Kids bike for an adult?
March 25, 2006 11:40 AM   Subscribe

Is there a compelling reason for an adult woman not to purchase a 24" bike if that is most comfortable for her?

A coworker is looking for a bicycle and likes the 24" because it is easier to mount than "adult-sized" bikes. If there is a good reason to stay away from so-called "kids bikes," what kind of bike would be best? There are lots of hills around so she's looking for something with at least a few speeds. In addition, which are the best brands?
posted by raddevon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total)
I would think that the smaller bike might not be build to handle the weight of a full-grown adult. Finding out the hard way could be injurious.
posted by CrayDrygu at 11:46 AM on March 25, 2006

I'm not a bike expert, but it's pretty important that a bike be the right size because of the rider's position on the bike. A bike that's too low will cause the rider to shift weight off the legs and onto the butt and pelvis, not exactly ideal if we're talking about a mountain bike. This is less of a concern if she's just planning to ride around for kicks, but it might not be so fun if she intends to commute with the bike on a daily basis. You really don't want a bike that makes your ass hurt; take it from someone who rode a used bike with a really hard saddle for a couple of weeks before it occured to him that hey, he could just swap the saddle for a softer one, eh?

Sounds like a cruiser might be up her alley, though, especially one with a lower bar. Great for casual use, not so hard on the arms, and has a big, supportive seat for upright riding, meaning the bike won't literally kick her ass during long trips.
posted by chrominance at 12:00 PM on March 25, 2006

Also, I should mention that what your coworker is talking about isn't comfort on the bike; it's the act of getting on that causes her difficulty, which goes away with practice. I'll bet that if she actually bikes with a frame that's too small, she'll quickly wish she'd bought the bigger bike that was harder to mount.
posted by chrominance at 12:02 PM on March 25, 2006

What's 24"--the wheel? The seat post? She should not be able to have her feet flat on the ground when her butt is on the seat. Correct bike fit affects comfort as well as the body's pedaling efficiency--a too-small bike will grind her knees into powder. See here for further information.
posted by scratch at 12:06 PM on March 25, 2006

Terry Bicycles for women, built with special sizing and geometry. ( ) . They have an excellent reputation and are particularly suited for petite women. If this is out of her range I am hard pressed to believe that she can not find an affordable bike that fits at a reputable dealer. As to makes--once you cross a certain threshold ($250-350) I am not sure it really makes a difference. It all comes down to the weight of the bike and the the components. My advice--buy one step up from what you were going to settle for. A good frame and wheels will be with you a long time. You can always upgrade the components. Do not buy a kids bike. Period. Safety and reliability just are not there.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:15 PM on March 25, 2006

If she wants to be able to sit on the seat and put her legs to the ground, which should provide an easier mount due to the lower seat height, but still have the properly healthy full leg extension on the pedals, while keeping the standard bicycle profile, I would suggest a bicycle with a crank forward aka "comfort" design. Here's one such bicycle from a "name" manufacturer, there are others models and vendors too.
posted by mdevore at 12:18 PM on March 25, 2006

I'm assuming 24" refers to wheel size. Smaller wheels result in poorer ride quality. Your friend should buy a bike with regular-sized wheels, but look harder for a frame that fits her well. As others have mentioned so far, there are plenty of options in that regard.
posted by randomstriker at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2006

There isn't as wide a variety of replacement parts (tires, tubes, rims and spokes) available for 24" wheels, compared to more common sizes.
posted by box at 12:40 PM on March 25, 2006

Just to clarify, it is the wheel that is 24 inches.
posted by raddevon at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2006

Something like an Electra Townie might be right up her alley. Mixite (aka step through) frame, can put feet on ground.
posted by fixedgear at 1:51 PM on March 25, 2006

How tall is your friend? She should get a bike that fits her.

I think the idea that anyone "needs" a bike with full sized wheels is just silly chauvanism. Ride quality might be better, and availability of spare parts might better, but those are hardly the only considerations. Large wheels with a small frame force all sorts of other compromises, like ridiculous frame geometry, particularly excessively long top-tubes.
posted by Good Brain at 3:13 PM on March 25, 2006

Fit is the most important thing to a bike. Any bike that is uncomfortable to ride generally doesn't get ridden.

The only thing "wrong" with beeing a kid's bike is that they're usually lower quality and havier than an adult's bike. They are also usually cheaper. Yes, 24" wheels and tires are a little more trouble to find, but any local bike shop (as opposed to a box store, like Walmart) can get them.

It might be worth her time to see if anyone sells Terry bikes in your neck of the woods. The smaller Terrys have 24" wheels (See! They're not that hard to find!).
posted by bonehead at 3:33 PM on March 25, 2006

Bicycles that "fit" require one to have full leg extension on the pedals while on the seat. That is a given in bicycle sizing. Anything else will often lead to knee or ankle pain and possible damage to one's leg joints over long-term riding. Shortening leg extension is also quite inefficient and tiring;, one need not be a hard-core bicyclist to appreciate riding comfortably and getting where you are going in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of effort.

Chauvinism would be best represented by recommendations one stick with a smaller than recommended frame without consideration of the above effects or making blanket rejections of alternatives. I see as quite questionable claims of ridiculous frame geometry, particularly excessively long top-tubes without hard evidence to back it up. There are several name-brand companies who have had comfort bicycles available for a few years now and -- if for no other reason than potential litigation -- I would trust the companies to have carefully considered the design before making it available. For another example, here is a Cannondale woman's comfort bicycle which meets the requirements of fit and low seat height for the original question, without sacrificing standard bicycle tire size.

Of course, if the rider can use a smaller-sized frame and still get proper leg extension, then the considerations of intial cost, parts availability, and long-term service become the most important.
posted by mdevore at 3:43 PM on March 25, 2006

I'm not sure if this will be of much help, but I actually did (6 years ago now) purchase a large kids bike at one time. I am just providing my perspective and experience.

When I was a graduate student, I really wanted to begin biking again and did not want to spend much money, so I purchased a 'large girls bike' at Target (I don't know what the size was at the time). In all honesty the bike did fit (lets be honest, some kids are pretty large/large enough that the clothes or items can be used by adults). Even though the bike fit, I did not enjoy biking. The bike was extremely heavy and that slowed my riding down significantly so I did not have a desire to ride more than 10 miles.

I eventually realized this dilemma and decided to purchase (and traded in the Target bike) for a used road bike. The road bike was very light weight and biking became much more pleasurable. The only problem with that bike, however, was that after about 20 - 30 miles my arms were usually in pain (it felt like pins were embedded in my arms). However, I did enjoy that bike and used it for a few years.

Now move forward a few more years - I finally went to a bike store and purchased a brand new road bike but had the staff measure and help determine the correct size. This bike cost significantly more than the Target bike or used bike, but now I can easily ride 20 to 50 miles and even beyond that, without pain. I realized in retrospect that the used bike was too large and with that came discomfort.

If I went back in time right now - I would not purchase the kids bike again. Honestly, as another poster mentions, the quality and weight were compromised. In the end I quickly traded that bike away for another bike that was older but much higher quality. Even though bike 2 (used road bike) did not fit correctly, I would do that again due to finances at the time. If my salary were higher, then - I would have gone to a bikestore, and purchase a bike that was the correct fit. If your friend is trying to spend less money, has she checked out used bike stores?
posted by Wolfster at 8:39 PM on March 25, 2006

The only downside I can see is that kid's bikes are going to be of cheaper quality (I'm assuming dept store bikes). She should definitely get a bike that fits her, although she may be surprised to learn that a proper fit is higher than she thinks. Sitting too low results in extremely inefficient riding, which is tiring and won't get you far.
posted by knave at 10:23 PM on March 25, 2006

Well, I've been a long-time lurker and I just signed up for an account to answer your question. I hope I can be a bit helpful!

There has been some great advice in this thread, mixed in with a few WAGs...and while I wouldn't call myself an expert on bicycle fit, I know a bit. (FWIW, bicycle education is my full time job)

The most important issue is that you indicate that she wants to buy a smaller bike because it will be easier to mount. The question almost implies that she knows the bike will be too small, but is making a trade-off to get onto it more easily. Put simply, that's not a good trade-off.

Learning how to get on and off of a bicycle with the seat at the right height can be a bit intimidating for an adult, probably mostly because it feels odd trying to learn a new skill related to something as seemingly easy as riding a bicycle. However, if your coworker is interested in riding frequently, it is absolutely essential. This is for the reason pointed out above by scratch and others (knee damage, along with inefficient pedaling).

(Unless, of course, she opts for a pedal-forward designed bike. I'm not ruling those out - I just have no experience with them)

The second issue is that it seems she is considering buying a bike from a mass retailer. If she really intends to ride, I have to advise against this. Not just because the bikes are terrible (they are - at work we refurbish donated bikes to fund our mission, so I work on these bikes frequently, and I can assure you that they are not designed to be ridden - they are designed to shine in the store and be sold), but because fit questions like this can easily be resolved by someone at a bike shop.

I have never worked at a for-profit bike shop, and have only even bought a bike at one once, so this isn't bike shop chauvinism speaking - it's not that she needs someone at a bike shop to help her get fit correctly, it's that she needs someone at all. Good bike shops are a handy place, and as a bonus you get a bike that's actually built to be ridden. $300 goes a long way at a bike shop, much much more than 3 times as far as $100 goes at Walmart. BTW, brands are pretty irrelevant in terms of value - different brands have slightly different styles, but between $250-1000, you get what you pay for. If $250-300 sounds like a lot, there may be a used bike shop near you that could set her up for less. If used bike prices there are anything like what we charge, I wouldn't recommend her spending less than $125 on a used bike if she wants to enjoy riding.

Judging by the fact that she needs low gearing, a hybrid/city/comfort bike (the difference between what these three words mean is a bit blurry) with a wide-range derailleur-based drivetrain (as opposed to gears inside the hub) may suit her best. However, some hub geared bikes now offer fairly low gears as well, and have definite advantages for casual riders.

She can leave the questions of what frame size and wheel size she needs to a pro who is standing next to her in person, and I believe she'll be happy with the results.

For someone who is planning on getting into riding more, I also recommend taking a course like the League of American Bicyclists' Road 1 course. I believe the curriculum is required to include instruction on mounting and dismounting, among many other things (I may be mistaken - I know we include it where I work, but I don't have a list of the required elements in front of me). (the disclosure on this is that I'm a certified instructor of this course - I don't think it's perfect, and there are a lot of things in it I'd like to change, but it's the only national program of its sort that I'm aware of, and it is quite good)

I don't know if you'll find this helpful, but I'm glad she asked the question, and I'm glad you brought it here - I see people every day who are riding bikes that are wrong for them, and it always makes me happy to be able to improve their experience a bit. Bikes are good for doing a lot of things, but a bike that you don't like, doesn't fit you, or is broken all the time is good for nothing.

Either way, tell her some random internet guy wishes her the best in her riding. :)
posted by pinespree at 12:50 AM on March 26, 2006

I am not a bike expert, but I think the size of the wheel is irrelevant, it's the size of the frame and the height of the seat.

I'm rather small built and had to learn to keep the seat a little higher than what I was comfortable with. I used to keep it lower and it did cause strain on longer rides, because like others already said you're putting too much pressure on your knees, it makes it more tiring and you don't go as fast so in the end it is much less comfortable.

I imagine riding a smaller bike would make that much worse.

So, by all means tell her to get a regular sized bike, and, like pinespree said, just get proper advice on choosing the right model and frame size, and on how to mount (I still haven't go that part right!).

Anyway, the test of comfort has to be when riding, not when mounting.
posted by funambulist at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2006

I looked at my answer and realized that I didn't address the original question...

Is there a compelling reason for an adult woman not to purchase a 24" bike if that is most comfortable for her?

There isn't, but the question assumes that she'll know what's most comfortable for her before she buys a bike. So she should go find out from someone who can tell her. :)
posted by pinespree at 12:45 PM on March 26, 2006

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