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Road bike for a short woman

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Road bike for a short woman

Old 05-29-15, 07:24 AM
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Road bike for a short woman

I have seen a couple other threads on this topic; however, this questions would not be a good add-on to the threads I found.

Here are the details: The rider, Lisa, is 46 years old, 5'3" tall (160 cm), strong rider but not a roadie. She has a road bike, but has never really "bonded" with it. She finds it too aggressive, even after some adjustments from a pro fitter to make it more of a touring set up. Additionally, she struggles with gearing (she likes the granny gear).

Here is Lisa's collection of bikes, the white one is the one that isn't making her happy, 2011 Kona Lisa RD (45cm):



Her 'gold standard' is the red bike, 2009 Marin Lucas Valley Alp (15").

Ideally, she's looking for something with a touring bike fit and gearing, with the weight and wheels of a road bike. The purpose of this bike is for fast fitness rides and century rides. This bike should be faster than the Marin and offer the multiple hand positions of drop bars. We are talking about changing the Marin to drop bars, but Lisa is really concerned about screwing up her favorite bike.

I would like to hear from the petite women out there... Do you have a bike that fits this description? We would like to find a LBS that can set Lisa up with a long test ride to compare with her current bikes.

Last edited by Hypno Toad; 05-29-15 at 07:24 AM. Reason: add picture
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Old 05-29-15, 07:45 AM
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Old 05-29-15, 07:53 AM
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My Mom is short (5'0") and when she was about 55, she got a bike from Georgina Terry (Terry Bicycles | Terry Bikes | Georgena Terry Bicycles). I don't have any idea the cost, but it fit her. I think they might have used to be available to purchase without each one being bespoke, but it might not hurt to investigate a little.
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Old 05-29-15, 08:12 AM
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I agree, leave the red bike as-is.

Perhaps some 23mm tires for the BLACK bike

I'm not convinced there is a big difference between the red and white bike so perhaps she should choose what is most comfortable. But, rather than buying a 5[SUP]th[/SUP] bike, I'd adjust the white bike to match her needs.

I think you need to better define what she doesn't like about the white bike. The tops of the bars don't look too different from the red bike.

Perhaps consider some interrupter brakes for the white bike.



You could also tinker with the stem height/length a bit if you wish.

Another thing to consider are spacer wedges to decrease the reach on the brake levers.


Also, consider Trekking (butterfly) bars rather than drop bars, which you could install the brakes and shifters of your choice (road or MTB), with several config options available.

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Old 05-29-15, 08:20 AM
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Perhaps start by trying to match the fit of the red bike on the white bike. From the picture, it looks like there are different saddle heights on each of the bikes. And is the saddle setback the same on all three. At the same time, the bars could be made a bit higher to match the height of the red bike. I cannot tell based on angle what the reach is like on each.

Once you get the positioning of the saddle, bars and pedals the same, her opinion of the bike might change.
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Old 05-29-15, 08:28 AM
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Family friend has a custom bike, she's under 5' though.

For gearing, a bike with 650b wheels may have better geometry and stand-over. Additionally, the smaller wheel size is about one gear lower. You can do a hybrid 10-speed system SRAM system with road shifters and mountain derailuers and a wide range (11-36) cassette (50/34 crank). That would get you slightly lower that 1:1 gearing, which is plenty low for century and group rides. If you need significantly lower gearing than that, its a slow fitness ride...
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Old 05-29-15, 08:42 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
Perhaps some 23mm tires for the BLACK bike
HA! I have to say, it makes me giggle, she LOVES that Pugsley. We got his/hers for winter riding, but she loves it year-round. Just stupid fun to ride.


Originally Posted by CliffordK
I'm not convinced there is a big difference between the red and white bike so perhaps she should choose what is most comfortable. But, rather than buying a 5[SUP]th[/SUP] bike, I'd adjust the white bike to match her needs.
I totally agree with you, I think the bikes are very similar. We have made the following changes to the Kona:
Stem with rise (original was flat)
Wider bars - Lisa is short but does not have narrow shoulders (sorry I can't find the details). Last night she wanted to get wider bars again...
New cassette with wide range
Added shims to the brakes (she does have small hands)

Originally Posted by CliffordK
I think you need to better define what she doesn't like about the white bike. The tops of the bars don't look too different from the red bike.
She complains about shoulder pain on the Kona and not with the Marin. My guess is that she should do some shoulder strengthening and stretching. Since all her other bikes keep her more upright, her shoulders don't see the same amout of weight.

In general, she just 'doesn't feel comfortable' with the Kona. It might be just the drop bars.... My idea is to find a local dealer and get her to take a good long ride on a different bike to see if there is an issue with "road bikes" or just her Kona.

I will share her favorite choice to replace the Kona - the Bianchi Dama Bianca. However, she's never been able to ride one, so she is basing this on promotional material and articles.

Last edited by Hypno Toad; 05-29-15 at 09:02 AM.
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Old 05-29-15, 09:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Hypno Toad
I will share her favorite choice to replace the Kona - the Bianchi Dama Bianca. However, she's never been able to ride one, so she is basing this on promotional material and articles.
I would certainly keep a full CF bike in mind

However, I think you need to better define what the issue is with the current bike before dropping a few thousand in a new bike that can't be tried out before purchase.

Oh, and I was going to mention, adding larger cassettes, or a triple crank (or different crank lengths) isn't a big deal if that is what is needed (although some manufactures are dropping support for triples in high-end road bikes).
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Old 05-29-15, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
However, I think you need to better define what the issue is with the current bike before dropping a few thousand in a new bike that can't be tried out before purchase.
We totally agree. We really don't want to spend big money to have another bike the isn't right. And you nailed the issue on the head, she can't fully define the issue. However, she has plenty of experience with bikes and a range to compare the Kona with.

Therefore, my goal is not to purchase a bike, but find a recommendation or two. Find a LBS and take a long ride on a bike to compare it with the Kona. It may lead to modifications to the Kona or we may sell the Kona and replace it.
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Old 05-29-15, 11:34 AM
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where does she put her hands most of the time when riding the drop bars? My wife started having severe shoulder pain caused in part from here flat bar bike. Went to the doc and PT, the PT told her riding the flat bars with her hands horizontal was causing the shoulder problem and that she should be riding with hands vertical, thumbs up. We put bar ends on her bike, cut down the bars to be a bit narrower and that helped some. Just got her a drop bar bike last weekend. So far so good with that, riding with hands mostly on the hoods.

Sort of sounds like you have the opposite problem where she is more comfortable with the flat bars. Not sure what to suggest other than what you're already doing. I assume you've already measured and compared the reach from saddle to bars?

Does she ride the Kona with her elbow straight or flexed? Bend the elbows and support upper body weight with core more than propping up with her arms. Drop shoulders down and flex elbows.

What about the saddle? Red bike looks like it's sporting a Brooks. Maybe put that saddle on the Kona for an experiment.
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Old 05-29-15, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by jimincalif
where does she put her hands most of the time when riding the drop bars? My wife started having severe shoulder pain caused in part from here flat bar bike. Went to the doc and PT, the PT told her riding the flat bars with her hands horizontal was causing the shoulder problem and that she should be riding with hands vertical, thumbs up. We put bar ends on her bike, cut down the bars to be a bit narrower and that helped some. Just got her a drop bar bike last weekend. So far so good with that, riding with hands mostly on the hoods.

Sort of sounds like you have the opposite problem where she is more comfortable with the flat bars. Not sure what to suggest other than what you're already doing. I assume you've already measured and compared the reach from saddle to bars?

Does she ride the Kona with her elbow straight or flexed? Bend the elbows and support upper body weight with core more than propping up with her arms. Drop shoulders down and flex elbows.

What about the saddle? Red bike looks like it's sporting a Brooks. Maybe put that saddle on the Kona for an experiment.


She rides on the hoods for the most part, with equal parts on the drops and corners. Rarely on the top. She got Ergon grips with small bar ends for the Marin the first summer (LOVES these).

The elbow.... I made the same suggest, she rides with arms fully extended. I have to think that every pebble is sending a jot to the shoulders.

The saddle - She LOVES the Brooks! She has two of the B-17 S standard, wants a third for the Pugsley. She is struggling with a Brooks for the Kona, for appearance issues (??). However, I'm interested in trading one of the Brooks to the Kona and give it a try. The saddle on the Kona is a Selle Italia Diva, she had this saddle on the Marin for years (just got the Brooks a month ago). So I don't think the Selle Itilia is bad, but I know the Brooks is great for her.

Thanks everyone for the good & helpful comments!
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Old 05-29-15, 11:58 AM
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Try to match the reach and drop/rise from the saddle to the brake hoods of the white bike to the reach and rise/drop of the bars on the red bike. All it should take is a stem swap. Consider an adjustable stem to begin with the get the bar position dialled in, then buy a rigid stem that emulated the best position of the adjustable stem.
Those cyclocross brake levers that allow people to safely brake from the bar tops are also cool.
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Old 05-29-15, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Hypno Toad
The saddle - She LOVES the Brooks! She has two of the B-17 S standard, wants a third for the Pugsley. She is struggling with a Brooks for the Kona, for appearance issues (??). However, I'm interested in trading one of the Brooks to the Kona and give it a try. The saddle on the Kona is a Selle Italia Diva, she had this saddle on the Marin for years (just got the Brooks a month ago). So I don't think the Selle Itilia is bad, but I know the Brooks is great for her.
Maybe try the White Brooks Swallow

Brooks White Swallow Saddle Limited Edition 2012 | eBay

I tend to ride with fairly straight arms too, and have to remind myself to flex the elbows a bit. One of my "worst" accidents was hitting a pavement crack at dusk and jamming my elbows.

Does she ride the cross bike with bent elbows?

Perhaps work more on getting a shorter stem, and I still think the interrupter brakes would be worthwhile considering, to get her up on the tops a bit more.
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Old 05-29-15, 12:55 PM
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since you have already widened the bars and she is asking for wider, and you mentioned the stiff elbows...and shoulder pain...I think you are going the wrong way with the bars on the road bike...bring the hands back in, add some bend and flex to the elbows...she does not need the extra width for control...and that flex will take some strain off the shoulders and not transmit as much road vibration...
you said she already worked with a fitter on this bike?

oh, and maybe post this issue in the fitting section of the forum... might be some guys who read there that don't read here with some ideas.
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Old 05-29-15, 12:57 PM
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The seat on the white bike is pretty far back. Maybe moving it forward would let her reach the hoods and drops more easily?
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Old 05-29-15, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by BlazingPedals
The seat on the white bike is pretty far back. Maybe moving it forward would let her reach the hoods and drops more easily?
The seat should not be moved for this issue... it is set for the knees, not reach...set the seat for proper height and for knee/leg angles, then leave it alone and make needed adjustment with stem length and angle.
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Old 05-29-15, 05:42 PM
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I'm 5'2" and ride a 47cm scott cr1 sl. I think the white bike is too small. Try a cannondale synapse or specialized ruby in 48cm. Agree wide bars are bad. Get a professional fit before buying to determine reach and stack.

Pugsley is drool.
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Old 05-29-15, 09:27 PM
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If she's riding with her arms locked out, maybe the reach and/or drop are too much? You might could go to a shorter and/or more angled stem. Many small women's bikes seem to come with a short stem from what I've seen in stores and online. Even though it's supposedly not true, it seems like the industry thinks women's bikes should be set up with shorter reach and greater stack because they think women have longer legs in proportion to their torso.
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Old 05-30-15, 11:21 AM
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I think Lisa's problem with the white bike, is that she is trying to make get the same position on it as she does on the other bikes- as opposed to going with the position that a road bike is meant to be ridden with. Instead of trying to make the road bike into a plush upright type ride, she should try embracing a more aggressive road position. Once she got used to it, I'd bet she'd love it. Riding a road bike the way that one is set up, really defeats the purpose of having a road bike.
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Old 06-01-15, 06:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Stucky
I think Lisa's problem with the white bike, is that she is trying to make get the same position on it as she does on the other bikes- as opposed to going with the position that a road bike is meant to be ridden with. Instead of trying to make the road bike into a plush upright type ride, she should try embracing a more aggressive road position. Once she got used to it, I'd bet she'd love it. Riding a road bike the way that one is set up, really defeats the purpose of having a road bike.
I must say I agree with you. I would like her to ride some other bikes and understand that all road bikes are going to be similar to this one.

Brief update, we did 30 miles on Saturday with the Kona (white bike), I made a point to drive to a rail-trail. The trail was busy, but no cars to deal with. This helped keep focused on the bike and getting comfortable and confident with the road bike. Still having issues with her shoulder, but we agreed to get more strength training to address this issue and get the elbows bent (she rides locked elbows on her red bike too).

We uncovered a new issue with her shoes (numb foot) ....but that should be a whole new thread. We will be shoe shopping in the next week or so.
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Old 06-01-15, 08:43 AM
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My wife is 5ft 1 and is very happy on her xs giant avail with a triple. Gearing is one thing, but your comment about straight out arms on the hoods makes me wonder if the reach is a bit too much. Bars are at or above seat height, like my wife's bike, but without knowing how her core strength and leg strength is, I wonder if the reach is just a bit too long. Even a stem that is a bit shorter and brings bars back a cm or two and maybe up a bit, could make a world of difference.
Cheap and easy try to boot.

Also, does the Mona have 23 or 25 tires? 25s will be more comfy, 28s even better, and lower pressures make a significant improvement with an comfort. My wife probably weighs about 130 and on her 25mm tires, I usually put no more than 90 psi front.

Stem and tire choices/pressures are easy cheap ways to make significant comfort helps.
Not sure if that Mona has a double or triple, unfortunately so many bikes come double only, a real error IMO for most riders.
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Old 06-01-15, 09:00 AM
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I agree with the comment that that road bike is about as upright as you're going to get on a road bike. If it still doesn't work for her, maybe she doesn't want a road bike?

My wife is 5'0" and has a 23" (!) cycling inseam. It was really hard to find a bike that works for her without going custom. We ended up finding a 44cm Cannondale Synapse 5 that we could just make work. This is the smallest non-custom road bike we could find: it's almost comically tiny even next to my smallish 55 road frame. It has nice tiny handlebars, a really short crank and a very, very short top tube. Regardless, I still had to buy her an even shorter stem (came with a 90, went with a 70) and I had to saw off part of the strangley long seatpost to get it low enough. The frame has unconventional geometry as Cannondale stuck with 700c wheels. Finding, ordering and setting up this bike was a bit of a pain but she likes it now.

This is a common complaint: it's hard to find a good road bike for a short woman.
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Old 06-01-15, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Hypno Toad
I have seen a couple other threads on this topic; however, this questions would not be a good add-on to the threads I found.

Here are the details: The rider, Lisa, is 46 years old, 5'3" tall (160 cm), strong rider but not a roadie. She has a road bike, but has never really "bonded" with it. She finds it too aggressive, even after some adjustments from a pro fitter to make it more of a touring set up. Additionally, she struggles with gearing (she likes the granny gear).

Here is Lisa's collection of bikes, the white one is the one that isn't making her happy, 2011 Kona Lisa RD (45cm):



Her 'gold standard' is the red bike, 2009 Marin Lucas Valley Alp (15").

Ideally, she's looking for something with a touring bike fit and gearing, with the weight and wheels of a road bike. The purpose of this bike is for fast fitness rides and century rides. This bike should be faster than the Marin and offer the multiple hand positions of drop bars. We are talking about changing the Marin to drop bars, but Lisa is really concerned about screwing up her favorite bike.

I would like to hear from the petite women out there... Do you have a bike that fits this description? We would like to find a LBS that can set Lisa up with a long test ride to compare with her current bikes.
The problem is actually the dropbar.

If you want to use dropbar, then the saddle needs to be higher and the total reach distance from her saddle to the hoods needs to be shorter. That's how road bike is designed for the type of "aggressive" road ride body posture. If you look at the Marin, the reach from her saddle to where her hands rest on the bar is very short because the Marin's flat bar. If she doesn't like the road position, but like the many hand positions the dropbar offer, then I would say look for alternative bars like the mustache bar.
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Old 06-01-15, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
I've seen cockpit of airplane less complicated than this
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Old 07-17-15, 10:08 AM
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Quick update: The biggest fix/change, miles. Lisa decided to focus on riding the Kona. For the last 6 weeks, she's put hundreds of miles on the Kona. The result is more confidence and comfort with the bike. She told me she likes the Kona better than the Marin now. (shocked)

Thank for all the helpful posts!
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