So, my wife is the most beautiful wonderful and kind person you'll ever meet, but she is an Athena and she is ready to make some serious life changes. I was wondering, given that a lot of bikes seem to be mean for smaller people, what recommendations do you have for her in selecting a bike?
This bike will mostly be used for fitness, but she has told me that she'd like to try her hand at racing once she loses some weight.
Well, fitness and racing are going to be mutually exclusive in the same bike. Racing bikes are big bucks and generally not comfortable for a new rider. She will need to be comfortable on the bike if she is going to stick with it.
Weight wise she is fine. Any aluminum/carbon mix (even a straight carbon if you want to drop the dough) will hold her fine. Where you will notice a weakness on the bike will be its wheel set. Now, unless your wife is well north of 250-300lbs the stock wheels will be fine for a long time. It's mostly riding technique, ie: be light in the saddle and don't hop curbs. Keep her wheels tensioned and she will be good to go.
Now, bike recommendation time:
From what I've read I would guess she is interested in either a comfort road bike or a performance hybrid. I don't know what budget you had in mind but I would check out a Speciallized Dolce Triple. Also keep in mind that she might be perfectly fine on a men’s bike depending on her measurements so don't be afraid to try fitting her on a guy bike.
Performance hybrid wise I would have her check out something from the Trek FX line up. Link goes directly to the women’s 7.5fx, there is a whole bunch of them to fit just about any price range. If she goes with the FX she will likely be more comfortable at first as the flat bar road bike is something she is probably used to already.
2009 Cannondale Caad9-7/2009 BMC SLX01/2011 Marin Nail Trail 29er
My wife is also an athena, she rides a giant sedona comfort bike, she likes the bike. If we could do it again I think I would get her a cypress because the thinner tires would getting her going a little bit faster.
My beautiful wife (also an athena) decided to make some major life changes, and train for a triathalon. She needed a bike that was fairly fast, but ergonomic enough not to resemble a torture device from the middle ages. race bikes look like they are designed around an aero riding position, and comfort is definately secondary. We looked around for a good, fairly quick road bike where the seat and bars were about the same height. She got a trek 2.1 wsd and loves it. It has served her well, and she thinks it's "pretty". I guess that is important. She did the tri on it in september and is looking for another one to train for in the spring. If amature races done just for fun are what she is after, a road bike with a relaxed seating position makes sense. Of course, what ever bike your wife realy loves is the one she will ride the most. There was one guy at the triathalon in september on a mountain bike, with knobbies! I know it was just a sprint tri, but the 18 mile road part was realy hilly. He could have done it with a lot less effort on any road bike, but he was getting it done, and smiling too. Any way. My .02 worth... Look at road bikes with comfy geometry. But only if that's what makes her happy.