There is huge chunk of people that are under 5’5”. I am one of those at 5’1”. In my opinion, under 5’5” is when it gets to be a pain in the ass to find a frame that fits. I mean really fits. Not just something you can live with, but something that doesn’t make your back sore, and you can stand over with both feet on the ground without the top tube going into no-mans-land (or should I say sometimes-a-select-man’s-land?).
For people in that height range I want to sing the praises of bikes with smaller wheels. I rode the smallest 700c frames I could find for years, but because of how big the wheels are compared to the frame they turn like a mac truck. I am tempted to put a “beware wide turns” on the rear of my remaining 700c bike. Toe ovelap happened all the time, when you make a turn and your toe scrapes the wheel, a common occurrence with scrunched up frames with normal sized wheels. On the other hand, my road bike with 650c wheels or gravel bikes with 650b or 26″ are so wonderfully responsive. I can actually stand over my bike comfortably, and don’t have to stand on my tiptoes to keep the top-tube from invading my private places. Also, because the frame doesn’t have to compensate for big wheels, my top half feels less uncomfortably stretched out. Plus toe-overlap is gone from my life. There was a time I’d learned to live with it, but I am telling you: there is a better life for the fronts of your shoes.
There are a couple of arguments that the detractors of proportional sized wheels pull out.
- You can’t find tires/wheels: While that may now be the case for 650c, 650b (the chubbier older brother) is all over the place due to gravel riding becoming the big bike thing. Quality 26″ tires are also pretty easy to come by. It is still the wheel size standard all over the world. Check out compass tires, they have awesome smaller tires in both 26″ and 650b.
- They are slower: awww man I am not even gonna dignify that with a response (plus I am lazy). I am just gonna link to this article by local seattle bike shop R&E.
Just for god’s sake be comfortable and get a bike with wheels proportional to the frame.