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oh my aching knees(20 posts)

oh my aching kneesDougSloan
Dec 6, 2002 9:34 AM
I love riding my fixed gear, especially in the winter. Over the last month, I've been riding it more and more.

There is an out and back road about 12 miles out of town that is up and down every 1/2 to 1 1/2 miles, with 5-15% grades. On three of the hills, I have hit over 55 mph on my road bikes. The first hill is only 1/2 mile long, but averages 12%. I have done hill repeats on it many times, and a 39x23 is very hard, and using the 21 or 19 occasionally will peg my hrm.

About a month ago I tried riding the first hill on the fixie, with a 44x16 (73 gear inch, equal to about a 39x14 or 53x21), and could only make it about half way before I was breathing so hard it hurt, and I simply could not turn the pedals. My strength and cardio/vascular system hit their limits.

About 2 weeks ago I tried again, and this time made it up, but reduced to about 20 rpms and using every muscle in my body to push and pull the cranks around on every single stroke. I went on and ended up doing the entire out and back road, which was about the toughest section of road, considering the gearing, I'd every riden in my life. My legs, arms, shoulders, hips, lungs, throat were all totally wasted. But, it felt good. I thought, if I do this regularly, I'll be a cycling god come spring.

It took a full week to recover, longer than when I've done some hard doubles. This had to be a great workout, I thought. I did it again, but bailed half way through, as my legs were much too tired.

Yesterday, I tried again. This time, on the first hill, my right knee started to hurt, and hurt bad. I modified my pedaling, to pedal more from the hips (always standing), and got up the hill. However, I went on and tried the second, but now my knee was screaming, "Stop it, stupid!" So, I turned around and eased it home.

This morning, I could hardly go up and down the stairs at home. The knee aches. I don't think I did permanent damage, but I think it's trying to send me a clear message -- "Don't push 20 rpm gears."

So much for my great training method I "discovered." Damn body just won't cooperate.

Questions for any other idiots who have tried similar torture:

1. Can you work up to such torture, or is riding at that sort of rpm/pedal pressure going to do damage no matter what?

2. How low rpms (at maximum effort) can people go and not damage the knees?

3. Any other suggestions for riding the fixie hard up hills and not hurting something?


re: oh my aching kneesfixedgearhead
Dec 6, 2002 9:58 AM
I think the general concensus is that you should not push to big a gear in order not to hurt your knees. I think that said, the description of "big gears" varies from person to person. I know of people who are messengers who push what I consider to be insanely big gears with no apparrent damage to their knees. I wonder what the long term issues are. I generally use 75-76 inch gearing of whatever configuration and have experience no long term effects after settling on that gear inch choice many years ago. This includes a fair amount of riding with no brakes on some of the bikes and using backpressure to slow/stop. Maybe I have been lucky, but I don't think so. If you are having to grind up those hills and only just cranking along to do so then I would say you are overgeared for your strength and the incline. Back off a little bit on the gear choice. A larger rear cog is cheaper than arthroscopic surgery.

re: oh my aching kneesDad Man Walking
Dec 6, 2002 10:26 AM
Interesting question. I developed tendonitus in my knees many years ago from overgearing steep hills. After a somewhat lengthy recovery period, I have managed to keep them healthy through a variety of other abuses, but I don't push stupid-big gears up hills anymore (at least not regularly).

I haven't thought about this before, but I'll bet you could look at the "right way" and "wrong way" to do squats, and see why pushing big gears hard like you describe is bad medicine. The proper squat is accomplished with the heels down and weighted, butt poked out behind you, and knees aligned over your feet. If you squat with your weight on the balls of your feet, your butt is forward and your knees are out over your toes, which is not a healthy place for them to be.

When we are doing the Death Stomp up a hill with that big gear , we are putting all that force to the bike through the balls of our feet...and I would suspect that the mechanics of where the knees and butt are look similar to where they are in a bad squat, possibly worse.

Short of pedaling with your heels (and keeping your keister stuck up in the air while doing it), the best way to get the training effect you desire is to hit the gym for some squats. You will develop more strength faster that way, and if you continue to ride regularly you will be able to access that power just as if you had developed it on the bike.

I know that this didn't respond directly to your questions, but what I am suggesting is that there is a reason for the conventional wisdom of keeping the climbing rpms up over 60 and using gearing to get over the hills. There are just better, safer ways to build power and muscle than using the bike as a resistance training device.
If I'm cranking 20 RPM ...Humma Hah
Dec 6, 2002 2:34 PM
... you can bet I'm wrenching like crazy on the handlebars. I used to break bars regularly. You have to expect that you're putting full body weight on one knee plus maybe 100 pounds of handlebar force, maybe even more.
Maybe you need to ride more???MB1
Dec 6, 2002 10:45 AM
;-) Well perhaps not.

Maybe you need to back off on the mashing the hill in the huge fixed gear. Also I imagine the downhill fixed isn't doing your poor abused knee much good.

Sad to say that we all learn the same lessons the same hard way. Hope you heal fully and soon.
re: oh my aching kneesbikenbo
Dec 6, 2002 12:30 PM
Sorry to hear about the aching knees. I've been thinking that I would like to build up a fixed gear for commuting and maybe an occasional hilly ride but when I hear stories about hurting knees and the like, I kinda think it's not worth it. Is the knee pain (or greater damage) a common occurance among fixed riders? Or more so than riding a geared bike? Fixed bikes do look like fun though.

BTW - Doug which "out and back" route are you talking about, I'm from Fresno.

Don't let it stop you ...Humma Hah
Dec 6, 2002 2:37 PM
... but do let it be a caution to work into nasty hills gradually. I rode singlespeed for decades before the one time I hurt one knee.

Doug is a glutton for punishment, and adores defeating big hills that would send the rest of us home in shame.
Don't let it stop you ...bikenbo
Dec 6, 2002 2:57 PM
What about just flat riding. Should you start out with gearing that will be easier then, over time, increase so as not to mess up the knees?
Start out with 2.5:1 gearing ...Humma Hah
Dec 6, 2002 5:02 PM
... for flat to moderate riding, and see how that feels. Something like 50 teeth front, 20 teeth rear. You'll probably want a higher ratio before long, in flat country, but its easy enough to screw on a smaller rear cog.

2.5:1 has been roughly the number used by fixed gear cyclists for average road riding for about 112 years or so.
Sky Harbor Road nmDougSloan
Dec 6, 2002 3:05 PM
That's pretty slow ...Humma Hah
Dec 6, 2002 2:26 PM
I've back-calculated from speed on some of the climbs on the cruiser, and I've climbed 300 ft hills as low as about 25 rpm using 46:18 gearing, with wheels very close to roadbike diameter. It ain't pleasant. I'm happier when I can stay above 30, and had done a few considerably longer climbs, up to about 1200 ft.

The only time I suffered any knee injuries was Solvang, later in the day we met a couple of years back. That showed up after the climb shortly after entering the base, and probably was a combination of a long, steep climb in too high a gear, my longest cranks, and the highest seat position I'd ever tried. Recovery involved keeping rides short and easy, 40 miles and under, for a couple of months.
Dec 6, 2002 3:12 PM
What about that "wall" around 80 miles? People were walking.

Part of the problem with one speed is that you have to stand on all hills (at least I do). That can't be good.

BTW, I weighed my "track" bike with my thornproof tubes, 2 water bottles, seat pack, speedometer, and lights, and it came in at 25.5 pounds. I'm catching up with the cruiser!

solvangHumma Hah
Dec 6, 2002 5:09 PM
Ah, but on self-supported rides on the cruiser, I add 64 oz hydration fluid, several packs of mix, gu, several combination wrenches, speedo, and lights. So I'm keeping an even lead in the gratuitous weight department.

I walked the top of the wall, but rode the gentle approach to it (it climbed about 1000 ft in 10 miles, then 200 feet in half a mile, or something like that). But then again, I walked every hill steep enough to require stand-climbing from about mile 70, when the knee got really painful. It hurt mostly on stand-climbs. I went thru 4 Advil's, and they didn't help a bit.

But I finished, and I wasn't the last bike in by a long shot, and that's my goal on the cruiser.

A number of people rode past me on "the wall", but I noticed they were not riding much faster than I could walk it, maybe 1 mph at most.
Standing on all climbs ...Humma Hah
Dec 6, 2002 5:18 PM
... yeah, pretty much. At 2.56:1, I'll probably stand for anything over about 4% or so. That does not seem to bother me as long as I hold the speed down to something I can sustain, and concentrate on SMOOOOOTH strokes. But I save the max-effort stuff for very short hills, maybe 50 ft climbs or so.

Singlespeeds have three gears: sit, stand, and get off and push. Don't be ashamed to use low gear when its called for. I'll bet, by the time you do it, most cyclists have given up and turned around, and the few remaining would not be going any faster than you.
Dec 7, 2002 9:56 AM

I've been meaning to do Solvang on my fixie. But, once again I can't go this year. I don't think 'the wall' will be so bad. I run a 44:16 which I think will be great for Solvang. I've got a flip flop hub with an 18, also. If I can't pedal the wall, I could stop, flip the wheel, and keep riding up to the top on a 44:18.

Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about the possibility of having to walk a bit. It would only be a couple hundred yards. Personally, I would much rather walk than put my knees at risk.

I bet you could get up in with enough momentum anyway.

Have fun.
did some calculationsDougSloan
Dec 6, 2002 3:09 PM
Someone mentioned similarities to leg presses. I guess this is sort of like leg presses, but what repetitions! The rollout at 44x16 is something like 275 crank revolutions to the mile, and this involves about 3 miles of climbing. That's over 800 repetitions, each time giving absolute maximum effort. Who would ever expect to do 800 leg presses, or squats, and not have knee problems, good form or not? I'm so stupid. I have a hard time differentiating training from torture sometimes.

re: oh my aching kneeseddie m
Dec 6, 2002 5:09 PM
I had a lot of knee pain when I started cycling long distances. I found that spinning low gears made the problem worse. For me, the solution was to build strength with short rides and intervals in high gears, no more than twice a week, and only when my knees were competely pain free. I also used lots of ice and ibuprofen. My knees have been more or less pain free for twenty years.
30-30 rule for meLC
Dec 6, 2002 8:14 PM
I like to keep at least 30 RPM for any climb that lasts more than 30 seconds. I have to ride a 40x17 on my hilly route which makes me keep a pretty high cadence on the flats and down hills, but it keeps me out of the doctors office. I think there are 3 parts to the secret fixed gear recipe that makes you stronger: one part is pushing a higher gear up the hill than normal, another is spinning faster than normal, and the last and most important is listening to your body so you can do it all over again on another day and build from your previous workout.
30-30 rule for mefixedgearhead
Dec 7, 2002 7:10 AM
Well said. Moderation in all things. Except when it comes to bicycle aquisition.

Excellent recipe for fixed gear riding improvement!Tig
Dec 9, 2002 12:21 PM
"I think there are 3 parts to the secret fixed gear recipe that makes you stronger: one part is pushing a higher gear up the hill than normal, another is spinning faster than normal, and the last and most important is listening to your body so you can do it all over again on another day and build from your previous workout."

I've seen some dramatic improvements in a short time from the exact same recipe. My climbs are limited here in flatsburg, but each one still helps build some much need strength. The lower than normal cadence has improved my climbing by leaps and bounds.

I am already what is considered a spinner (I like 100-115 cadence), but riding with a fast group and even 30+ MPH sprints is helping me to improve my overall fitness and pedaling mechanics.

Listening to the body is a wisdom that has come with age for me. I usually take Monday and Tuesday off for recovery. Being in tune with your body's needs and limits are critical. I've been taking a gradual improvement philosophy and not rushing anything. When in doubt, follow advice from one of the best, Ned Overend:
He credits both his performance and his long career to a combination of intense training and adequate rest, a balance rarely achieved by athletes who tend to think more is better."