View Full Version : What size mountain bike?

02-09-2005, 03:59 AM
Hi ~ I'm a roadie who is just starting to look at entry-level mountain bikes for riding trails around our neighborhood to stay in shape over the winter - nothing too long. Anywho, my question is about sizing of mtbs. My road bikes are size 46cm (Aegis) and 17.5" (Terry), which are both the second-to-smallest WSD sizes for those particular models. I am 5'2" with approx. 28" inseam. Which mtb sizes should I be looking at to start? 13-14"? And are effective top tube lengths longer on mtbs than on road bikes? I've looked at the geometry for a few bikes (Specialized Rockhopper, for one), and all the top tubes (effective, so measured horizontally) are over 20" (even for the very smallest size women's bike), where my road bikes are ~19". Is this going to be a problem or does it work out just fine on an mtb? I don't want to have to buy a kid's bike!! :D

Thanks so much for your help!


02-09-2005, 05:15 AM
Lucky you! I see you live in NC; you'll be heading up to Pisgah in no time :cool:

From your description, yes you'll be looking at mtbs in the 13-15" range. As you know test-riding is key.

Several thoughts on the TT issue:

On road bikes TT length is more important than standover (IMHO). Standover becomes a bit more important off-road; especially if you are new and especially if you will be riding off-road. The more technical the trail, the more grateful you'll be for that ability to hop right off the bike!

Luckily, most modern mtbs have a sloping top tube.

Yes the effective TT length is a bit longer, but the seat tube angles are more relaxed as well. I think you'll be able to feel this when you test ride.

You can run a shorter stem on your mtb (I like a 110 mm on the road, but will run 100 or 90mm off road). You can also get handle bars with more sweep and even a bit of rise if you prefer.

If you just can NOT get comfortable on a stock WSD mtb, there's always custom :D :D :D

02-09-2005, 07:45 AM
I ride a 17" even though I have a 31 inch inseam. Its a little close but I like the open position the top tube gives. If you can't find a short enough frame in normal MTB there are also a few 24" designs out there. They are becoming popular with the crazy stunt guys as well, so ya know they'll last ;)

02-09-2005, 07:49 AM
First don't get locked into WSD, a small men's frame might be just fine.
Second, if you are used to riding a road bike, most likely a properly fit mountain bike is going to feel shorter in the cockpit than what you are accustomed to. I made the mistake of fitting my first mtb too long based on what I was used to, and let's just say it was a mistake that held me back for a few years.

here's what my tips page says about WSD:

What about WSD (women specific design)? It's a great concept, geometry and frames just for women. This concept is for a specific body type: women who have a short torso and long legs. I ride a men's 15" Kona which fits me beautifully. I have a longer torso. Don't get locked into WSD, but go ahead and try it and see if it's right for you. For some women, it's exactly what they need. Try lots of bikes until you feel the one that's right for you. Some things you can change out on your bike are smaller brake levers, shorter cranks, and more narrow handlebars.

If your LBS (Local Bike Shop) is insisting that you try WSD, or only WSD, and treating you in a condescending manner - "hey little lady, we know what you need..." Run, do not walk, to a different shop. You deserve better than that. Try lots of different bikes.

ride a LOT of bikes. Fit is the most important thing, over brand, over suspension, over wsd etc.


02-10-2005, 08:48 AM
Thank you ladies very much for the input!


02-13-2005, 12:42 PM
Just had to give y'all an update on my lovely new mountain bike, purchased this morning at REI and taken out on her maiden voyage this afternoon! :) I got the last 2004 they had left in our local store, which just happened to be the very smallest size (12") Novara Bonita (yes, it's WSD - after trying several bikes I determined that I am just an WSD type of gal.) ;) Since the 2005 models are out, I got a great deal on this bike, and it fits me to a "t".

Took her out for a brief spin this afternoon on our gravel driveway, road, and then a short bit of our trails, which seemed a bit technical to me, a complete novice at off-road riding. I feel so out of shape! But I didn't fall once, and the bike was so comfy that even hitting rocks and holes was not a problem. I am looking forward to this since I can see already that riding off-road is going to up my fitness level exponentially, and that can only help on the road too!

Thanks again for your input and help, and I'll be reading your web pages for tips and info, Irulan - looks like lots of helpful info there!

I'll try to attach a photo of my new steed below!


02-13-2005, 01:39 PM
Love the green!

Couple of suggestions:

If you are already clippless on the road get clipless for the mtb ASAP. #1. You already know "heel out". The brain is trained---don't let those nasty cages de-train you! #2. All those things you love about clipless on the road? Efficiency, connection with the bike, body english, yadda yadda yadda...well those apply ten-fold off-road.

Loose the reflectors. If you are riding at dawn/dusk you need a good light-set anyhoo. Broken bits of plastic reflectors on the trail are a big pet-peeve.

FYI: it looks like you made a good choice re:fit. As your skills increase you have some room to play with position. You can decrease the # of spacers under the stem, and go for a shorter stem with less rise as you ~may~ find that you need a more aggressive riding position.

Hope you love the dirt as much as you love the road!!! :D :D :D

As the old Adidas (trail-running shoes) ad used to say: "The road to hell is paved." ;)

02-13-2005, 02:09 PM
Yep, I use Eggbeaters Candy pedals on my Bike Friday (love 'em!) and already have a pair in waiting for the new bike, just haven't gotten them on yet (but will soon, very soon). Also already planned to lose the reflectors too!

Thanks for the suggestions, though - I didn't know that I could have spacers removed from the stem, but that's good information. I am a long way from needing to get more aggressive, but maybe one day! :)


02-13-2005, 04:09 PM
Looks like a good steed :) I like the look too. She will go the distance with you.

02-13-2005, 08:15 PM
Congrats! New bikes are always such fun.

Yes, lose the reflectors! I've seen people do headers on the trail because the reflector broke and jammed in various wheel/brake parts. Ugly business.

I would guess from the road bikes you're riding, you will want to take out some spacers rather quickly because you're used to a more aero-road position. You can move the stem up and down by just putting some of the spacers on top of the stem to experiment with bar height. If you find that you can't get hunkered down far enough over the bars when climbing a steep hill (front wheel keeps lifting), swap some spacers to the top of the stem and try the hill again. You've got a very, very upright position on that bike and space to take the bar down without making it an overly aggressive position. Once you like your new position, you can have the steerer tube on the fork cut so that you don't have all the spacers on the top of the stem. BUT,don't do that until you are sure of what you want. You can't uncut the fork. Another solution is to get a stem with less rise.

Have fun! You've entered a whole new world!

02-14-2005, 07:18 AM
What SK said about the spacers. Lose them. A general rule for mtb is that the saddle should be level with or an inch or two higher than the handlebars, at least for xc trail riding, not downhill.

Now, ride it like you stole it!!! :D :D :D


02-14-2005, 06:05 PM
Another adjustment trick if you need more range is to flip the stem upside down. I know it sounds wierd, but some mfg actually print the decals both ways for that. ;)

02-15-2005, 08:58 AM
Thanks for all the tips, ladies! None of my previous bikes has had a threadless stem so spacers, etc. are all new to me, but I do agree that I don't need the handlebars quite so high. Will investigate!

Another question...does anyone have any good mtb books or websites for BEGINNERS (especially women) to recommend? I read Irulan's tips, which were great, but now I am hungry for more basics. It's such a different type of riding than road riding.

Thanks!! :)


02-15-2005, 09:06 AM
Get Ned Overend's video, "Performance Mountain Biking." It will give you a terrific grounding in all the basics.

02-15-2005, 09:28 AM
Ned also has a book, but I bet a video is great too.

You might google Wildflower Mountain biking, they have a video also for women.

Where are you located? You just might find a skills camp near you.

Sometimes just mileage is a good thing.


02-15-2005, 04:12 PM
Where are you located? You just might find a skills camp near you.

I'm in NC. Not sure if there are camps near me. That sounds fun, but I really like saving my valuable and oh-so-inadequate amount of vacation time to go places with my husband. He's retired and claims not to see enough of me as it is! :p

Appreciate the suggestions, tho. I have a Barnes and Noble gift card to use so will look for Ned's book and/or video!


P.S. Agree about the mileage too - just don't want to hurt myself not having a clue what I am doing on the trail! :D

Dirt Girl
02-16-2005, 12:12 PM
Agree about the mileage too - just don't want to hurt myself not having a clue what I am doing on the trail! :D

MTB riding is all about shifting, braking and balance (or body position)--how and when to do these things in what situations. When I started out I borrowed every book I could from the local library. There are also some good sites on the internet if you do a search. Take a look at mtbr.com. I've found some helpful things on that discussion board. And ride with as many people as you can. Everyone can teach you something. The more you ride, the more you can ask specific questions and get specific answers. And trust me that technique is very, very important. I have a friend who started out on a road bike, loves speed, and spent the first year of her mountain biking life beat up from falling so much. She learned the hard way that it's a totally different game from the road. Speed will come as you learn, but focus on technique now. Some of the best beginning advice I received: NEVER do something until you are ready to do it. You'll know when you're ready to push and challenge yourself at the level needed to attempt a certain obstacle. There is no harm nor shame in walking a section that makes you uncomfortable. Second best advice: the bike will go over just about anything, RELAX and let it do it's job. Momentum is your friend. Most of all--HAVE FUN!

02-16-2005, 03:00 PM
Great tips, dirt girl, thanks!

One more newbie question: should I get a water bottle cage or is it best to use a Camelbak (I have several) when riding a mtb? I normally use water bottles on my road bikes but am not sure if mountain bikers tend to use them or not since they might get muddy or come flying out if you hit an obstacle (just a guess!)


02-16-2005, 03:20 PM
I use both. Water in the hydration pack and Cytomax cocktail in the bottle. Hydration bladders are extremely hard to keep gunk free (store the hose in the freezer between rides).

I use a nalgene bottle with a cover on my bike that has the bottle cage so conveniently located under the down tube or if the frame allows it (said bottle is available at REI and a very, very few LBS). My xsmall Titus frame only takes a small old-fashioned bottle so that's what I use on it. I just inspect it before using or wipe it off with my "clean" glove. :o

02-16-2005, 04:50 PM
most folks use a camelbak. One thing is that a frame mount bottle can get all sorts of mud and dirt on it, plus they can bounce loose and then they are gone. IIRC Tinker gor giardia from a muddy water bottle.

Dirt Girl
02-17-2005, 11:37 AM
One more newbie question: should I get a water bottle cage or is it best to use a Camelbak (I have several) when riding a mtb?

I usually just use the Camelbak but add a bottle (of Cytomax, like SadieKate) for longer/harder rides. Bonus for using the Camelbak: you can add ice to your water and it stays cold for hours. Nothing like a really cold sip when it's very hot out. We rinse out our Camelbak bladders with super hot water and run some through the tube, rub off the "slimy" stuff on the bite valve, drain well and store the entire thing in the fridge. This keeps it clean and slim free between more serious cleanings (which don't happen all that often in our house).

Dirt Girl
02-17-2005, 11:40 AM
My xsmall Titus frame ...

Ooooo, I'm so jealous! Sweet bike...and just my size. ;) Have you posted a photo of it on this forum?

02-17-2005, 01:03 PM
Sorry, I don't really have any good photos of my RacerX. This is the best I can do. (Red) Sonja (http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/sadiekatel/detail?.dir=aa4a&.dnm=7003.jpg) The bike hanging from the frame is a freeride bike for a guy about 6'4". If you scroll through the album you'll see a picture of him standing behind me. His saddle barely fits under my armpit!

The RacerX is an incredible bike for anyone who wants a light, fast handling XC bike. She loves to climb. Point her uphill and she goes with you or without you. Superb handling on tight, picky singletrack like that in central Oregon (my favorite place to ride). My only complaint is that only small water bottles with the small diameter lids will fit. Small price to pay for a superb handling bike in an XS size.

Dirt Girl
02-17-2005, 04:34 PM
Sorry, I don't really have any good photos of my RacerX. The bike hanging from the frame is a freeride bike for a guy about 6'4". If you scroll through the album you'll see a picture of him standing behind me. His saddle barely fits under my armpit!

If you ever take a close up, let me know. I'd love to droll. No local Titus dealers around here at the time I bought the Santa Cruz, and we wanted to buy local. Though I can't complain too much. I love my pretty blue Juliana. I don't have an updated photo yet, but she's now sporting new tires, a new wheelset and disc brakes. As hubby (who is 6'2"--so I know what you mean about bikes that I'd need a ladder to climb on) puts it, Santa "pimped my ride" for Christmas.

What are your favorite places in Central Oregon? I live in Eastern Washington and have not ridden in Oregon yet.

02-17-2005, 05:30 PM
If you ever take a close up, let me know.

What are your favorite places in Central Oregon? I live in Eastern Washington and have not ridden in Oregon yet.

Well, I have a close up of the bottom bracket caked with MacKenzie River mud.

As far as favorite trails in central Oregon, start in Bend and ride whatever direction takes your fancy (and the weather allows) that day. The list goes on and on. The mtbike community in Bend works very hard with the Forest Service and has a wonderful network of trails. COTA (http://www.cotamtb.org) , the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, gets a check from us every year since we take advantage of all their hardwork many times a year. The entire central third of the state has incredible trails including the Mt. Hood area. I haven't ridden west of the Cascades but will some day. We're retiring up there (no poison oak :D ).