Talking Stance Width with Paul Swift
All bike fitters add their own personal touches to a fit, whether they mean to or not. Even within Cyclefit we have small differences. But as with most things in life, there are a few routes to the ultimate goal (in this case, comfort and efficiency).
This is relevant because I occasionally read the bikefitpro blog written by bikefit founder, Paul Swift. He often posts details of his fits showing how many cleat wedges, ITS Wedges, and speedplay extra length spindles he uses. What jumped out at me was how many longer spindles were used on his fits. I very rarely see the need for a longer spindle, but Paul Swift used them quite regularly (simplified explanation, increase stance width if knee/knee are tracking outside the pedal).
Initially I thought it may be that Americans are generally fatter than the British; statistics don’t lie. Their extra size was causing their knees to track outwards to avoid the stomach. I very rarely have had to greatly increase stance width on a skinny rider. After all, how many riders do you see in the protour with their knees tracking outwards, compared to your local club run? The problem with this theory is that the difference between our fits doesn’t match with figures for obesity.
One of the possible reasons for this I am not using them enough (a definite possibility given Swift’s experience). I asked his opinion,
-It is true most bike fitters do not go far enough. I often bring up the thirsty man story. Give a thirsty man a half glass of water and he feels better but imagine if we give him a full glass which is what he really needs. I am sorry to say that today most bikes fits are not offering (providing) a full glass of water.
In doing this one must not be afraid to pour in too much water (go just over the brim) and worry about getting a towel to dry up the excess. In other words, the fitter may need to go a little too far, acknowledge the results and back up a bit, if needed. There are many adjustments in bike fitting which we must go a little further to see what may happen. It is amazing at how many times that extra adjustment or two is actually something you stick with and you do not adjust it back.
These extra attempts are what help bring us or rather allow us to offer a full glass of water.
It is just like wedges. I spoke to a fitter the other day who said he uses wedge about 20 percent of the time. This fitter obviously is missing a simple but important aspect to the majority of his fit.
So I asked him, “You mean to say you take out wedges 80 percent of the time?”
This question threw him a bit and after a moment he explained that he did not take out wedges 80 percent of the time but only used them about 20 percent of the time. I asked, “You never let your customer try and feel the wedges?” The conversation ended soon after. I feel sorry for cyclists that do not get the opportunity to try the wedges. Again, we can always remove a wedge if it is not right yet almost 100 percent of cyclist fitted properly need not just a wedge but multiple wedges.
So with that said, I am willing to say I removed about 3 or 4 wedges this past month. And I think one or two feet did not get a wedge at all.
Why do I bring up wedges here in this light? Well, it was not until I applied a similar thought to stance width did I realize how many of us do not try enough with different spindle widths.
You will be amazed at how much stance width people need when proper knee alignment is achieved. Perhaps I should have just asked how often you try a different length spindle. Just like with wedges, if you do not try them you will never see the benefit. You will never learn to understand the need.
Personally, I add pedal spacers or longer spindles when the knee is tracking outside the centre of the pedal for the majority of the pedaling stroke (not just at the top- this is usually caused by lack of flexibility and is often fixed by reducing the reach). This type of pedaling can be caused by wide hips and a large torso that obstructs the natural pedal range, and sometimes tight glutes. If not fixed, it can cause discomfort and lateral (outer) knee pain.
The knee at the top of the stroke dictates where your foot should be. When stance width is too wide the reason a knee moves inward more at the bottom of the stroke is because it has to follow the foot. The foot is stuck in the pedal. So what if the knee crosses the toe line….you still move the foot out because at the top of the stroke the knee is closer to where it wants to be. When you pedal the knee has no choice but to follow the foot which is usually misaligned at the pedal.
I have a lot still to learn about fitting from one of the world’s experts. I need to experiment a little to agree with all the points given by Paul. My initial reaction was that when you add stance width to one or both legs, it requires much more effort from the inner quads (VMO) to maintain as solid contact on the pedal and keep the knee from dropping inwards. If the VMO’s fail from overuse then the knee will go inwards at the bottom of the pedalling stroke which could cause other issues. There is still a lot to talk about when it comes to stance width.
Many thanks to Paul for his input and time. Not only has he answered about stance width, but highlighted one of the main reasons for having a bike fit even if you think you are an asymptomatic cyclist.