Why do some people cycle with their knees sticking out to the side instead of parallel to the frame?

  • 4
    What research have you done? A one-line question suggests a low level of effort. Consider using Edit to expand your question.
    – Criggie
    Nov 2, 2016 at 10:24
  • 1
    Could be either. A lot of people have bikes that would reduce this with some adjustments (different Q-factors, use of clipless pedals, etc.).
    – Batman
    Nov 2, 2016 at 10:34
  • 4
    Quite often it's because the seat is too low. Nov 2, 2016 at 11:28
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    I don't think it's because of physiology. I haven't really ever seen anyone over the age of four do that here in The Netherlands (except in cases where the bike was obviously too small or the saddle was obviously too low).
    – Jasper
    Nov 2, 2016 at 18:58
  • 1
    Conversely, I've seen a lot of riders pedal with knees rotated slightly inwards, towards the top tube. I've attributed both cases to poor technique and mismatched bike geometry. Many riders probably don't know better.
    – zahbaz
    Nov 2, 2016 at 19:20

5 Answers 5


Based on the people I've seen riding, knees-apart is a symptom.

  • New rider - it takes time to develop a good pedal stroke, and some people haven't got there.

  • Saddle too low - If your position is really bad, then the knees instinctively separate. I have no idea why - try riding a way-small bike. Relates to....

  • Posture - riders who might remember the Moon Landings might be expecting to sit up quite straight (ie Dutch-style bikes) where the back is almost vertical. To do that on a modern hybrid bike needs a low saddle, which encourages the knees apart.

  • Fear of falling - Saddles can be set down by riders who want to put their whole foot flat on the road while stopped. Yes this is a saddle-too-low, but the root cause is poor balance, or a perception of the same.

  • Beer gut - I was over 100 kilos when started riding seriously on a road bike, and to use the drops I had to be standing out of the saddle, else the belly and the upper thighs tried to occupy the same space. Even a minor tum will affect the upper thigh and where the skin folds to the lower tummy (technical term anyone?)

  • Thunder Thighs - related to the stomach one above, but simply lower. If the rider's thighs are a bit thick, then repeated rubbing on the sides of the saddle's nose may be an irritant and drive their thighs apart. Chaffing is no fun.

  • An unfortunate choice of clothing? I've done rides where something wasn't sitting quite right, and to alleviate irritation have sat up or rearranged things like seams. This would be a more temporary situation.

  • Moisture - poor clothing choices can build up sweat in all sorts of places. Dampness could also come from rain or from road water and poor mudguards/fenders leading to damp clothes.

  • History - riders who have come from a MTB or BMX background may be subconsciously prepared to stick a foot out and dab. That's where they do a light touch on the ground to help with balance on a corner.

  • Speed - Sitting up and spreading yourself out catches more air to slow you down. If you're going too fast then this is one way to reduce speed. Again, more subconscious than planned.

Have I missed any?

  • Balance - I know I've used my knees like a motorcyclist on a turn, to vary my "lean" quicker. Probably not pedalling at this moment though.
  • 2
    Big feet can cause pointing inwards.
    – Batman
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:01
  • 2
    Can also be due to skeletal problems - i have a friend with weird ankles - he has to pedal with feet/legs pointing out.
    – Andy P
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:03
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    seat too low frame too small provably is the 90% of this issues. OP should check if this people are riding a bso or one if this modern fixies.
    – kifli
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:07
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    @batman yes - well you know what they say about big feet.... and that makes sense that the thighs would be more apart than average.
    – Criggie
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:11
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    Definitely seat height, I ride like that on my sons bike when I test it out.
    – Kilisi
    Nov 2, 2016 at 11:32

it might be for therapeutical reasons.

once I hit a pole with my knee and it hurt. I asked a physiotherapist how to ride until it gets better (I had to because I was working as a messenger) and I was told to stick my knees out. it did help.

the other explanations given by @Criggie may be more frequent, but this is a valid reason too.

  • 2
    Interesting. I'd not heard of this before, but if it worked for you, then great! Thanks for sharing.
    – FreeMan
    Nov 2, 2016 at 12:13

I have seen this happening to new riders because they use too high gears (too low cadence). Forcing each pedal stroke down hard makes the knees buckle. This can cause both the knees always sticking out, but also inwards.


Overwhelmingly most common cause is seat too low which can be complicated by leg length discrepancies.. Also often due to knee or ankle joints damaged or affected by chronic injuries. Most riders don't give any thought to this and are not even aware of how their knees track.


My right knee sticks out because my right hip is so tight that I cannot bend my right leg into my chest straight - it has to go out of line to do it - so this is the same on the bike. I have always had this problem and I believe it's probably from years of sitting with my right leg underneath me. It causes great issues in cycling because I lose a lot of power in that leg and I can't ride in the aero position at all.

  • Welcome to the site! You might like to take our short tour to get an overview of the site's features. Sep 20, 2017 at 9:46
  • Have you tried visiting a physiotherapist for help with your hip problem? It's possible that appropriate stretches and exercises will loosen things up and train the muscles that are needed to pull your leg straight. I used to have a problem with the alignment of my knees that was fixed in a few weeks by 15 minutes of simple exercises twice a day. I was probably lucky that it was that fast but I'd recommend you try it. Sep 20, 2017 at 9:53

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