That Terrible Cycling Knee Pain

cycling knee pain

Cycling knee pain is not fun.  It is a sign that something is wrong.

Slowing down because of pain or injury is not something I want to face if I can help it.  I am aware that as I grow older, my mobility might become restricted.   We, senior cyclists especially, do not want to become perpetually seated on the couch.  We love our independence.

We cycle for the pure joy of it.  Not only that, but we also cycle to put off aging and stay healthy.

I want to keep cycling as long as I am above ground.  That is possible for us if we implement the following few tips that pertain primarily to senior cyclists.

Cycling Knee Pain

I gave up running because of chronic knee pain. So I know I am not alone in switching from running to cycling.

I certainly do know want cycling knee pain to cause me to give up this sport I now love.

We usually roll down the road at our regular, relaxed tempo or slower. However, later we may want to close the gap to the rider ahead or test our fitness.

When you want to increase your speed,  don’t be tempted to accelerate rapidly.  Gradual acceleration is critical at our age.

Instant acceleration places too much pressure on our knees.  So does frequent racing. Over time that stress can result in cycling knee pain.

Our knees have already experienced a lifetime of wear and tear.  We do not want to add to that unduly.

So, we need to pay attention to our form when accelerating—keeping our knees stable assists us in gaining power in our pedal stroke.  Knees pointing out to the side or wobbling from side to side does not give us our full power potential.

That knee stability also prevents undue strain on our knees.

Legs should be as straight as possible from the hips to the ankles.  Knees rolled out to the side or inward toward the bike frame, placing abnormal knees pressure. Such improper knee positioning could cause issues with the knee ligaments and wear down the cartilage.

Sitting toward the back of the saddle is best for our knees.  Sitting excessively near the handlebars, or as some call it, “riding on the rivet,” is normal when accelerating or sprinting. However, don’t sit in that position for long periods.  It will cause cycling knee pain if overdone.

Keep Your Bike In Good Shape

Poor posture and positioning on the bike is not the only contributor to cycling knee pain.  The bike itself can be the source of knee problems.

If you are just getting started cycling and did not buy your bike from a bike shop, take the bike to a shop and ask the mechanic to ensure that your bike is a good fit for you. For example, if your bike frame is too tall or too short for you, the strain will be placed on joints, including the knees.

The saddle should be comfortable.  Sure, bike saddles take time to get used to, especially new saddles. However, an improperly positioned saddle can also cause knee problems.  Have the mechanic have a look at it or attempt adjusting it yourself. Here is a helpful video.

If the bike is new and is a proper fit, it can still cause knee problems if it is not maintained correctly.

Before every ride, make sure the tires have the correct pressure, and the chain is lubricated.  Such measures reduce resistance and friction, ensuring you do not waste energy or put undue stress on the knees.  Speaking of resistance, make sure that brake pads are not rubbing the rim.

Cleat Placement

Wearing cleats (going clipless) takes a while to get used to and can be frightening to a rider using them for the first time. In addition, even for experienced riders, cleats can be the cause of cycling knee pain.

Pain at the side of the knees is often caused by incorrectly fitted or worn pedal cleats. However, the pain usually occurs after a ride, so cyclists do not consider the cleats the culprit.

When positioning your cleats, align your knee with your feet, so the force is directed vertically through your lower leg to avoid excess stress on the knees.  Cycling knee pain may be from cleats positioned too far forward or too far to the inside or outside of the shoe may cause cycling knee pain.

Pay attention to the wear on the cleats.  Worn cleats allow your feet to slip.  Even a consistent, slight slip can result in knee problems.

Rest to Avoid Cycling Knee Pain

Each rider is only issued one body for life.  Take care of your body.  Many injuries and pains, including cycling knee pain, are caused by over-exertion.  Riding hard every day is a mistake.

Riders in the pro peloton have rest and recovery days, even weeks.  Muscles rest to gain strength and heal.

Personally, being in my 70s, I only ride three days a week.  I could do more, of course. However, I want to be riding for many more years.  At this point in my life, resting my body is essential, especially for the knees I abused by running competitively from age 14 to 55.

Try An Electric Bike

Your cycling knee pain may not be the result of any of the factors mentioned above. Instead, it may come from simply trying to ride at a speed that was easier when you were younger or before you had a recent accident or surgery.

Don’t let age or injury cause you to give up on cycling.  This sport is too beneficial to our health than to abandon it for a seat on the couch.

Try an e-bike.  Many bike shops will let you test ride one.

E-bikes are not fully electric powered.  They still have to be peddled. But, you can still get your heart rate up.  The motor is just an assist.

Riding an e-bike is much better than giving up cycling altogether. In the following video, the guys at Global Cycling Network share the benefits of e-bikes.


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