted by misskaz at 9:37 AM on June 8, 2014

I am 5' with a 26" inside leg, and find that I am actually better with men's XS frames - women's frames assume comparatively longer legs and a shorter body, which I don't have, sadly. Women's frames have me hunched over the handlebars but still unable to reach the pedals. YMMV if you are lucky enough to have long legs.

I ride a Specialised Sirrus (the XS frame apparently fits heights between 152-160cm), and a Dahon Curve folding bike (super adjustable and fits everyone). Both of those are great bikes that ride well and the Sirrus in particular has lasted me >5yrs of daily use.

Both of the bikes you mention are decent bikes and if they fit you then great. But don't be put off male frames just because you're short, it's likely a male XS frame will still fit you. Go for overall fit - hopefully your bike shop will spend some time getting you to try a range of frames until you find one that's right for your body. Also don't forget that you aren't meant to be able to put both feet flat on the floor while in the saddle - it's being able to stand over the crossbar that's important. Most cyclists, tall and short, jump down at lights. Sorry if that's obvious, but if you haven't ridden for a while it might not be, and not all bike shops are willing to spend time fitting a bike for you so it's worth having a rough idea yourself. And take it for a test ride, problems are much more obvious after a while on the bike.
posted by tinkletown at 9:45 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm 5" in shoes. I have a Trek Navigator that looks something like this one. I use it for my mile-each-way commute and for rides with my kids. It's got 26" wheels, I think; not sure how relevant that is.

I love it. Super-easy to ride. Puts up fine with winter riding. I'm planning to upgrade to click-shifts from the turn-shifters, though.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:27 AM on June 8, 2014

I'm 5'2" and I had good luck with Giant Bicycles, specifically the Cypress DX W (I have a way older model though). It's a hybrid with a lot of cruiser features, like the step-through frame and upright geometry. I've ridden it on trails and while it doesn't give you the power you need for real mountain biking, it's still totally workable on flatter trails. You can alter the geometry a bit to make it less cruiser-y by changing the angle of the handlebars and location of the seat. (When I bought that bike, it was $100 cheaper and came with disc brakes, though - they might have a better value model by now!)
posted by dialetheia at 12:34 PM on June 8, 2014

I'm 5'0" with a 26" inseam, and I used to own a Trek 7.2 fx WSD until it got stolen. Seat in the lowest official position was just a leeeetle too long for my legs, but we were able to jam it down a bit further, probably by substituting a part or drilling another hole in the seatpost to secure it at the right height for me. When I stood flat-footed over the top bar just in front of the seat, the front of the top bar was about as close to my crotch as could be without touching.

Once said adjustments were made for me, it was great :) Enough room to lean forward and pretend to be a racer if I really wanted, but upright enough that I wasn't killing my wrists, and even on fairly cracked city streets it was a reasonably smooth ride. Added a rack for panniers to more easily carry stuff, fenders to avoid skunk stripes, and that bike served me well for years.

I've since replaced it with a Papillionaire Sommer, because I wanted a more upright ride. I primarily ride city streets and local bikeways, and in mostly flat areas, so that played into my decision. Other things I like: even though it's only a three-speed, as opposed to the 20-odd on the Trek, it's hub gears rather than a derailleur, so I can shift gears even at a full stop, and my chain hasn't slipped once in the year I've owned it. (On the Trek, it would happen every few months, usually at the worst time in an intersection.) Better chainguard coverage - my pants don't get caught in the chain. Fenders and rack come with. I did still have to have some funky stuff done with the seatpole to get the saddle to the right height, but at this point I pretty much write that off as something I'm going to have to do with every bike I own - my legs are even too short for bikeshares like Hubway and CitiBike to work for me. I also considered the Bobbin Birdie, with similar benefits, but the Sommer felt better to me.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:13 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm 5'1" and ride a Trek 6700. It fits very well, and feels great on medium range bike rides, up to 30km or so. Being mainly a weekend warrior I don't ride it more than that, but given the length of your commute, you should do very well on it.
posted by tatiana131 at 3:26 PM on June 8, 2014

Have you considered a folding bike?
posted by oceano at 5:31 PM on June 8, 2014

I'm 5'1" and the Specialized Vita in extra small has been perfect for me. Getting my leg over on the dismount is really the only tough part. Getting on and stopping is fine - and I actually had to raise the seat a bit once I got better at starting and stopping.
posted by lindseyg at 6:47 PM on June 8, 2014

Response by poster: My fellow shorties, you are awesome.

misskaz, I seriously hope to metaphorically outgrow this bike in a few years. There's no way I can justify a $1000 bike right now because I'm not 100% sure I will really ride as much as I intend to, but that Surly kinda makes my heart race.

So, no one would ever say that I have long legs, but I do have a really short torso, so I suppose the length must be in my lower half. I stepped over the XS Vita today and it felt great, but the only one they had (half) built didn't have pedals or brakes so I couldn't take it out for a whirl. I'm going to go back tomorrow for a full test drive.

I love the look of all those townie/cruiser/urban bikes with the upright seating and fancy fenders, but the bike I have now is in that vein and I cannot overstate how much I hate it. Part of the problem is it's too big for me--it's a step-through, so of course there's lots of crotch clearance, which is how I got talked into it. But it's also just the geometry of it that I don't like. I never really feel in control--even when I'm walking it I feel like I can't steer because the handlebars are about chest high on me.

I'm curious about folding bikes--I've never thought of one at all. I kind of think of them as novelty items. Are they really useful for a commute? I just picture my legs pumping a million RPMs to get those tiny wheels turning.
posted by looli at 7:12 PM on June 8, 2014

My wife is your height and just bought a Bianchi Cortina hybrid. BUT find a great bike shop, and they'll have 5 bikes made for people your size, and you can pick the one that fits best.
posted by miyabo at 9:54 PM on June 8, 2014

Folding bikes are great. They aren't a replacement for a full-size road bike - they do tend to have quite an upright riding position which I find uncomfortable over long distances, and usually don't have many gears so big hills are harder work. But for half an hour or so they are fine, and they are actually super-fun to ride! My second bike is a folding bike and it's great for shorter commutes up to 5km or so, or where I need to get on a train first. It's also great for throwing in the back of a car and taking to the beach or lake or whatever nature you have locally.
posted by tinkletown at 3:48 AM on June 9, 2014

I can't give you any direct feedback, but my daughter is just a bit shorter than you and we picked her up the Fuji Ace 650.
posted by mikepop at 5:53 AM on June 9, 2014

I find that, at 5'2", the smallest women's bike is about all that fits me. My friend who is a bit shorter sticks to youth bikes.

I have a 43 surly cross check (smallest size), which fits me nicely, but my friend found the reach to be too long for her. I also have a 48 jamis sattelite sport femme (smallest size, wsd) that I don't use so much anymore, but fits me pretty well.

In general I find it useful to focus on the top tube length as that is my biggest problem with fitting. I've also found that dudes in bike shops really don't appreciate that this is a thing in particular for short women. Or they think you can make stem/handlebar adjustments to compensate--something I have not found useful.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:58 AM on June 9, 2014

I am barely 5'1" and my two bikes are both steel lugged mixte frames. One is set up upright with swept-back bars and the other is more aggressive with drop bars. Mixtes seem to be more forgiving than other frame styles as far as fitting is concerned, and are versatile enough to do whatever you'd like. As a bonus you're looking at maybe $400 on Craigslist for the most restored/best components on a 1970s or 1980s bike.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:01 AM on June 9, 2014

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
It took over a year, but I thought I should update and mention that I finally bought a Specialized Vita Elite Disc EQ.

My original plan was to buy the basic, bottom rung Vita, but I took the disc brakes for a spin and fell in love. The bike fits my body perfectly and is the best bike I've ever owned, by far.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:44 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

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