Do you feel knee pain when cycling? Do the images above look familiar? Are your knees going outward when you pedal? If not, you’ve likely noticed this when riding with others. The origins lie in an under-discussed topic in cycling: stance width.
Here’s a fun exercise to find out what we mean by “stance width.”
- Stand up.
- Take a few steps.
- Stop and stand in a comfortable position with your legs side-by-side.
Look at your feet. This is your natural stance width that your body selects when you are not clipped into the pedals. Now, for fun, clip into your pedals on the bike and observe how your normal stance on your feet and your bike setup may be different.
We are not suggesting that you mimic the exact comfortable standing stance to your bike setup, but it does give you an idea of why many people experience discomfort on the bike. When you performed the exercise above, you may have noticed that your feet are wider apart than on your bike or that your feet “toe out” to the side.
Clipping into a pedal may limit your natural position, but we promise you don’t have to quit cycling and sell your bike.
The knee followeth the foot
Going back to our illustrations above, when you clip into the pedal, the foot does not have a choice to move. Consequently, the knee kicks out at the top of the pedal stroke (going where it wants to) and then, because it is attached to the foot, follows it inward at the bottom of the stroke. After thousands of revolutions (a 2-hour ride could have 10,000 depending on how fast you pedal), you may develop some significant knee pain.
Solution #1 – Cleat in = foot out
In the earlier days of cycling, the default was to tell the rider to bring their knees in to meet their feet. Sadly, this may cause even more knee pain. The best solution is to move your cleat in, which in turn, will move your foot out to meet your knee. This simple change will help with your knee alignment and potentially alleviate cycling knee discomfort.
Solution #2 – Pedal Washers or Pedal Spacers
If you’ve already moved your cleats in completely but your knee continues to push outward, try adding 1.5mm washer (only use one) to the pedal spindle where it attaches to the crank arm.
If you have a wider stance width (many riders do), you may require more lateral (foot out) adjustment. 20mm Pedal Spacers provide the extra length. 20mm spacers require a 15mm pedal wrench but we also provide Hex+ 20mm Pedal Spacers for pedals that install using a 5mm or 6mm hex key wrench.
Now that you’ve moved the foot outward, you likely increased your comfort, alleviated pain, and aligned your feet to your knees. Your pedal stroke should look more like the image below:
Eurika! You’ve maximized your ability to apply power to the pedals and now can ride off into the sunset (without having to ice your knees or visit an orthopedist when you arrive home). Remember that bikes are symmetrical and people are not. Take this into account and assure that you and your normal, asymmetrical human parts are customized to fit your bicycle.