Petite Bike Test Results

By Chris Juden. This accompanies the Petite Bike Test article.

Last June I invited women between 150cm (4'11) and 163cm (5'4) tall to take part in this test. Given the male CTC membership bias and all the obstacles to such people becoming keen cyclists you might expect few volunteers. I had 70 enquiries. Manufacturers note: these folk may be small, but they probably account for some 15 to 20% of potential customers - and they're not very happy with your product!

With few exceptions, the 14 women who came on this test owned bicycles that were too big for them. (Try this for size: inside leg = 75cm, stand-over height = 77cm!) Even the few who'd had one custom-built did not appear to have got as much out of this exercise as they might. In preparation for the test I divided the riders into three similar-sized sets: alpha [smallest], beta [medium] and gamma [largest]; but when we got down to the practicalities of fitting bodies to bikes these merged into two main but overlapping groups comprising those who could straddle only the smallest available bikes and those who could cope with most of the rest.

People may be able to get used to riding a bike that's too big for them, but riding an unfamiliar oversized bike is quite another matter! The possibilities for participants to try each other's bikes were thus somewhat limited and we are indebted to the custom frame builders who answered my call for suitable bicycles. It must be a big outlay for a small business, so a big thank you to George Longstaff, Tony Oliver (also for entertaining us with an illustrated talk), Chas Roberts, Isla & Trevor Rowntree and Dave Yates.

Each produced a bicycle to fit an average Ms Alpha, Beta or Gamma, based upon the size data I was collecting from participants. It must be remembered therefore, that none of these bicycles was actually custom built for any of the individuals riding and commenting upon them. In terms of rider fit they indicate what an enlightened mass-producer might do, while at the same time indicating some of the individual touches that only a custom-builder can give. Were you to order a bicycle from one of them, it would, one presumes, fit even better and could be kitted out with your choice of components. And whatever we have to say when comparing one with another, they were all a great improvement on most of the other bikes.

I sourced only one ready-made bicycle. Orbit's unique 18in Gold Medal. So thank you also Simon Gershon: above all for proving that it is possible to mass-produce a tourer that fits small people pretty well - at a price beginners are prepared to pay.

I expected to see a few modified ATBs among the participants, but only Eileen came with this kind of bike - an entirely home-made affair which only two of the other riders tried. And although I indicated to the custom-builders that flat bars would be as acceptable as drops - just that the bike should be suitable for touring mainly on roads plus occasional tracks - they all supplied classic drop-handlebar tourers. Well at least that makes comparisons simpler, for which read on.

DAVE YATES (specifications, geometry)

This is a bike for the small rider who simply must have 32-622 ('standard' 700x32C touring) wheels. And its frame is a good example of how a custom builder has to take liberties with geometry in order to satisfy this desire. But a 77½° seat is extremely steep for a touring bike and I reckon this design could be improved by subtracting a degree or two from both seat and head angle. Of our testers Jo commented: aching arms going downhill and Eileen: too much pressure on base of thumb, but most were grateful simply to be able to reach the bars. All were grateful to be able to stand over the top tube, which slopes at quite a rakish angle so there's also somewhere to fit a headset!

Dave equipped the bike with a standard set of mid-range touring components, mostly Shimano LX, to result in a bike that would retail for about £750. The long 170mm cranks, and resulting conflict between toeclip and mudguard troubled a few. Dave had intended to fit something shorter, but a sad lack of choice at this level in the market would have either added to the price or detracted from the apparent quality. He did, however, obtain some 105 brake levers labelled Short Reach, which fitted the bill very nicely. With these levers and low-profile cantis braking required very little effort, and on this bike most of the women enjoyed the rare pleasure (for them) of being able to brake over the top of the hoods, but I had to keep the blocks adjusted very close indeed to the rim or else they wouldn't've had any brakes at all! Most also appreciated the narrow (38cm) handlebars.

Several could have used a lower bottom gear in our testing terrain, and found the gear levers difficult to use. This was because they were positioned too high on the down tube and conflicted with the end of the pump - as mounted under the top tube - which everyone had to stow in a pannier instead.

Dave supplies a Karrimor carrier that is customised to fit and slightly reinforced, but this remains a rather flimsy design of carrier - and so criticised by Cathy. A pair of extension pieces to fit a standard Blackburn etc. would be better.

From the mechanic's point of view the Primax X-type needle headset is sensible with such a short head; but a lack of any brake quick-release is annoying with the close adjustment required from low-profile cantis and a relatively wide on narrow tyre and rim combination.

Those that rode "Dave" used words such as nippy, speedy and a real goer, which made this bike 2nd or 3rd favourite with quite a few of them. Everyone except Linda thought it was a smart looking bike, but it appeared nevertheless at the top of her list. She writes: I felt most at home on this bike, especially down hills, cornering and on rough-stuff - which I'm not usually keen on.

ORBIT GOLD MEDAL ALIVIO (specifications, geometry)

Orbit is the only mass-manufacturer to attempt to fit virtually everyone with a bike. At the small end of the scale they bite the bullet and design their 18 inch tourers around smaller, 30-559 wheels and shorter, 160mm cranks. The result looks just like a scaled-down 20in bike with 700C wheels (622mm rim). Overall geometry is similar to any other size of touring frame; so scaled-down riders get a normal riding position and Orbit can use normal lugs to build it.

Orbit make the most of the opportunity provided by shorter cranks to reduce bottom bracket height, resulting in the lowest frame among the bikes tested. All our riders could stand at ease over this one.

An 18in option applies throughout the Gold Medal range: up to the £900 G-M Veloce, but we had the basic version. This is mostly equipped with Shimano Alivio components including a chainset from their junior-sized MJ groupset. It's a pity Shimano can't make a crank the correct length for small adults without sticking a "child use" label on it (albeit unobtrusive and removable) but I guess we just have to be thankful for small mercies! Linda certainly was: today I realised what an advantage short cranks are, watching someone else in the alpha group struggling to get long (170mm) cranks round. MJ chainrings are steel and rivetted on, but they run true and the whole set probably costs less to replace than a single Campag ring.

These components, if not quite bargain basement, are pretty cheap - which keeps the price of the Alivio down to less than half the cost of Orbit's top model Gold Medal and nearly all the other bikes in this test. It compared very well nevertheless. Everything functioned as it should and a few more plastic and steel parts did not loose it points for appearance (but the dull green frame colour failed to inspire). Neither did they add weight: this is the lightest bike in the test even after adding 250g for the missing pump, bottle and cage!

The small rims, on the other hand, are relatively up-market. A rear hub width of 135mm results in a virtually dishless rear wheel and smaller wheels are stronger, but I would still rather see 36 spokes behind. Mudguard clearances are generous, enabling use of a 1.4 tyre in case you can't find any 1.15s.

All but one who rode the Orbit were happy with the fit, and everyone appreciated the really low bottom gear that goes with smaller wheels. As Jill says: it felt just right, all in proportion and rode really well ... and the lowest gear was great for those hills.

Orbit fit a standard width handlebar, to which no one objected, but they did notice that the brake levers made no concessions to small hands. These levers might have been better if placed a little lower on the bars. Jo writes: easy to use from the hoods, not so easy from below - a common observation that marked this bike down slightly for braking. There was no cable release, but the mid-profile cantilevers do not require such close adjustment, so it is possible to unhook the straddle wire from one arm.

This was another popular bike, near the top of the list for most who rode it. And although Eileen dislikes dropped bars it pipped her own bike for number one slot. She writes: it seemed to fit me very well ... I liked the range of gears ... the only one of the three new bikes I rode without toeclip/mudguard clash. A lovely bike which wouldn't cost an arm and a leg because it's "off the peg". (I could always change the handlebars!).

If you're under 158cm (5'2) this is the only off-the-peg tourer you'll find to fit, and some who are slightly taller may also find it more suitable than the usual 19½in Galaxy (some will need a longer handlebar extension). From what our testers say it seems to be a sound design and the quality of this example appears to be okay. At £444 you can probably afford it too. If you want something better there are, of course, a number of higher specification Gold Medals. Their frames will be identical, and as there are no 160mm cranks between the junior economy level and de-luxe Campag or TA I think a beginner is best advised to buy a basic version and upgrade progressively as low-cost parts wear out.

This is the kind of bike the big manufacturers should be making too. Wake up Raleigh, Falcon and Dawes!

[2000 update: Orbit still make bikes for small people. Their Mercury is aimed solely at small rides. It comes in two versions, one with 559mm (ATB 26") wheels for touring and general riding, and one with 571mm (triathlon 26") wheels for racing and training. In addition, the small sizes of the Harrier and Romany come fitted with 160mm cranks, and all models in the range can be upgraded to shorter cranks for a small cost. Orbit will also put shorter stems, narrower bars and even small drop bar brake levers on their bikes to further improve fit.]

LONGSTAFF (specifications, geometry)

George was the only custom builder to choose the 559mm rim size (26in ATB, like Orbit), and by also tweaking the angles a bit he made by far the shortest bike in the test. A slightly sloping top tube gave a bit more height to the headset; and 160mm cranks complete the picture. This is another light bike: tending to confirm that 559 wheels also bring a weight saving of about ½kg compared to 622.

To have the handlebars so close seemed strange at first, to people used to stretching for them, but most came to appreciate the short reach. Actually I think George slightly overdid the shortness; to cure complaints of the toeclip hitting it (from the first test rides) I had to adjust the mudguard too close to the tyre for comfort - especially as it had only one pair of stays! A 1cm longer frame could have made all the difference (allowing for the Avocet Cross being a more bulky tyre than the Orbit's Specialized Nimbus). It would still have been the shortest by 2cm, while handlebar extensions of under 8cm are available without sacrificing quality.

The frame embodied a number of neat custom features, notably pump pegs on the seatstay and separate front mudguard eyes positioned away from the fork end, and was beautifully finished in a most attractive colour.

The Longstaff scored excellent marks for fit (except from those who probably were too long in the body for it) and its saddle was one of few to receive general approbation.

This bike excelled in all aspects of performance, as you might expect from this quality of equipment. The gears worked fine (which means someone must have had a go at the Shimano front mech to overcome its usual incompatibility with TA chainsets!): only bottom gear could and should have been a little lower. [2000 update: this incompatibility between Shimano mechs and TA chainsets was only a problem with the old TA Professionel/Cyclotouriste cranks. The new Zephyr and Alize cranks are OK.] Braking was likewise excellent from a sensible pairing of 105 short-reach levers with older-style, mid-profile Shimano XTs. No cable release, but it can be unhooked. Wheel quality was excellent.

This bike proved most popular of all those ridden by the alpha group. Four out of six listed it first, one 2nd and one 4th. "George" was actually built not only for the test but also for Marion to buy and take home afterwards. In her own words: The first bike I have ever felt part of instead of just sitting on top of ... The bike I always dreamed of but didn't realise could exist. Jill was similarly impressed, and has since ordered her own shortstuff from Longstaff!

[2000 update: Although George Longstaff has not sought much publicity for his small women's bikes, we only hear good things about those he has built. He is more willing to use 559mm wheels than many others, resulting in fewer compromises in bike design.]

TONY OLIVER (specifications, geometry)

Tony is also a proponent of small wheels for small frames, but prefers established European sizes of tyre. He accordingly designed a bike for the beta group around 28-584 (650x28B) and 165mm cranks. Although slight increases in wheel size, crank length and toeclip clearance, and 2° off the seat angle add 4cm to the frame length compared to Longstaff, he fitted a very short, very nice stem by 3TTT which brought the reach to only 56cm. This is less than most of the bikes designed for the alpha group, which combined with a low stand-over height enabled many of them also to ride it.

A longer extension would have suited the beta riders better. José echoes several comments: Really liked this gutsy bike but felt it just a little small for me - judging by my bruised knees!

The top tube sloped only a little, but taller riders were permitted to raise the stem to the level they required by a Stronglight height extender. This unique fitting takes the place of the ordinary headset locknut and boosts handlebar height by about 3cm. Women often desire higher handlebars and it almost looks like Tony designed the frame to demonstrate this simple but little-known answer!
Other neat componentry included a rare Huret front mech, which went very well with a seldom-seen Stronglight chainset, and short reach CLB brake levers operating old-design mid-profile Shimano cantis. I'm less keen on the even older Lyotard platform pedals.

This bike differed in that it was designed as an expedition bike first and foremost, whereas the others were day-tourers to which all the gear could be added for occasional longer trips. It's specification included, for example, his own design of carrier, integral dynamo lighting and a 40-spoke rear wheel - with separate freewheel of course.

Sachs gears worked solidly and reliably (compared to quick, slick Shimano) but the brakes needed more strength than some small hands could muster, although the levers fitted nicely. High-friction blocks may be the answer. Mudguard clearance could have been better and the Soubitez bottom-bracket dynamo slipped on wet roads (I recommend Union).

Tony's highly individualist design appealed to like-minded riders of various sizes, who scored it highly in all respects (although none put it top of their list of favourites) and simply didn't suit others. Caroline and Marion both found it a good fit - they seem to like a short reach and highish bars, enjoyed a comfortable day's ride and felt very much in control including on rough-stuff.

[2000 update: Tony Oliver has long ceased cycle production, so unfortunately these bikes are no longer available.]

ISLABIKE (specifications, geometry)

This is one for the betas, made by a woman for women - although I should think that partner Andy Thompson was also involved. Frame geometry is adjusted in the usual manner to fit a short rider between 700C wheels, while 160mm cranks from TA and a custom stem help to give a short reach for this size. Most riders, however, shoved the saddle as far back as it would go on its pillar (the model fitted allows a generous set back) to increase the reach and, more importantly, to shift their centre of gravity rearwards in compensation for a steep seat angle.

The bike is about the size that Isla herself would ride and the design reflects her sporting background. It has the appearance of an audax machine temporarily equipped for touring: with one of the Rowntrees' sturdy carriers above a rather narrow rear rim that is in turn supported by only 32 double-butted spokes. The lugless frame shows much attention to weight-saving details: brazing fillets are minimal and thin plates are used for seatstay and chainstay bridges.

Small riders have less body weight to throw around and can get away with such features, but they carry just as much luggage on tour, so a second, sturdier rear wheel would be advisable for such occasions. Despite the heavy rack and "full size" wheels this bike was one of the lightest in the test. It went well, but some found the steering a bit twitchy.

Cathy observed that the brake levers were: very easy to operate (from drops or hoods) ... liked the modification using small bolts to put the lever nearer the bars and echoed everyone's sentiment with: The brakes themselves were excellent ... after 30 minutes on the bike I was whizzing down Winnats (1:5) with confidence. These anonymous but so effective mid-profile cantilever brakes were painted the same colour as the frame, probably to disguise their humble origin, and the whole effect was very smart and coordinated - with stem and carrier also painted to match. Adjustments were fiddly, but that's not the fault of the brakes. It's because altering stem height (which we did almost daily) also moved the integral front brake hanger - not that this stem allowed much height adjustment anyway. Normally such stems are tailored to the rider and don't need to be moved, but since both hangers are custom fittings it would have been as easy to provide Weinmann or Dia-Compe combined adjuster and quick-releases, instead of brazing on cable stops. As it is, even the smallest adjustment requires the loosening and re-securing of a cable clamp. But I did all that and the riders just enjoyed using them.

Reaction to the gearing was mixed, with some women soon getting used to and appreciating the bar-end shifters, while those who seldom use the drops found no advantage over down-tube controls. Anne was the only one to find them intuitive: everyone else went through a learning process that involved a few wrong-way shifts. I can't imagine why the Campagnolo mechs were operated by Shimano shifters, but the indexing of this polyglot system was remarkably good considering. Only Cathy noticed a bit of misalignment towards each end of the block. Fourteen gears should be enough and everyone found this a quick bike that encouraged effort, but most riders would have appreciated a smaller inner chainring on Peak District hills and in consideration of 160mm cranks. Even the taller riders seemed to find these quite long enough however.

Islabike was favourite with four of the seven who rode it. José writes: This is no granny bike, but this granny loved it! I became a more exciting rider, at one with the bike, cornering with confidence, attaining higher speeds safely, dropping mere men! Still puffing up the hills but ready for more at the end of the day.

[2000 update: Isla Rowntree ceased production of bicycles some 5 years ago, but is about to start up again!]

ROBERTS (specifications, geometry)

In response to my request for a bike for the gamma group, Chas Roberts supplied one of his small person's specials with as short and low a frame as is compatible with 700C wheels. This is a very stylish sloping top-tube design, which he tailors to the individual by means of a custom-fitted stem. The end result did not differ a lot from the Islabike, was ridden by nearly everyone over 156cm (5'1½), all of whom rated it quite highly for fit, and it looks as though Chas's individually customised stem philosophy would have answered any niggles. Several praised the handling, and a few regretted that the top tube sloped so much they couldn't sit on it!

The frame was a fine example of the builder's craft and sprayed a most attractive turquoise/silver fade, but a bit short of braze-ons. In particular there was nowhere for a pump. Under the top-tube or along the seat-stay are the only practical places on this design of frame, and even the first of these requires a peg because of the 90° joint with the seat-tube.

Reactions to the "ergonomic" handlebar were mixed. Isobel writes: most of the time my hands ended up where the square bit joins the rounded bit and when braking from the drops my hands were bent at an awkward angle, whereas according to Gillian: the straight position was exactly where I like to rest my hands. Chas had made his own short-reach 105 levers by bending them closer to the bar, and although I had to keep the low-profile cantis adjusted very close, riders appreciated the easy braking - especially from the hoods.

The Roberts was equipped with a better range of gears than most, but the Shimano front mech showed its incompatibility with TA chainsets. [2000 update: as noted above, this isn't a problem with the new Zephyr and Alize chainsets.] I adjusted the mech so that it was barely able to scrape the chain off the middle ring, but its over-wide cage would still sometimes allow the chain to overshoot the inner and drop onto the bottom-bracket. Chas had modified the mech a bit, but more drastic metal bashing is evidently required!

Most of the equipment was Shimano DX, with other makes for fit-sensitive items, including the pedals which were Campagnolo OR (off-road): one of a diminishing number of really good touring pedals. The Islabike had these too and everyone liked them, e.g. Isobel: the pedals were wonderful, I had wicked thoughts about swapping them with the ones on my own bike.

The saddle wasn't so popular and attracted some choice comments, e.g. Penny: the worst one all week. It felt as if there were two hazelnuts under the gel; and Anne: grossly uncomfortable ... like sitting on a bottle! But it suited Cathy quite well. That's saddles for you!

This bike did pretty well overall: was second choice with three riders and Gillian's favourite. Although the "giant" of the group at 164cm (5'4½), she preferred the short reach of this machine to others that were longer. Gillian had this bike on the most testing day, when we cycled a total of 40 miles along and one mile up, and her only regret is that such terrain offered little opportunity to see how it went on the flat!

[2000 update: Roberts has continued making good women's bikes. The bike described here is very similar to his current Compact Clubman.]

DAWES GALAXY (geometry)

It is a mark to Dawes' success in selling to the touring market, that four of the participants' own bikes were Galaxys, plus a Horizon. It is not because they cater well for the smaller rider!

The frame geometry given is that of Anne's bike: an unaltered one-year-old example of the smallest available 49cm diamond-frame Galaxy, which was tried by six other participants. A few also rode José's "Super Gal", which was the next larger 53cm size despite the fact that she has shorter legs!

I was appalled to find both these sizes the same length. According to the catalogue (I've just got 1994's and it's not significantly different) the smaller frame's top-tube is slightly shorter, but this is because it slopes: the horizontal distance is just about the same as that of the larger bike. In addition to making their smallest frame just as long as the next one up, Dawes had given it an 8cm handlebar stem: resulting in a reach dimension that earnt it a nickname: "the rack". José had changed her stem for the shortest she could find and Super Gal consistently scored a couple of points better for fit and comfort despite a top tube that none could comfortably stand over!

A couple of the smaller women had mixte frame Galaxys. These are just as long (and the same length despite being different sizes), but at least came with short stems and had a frame they could stand over without injury. These "Lady Gals" thus had a similar reach (about 60cm) to Super Gal and scored about the same for fit with those few larger riders that tried one.

Having noted the rider fit characteristics of the various Galaxy frame types and sizes, the following mainly concerns Anne's bike. Some riders noticed that the Galaxy is a slightly heavy bike, but any difference is small and the wide range of gears got most people up most hills. The frame is stiff - riders felt that their effort was not wasted and rated it quite a speedy bike - and very stable under all circumstances. Pat comments: really solid, not twitchy at all; good for U-turns; very steady up and down hill ... gears worked a treat.

The brake levers make no special allowance for small hands, but are fairly close to the bars anyway, and the low-profile cantis require very little effort to apply. Quick-release levers and adjusters on the hangers is the mechanic's ideal.

Cranks are 170mm of course - none of the big manufacturers can be bothered with anything else - and being an ATB-inspired design they spread the pedals far apart. This excess pedal track, sometimes called "Q-factor" is more noticeable to shorter legs and turns pedalling into an unnatural waddle, according to Helen: felt like a duck!

Dawes make a good tourer, but not for riders under 165cm (5'5). This unmodified model was a much disliked machine that didn't come higher than halfway up anyone's list. It needs 2cm off the top-tube and 2cm off the stem at least: shorter cranks and brake levers would be nice too. The short stem fitted to Super Gal earned it a much higher place in riders' affections.

[2000 update: The Dawes Galaxy remains as ill adapted to the needs of smaller riders as it was in '94.]

CANNONDALE (geometry)

Known as "the wee red bike" among fellow members of Belfast CTC: the downsized oversize aluminium flew in with Cathy. And I must say that Cannondale have done as good a job as can be expected of shoehorning 27in wheels into a 49cm frame, except that a degree could come off the head and seat angles. It comes with a short (5cm) stem and shorter cranks would be a good idea too. The sloping top tube is just right - it gave all the riders who tried this bike sufficient clearance, and those who liked to could still sit on it without sliding down! It scored excellent marks for fit and rode well, e.g. Gillian: Handled well, very stable and had a good turn of speed.

The only snag was that not many people dare let it get up much of a speed - because the brakes were so stiff to apply. After all the comments from fellow riders (unprintable) Cathy stripped and re-greased the cables as soon as she got home, and assures me that now they're fine. I hope that everyone's hands are also recovered!

Cathy had lowered the gears by fitting a 28T chainring. It was much appreciated.

This bike is a 1988 model and Cannondale have made a lot of changes to the specification since then. Their tourers now come with 700C wheels, a bit more clearance and cantilever brakes. So far as I can tell from the catalogue the general frame design of this, their smallest model is much the same. Let's hope so, because they seem to have got it just about right.

The "wee red bike" was quite a popular ride despite the brakes. It was Cathy's favourite (the only time a participant's bike retained this place in its owner's affections) and also Pat's. She writes: It handled so easily, did what I wanted it to and felt responsive and steady at the same time. It fit my body best of all the bikes I tried and made riding a real pleasure.

[2000 update: Cannondale continues to make good bikes for small people. Thier 19" touring bike has a 52.8cm top tube, and they have a smaller 17" size with a 51.6cm top tube. For sportier women, they make compact road bikes based on 571mm (26" triathlon) wheels. These have even shorter top tubes and handle very well.]

MERCIAN (geometry)

Isobel, who owns four bikes, from a Lady Galaxy commuter to a Joe Waugh 753 racer, brought her 19in King of Mercia tourer. Although built for her (in 1988), they didn't take any measurements and so this was Mercian's standard answer to the smaller rider: a very nicely made frame which only goes part way towards meeting the needs of such riders. The angles have been tweaked, but Mercian have raised the bottom-bracket instead of sloping the top tube. The result is a "normal" looking frame that is a bit longer and much higher than its basic size suggests it ought to be. Taller riders than Isobel found the fit very good, but only the tallest few could stand over it.

The bike was built up by Isobel to suit herself, and as such lacks the lower gears needed by others. Everything worked to most people's satisfaction, including the old Mafac cantilever brakes and non-indexed gears. The Sachs rear mech performed very well indeed - surprising those who've not recently used anything other than Shimano SIS. Cathy writes: The gear levers were a dream. I don't think they were indexed but they went smoothly and quietly into gear every time.

This was another quite popular bike among our taller riders. No one's favourite but second on three out of seven people's lists. To precis Penny's comments: I felt very at home on this bike; the handling inspired confidence and it really flew along. A nice bike - excellent paint - but not for real shorties.

RALEIGH (geometry)

Of Britains three biggest cycle producers only Raleigh seem to have thought much about who actually buys the smallest frame size, and realised that they're short in the body as well as the leg. Unfortunately Raleigh still suffer from an unjustified, down-market image among the touring fraternity and only one of our participants owned one. Gillian brought her Randonneur, but at 54cm this was the next size up and too big really even for Gillian.

However, my sister-in-law - Jill Leheup - not only lives near Castleton but also owns a 51cm Royal. She rode with us for one day, which gave me the opportunity to and make the following observations.

Raleigh have got the design of this 51cm touring frame near as dammit spot on. The geometry is nicely adjusted to provide a sensible riding position (within the constraints of 700C wheels and a 170mm crank) for riders down to about 162cm (5'3). The front centre distance lets a short toeclip clear the mudguard by a hair's breadth, but only with the rather wide bottom-bracket axle fitted. Jill didn't like the consequent bow-legged pedalling action and fitted a different axle to bring the pedals closer in to the frame. This also brought on toeclip overlap, but shorter cranks than 170mm are advisable anyway and she's since fitted some 165mm TA.

I should have requested one of these small Raleighs for the gamma group - I think they would have liked it - but having tested larger versions of the Randonneur and Royal already in the past year I was reluctant to ask for yet another, and in any case I knew that Raleigh were due to revamp their touring range. I now have the 1994 specifications and find that the smallest available size has grown a bit to 52cm. It's still better proportioned than smaller frames from Dawes, but this slight increase in height will exclude quite a lot of potential women customers.

ROY THAME (geometry)

This is Pat's bike, made for her in 1987. It's a well constructed bike that would suit a bigger rider than its owner. And so it did! It was Penny's favourite, of which she says: I found this bike an excellent fit - it was lovely to finish the day without the usual aching shoulders. Brilliant handling - I could never have cycled my own bike up most of Burbage Drive without falling over - and it sprinted very well, without wobbling from side to side. Helen also commented that: it was almost impossible to disturb the steering by wobbling or leaning. Such noted stability must be the result of this bike's unusually generous trail dimension.

A rather dated specification and the fact that this bike was basically too big for all but a few of our testers prevented anyone else liking it much. Weinmann junior brake levers were appreciated by some and not by others.

WILKINS (geometry)

Now it's my turn to eat humble pie. I designed this bike (photos of which have appeared from time to time in this magazine) for Helen in 1981, when the only thing I didn't know about frame design was the state of my ignorance. In spite of that it's rather a nice little frame - if only Helen were a couple of inches taller! It was built very neatly by Ken Morledge, from very light tubing, and has several unique CJ features I won't bore you with now. It would suit Helen better to have a shallower head angle, to give a shorter frame and more trail, and a sloping top tube so that she can lift the front wheel up a kerb without grounding.

I am relieved to find it scored well for braking and gearing. The very low bottom gear was particularly appreciated (except by super-fit Isobel). Of the 24T inner ring Cathy says: I want one of these!

But Wilkins was simply too big for most of our testers, resulting in a miserable unpopularity score. Only Anne liked it enough to put it second favourite and write a few nice things about it, which modesty forbids me to print.

Other pages in the Petite Bike Test: