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What about ladies bikes?

I tried to buy one recently, like mine but with a smaller frame. It came with 700 wheels. Is that sensible? Shouldn't there be a smaller wheel for a smaller frame? Does North America versus Europe make a difference re. which non-700 wheel size to expect?

The LBS said that frames with/for small wheels were the "mountain bikes".

When we bought this ladies bike we wanted it like my other bike, which I like, but smaller: so an aluminium frame with no suspension, and disc brakes; and added a rack, and fenders, an optional pannier ... and a heavy ("Kryptonite New York") D-lock (I use my bike for year-round commuting). I also got Marathon Plus tires, hoping they'd never flat. Though she could lift the bike on the show-room floor (and when we rented it for a week-end test ride) before they installed those accessories, now that it's heavier she's not comfortable lifting it up and down stairs. What solution?

Not for this bike necessarily, but in general: what bike has features and accessories but is proportionally smaller and lighter? Are there specific accessories which may be part of the solution, e.g. by being especially lightweight or removable yet well-made?

This isn't for racing. It's for riding to and around the local parks, and residential roads. Along roads to the park. For shopping. Along flat bike trails next to waterways. Possibly through town or city traffic.

Some light-weight bikes are racers, aren't they. But racers are not an ideal ladies bike, I expect. What if a lady has limited upper body strength: I expect (I haven't tried them) that racing drop bars aren't ideal, and complicate learning to brake and shift gears (kindly consider a novice lady rider if you answer this question). Also on a racer, the gearing would be wrong for a novice city/recreational rider.

When I say "lady" I mean adult (possible senior) female, wearing pants (trousers) or shorts, height around 5'4" (160 cm) or less, paved roads and paths, non-competitive, novice (and consequently not athletic). I'd like her to ride an hour and enjoy it (assuming e.g. she already does 45 minutes on an indoor bike each day, and swims and walks etc.), and carry it up or down a flight of stairs single-handed, or put it into the back of a van, or onto a rack on front of a bus.

Summary:

  • People have said and my experience confirms that an LBS might stock only 700-sized bikes, even with the smaller frames. And that where they have a smaller wheel, it's on a mountain bike.
  • Adding a rack, fenders, and D-lock to an aluminium bike can make it too heavy to lift. Can such accessories be light weight? Apparently a few extra pounds makes a difference, subjectively.
  • Eyeing specifically light-weight bikes they tend to be racers. Is there a light weight but not a racer (the answer was "apparently not" in the LBS), and if not can one be put together? For a rider of say 120-140 lb (55-65 kg) at speeds like 15 mph (20 kph).
  • My wheels are 700x32 with Marathon Plus tires, for commuting. What size wheel and type of tire would be appropriate for a recreational ladies' bike?
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I'd go with 26" wheels. Are there any issues with balance? I'm thinking an aluminum cruiser with a step-through frame would be ideal. These can be amazingly light. If she's in a flat area, like the beach or Key West or Kansas, a single-speed or a three-speed would be great for the simplicity factor. Otherwise, a 7-speed rear hub would be nice. –  Neil Fein Oct 5 '11 at 6:01
    
Are there any budget concerns? How much you are willing to spend on a bike can have a lot of influence on the weight, and style of bike you can get. –  Kibbee Oct 5 '11 at 12:46
    
@Kibbee - I have no budget concern. '$4000+', '$2000', and 'budget conscious' could all be useful answers. –  ChrisW Oct 5 '11 at 13:15
    
@Kibbee - I want it to be a single bike: not one for shopping, another for rain and a third for riding around. –  ChrisW Oct 5 '11 at 13:45
    
@Neil - Only usual issues with balance. Nice handling at low speeds, easy to get started and to shift gears are needed. Assume the lady is wearing sneakers. Adding a front fender can affect toe clearance, so I expect a front fender should be close to the tire. What about clips? I wear 'clipless' cleated shoes, but she shouldn't have to. –  ChrisW Oct 5 '11 at 15:00

4 Answers 4

Take a look at the models by Electra with a 24" wheel, find a stockist and get your lady friend to try one. Not the lightest but well specified and easy on the novice due to their geometry.

Really anything with the 24" wheel makes sense for the 5'4" rider.

Going smaller wheeled with a 20" wheel Dahon folder makes sense too, however, 20" wheel is a bit squirrelly in the park and the stretch to the bars can be borderline for the 5'2" female rider. Try one of those too.

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Those Electra bikes look lovely but they're not the lightest so that doesn't answer the question. Why are they steel? Wouldn't aluminium be better (e.g. corrosion resistant), or carbon? –  ChrisW Oct 7 '11 at 3:38
    
'Anything with the 24" wheel' is what I want then. Where is the anything to be found? They don't stock it at my LBS (assuming I don't want "a mountain bike"). How or where can I find it? –  ChrisW Oct 7 '11 at 3:41
    
+1 for mentioning "Dahon". I know one lady who's happy with hers. She takes it onto the subway: so it is portable, on stairs. –  ChrisW Oct 7 '11 at 3:42

Trek has a wide range of women's bikes that seem to fit what you're looking for. I think the one thing you are going to have trouble with is finding a bike that a woman can lift up and down the stairs. If you want to add rack and fenders, then most "racing" bikes that are really light will not accommodate racks. Also, racks and fenders add quite a bit of weight to the bike. In order to bring the weight down, you should look for something that is aluminium, possibly with a carbon fork if you can afford it. There are bikes with 650c wheels, make for smaller women usually, but they are pretty rare. @ʍǝɥʇɐɯ mentioned folding bikes, but I don't think there's much of an option for racks on those bikes. Plus I don't think I've seen a folding bike that is significantly lighter than a standard bike.

UPDATE

For examples of bikes with 650c wheels, see this bike. After extensive Googling, most of the 650c bikes I found were road/race bikes. This seems to be the only market where such a specialized piece of equipment is really something that people are willing to pay for. Most bikes are fine until you start talking about lifting them up and down stairs. In most cases you might be better off looking for a different way around, take the wheelchair route. Sure it may not be the answer you're looking for, but I don't think such a machine exists that you can have fenders, rack, pannier, and an upright posture, and expect somebody with limited upper body weight to be able to schlep it up the stairs.

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That's a statement of my problem. But if it were proportional, a bike that's half the height should be an eighth the weight. Why is 'light weight' any difficulty then, and what are answers? –  ChrisW Oct 5 '11 at 14:23
    
You won't find a bike that's half the height, because the person riding it isn't half the height. In your description you talk about a woman who is 5'4". That's only 5 inches less than me, and I'm an "average" sized man. Bikes get a lot of their strength just from their geometry. With a folding bike, you have to add a lot of material (and weight) to make up for the strength lost from a non-standard geometry. The lightest bike you are likely to find is an all carbon road bike, hopefully with holes for a rack. Swap the drops for a carbon straight bar, and it should work. Might be costly though. –  Kibbee Oct 5 '11 at 15:41
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Also, you may want to ask a completely independant question about techniques for carrying a bike in general. –  Kibbee Oct 5 '11 at 15:43
    
5" less than you is 10% shorter and so 30% lighter. A light rider, lower top speed, and modest carrying capacity (handbag and picnic) ought all allow a lighter bike. –  ChrisW Oct 5 '11 at 15:55
    
I don't think you can assume the full 30%. First, the wheels are the same size, So the forks and rear stays have to be the same size. The only allowance is for that middle triangle to be a different size. A lot of the weight, especially as you move up to bigger tire widths is going to be located in the tires, wheels, rear cluster, chain rings, and other non-resizable components. They don't resize the whole bike because it's more cost effective to use components across all models wherever possible. –  Kibbee Oct 5 '11 at 16:56

Of course, a smaller bike, with 24" wheels, say, or even 26" would be proportionally lighter, and a little less awkward to handle on stairs.

And there are other ways to make some headway in terms of weight and awkwardness on the stairs.

Eg: full-sized fenders are more awkward than shorties, and front fenders tend to be especially awkward, so you may want to look at options there. You could, for instance, rotate the entire fender forward (rotating the stays up) enough to get the "tail" just above the toe clearance area (added benefit), then trim off the front just maybe 3 inches beyond the fork. You'd cut a little bit of weight and have much less fender in the way when handling it.

A small bungee cord can be wrapped between the front wheel and the down tube, to keep the front wheel straight while handling.

The heavy lock can be left locked in place at the other end of the ride, or can be locked in a convenient place near the bottom of the stairs.

The style of rack can make a difference in weight and awkwardness. A rack need not be large and heavy to handle a substantial load. Pick a rack that is fairly compact, and make sure it's so solidly mounted that one can confidently lift the bike via the rack, rather than having to work around it.

You may want to get a shoulder pad, or just a piece of foam pipe insulation slipped over the top bar, to let her carry the bike on her shoulder. (This may or may not be easier for her handling the bike.)

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I see a few options here:

  1. Get the lightest regular production commuter bike you can and keep the accessories light
  2. Get a lightweight sporty bike and add some of those commuter features
  3. Get a "ladies" specialty bike
  4. Get a custom bike built

Anything you add to the bike will add weight. A few things to think of with accessories:

  • Instead of a heavy chain, get something like pitlocks to secure the wheels, seat collar and headset, and get a U-lock with a small internal area (but sufficiently heavy-duty) or handcuff style lock. A small opening U-lock is more secure than one with a wider opening (as long as the metal is the same thickness).
  • Spend extra and get a lighter rack. Tubus makes Titanium ones for instance. There are also quickly removed racks, but they're all intended for very light loads (carrying the purse, not the groceries).
  • I don't know if there's good options for lighter fenders, but there are fender models designed to be easy to install and uninstall without tools.
  • Pay attention to tire weight. There are lighter puncture-resistant tire options, even if they're maybe not quite as puncture resistant.

Stock commuter

The most economical option is getting a regular production commuter bike, but it sounds like you've tried that.

I've noticed when looking that often the higher-end hybrids are more like a flat-bar road bike but often preserve some of the commuter features. (I'm thinking specifically of having looked at the Trek 7.2FX WSD and Trek 7.6FX WSD, the 7.6 is much lighter and sportier but has the same basic geometry and rack/fender mount stuff).

It used to be easy to find 26" wheel hybrids, but they seem to be uncommon lately. Theoretically a smaller lightweight 26" wheel hybrid would let you replace the rims and tires with lighter ones and get something lighter than a 700c wheeled bike.

Sporty bike

Road bikes are light, and it may be possible to find one with smaller wheels.

Cyclocross bikes need to be light enough for the rider to run with on one shoulder. I've definitely seen short women cyclocross racers, I've seen cyclocross bikes that had bolt spots for racks and fenders, and I've seen cyclocross bikes used as commuters. Not sure if I've ever seen a short woman using a cyclocross bike as a commuter, though. Definitely never seen a short woman carrying her commuterized cyclocross bike on one shoulder.

Some of the hybrids are pretty much road bikes with flat handlebars.

The more "comfort" type road bikes (Specialized Ruby, Trek Madone H3, etc) have handlebars about level with the seat and don't really require being bent over any more than on a hybrid. If she's doing 45 minutes on an indoor bike every day, a road bike might actually suit her better anyways. Probably not easy to add rack and fenders to, though.

Specialty bike

Something like the Terry Susan B. I don't know how much they specifically concentrate on weight, but smaller wheels let some of the other frame details be smaller and lighter. Many of these types of offerings have custom or semi-custom. You might be able to get a lighter "road" frame built up as a commuter, for instance.

Custom bike

If budget is no concern, it's worth looking at custom bike options. Look first for local framebuilders.

The most common material for custom builders seems to be steel. For what you're describing you may need aluminum and titanium would be better. There doesn't seem to really be any custom carbon out there, but you might be able to find something.

A custom framebuilder should be able to build a bike with a smaller wheelsize for her. If you work with one that does titanium, it should be possible to do this particularly light.

This is an expensive option, though:

  • The closest framebuilder to me, SyCip does all sorts of frame types, but titanium starts at $3000, and that's just for the frame before adding the other $1000-$3000 worth of parts and accessories.
  • Seven Cycles Cafe Racer looks a lot like what you're looking for and doesn't have prices listed for that model, but based on other pricing I see around their site I'm guessing it's at least $3700 for a complete bike.
  • Sweetpea Bicycles specializes in custom bicycles made for women. "Complete bikes start at around $4500".
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Thank you for for answering, and for naming some names. –  ChrisW Oct 18 '11 at 1:19

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