Road bikes for small women

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Anonymous's picture

"I am about 5'3"" and want to buy a road bike. I am a recreational rider and don't plan to take up racing. Would someone, please, recommend a bike that fits my size and riding needs? Thanks."

Anonymous's picture
george (not verified)

Bianchi makes a women's bike with a smaller frame - I suspect that most of the other major bike makers do as well.

Anonymous's picture
"Chainwheel" (not verified)
Re: Recommendations


It's hard to make a specific recommendation based on the information provided. I suggest you find a good shop that will LISTEN to you and help you find a bike that's right for what you want to do.

As someone new to road bikes and not interested in racing, you may want the handlebars to be at or just slightly below the level of the saddle. Since most bikes now come with ""threadless"" headsets, make sure the steerer tube (part of the fork) is not cut too short. Spacers on the steerer (above and below the handlebar stem) can be repositioned to adjust handlebar height.

A ""compact"" frame may be a good choice for someone your size. These are basically small frames with a sloping top tube that give you plenty of standover room.

Sometimes a bike with slightly smaller wheels (650c vs the standard 700c) allows a more ""normal"" geometry in a small frame. The downside of 650c wheels is that tire choices are limited.

Don't let a shop use a ""formula"" designed for racers to set up your position. Make sure you're comfortable before buying a bike.



Anonymous's picture
another two cents (not verified)
bike for petite rider

might be beating a dead horse, but i second the recommendation to consider women-specific designs if you are going to buy a stock frame. (one caveat is that i am about an inch shorter than you are, and there are few options in 44 cm-sized frames other than wsd).

i also purchased a cannondale feminine given that i liked how it rode the best (and, ironically enough, bought it at larry and jeffs -- but the 3rd and 80th street location. i went for that bike specifically, so i can't speak to the rest of their stock. the service has been excellent, regardless).

several other manufacturers have a smaller, women-specific frame series -- specialized, terry, lemond, trek and bianchi (i am not sure if bianchi are wsd--but they definitely come in smaller sizes). as with any bike purchase, the next burning question is frame type (steel, aluminum, titanium, etc.) -- which will also steer you to one manufacturer/frame over another.

as for wheels, i believe that the specialized series tends to have 700 wheels, while the others have 650s in sizes below 47 cm. the terry has a 650/700 combo. this seemed somewhat odd to me, but i honestly don't know enough to say how much of an issue that is.

in terms of tire limitations, it appears that the major tire manufacturers have good tires in 650s, which should be more than adequate for recreational riding... if you want nifty colored tires, you may be out of luck (i have searched high and low for cool blue michelins to no avail).

the other nice thing about the women-specific designs is that certain parts -- such as the brake levers -- are frequently sized down.

in terms of quality, the high end wsd cannondale (r1000 for 2004; r2000 for 2003) and specialized (allez dolce or comp? can't remember which one of the two it is) appear fairly comparable in terms of price, components and weight, carrying a MSP of around $1700. they both have a second, lower end bike in the low $1,000s. in lower price points, i believe your options in terms of wsd might be more limited (i recall that specialized has a bike around $699 and bianchi may have several steel frames in this range).

regardless, you might be able to get a good deal on price, as my sense is that the smaller bikes don't turn over very quickly and a shop may be trying to move one out in order to free up the floor space.

Anonymous's picture
linda (not verified)
Woe is me for a 650...

Stacey - I know how you feel...I've been looking for the Vredestein purple 650's for quite awhile. They've been discontinued, but hopefully they might pop up some day on ebay.

Have you tried R&A in Park Slope for blue 650's - I seem to remember that they had a few colors available in 650 from different manufacturers.

Anonymous's picture
Lynn Baruh (not verified)
Welcome to the wonderful world of bike choice

"As you can see from the wonderful posts below, there is a lot to consider. It turns out anyone of any size has to keep geometry, materials and riding style in mind when going for fit and we are no different.
I'm 5'1 and I did the same thing 2 years ago.
I got a Lemond Tourmalet, WSD, 45"".
It has 700 wheels, 49.9 top tube. Perhaps the geometry is ""strange"" but it has a great ride (weighs 23,5 lbs).

I would really recommend picking a store you trust first. Once you pick a store and you make clear to them that you will buy a bike from them (mean it, of course) ask to try a few bikes that fit you.
Sid's Bike did that for me and as a novice then I was grateful. Once I picked my bike, they installed narrower handlebars (at no extra charge), played with stem, etc to suit me.
See in other posts for other excellent Bike Shop recommendations.
It's a great learning experience, have fun with it.


Anonymous's picture
linda (not verified)
Speaking from experience...

"Hi Gail-

At 5'0"" I'm a bit shorter than you and have 2 bikes that I really love.

My road bike is a Cannondale compact frame. The geometry of the bike, paired with the smaller 650 wheels, works perfectly for me. Because it is so small it is also extremely lightweight at about 18lbs. Even though you don't want to race, keep in mind that the weight of the bike is really important for a smaller rider.

I also have a Trek WSD(women's specific design) mountain bike that I've used for mostly off-road and single track rides.

I did alot of research before I selected both of my bikes, but especially when it came to the road bike. Outside of a custom frame, which will be my next purchase, I felt that the Cannondale was the best choice for me.

Ultimately what you want is a bike that not only fits you well, but is also relatively lightweight. I would recommend that you see Casey at Larry & Jeff's (2nd Avenue between 87th & 88th). He was extremely patient and knowledgeable and who I bought my Cannondale from.

If you have any specific questions you can email directly.

Good luck!!"

Anonymous's picture
Eric Faber (not verified)
Road Bikes for women

Any GIANT road bike in a size small. It's then configured at the bike shop to fit you right. Specialized also makes road bikes with women in mind. Small European bikes are usually 49-51 CM

Anonymous's picture
Christian Edstrom (not verified)

"A word of caution - the top tube on a XS and S size Giant OCR/TCR is 52cm and 53cm, respectively. This is unlikely to fit a 5'3"" woman without an excessively short stem.

My wife is 5'3"" and rides a bike with a 50cm top tube and a 7cm stem, which is the shortest stem I would recommend.
The bike is Bianchi Eros Donna with a 47cm seat tube and 50cm top tube. She's happy with it, but I personally think any bike smaller than 52cm with a 622mm (700c) wheel becomes a jumble of mediocre compromises (slack head angle, steep seattube, high bb), based on the necessity of the downtube not hitting the front wheel.

For someone 5'3"", the Eros Donna might be ok, but for anyone shorter, I'd seriously recommend looking at a bike built around 571mm (650c) or 559mm (26 inch) wheels. If you do go that route, be aware of the limitations in tire choices in 571mm. It might be worthwhile to see if a a given compact bike with 571mm wheels would fit a 559mm wheel with either the brake pads at the ends of the slots, or with standard (long) reach brakes.

I think Toga has a '03 Eros Donna in 47cm in stock. It's powder blue and has a carbon fork. It's on the rack behind the gloves.

- Christian"

Anonymous's picture
Maggie Schwarz (not verified)
"5'3"" a small woman?"

"Isn't the average American female 5'3"" or 5'4""?

At 5'3"" you probably don't need 650 wheels and 700 is better so try to avoid 650 wheels if you can. If you're very longwaisted with short legs you might need 650s but otherwise I'd go for 700 because we people who ride 650s have to pump out more rotations than the big boys and girls who ride 700s.


Anonymous's picture
Peter Storey (not verified)
Some people have all the luck!

"Yes, you do have to turn the wheels over more often for the same distance. But you get to do so with 7.6% less effort. If you use the same sprockets as everyone else, each combination is 7.6% lower with 650c wheels [*]. In effect, the smaller wheels give you one more low gear (which heaven knows I can certainly use!) at the price of of one gear at the very top.

Not that this really matters -- you should have sprockets that work for you. But, with more to lug uphill than you ever will, I remain,

Enviously yours at 6'3"",

Peter Storey

[*] Assuming ""normal"" 23mm tires in both cases."

Anonymous's picture
<a href="">Peter O'Reilly</a> (not verified)
dragging counter points

"""...have to pump out more rotations..""

This is irrelevant, just drop the chain down a cog and ride a bigger gear. It's all about gear inches, not wheel size. If the wheel is significantly smaller, e.g. 16"" or 20"", then getting a sufficient gear range setup may be an issue; not so for 650.

Smaller wheels should be a tad bit lighter and of more significance have less wind drag. They are also of benefit if you like to drag race or do a stop-light-century bike tour like the 5 BBC. ;-)


Anonymous's picture
Maggie Schwarz (not verified)
To Linda and Stacey

Hutchinson makes a 650 tire with a blue stripe! I have a pair on order at Bicycle Habitat. I tried two other bike shops to no avail before trying Bicycle Habitat and they came through.

I think Michelin makes a 650 with a red stripe.

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