Too Short to Ride a Bike
I'm a 5ft nothing fiery female that loves to bomb around on her #bike. More recently though, I've grown out of love with road cycling with its lack of spontaneity, it's road safety risks and my bike's unwillingness to venture into the dust and gravel pits of the British outback...
Actually, that's not strictly true, my road bike and I did complete a very successful adventure through the Welsh wilderness, over dubious terrain, in astoundingly bad weather... Gently did we go and we survived to tell the tail without any mechanicals, but it just sealed the deal even more so that it's time to trade-in my bestie of six years for a newer, more versatile model.
Naturally, once you've gotten over your intent of bike-betrayal, you hit Google to see just what's out there to tantalise your taste buds and fuel your hunger for adventure...
Yet, for me (remember that I'm a tiny 5ft short-arse), it turned out to be a process of great despair, infuriation, shock, denial, sorrow and pure dejection. It turns out that buying a bike suitable for 'adventuring' is darned difficult - be that a touring bike, a cyclocross bike, an adventure bike, or a gravel bike - whatever you want to call it, they simply don't seem to give a stuff about the tiny people in the world who crave wilderness and to venture off the beaten track (unless of course, you have a bottomless budget to build your own bike).
Quite simply, the market just doesn't exist for people under the size of 5ft4, women's specific or not, and even that's at a push. If you know otherwise, skip the rest of the blog and contact me! Any brand that goes smaller seems to compensate by giving you lower spec components at the same price as the "normal/man-sized" equivalent.
What's made it more complicated is figuring out just what size I actually need in the first place. Bike sizes are so variable that I can't just rely on a 'Small' actually being remotely small (or even an XS for that matter) or assume a 47" frame is the same size as my current 47" road bike and still be able to touch the floor or reach the handlebars. Plus, it doesn't help matters that many stores are purely online nowadays which means trying a bike out for size can be incredibly difficult unless it's a popular brand stocked by the high street shops. But even then, they will typically only stock the most popular 'normal' sizes.
I have spent hours, days, probably weeks, of my life painstakingly inspecting the measurements of goodness knows how many bikes - to the millimetre - with key consideration on the reach and length of the top tube, the seat tube and the wheelbase, oh and the head angle - basically the whole geometry as no bike brand is the same. Not to mention the material the frame is made from and its components, like the cranks, chain, gears, pedals, brakes, and wheels. It's also surprising how many of these bikes don't have the mounts to fit simple pannier racks... Anyway, bikes are blooming complicated.
But, alas, you cannot buy a bike based on numbers and spec alone (or at least I certainly can't!). You need to sit on it. Ride it. Feel the bike and your body as one. And to top off the complexity, you can, of course, change elements of the bike to make it smaller once you've bought it, such as the stem and handlebars, but it's hard to factor in the impact this may have when looking at an advert online, or even when sitting on a bike in store...
If you're well versed in bike speak then you understand all of this and it probably doesn't even make you flinch, but if you're a bit of an all-the-gear-and-no-idea kinda gal like me then you've probably got a cold sweat on right now.
After months of looking to no avail, the search goes on. There have been a few brands and bikes that got close to catering for the tiny person, but not quite close enough. Let's showcase a few of the close-but-not-close-enough bikes shall we?
But first, let's talk about Liv Cycling. That bike brand that is apparently "dedicated to women". I have contacted their team a number of times about being a tiny person, asking for advice on their clothing and their bikes and not had so much as a peep of a response back from them - I've tried via their website, via Twitter, via Facebook and even via Instagram - twice! Nothing. They don't give a clear breakdown of their sizes online, with two different chart formats indicating different size compatibilities - the XS could be for 4ft10 - 5ft1 OR 5ft3 to 5ft5 - quite a difference. They apparently do an XXS, but surprise, surprise none of their bikes are actually available in this size. With such appalling customer service, I would never buy the brand now. Rant over. (kind of).
Let's kick off...
This is a beautiful bike. Soooo beautiful. I still dream about it. I was absolutely adamant it was 'the one' when I saw the 2018 edition go on sale this September ready to clear the way for the new 2019 range to make an appearance. What's even better, the only size available on sale price was an XS. And with an opening statement on the bike review from Epic Cycles, who wouldn't want one?
The Genesis Croix de Fer is nothing short of legendary in the world of multi-terrain bikes. Never has one bike been more worthy of the ‘one bike, many hats’ crown.
The measurements seemed like they had the potential to stack up, with room to shrink down further. I called Evans Cycles immediately and put a deposit down and reserve the bike. I started to do my calculations and prepare my cycle to work voucher... It's a long story, but Evans somehow managed to double book the bike, offering the person who secured it AFTER me priority - can you imagine my outrage combined with short person syndrome? You don't want to. It was not pretty. In the end, the other customer decided they didn't want it so it finally got delivered to my local store for me to try... In the end, it was far too big for me. Not even close really. I was devastated. Cry. END.
This bike has everything going for it. It's an absolute steal for the level of spec it has on it and I would've been more eager to snap one up had someone in their design team not decided that LILAC was a great colour. Think Parma Violets. What were they thinking?! Anyway, I told myself maybe the colour was a grower...
So, again, I arranged through Evans to try the Small for size (which was actually smaller than the Genesis XS). Surely this must fit this time? But, you guessed it, nope. The seat was so tall I couldn't even reach the pedals properly - they muttered something about saddles having to come as standard - but this meant I was unable to try it properly as no seat post they had in store went down low enough for me to reach the pedals unless they cut it down, which would mean I bought it. I cycled around as best I could in the carpark to get a feel of the size and what if, but sadly, we felt the reach was just too far, with the stem already as short as it gets. One issue to add this reach issue was the Shimano 105 hoods being so damn long in order to fit the reservoir for the hydraulic disc brakes... Another thing to add to the list of things to consider....NEXT!
SURLY - Midnight Special
Surly's have been recommended to me many, many times. People definitely love them. I loaned one for a weekend from the fab team at Pannier.cc when cycling in the Peaks and loved it. The bike made me realise just how much more confident I am cycling with chunkier tyres and better breaks. It made me certain that an all-terrain bike was what I was after.
The other great thing about Surly, is they come in super small sizes - a 46cm frame AND even a 40cm frame! AAAAND there is a store fairly close to me that stocks them... so what's the downfall? The full-build of the Midnight Special has been quoted to us at £2200... For a budget already pushed to its max at £1600, this is just far too much. Should I really have to pay this much to get the size bike I need? Again - gutted.
By now, I am frustrated as hell about about to give up all hope of finding a bike to fit. Then I came across Isla bikes, who specialise in children's bikes, because I'm pretty well versed in exploring the kids' section of any clothes shop having been wearing age 11-12 clothes since I was, well, 11 or 12...
I started looking at forums for kids CX racing when my attempt looking through the 'women's' ranges become pretty fruitless. I found a thread that recommended the Isla Pro Series for keen kids taking on the sport. To my absolute elation, they did a bike that was suitable for ages 11+ that still had normal 700c wheel - what a winner! BUT, (there is always a but!) they've only bloody discontinued the pro range and they have no more of the 11+ available... Seriously... my luck.
[Youth Cycle Sport give the Luath Pro Series a great review]
I still had faith, however, so I sent Isla some fan mail in the hope they may have a bike secretly stashed away ready and waiting for a tiny person in desperate need, or they would take pity on me and help me build my perfect bike on a tight budget... I also told them I could be an ambassador for life if they do, with the pitch that "I ain't growing any time soon", a big benefit compared to their usual 'growing' market, right?
Alas, a quick chat with a bloke from their store on the phone seemed like they 'get this a lot' and could only offer me the standard Luath range, which hasn't even progressed to disc brakes yet... GAAAAHHHH!
As a side, and regardless of their inability to provide me with the perfect bike, I just had to mention the amazing project that Isla Bikes have set up called the Imagine Project. They realise that raw materials are scarce and we need to rethink the way we make bikes utilising the circular economy concept. I couldn't agree more and feel totally inspired that they are really pushing this agenda.
So right now I'm thinking 'who the hell needs cycling anyway?' Sod it. I'll do something else. I was holding my last hope on the Isla Bikes team coming back to me to see if there is anything they could do... but that has been smooshed. Now, I sit and wait for the slow influx of 2019 bike releases, hoping that as the popularity of these bikes increases, so will be the breadth of sizes offered by the major brands at affordable prices.
Watch. This. Space.
Ps. Willing Tiny Ambassador
Are you a company that reckons you've got the ideal bike for a tiny lady like me? If yes, I would be really eager to try them for size! I'd also be happy to explore opportunities to become an ambassador to your brand and support other tiny women to find their dream bike and get off on their two-wheeled adventures. Pleeeeease contact me to chat further!