Find the perfect bike for shorter riders, with the help of this expert guide from Cyclescheme - the UK's leading cycle to work scheme.
The range of sizes of adult human follows a normal distribution – most people are fairly close to average, but a few are unusually tall or short. The fact that very short people are in a minority can make it harder to find bikes to suit – not all manufacturers bother to cater for what is after all a small (so to speak) market. But don't give up – nearly everyone can find a bike to suit them.
The sizing minefield
There's no standard way of describing the size of a bike. Some manufacturers list seat tube length in cm, some list it in inches, sometimes the number bears no resemblance to the actual physical length of the tube and often the sizes are simply Small, Medium and Large. To add to the confusion, even two bikes with the same listed size can be very different – one 56cm bike might have a 55cm top tube while another has a 58cm top tube. All of this means that you really have to try bikes for size, ideally with the help of an experienced rider.
A sense of proportion
We're all individuals, and that holds for the proportions of our bodies as much as our taste in hot beverages or music preferences. Two people of the same height can easily have considerably different proportions – one may have long legs and a short torso, another may have a long body and short legs. They're unlikely to be comfortable on the same bike.
Given that proportions vary, keep an open mind about men's or women's bikes. You may find that you get the best fit with a bike that's nominally aimed at the opposite sex. Some manufacturers – like Scott – have bikes with alternative geometry that are deliberately aimed at short men as well as women. And many women find that men's bikes fit them better.
If you're very short, take a look at bikes designed for youngsters. Plenty of small adult riders get on very well with bikes from the teenage end of children's bike ranges. Manufacturers like Islabikes produce lightweight kids' bikes that match adult bikes in specification – they're just a bit smaller.
There are a lot of small changes that can be made to a bike to improve the fit. Seat height is just the start. You can also move the saddle fore and aft on the seatpost, which usually gives about 50mm of adjustment in the distance to the bars. There's also the possibility of swapping between layback (with the saddle clamp behind the axis of the post) and inline (as the name suggests) posts.
At the front, there's scope to swap the stem for a different length or rise. Typically stem lengths go up with bike size, but most bikes can be fitted with a slightly shorter or longer stem than standard without upsetting the handling. Handlebars with more sweep also make a difference, and so does bar width – if your hands are further apart, you'll have to lean forward more to reach the bars.
Most modern bikes have clamp-on stems that aren't as readily adjustable as the old-fashioned quill type. But you can still usually alter the height of the bars by rearranging spacers above and below the stem. Short riders usually want the bars as low as possible, but if you're less confident or riding in heavy traffic where good visibility is essential, a slightly more upright position may be best.
Islabikes Luath 700
Islabikes specialises in children's bikes (although there's a grown-ups 29er MTB in the range), but the upper end of its age range is also worth a look for shorter adults. The Luath is a drop-bar bike with rack and mudguard mounts. It's available in three sizes, with the largest accommodating riders down to about 158cm (5ft 2in).
Trek makes a point of offering a wide range of sizes on many of its bikes, and its entry-level MTB series goes down to a 13in frame. Although nominally a mountain bike, the 3900 is well-suited to everyday commuting too – the aluminium frame has rack mounts and the Bontrager tyres have a fast-rolling overlapping tread.
The Avail is just cheap enough to be eligible for Cyclescheme. It's a proper lightweight road bike, aimed at women but not particularly feminine in appearance. It's most obviously suited to longer, fair-weather commutes on open roads, although it does have mudguard eyes on the frame and fork. Sizes start at XS.
Although only available in one size, the design of the folding Brompton lends itself to a huge range of seat height adjustment. Brompton offer a vast range of build options – shorter riders should look at the flat S-type handlebar for better fit. The S1E has a simple single-speed transmission, but you can opt for gears at extra cost.
Genesis Col du Glandon
UK-based Genesis has taken a slightly different approach with the Col du Glandon, choosing 650B wheels (smaller than 700c road wheels, bigger than 26in MTB wheels) for its all-round small-person's road bike. Smaller wheels mean fewer geometry compromises to fit shorter riders. With a full complement of rack and mudguard mounts, it's an ideal year-round commuter.
Scott Metrix 20
Scott's Metrix combines the appearance, robustness and user-friendly riding position of a mountain bike with the fast-rolling running gear of a road bike. The result is a speedy but town-friendly bike. It's worth a look for shorter riders as the sizes go down to XS. There's an alternative-geometry “Solution” version too which might give a better fit.
A modern take on a traditional style, the Coco has a mixte-style frame with a dropped top tube. You can get on by stepping through rather than swinging a leg over the back and even short riders will have ample standover clearance. The smallest size is a tidgy 42cm, too. Full mudguards and disc brakes make it ready for all weathers.