I have enjoyed riding around on this tiny ALAN cyclocross bike. I originally purchased it several years ago for a family member who is about 5′ tall on a good day. She had been riding a small framed newer Trek with 700c wheels, and while the Trek has nice components, the geometry is pretty awful. But, many shorter riders have never experienced anything different, because the cycling industry has not met their needs.
Enter the ALAN. It was designed around 24 ” wheels, with a 48 x 48 cm frame. When I spotted it on eBay it looked like this:
Those are 170 mm Dura Ace cranks – on a bike with a 24 cm bottom bracket height. Needless to say, there is no way that you would pedal through corners on this configuration. So, I began the process of modifying the bike, and at first I tried this configuration:
I changed out the crankset for a single 152 mm 52T vintage crank. Unfortunately, this just did not provide the right gearing for the bike. So, I reconsidered the whole build. The deep drop Cinelli bars made no sense for a small rider with short arms. The downtube shifters were also a bit of a reach. That made me think that a city-type build might be best for this bike. So, I came up with this set-up using a double 152 mm 50/39 Sugino crankset. I replaced the rear Dura Ace derailleur with a Shimano Deore XT long cage, but kept the Dura Ace front derailleur, Dura Ace headset, and Dura Ace bottom bracket. I used some vintage upright bars with a Shimano 7 speed index system.
And this is how I rode around on this bike for the last 2 years (test riding is very time-consuming). Finally though, my thoroughly enjoyable test riding has come to an end. So, I needed to really rethink how the new rider would use this bike, as well as how her small size would effect the choices I made. Since she is used to a road bike configuration, I decided to replace the city bars and shifters with a narrow SR Randonneur bar, bar end shifters (for an easy reach), and these beautiful Modelo drilled levers, which have very small hoods and a short reach to the levers.
I kept the rest of the bike pretty much the same – here are some photos of its features:
If you haven’t ridden an ALAN before, you are in for a treat. The frame is very comfortable, and hill climbing is a breeze. The aluminum tubes are screwed and glued into beautiful stainless steel lugs. This little bike weighs in at 19 lbs! I used this bike often for my daily Pdx commutes – what a joy. The tiny wheels make for quick acceleration. It has been one of the best city bikes I have ridden.
There were some challenges in setting up the bike. The very short chainstays mean that it is not possible to select certain gearing configurations – namely the biggest ring on the biggest cog and vice versa. But that is a normal limitation on many bikes. Also, while I agree with most of the frame geometry decisions on this bike, I am puzzled by the amount of bottom bracket drop selected. It would have been easy to build the bike with less drop, and that would make it more feasible to use a longer crankset without worrying about pedal strikes while cornering.
Here is the bike now, ready for its transport to Central Oregon where I hope it will be well-loved and well-ridden. The seat post and stem height are still set up for my size, showing how small this bike really is, given that I am 5’4″. I’ll be test-riding it for a few more weeks to make sure everything is just right, and then it will be time to say good-bye to this wonderful machine. It is a rare bike, and a great testament to the ALAN company’s frame building skills. Thank you for building this little bike – it is a treasure.
I’m impressed at how much effort you put into this bike, Nola. I had no idea they made crankarms that short. Congratulations. I have a friend/coworker who is about 5 feet tall and she has asked me to keep an eye out for a used bike that would fit her. I ran across a nice 70s Peugeot mixte in my neighborhood but decided it probably wouldn’t work. The owner was a little taller, and she had the seat lowered all the way. Trying to ride a too-tall frame is inviting trouble. There are quite a few small-frame mountain bikes on Craigslist that might work. Part of the fun is the hunt, right?
It will be hard to find a bike that fits properly, mainly because the top tube will be too long for her, even if the standover height is okay. Mountain bikes have very high bottom brackets, which is one reason the seat tubes are short, but the top tubes tend to be fairly long. If she could find a bike built for 26 inch wheels or smaller, that would be ideal. Maybe a Georgena Terry. There are some very nice hand built examples from the 80’s and 90’s. Some have the smaller front wheel and some have two 26 inch or 650c wheels. If the top tube is short enough, you could convert a larger wheeled bike to 650c or 26 inch (possibly). Yes – the hunt is part of the fun. Good luck!
Short cranks are best but you have to put your seat all the way back. I studied this extensively and the worst mistake with short cranks is a seat too high, like yours appears, go lower than you think, and the other mistake is not putting the seatfar back. Thirdly you need spd or some clipped in type to really make short cranks shine. Then spin 105rpms plus always…then…for real..you will have a far far superior setup to anything you could ever try. Its not that the short cranks are for short people only, we jus really benefit. But 99% dont test them correctly and lose out. The benefits in stability, comfor, output, and maximal optimazation
Short cranks for short riders makes a lot of sense for many reasons, but there is a danger in extrapolating one’s personal preferences for equipment to the general population. Pedals are a matter of personal choice and are greatly influenced by riding style. Saddle positioning is also influenced by riding style, but is mostly determined by one’s own unique anatomy. I have read and tried many saddle fitting recommendations, and find that I cannot ascribe to any one “expert” in particular. And, there is simply a dearth of information and research regarding how to fit bikes to smaller riders and, especially, to women riders. I hope to add a few grains of sand to the void. Happy riding!