How to find the right bike if you’re a short woman

Struggling to find a bike because you are built on a diminutive scale and barely top five feet? 220 bike expert Nik Cook has some advice for the shorter woman seeking a racing machine

Former Ironman world champ Mirinda Carfrae favours 650 wheels

Most manufacturers tend to design bikes with average-sized consumers in mind. If you’re at either end of the height curve, especially as a petite woman, you’ll probably be looking at some degree of bespoke build rather than having the convenience of an off-the-peg bike. This will probably cost you a bit more and involve additional research but, for a bike that’ll fit and ride right, it’s definitely worth it.


Get a proper fit We’d advise going to a shop where they’ll sit you on a fitting jig to work out the exact frame size and geometry that’s right for you. If they just plonk you on a bike and say, “That looks about right”, walk out. 

Bars and stem It’s important to make sure that the bars are narrow enough for your shoulders and that the stem doesn’t leave you feeling over-stretched. Even the most perfectly fitted frame can easily be ruined by a poorly fitting cockpit. 

Cranks Most road bikes tend to come fitted with 172.5mm or 175mm cranks. But, especially if you’re a little shorter in the leg, dropping down to 165mm will make a really noticeable difference to comfort and pedalling efficiency. 

Levers Standard-sized STI levers can be way too big if you’ve got small hands. They make shifting a strain, especially from the drops, as well as making braking potentially ineffective and dangerous. Spec any levers that allow for reach to be adjusted. This is usually achieved by inserting shims.


Wheel size A smaller frame will obviously bring the wheels closer together and this can cause of problem with your toe overlapping the front wheel. 650c wheels can solve this issue and are definitely worth considering. Choice of tyres can be a bit limited, but most manufacturers offer at least one choice.