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Technical FAQ: Q-factor, knee pain and smaller riders

  • By Lennard Zinn
  • Published Nov. 21, 2006
  • Updated Feb. 24, 2011 at 8:12 PM EDT

Dear Lennard,
My training partner is a little gal, only about 5-foot-2. As she gets stronger, she’s developing a knee problem. Riding behind her you can see her knees clearly bending towards the top tube. To remedy it, she has tried shims in various places, but they tended to exacerbate the problem, not fix it.

Then she went to the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and they identified the problem as too wide a stance on the pedals. Simple solution, right? Well, not really. She’s a mountain biker currently running XTR. Getting the q-factor down is a bit of mystery to me on an MTB – pedals with short spindles, move cleats outward, but what about cranks and bottom bracket? Her current bike has a 73 mm bottom bracket shell. She may also put an Ergomo power meter/bottom bracket on the bike.

What recommendations can you make to get the q-factor down for her?
-Dave

Dear Dave,
This is a constant problem for many riders, and some give up mountain biking for this reason. If you must have a narrow pedaling stance, there is not much you can do on a mountain bike besides the things you mentioned, especially if you want to use an Ergomo bottom bracket.

Some frames – like the Swiss-made Walsers – have a very low Q. I’ve done the same with frames I’ve built. Here are detail photos of a frame I built with a super low Q with a 48mm wide bottom bracket shell, the chainrings overlapping over the shell, a machined seat tube section to move the front derailleur in enough, a machined chainstay yoke to fit between the rear tire and the chainrings, and 110mm wide rear hub spacing.

But these things will not work on a mountain bike very well, due to the bigger tires, mud-clearance issues, and gearing requirements. It should be noted that Ergomo bottom brackets come in standard widths.
-Lennard

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Lennard Zinn

Lennard Zinn

Our longtime technical writer joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a framebuilder, a former U.S. National Team rider, and author of many bicycle books, including Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn's Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ.

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