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Small Cyclist Problems

This article was written by our bike fitting and bike racing physiotherapist Nicole Oh


Once upon a time, I saw on social media that the definition of a “short” female is a person who is under 5’4″ (163cm).

This is basically me (although I disagree that 5’4″ is short!), so I take particular interest in small person issues as they relate to the bike.


If you are a “small cyclist”, there are a few common problems you might encounter if you buy a bike that is too big for you.

1) Compromised position and handling

Until recently, a lot of bike manufacturers just didn’t make bikes that were small enough. It was hard to find road bikes with a virtual top tube length of less than 50cm. As a result, the rider will find themselves over-reaching and in an uncomfortable stretched out position. Some people have tried to solve this issue by making the stem inappropriately short, or pushing the saddle as far forward as able, which can compromise your pedalling, weight distribution and handling of the bike.

2) Cranks too long

The smallest bike in a range will often come with 170mm cranks (althoughI have seen an increase in smaller bikes with 165mm cranks fitted), which for some short people, is still just a bit too long (particuarly if you also have short legs). This can effect your pedalling efficiency, but also increase the closed angle at your knee and hip joints at the top of the pedal stroke, compressing these joints and leading to issues over time.

3) Handlebars too wide, long and deep

Women in particular usually have narrower shoulders than their male counterparts, and often the bars are too wide. If the bars are not short reach and compact drop, then this will also contribute to the same over-reaching issue as described above. This can lead to pain particularly in the upper limbs (wrist, elbows, shoulders) and neck.

4) Inability to reach the brake levers, especially in the drops

Small people will often have small hands, and a lot of people have difficulty pulling the brake levers when riding in the drops, as they are just too far away. This will lead not only to sore hands and awkward wrist positions, but decreased confidence with descending and braking. On many shifters these days, you can wind in the brake levers so that they are closer in to begin with. The shape of the handlebars, placement of the hoods on the handlebars, and tilt of the handlebars will also have an influence on where the brake levers sit.

If you have been experiencing any of these issues, and you think that your bike might too big for you, then you should consider booking yourself in for a bikefit with Nicole . She might be able to help by changing your bars, hoods or brake levers, or perhaps changing to shorter cranks.

If your bike is too big for any of the above adjustments to be effective, Nicole will be able to help you choose a new, more suitably sized frame.

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