Touring Bikes for Short Cyclists

Short folks who are looking for a touring bike don’t have as many attractive options as cyclists of average height. But they DO still have choices.
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by Tamia Nelson | February 3, 2018
Originally published in different form on February 3, 2015

If you’re short, you’ve probably had trouble finding a bike that fits. Which is probably why many times over the years I’ve been approached by other cyclists that I’ve owned and written about my 42-cm Surly Long Haul Trucker. The most common question? “Will it—or a bike like it—fit me?” Other questions usually follow, and I’ve done my best to answer the ones I’m most frequently asked in “Small Talk About the 42cm Surly Long Haul Trucker.” But the initial question is the hardest to answer by far. Will a 42cm LHT fit you? I simply can’t say. No, not even if you give me a complete set of your measurements.

I can say this, though: You’re not condemned to an ill-fitting bike just because you’re short. Surly and a number of other firms offer small frames to accommodate short cyclists. But when shopping for a bike, you should realize that —

There’s A Lot More to Fit Than Inseam or “Pubic Bone Height”

Sure, you should be able to straddle your bike with some room to spare. But there’s a fair amount of leeway here. I’m comfortable with as little as an inch or two of clearance, while some cyclists aren’t happy unless they have as much as four inches of air between their soft parts and the hard steel of the top tube.

My advice? Don’t allow a preoccupation with standover height to blind you to the importance of reach. It’s every bit as important. If you have to stretch way out to get your hands on the bars or in the drops, it’s a good bet you’ll soon develop neck, shoulder, or arm pain. Unfortunately, there’s little correlation between reach and leg length. But this much, at least, is certain: You won’t suffer if you have an extra inch or two of top-tube clearance, but you will regret having too long a top tube. So I’d rather my frame ran a little small than a little too large. A top tube that’s much too long is just…well…too long. There’s no remedy. Worried about getting a frame which has the reach exactly right? Don’t be. Once you’re in the ballpark, you can swap out stems or handlebars until the reach is perfect.

The Bottom Line

Unless you’re a gambler at heart, it’s best if you can try the bike you’re planning to buy. Unfortunately, few local bike shops stock small frames. (“There’s no demand,” they say. And they make sure of this by not stocking small frames!) If a Surly has caught your eye, however, you could be in luck. Post a query on the Surly LHT and Cross Check forum. You just might find someone near you with a suitably sized frame who’ll let you take it out for a spin. It’s always worth a try.

Read more: Tamia’s 42-cm LHT | Bike Modifications | Bike Stem Swap

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About

For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.