# Why such a tiny difference in crankarm length?

Why are there only 170 and 175mm lengths for the crank arms of MTBs? I would have guessed that touring bikes would benefit from far longer crank arms than those, suitable for mountain riding.

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Are you asking about the 5mm difference between 170 and 175? – cherouvim Jul 30 '13 at 10:01
@trailmax, people vary from, for example 1.60m to 2.00m. This is 25% difference. The difference from 165 to 175mm is only 6%. And this is not considering the vast diversity of riding styles - downhill, touring, city. – Vorac Jul 30 '13 at 12:06
Not that it affects the question much, but you shouldn't forget that there are two crankarms, so that the actual difference is 2x the difference of a single crankarm - 2cm, not 1cm. – Mladen Jablanović Jul 30 '13 at 12:19
@ Mladen Jablanović, very true. However, the fractional change is the same - 6% of 2*165mm. – Vorac Jul 30 '13 at 12:22
You would be incorrect in your guess that touring bikes would benefit from longer cranks. Touring bikes typically have lower bottom brackets than race bikes in order to make them more stable when loaded. Furthermore, toe overlap is a bigger concern. This means more to worry about both downward and forward of the cranks. – jimirings Jul 30 '13 at 14:00

There is some natural limitation to the crank length defined by your body dimensions, which is the height difference between the lowest and the highest possible pedal position for a given leg length.

The lowest possible position is the one where you just can reach the pedal with your foot at the crank's bottom position (plus some additional height to prevent that you have to stretch your leg to reach the pedal). You can set that height by properly adjusting your saddle.

Now comes the important part: If you turn the crank up now to its highest point, the limitation is your knee angle. If it is lower than a certain angle (don't know what's the exact limit, but 90 deg might be already critical), you will have problems to apply a reasonable force to the cranks AND you will get knee problems sooner or later.

The maximum crank length is now half of the length between top and bottom position where you can reach the pedal on bottom and have a reasonable knee angle on top position. I would guess (without any figures at hand) that for most people 175mm is fairly close to their maximum crank length while 180mm might already be too long for many of them. You surely will be able to get longer crank arms as well but they might be not on the mass market for the aforementioned reason.

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MTB crank arms usualy come in 165, 170, 175 mm. Some people (usually PROs) can have access to more fine grained lengths (e.g 167.5) or ever smaller sizes such as 160mm.

The reasons for such "micro-optimization" are:

clearance

Today MTBs for trail riding need to have a lot of front and rear suspension and very low bottom brackets. This makes it easier to hit rocks with the pedal and that is not desired.

Also note that ground clearence problems are in addition being solved with very thin pedals (thin pedals also solve other issues).

So, saving 5mm from the cranks and 5mm from the pedals may not seem enough but it can actually reduce the times you hit the ground.

Note that downhill specific bikes will usually have 165mm cranks.

proper fit to rider height

A short rider (with short legs) will pedal more efficiently on a 170mm crank than a 175mm one.

Thus small MTBs usually ship with 170mm and medium ones with 175mm.

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Nice explanation, but it does not address why longer cranks are not available, even though in some situations (touring), clearance is abundant. – Vorac Jul 30 '13 at 10:15
Crank arms used to be available in a fairly broad range of lengths, but the McDonaldization of cycling has reduced that selection. And it's not unheard of to have two different length arms, to accommodate legs of different length. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 30 '13 at 11:11