I looked for a bicycle for over a year. I didn't think it would be too hard to fit the bill: a steel-frame road bike that I could use for commuting around town, that also had braise-ons and a triple-crank in case I ever wanted to do any touring. Oh, and if I ever did a casual triathlon I could use it for that too. I told my search criteria to a bike shop owner in Fremont last year, and she rolled her eyes and scoffed at me, "You're talking about 3 different bikes!"
Well, the reality was, I was not going to buy 3 bikes. The other reality was that it's hard to find ANY road bike as a 5-foot tall woman. I looked at about 6 different bike shops in Seattle and talked extensively with salespeople and it soon became clear that my options were pretty limited. There were a couple bikes I really liked the vintage aesthetic of, but even the smallest women's frames they manufactured were too big. There were a couple other options that were less stylish but totally decent, but because I need such a small frame, I need smaller wheels. I just couldn't stomach spending the money to buy a new bike that looked like I had stolen it from a 10-year-old. I wanted to adore my bike, not grit my teeth and bear it.
This past winter I was talking to a bike enthusiast and explaining my bike-shopping dilemma. "Do you ever check Craigslist?" he asked. Hah! Of course I did. And there is almost never anything for a small woman. If you are between 5'3" and 5'10" you will find a ton, but when you search "small" you will only find the occasional pair of shoes for sale. I have literally never seen a small road bike advertised in over a year of regularly checking. "Well," he said, "there are a lot of good used bikes out there. Don't give up hope."
That night I checked Craigslist for the first time in awhile. And there I saw, in a shiny golden halo of light, an ad for a small women's used Rodriguez bike, for sale at a bike shop in Everett. I made my roommate double-check my inseam so I could be sure of my stand-over height, and the next day drove straight up there after work. I rode the bike around the block and immediately loved it.
Rodriguez bikes are hand-built in Seattle. I had admired them ever since seeing the bike my 4'11" friend had custom-built for her. Even though the bike is used, I love that it is locally-made. The one I got is a Stellar, which was their women's specific model from 1996 to 2006 and came in 4 different sizes. Now they have a lot more sizing for women's frame geometry, but even so I feel like I lucked out in finding a good fit.
So far I've had a lot of fun riding around Seattle, out to Mercer Island, and on Camano island. I thought of touring as a hypothetical, sometime-in-the-future idea, but between a couple bike classes, the right riding buddy, and summer looming promisingly, I've decided to just go now! I've been working on getting some gear such as fenders, panniers, handlebar bag, lights, water bottles, spare tubes, and a pump. I've backpacked and been a bike commuter, so I'm hoping to roll those two experiences together. If all goes according to plan, I'll be leaving in a couple days for my first bike touring trip on the Oregon coast!