I'm 5'9" as well, and would never think to buy a large frame. But, I guess it all depends on your leg length, etc. you can adjust reach and all that with stems, longer steerer tube (or extender), etc.
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Well if you take the cable off you should be able to get a much wider tire on.
No. The quick release on the cantilever brakes is open. The brake pads hit the seatstays. There is no taking the cable off. Cable travel or slack in the cable is not a factor. The brake is as wide as it can be because the brake blocks are hitting the seatstays. The only way to get the brakes wider is to take them out of the cantilever posts and release the cable from the brake. I doubt many people would want to do that every time they remove the rear wheel.
I've often benefited from the kindness of strangers like a night's stay in CT or a bottle of Snapple at the top of a hill in PA while on tour but once or twice the 'help' was anything but. Like the time I came out of a cafe in Ellensburg WA and a passing stranger informed me my back tire was flat. Now I think there's a fair chance I would have noticed that on my own. I know the guy meant well but nevertheless I found it irritating and felt obliged to thank him for pointing out the obvious. Anybody else had a similar experience?