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The best commuter bike for the tiniest commuter person

Old 04-18-17, 11:26 PM
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thetiniestbike
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The best commuter bike for the tiniest commuter person

Hey all,

After years of riding 60-year-old department store children's step-throughs, I'm finally looking to build my first new, adult commuter.

One problem: I'm 4'11", with a 27" inseam. After a whole lot of research regarding what I want and need (ED-coated double-butted CroMo, 700c for accessibility, wide tire clearance for winter tires with fenders, single speed/fixed gear capabilities, the ability to survive cobblestones, city traffic, and salted roads, a $700 to $1000 price range, and something that looks boring enough to be ignored by Montreal bike thieves while still making my own heart pitter-patter), I test rode a 42cm Surly Cross Check at my LBS. I found the ride comfortable and much faster than what I'm used to, and am seriously considering buying one, but I'm worried about the fact that I can't stand flat-footed over the top tube.

In your experience, how important is standover height for a city commute? Particularly in wintry conditions? Should I consider the Straggler 650b in 38cm, and just suck it up when it comes to tire variety? Are there other frames on the market now that I should be considering, that meet the needs stated above? Thanks!
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Old 04-19-17, 12:18 AM
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Why wouldn't you consider a mixte frame?

Maybe, you can find an old one. But most old Japanese mixtes had sizes around 49-51cm.

This one is available in the 44cm size. Though, the tubes are not double-butted.
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Old 04-19-17, 12:30 AM
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It seems to me that an appropriate standover height is extremely important on a commuter bike - imagine standing tip-toe at all of those stoplights...
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Old 04-19-17, 12:47 AM
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I just sort of half sit on the top tube of the bike with my right foot still clipped in while waiting at a light. OP - don't give up the frame that you like/want because you can't stand flat footed at a light. I would learn to track stand before giving up a frame/bike that I fell in love with so I could rest at a light.
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Old 04-19-17, 02:04 AM
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I'd go for a 26" wheeled bike in a heartbeat with that shopping list. For summer tires, IMO you can't beat Hutchinson Top Slick, and it's available as 26X1", there's Conti Sport Contact, Geax Street Runner, and probably some others.


Winter tires, also a good selection. Suomityres, Schwalbe, Kenda all do 26" studded in various stud counts.


You'll have no problem with standover or fender clearance.


Then again, I'm notoriously unfaithful WRT bike specifics.
I ride aluminium and steel, and CF when I can get it, all with the same happy unconcern of what's there.
A good ride is a good ride, regardless of molecules and wheel size.
Fit, function and cost are my priorities.


Did my first years of commuting on an aluminum frame, with plenty of salted roads (I do 6000+ miles/year, so maybe 2000/year on salted roads), and nothing bad ever came out of that as far as frame/fork was concerned.)


The post in general looks like you're more concerned with the recipe than the meal, which probably makes your search more difficult than it'd need to be.
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Old 04-19-17, 02:25 AM
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Originally Posted by TenSpeedV2 View Post
I just sort of half sit on the top tube of the bike with my right foot still clipped in while waiting at a light. OP - don't give up the frame that you like/want because you can't stand flat footed at a light. I would learn to track stand before giving up a frame/bike that I fell in love with so I could rest at a light.
I ride a variety of bikes. I think my old Colnago is about a 60cm frame (for 5'10), and fits a little tight. But it has never been a problem. As TenSpeedV2 suggests, one can sit one cheek on the top tube while waiting for a light.

However, also look for something that "fits" right before settling on the wrong bike.

I have a couple of friends < 5'. They fit best on 24" wheel MTBs. But that might limit you to kids bike frames. They can also fit on 26" wheel MTBs, but they do seem a tad on the large side.

One option might be to find a decent used MTB, then strip it (paint if necessary), then add nicer components to build the bike to your own specs. Even get custom lightweight wheels made if you wish.

There are also quite a few 650c based road bikes. Kid's bikes like the Fuji Ace 650, but also some nicer bikes. I'm not sure about tire sizes and fender clearances. Maybe build a road bike for the summer and a MTB based bike for winter commuting.

Trek has made some WSD 650c bikes in the past, although they may be mostly 700c bikes now.

Terry also has some "unique" bikes that would be worth looking at. Terry also used to make a 700c rear, 650c front bike, and I think the design was copied by at least one other manufacturer. Maybe not new, but those bikes still show up used.
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Old 04-19-17, 05:53 AM
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I'm very short legged (6' tall with a 32" inseam). I ride a large frame on most bikes including my commuter, the Giant Escape, and the standover height is so that I am on my tiptoes when I stop. It's not a big deal once you get used to it.
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Old 04-19-17, 06:56 AM
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Originally Posted by dabac View Post
I'd go for a 26" wheeled bike in a heartbeat with that shopping list. For summer tires, IMO you can't beat Hutchinson Top Slick, and it's available as 26X1", there's Conti Sport Contact, Geax Street Runner, and probably some others.


Winter tires, also a good selection. Suomityres, Schwalbe, Kenda all do 26" studded in various stud counts.


You'll have no problem with standover or fender clearance.


Then again, I'm notoriously unfaithful WRT bike specifics.
I ride aluminium and steel, and CF when I can get it, all with the same happy unconcern of what's there.
A good ride is a good ride, regardless of molecules and wheel size.
Fit, function and cost are my priorities.


Did my first years of commuting on an aluminum frame, with plenty of salted roads (I do 6000+ miles/year, so maybe 2000/year on salted roads), and nothing bad ever came out of that as far as frame/fork was concerned.)


The post in general looks like you're more concerned with the recipe than the meal, which probably makes your search more difficult than it'd need to be.
Thanks for the recommendation on wheels--26" isn't something I'd really considered, as it seems to be mostly the domain of mountain bikes, although I did briefly consider building up a vintage mtb for this. Are there any new frames you'd recommend looking into?

I agree that a good bike is a good bike, specs be darned. My bias toward steel is that my favorite rides have been on steel bikes--so far. I'm sure there's an aluminum bike out there that I would want to ride every day, day in and day out, but I haven't found it yet.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:08 AM
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Originally Posted by thetiniestbike View Post
... Should I consider the Straggler 650b ...
No. 650b is a slightly smaller than normal rim that takes a larger than normal tire, and does not effectively reduce the wheel size, or certainly not much. You might consider 650c, which is an even smaller rim that takes narrow tires, for an effectively smaller wheel, but 650c bikes tend to be racy, so not really a good option.

The problem with big wheels (650a, 650b, 700c, 27", etc), for a small person, is that you cannot get the handlebar low enough for an efficient riding position.

26" --the mountain bike size, not the English 3-speed size (26 x 1 3/8", also known as 650a; there are actually five different rim sizes that are all called "twenty six inch") is a good wheel size for a relatively small person, but I don't know what frame I'd recommend with that. Possibly an older mountain bike with no suspension, but they tend to be built long, with a high bottom bracket, so they tend to fit like a larger frame.

I have seen older bikes made for 24" wheels that actually fit 26" wheels quite nicely; but putting one of those together might be quite a project.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:19 AM
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Originally Posted by TenSpeedV2 View Post
I just sort of half sit on the top tube of the bike with my right foot still clipped in while waiting at a light. OP - don't give up the frame that you like/want because you can't stand flat footed at a light. I would learn to track stand before giving up a frame/bike that I fell in love with so I could rest at a light.
+1

Top tube clearance is over rated. I tilt my bike slightly at stoplights and have been doing so for years. No biggie.

The mixte suggestion is also a very good one. You may want an LBS mechanic to really dial it in for you, maybe with a few modern conveniences...if you like modern conveniences.

You can get a brand new mixte from Rivendell but it might be more than you want to pay and it may be attractive to thieves...but it would be a delightful bike.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:30 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
26" --the mountain bike size, not the English 3-speed size (26 x 1 3/8", also known as 650a; there are actually five different rim sizes that are all called "twenty six inch") is a good wheel size for a relatively small person, but I don't know what frame I'd recommend with that. Possibly an older mountain bike with no suspension, but they tend to be built long, with a high bottom bracket, so they tend to fit like a larger frame.

I have seen older bikes made for 24" wheels that actually fit 26" wheels quite nicely; but putting one of those together might be quite a project.
Could you tell me more about those five 26" sizes? I really just don't hear a lot about them, so anything you'd like to share would be appreciated.

And the longness was a big part of why I nixed building off of an '80s-90s mountain bike frame--I might get the standover height, but reach never looks comfortable for the riding I'd like to do. And I like projects plenty, but finding a dependable 24" vintage frame I like and then building it up with 26" wheels sounds like it might border on an ordeal.
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Old 04-19-17, 07:50 AM
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There are better-than-department-store kid bikes, too. And you could start with one of those and make it a lot nicer although projects like that are not usually cost effective compared to a complete bike.
https://www.islabikes.com/size-guide/ just for an example

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Old 04-19-17, 07:57 AM
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Originally Posted by thetiniestbike View Post
Could you tell me more about those five 26" sizes? I really just don't hear a lot about them, so anything you'd like to share would be appreciated.
The standard reference is this:
https://www.sheldonbrown.com/tire-sizing.html

The sizes I had in mind are as follows:
559 mm, 26 x 1.75 [or almost any number expressed as a decimal] = the mountain bike or cruiser size.
571 mm, 26 x 1, more commonly called 650c.
584 mm, 26 x 1 1/2, more commonly called 650b and now also called 27 1/2 just to make things interesting .
590 mm, 26 x 1 3/8, sometimes called 650a, this is the old English three speed size, also known as EA3.
597 mm, 26 x 1 3/8 if it's a Schwinn, or 26 x 1/4 if it's an old English racing bike, also known as EA1

All of the above tire sizes are still made, and rims of all but the last one are still made. There are also obsolete 26" sizes, but let's not get too far into the weeds!

Originally Posted by thetiniestbike View Post
And the longness was a big part of why I nixed building off of an '80s-90s mountain bike frame--I might get the standover height, but reach never looks comfortable for the riding I'd like to do. And I like projects plenty, but finding a dependable 24" vintage frame I like and then building it up with 26" wheels sounds like it might border on an ordeal.

Sadly, I agree.

Something I would definitely recommend is: a folding bike. I suggest this because:
1. with their small wheels (usually 20") they are adaptable to any size rider.
2. they are made for serious commuters, and accordingly are available at a wide range of price points; you are not stuck with a cheap kid's bike if that's not what you want.
3. the market for folding bikes is now large enough that a surprising array of accessories and replacement parts are available, including high quality tires. Just sticking with the common 20" size (406 mm; there is also a larger 20" size which I would avoid), you can get tires as narrow as 1" or as wide as 2" or even bigger; you can even get studded winter tires in this size.
4. oh, yeah, and they fold up. You can take them on a commuter train at rush hour. Until you've done this, you haven't experienced true freedom!
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Old 04-19-17, 08:17 AM
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You also might want to contact Georgena Terry and see what she recommends for you.
Hand-built Steel Bicycles for Women by Georgena TerryGeorgena Terry
She does handbuilt now (via Waterford). Some of her bikes have 26" wheels and others have a 24" front and 700c rear. Her bikes were once in mass production in the late 80's, and you can find them for sale on eBay or Craigslist. They're good quality. There were Taiwan-made bikes in similar style soon thereafter which is what put her out of the bike business for a while. There was another go at mass production just a few years ago (2012). (image from Craigslist ads), the black one is the smallest original size and you can see the standover is about level with the rear the tire. The bikes also have smaller handlebars and shorter cranks.
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Old 04-19-17, 08:17 AM
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I'll echo what @dabac said about about an MTB with 26-inch wheels. You could shop for a kids hardtail MTB. Then change the tires to thinner slicks and lock out the shock fork (if possible). Only drawback is that you will probably have a hard time finding one with a regular fork.
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Old 04-19-17, 09:14 AM
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I will also echo the recommendation for a 26" mtb. Regardless of size, the #1 recommendation around here for 'what bike should I start commuting on' is to shop your local craigslist for a 90's era rigid-fork mountain bike, and put slick tires on it. This will get you steel, so that's good, it will probably have mounts for a rack.

Don't fret yourself about the 5-different varieties of 26"; 99.9% of them out there are good ole 26" mountain bikes.
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Old 04-19-17, 09:56 AM
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Have you considered a folding bike? Bike Friday makes a super lightweight one for tinier people, custom fit to your body specs. 20" tires are great in the city, more nimble and faster starting than full size tires. And you can take it inside instead of locking it up all day, if your office allows. Brompton is also very popular with commuters. You can find them used on craigslist if you are patient. Or maybe get a mini velo if you really love a traditionally shaped frame (info on these in the folder thread).
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Old 04-19-17, 11:17 AM
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I recommend a kids' rigid mtb or junior road bike. They work well for smaller riders.

Most people outgrow them but someone your height would feel right at home on them.
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Old 04-19-17, 11:53 AM
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Biria makes some non-folding adult bikes with 20" wheels. They're very nice. 20" wheels are worth some serious consideration.
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Old 04-19-17, 12:21 PM
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I just bought a Surly LHT with 26" wheels for my latest commuter. It is available in 42–62cm frame sizes with 26" wheels. Mine came with 26 X 1.75 Continental Tour Ride tires. I think that translates to about 44mm wide. It is a very comfortable bike to ride. I had a dyno hub front wheel built for it and added VO aluminum fenders and a Tubus rack in the back and replaced the bars with a Nitto Noodle. It was about double your price range after all the modifications though.
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Old 04-19-17, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by thetiniestbike View Post
Thanks for the recommendation on wheels--26" isn't something I'd really considered, as it seems to be mostly the domain of mountain bikes, although I did briefly consider building up a vintage mtb for this. Are there any new frames you'd recommend looking into?

I agree that a good bike is a good bike, specs be darned. My bias toward steel is that my favorite rides have been on steel bikes--so far. I'm sure there's an aluminum bike out there that I would want to ride every day, day in and day out, but I haven't found it yet.
26 inch is an excellent choice for a smaller bike. The surly LHT comes in 26 inch wheels in smaller sizes; so does the soma disc saga. Also there are really great vintage mountain bikes that can be built up into a dandy commuter.
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Old 04-19-17, 05:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Hub Spanner View Post
+1

You can get a brand new mixte from Rivendell but it might be more than you want to pay and it may be attractive to thieves...but it would be a delightful bike.
Oh, that I could get a new Rivendell! They and Soma have some of the only new mixtes I've seen that appeal to me and would be a real upgrade from my current rides.
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Old 04-19-17, 05:59 PM
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Also: thanks to everyone who's mentioned Georgena Terry. I hadn't heard of her before, and I'm finding her bikes beautiful and fascinating. I don't see me getting one right away, just due to availability (eBay would be my only option right now), but they're definitely a consideration if that changes.
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Old 04-19-17, 06:48 PM
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Georgena Terry's design philosophy:
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Old 04-20-17, 07:46 AM
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Originally Posted by thetiniestbike View Post
Hey all,

After years of riding 60-year-old department store children's step-throughs, I'm finally looking to build my first new, adult commuter.

One problem: I'm 4'11", with a 27" inseam. After a whole lot of research regarding what I want and need (ED-coated double-butted CroMo, 700c for accessibility, wide tire clearance for winter tires with fenders, single speed/fixed gear capabilities, the ability to survive cobblestones, city traffic, and salted roads, a $700 to $1000 price range, and something that looks boring enough to be ignored by Montreal bike thieves while still making my own heart pitter-patter), I test rode a 42cm Surly Cross Check at my LBS. I found the ride comfortable and much faster than what I'm used to, and am seriously considering buying one, but I'm worried about the fact that I can't stand flat-footed over the top tube.

In your experience, how important is standover height for a city commute? Particularly in wintry conditions? Should I consider the Straggler 650b in 38cm, and just suck it up when it comes to tire variety? Are there other frames on the market now that I should be considering, that meet the needs stated above? Thanks!
Many others have made some awesome suggestions. I'm building up an 80's Raleigh mixte frame hoping to be able to accommodate my MIL that is your height. The step over height is no issue, but I'm planning on fitting it with Soma Mustache bars to help shorten the reach. So, that is also an option if you were to find and fit up an older 26" mtb. Soma, and others make mustache bars that will accept the bikes standard flatbar brakes and shifters, but bring the effective reach back to something much more reasonable. You might not end up having to do a whole lot else other than upgrading tires.
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