Monday, November 24, 2014

Where are 1980s Step-Through Mountain Bikes for Tall Women?

I didn't ask to fall in love with the step-through bicycle or stylish peplum shirts, or flowery panniers for that matter. Chalk it up to middle aged wisdom or culmination of my bike mind and body. In recent years, I've blossomed on this near perfect Ross frame. I've finagled handlebars, stem, and seat positions, colored her imperfections with Sharpies, and swapped rear wheels when her axle broke because I couldn't be without her for an extended period of time. To top it off, I'm now referring to the Ross in pronoun form.

If that isn't bike love, I don't know what is.

And for several years I've searched for a larger frame—same 1980s vintage—because 19" is a tad small, overly apparent when photographed in my favorite hot weather cycling sundress.

Except, I now believe I'm chasing something that doesn't exist.

The 1970s held a plethora of large framed affordable women's (or step-through) bicycles. Schwinn Suburbans and Raleighs come to mind, with frames up to 23", suitable for a  range of heights. Today, I see a resurrection of these bicycles on our streets. However, they are skinny-wheeled queens.

But, try finding a large framed—over 19"—step-through mountain bike. Sure, there are plenty of diamond frames, but as I dug deeper I discovered that specifically when Ross offered a line of Cascade mountain name-inspired models: Mount Whitney, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens, only one model—Mount Saint Helens—had a step-through frame, and only in 19" size. I presume other brands held similar offerings.

So, what happened? Probably, the diamond frame was also marketed to women under the guise that the style is stronger for off road use. Perhaps there was a glut of bikes—I recall an overwhelming array of models at the shop when I chose my Trek Antelope—yes, a diamond frame.

My Ross step-through has turned out to be a perfect city commuter bike. Outfitted with chunky tires. racks, fenders, water bottle cage, I can ride on easy single track, city streets, or haul groceries—all without lifting creaky hips over a tall top tube.

With today's rise in commuter cycling, and shucking the ruse of step-through frame styles as suitable only to women (thank you Dutch cyclists), one can find great affordable fat-tire commuters. Look at the Breezers, Public Bikes, Civia, etc.,

As for me, I'm appreciating the Ross more and more. She has bomb-proof frame with mountain bike roots. She will be worth updating for years to come.

So what if I look like I'm perched on a Raleigh Twenty?

Let's face it. I won't always be on the tall side. Perhaps the Ross Mount Saint Helens will actually fit—at about the time we'll be grey-haired empty nesters, purging even (gasp!) our fleet of bicycles. That might be the impetus to finally get my dream bike, the one that'll carry me into retirement and beyond, one I hope to ride and tour on for years to come.


  1. Your thoughts into larger framed step-through mountain bikes from the 80s reminds me of my own searches for more vintage frames, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. I'm not sure much has changed in the last thirty years in that regard. Walking into any bike shop, it is apparent that most of what is stocked is for those who fall right in the middle of things. I suppose it makes sense as a business model in some respect, but it would be nice to find things that fit both the shorter and those who are taller alike.

    I don't have a specific answer to your inquiry, but I just wanted to say that I can identify with the frustration. At least you've managed to find ways to make the Ross work for you - and sometimes spending so much time working for a better fit helps us love the bike even more, I think. :O)

  2. Ah yes. The more time I spend on the Ross the more I'm smitten. She's the only one in my fleet that's step-through style.

  3. Yeah, I think the larger step-through frame MTB isn't out there, unfortunately. Would be nice if it was, but I haven't come across anything. It's bad enough that step-through frames generally were offered in the lower-cost models. Sounds like you might be running up against what I have when looking for a particular type of bike: since it doesn't exist, I had to get a custom frame built. It would be much more expensive than finding a nice used step-through, but it would fit you.

    1. Thanks for the confirmation. I'll just stick with the Ross for now. Once I figured out the handlebar and seat setup The Ross is comfortable and fun to ride.

  4. I can relate to this. My Bennett is too small for me, but so good to ride in so many ways, I can't bring myself to get rid of it. I recently worked out that I could move the saddle back just a little on its rails and it has made a huge difference. I don't think there is a perfect bike really.

  5. Vivki, I also fiddle with seat placement. Also try tipping seat forward or backward a bit. A little adjustment makes a huge difference, one which isn't easily identified at the out set.


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