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Singlespeed & Fixed Gear "I still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer? We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"-- Henri Desgrange (31 January 1865 - 16 August 1940)

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Old 03-21-08, 06:29 AM   #1
RNICE
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Fixed and Knee Physiology - How to not be a cripple.

Hey,

Can anyone speak with authority on riding fixed and knee wear/damage. Specifically, it would be great if:
1. Folks could share particularly things they did or did not do on a fixed that led to problems with their knees. That way we could all... umm... not do that.
2. Someone with some sort of background greater than their mother's sister's cousin's roomate's nephew's neighbor was a nurse in Vietnam speak on things you can do to strengthen and protect your knees.

I'm 27 going on 28 - I hate hate hate my body getting old because I don't want to do old people stuff - I'll do whatever it takes now so I can still ride in my 50s and 60s.

Peace to you.

RAN
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Old 03-21-08, 06:35 AM   #2
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In order of importance:
Make sure your bike fits you.
Choose an appropriate gear
Use a brake.
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Old 03-21-08, 06:48 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by RNICE View Post
Hey,

Can anyone speak with authority on riding fixed and knee wear/damage. Specifically, it would be great if:
1. Folks could share particularly things they did or did not do on a fixed that led to problems with their knees. That way we could all... umm... not do that.
2. Someone with some sort of background greater than their mother's sister's cousin's roomate's nephew's neighbor was a nurse in Vietnam speak on things you can do to strengthen and protect your knees.

I'm 27 going on 28 - I hate hate hate my body getting old because I don't want to do old people stuff - I'll do whatever it takes now so I can still ride in my 50s and 60s.

Peace to you.

RAN
Riding fixed is really not much different than not coasting on a road bike unless you start riding brakeless - that's one good thing to avoid. The other would be to choose non eddy merckx hour record type gearing.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:08 AM   #4
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I've mostly anecdotal evidence that running brakeless on the street will mess you up, much like everyone else on here.

I've got a friend back home who can hardly ride anymore, geared or fixed, because his knees are all messed-up. He's definitely willing to admit that running brakeless has probably played a big part.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:23 AM   #5
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http://sheldonbrown.com/fixed-knees.html

Fixed Gears and Knee Health

By Charles Renner

How I came to ride a fixed gear.
Knee problems (chondro-malacia patella) caused me to pretty much stop riding. This was hard. I do not like to drive and did not own a car until I was 25; this was a big hit. I bought a house 3 miles from work ? I figured that even dead I should be able to pedal that distance. My doctor mentioned surgery but said something to the effect of "lots of people will want to operate, but if you can get along with it as it is, let it be. The surgery can only be done really well once, and the later you do it, generally, the better off you are". Two years later the house up the street was sold. I met my new neighbor, who did a several things for me that got me back on the bike. I have been able to avoid the surgery and my knees seem to be holding up well.
The first thing he did was ride with me. Turns out he used to race and coach. He felt like I still had some go in me. We did a 25-mile ride (I was in pain by the end) and told him so.
He smiled and said "Kid, come by the house next week".
1. He reset my bike to the proper size. - Handle bar location, etc. For people with knee damage, it is frequently better to have the seat a little higher than normal. This causes the maximum knee flex angle to be less, which sometimes helps.
2. Insisted that I go to clipless pedals and have what was called a "Fit-Kit " done to align the pedal cleats to the shoes. This was just when clipless pedals came out (late 80s). They did not have float and were very expensive. Of course, the alternative was the surgeon's knife; the pedals looked pretty cheap in that context. The idea behind cleat to shoe alignment is to have your foot / leg / hip in their natural position when on the bike. My right foot is pronated, so that is normal for me? The Fit-Kit was one method to measure this alignment. This was critically important when SPD pedals first came out because they had no float. Today, it is probably not as critical, as most clipless pedals have a lot of float, with the speedplay having the most.
After properly fitting me to my bike / pedals, my neighbor looked at me and smiled. "Kid, come by the house next week".
The next week he had two identical mountain bikes. He said let's race. I looked at him like he was crazy. My knees hurt, but I was 10 years younger and in better shape.
He insisted, I agreed, and then he laid down the rules: Put the bike in the lowest gear and leave it there. You are not to shift gears. Good luck.
It was only a short climb, but he knew I did not have chance. He was waiting for me at the top of the hill. Blew past me doing all of 5 mph. I have never seen anyone spin the pedals as fast as this guy.
He waited for me to catch my breath. He certainly was not breathing hard. "Look kid - if you want to win, you got to spin. Come by the house next week".
The next week he put on his fixed gear to teach me how to spin. To learn how to spin, a fixed gear bike is usually used. Almost all serious bicycle racers spend some time on a fixed gear. A fixed gear is like a track bike, no gears, no freewheel (no coasting - ever!!), no brakes, and paid up life insurance policy. The biggest difference between a fixed gear bike and a track bike is the gear ratios. Most track bikes are in the 52/13 range. They are built for pure speed. Fixed gears for street use are generally much lower. I am running 38/18 on mine (moving to 42/17). This is a low enough gear to keep from putting too much pressure on the bearing surfaces of the knees when starting off from a stoplight and for maintaining control going downhill. The other difference is most people put a front brake on them for emergency use. I have one on mine.
(That's a VERY low gear for fixed-gear use! --Sheldon Brown)
My neighbor had researched bike knee injuries, and found that they were never noted until the safety bike emerged. The safety bike was the first bike that coasted and that had both the front and rear wheels the same size. The ordinary bikes of the time, "Penny-Farthngs" (large front tire, small back tire) had a direct drive, like a tricycle. You used your legs to stop the pedals from turning. It can be done. It is HARD at first. His theory was that this built up the opposite muscles around the knee, and that it was muscles that help hold the knee (patella) in proper alignment. My physical therapist friends have mentioned that the idea is plausible. Some runners will run backwards to try and accomplish the same thing. You can read about spinning , but I'll give a quick mechanical example:
Light turns green. Rider A is in his highest gear. He VERY slows mash down on the pedals trying to get the bike to move. Every pound of force pushed down on the pedal is going through the bearing surfaces of his knee. That is a lot of unnecessary stress on the knee. This is what caused my knee problems in the first place.
Contrast: Light turns green. Rider B is in his lowest gear. He VERY easily spins the pedals - the pedals are moving fast, but the FORCE on the pedal is LOW. The force through his knee is LOW. He shifts the gears as he picks up speed. Rider A is way behind him.
I see this everyday - people standing up and mashing down on the pedals. You'll do this a little with a fixed gear too (can't shift) but you'll learn to start easy. You do not start your car off in 5th gear. You start in 1st and then shift. They put a transmission in cars for reason. If you shift too early, you'll actually hurt your engine. Given a choice between two gears to go up a hill, you'll get better gas mileage and longer engine life in the lower gear. The same is true for your knees on a bike. People get macho and say they are not going to shift going up a hill. Not a great idea in terms of how long it will take to get to the top of the hill or the stress that will be put on the knee. If you got'em (gears), use them. If you don't, then you are on a fixed gear and hopefully you have the gearing set to your ability.
To read more about fixed gear bicycles:
http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/fixed.html
Particularly:
http://sheldonbrown.com/fixed.html
A few warnings:
  • Make sure your feet are firmly attached to the pedals!!! If your foot falls off, the pedal will come around and hit the back of your ankle. Not good. - No shoe laces and no loose clothing. If ANYTHING gets caught in the chain, you will most likely pedal your head into the pavement. Frequently fatal. It is almost guaranteed that you will go down. I have never had it happen. Helmets anyone?
  • Pedal strike on the corners. I have found this not to be a big deal, but courtesy of rollers I have scary good balance. For someone not used to it, hitting the pedal can be pretty disconcerting. Shorter crank arms are probably a good idea ? they give more pedal to road clearance and they are a better for spinning.
Most people find that running is more physically demanding than bike riding. I agree, until you get on a fixed gear bike. On a fixed gear bike, you pedal up the hill, and work hard. You have no choice. On the downhill, you don't get to relax at all. You are still working. It is pretty brutal. Start out on flat land and do some slow upper and downers (speed up slowly, slow down slowly, without using the brake). Go slowly or you are very likely to be sore the next day. Spinning is good fun, and it is what has allowed me to return to cycling to the point where I can pedal thousands of miles with ~50 pounds of gear on the bike. My knees take the load up and down the mountains without complaint thanks to my neighbor and the things that he did for me.
-- Charles Renner Folsom, Ca.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:27 AM   #6
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also, I was starting to feel like I had bad knees (after climbing mountains/going for long bike rides, they'd hurt and I felt like they were falling apart). I switched my ratio over to 42x17 and while this may make me look like a bit of a dork comparatively, my knees are GOLDEN now, I go for hikes and no longer have any knee problems afterwards, so it's possible that this is actually strengthening the muscles around the knee (as the article suggests). I've also gotten really good at spinning (I live in a hilly area) and my legs move sooo fast and smoothly now compared to when I first switched over to the low gear.
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Old 03-21-08, 08:27 AM   #7
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that's some good info brett,
i'm starting to learn to check Sheldon's site, RIP, before asking anything
i'm in a rolling hills area myself - do you ever feel limited on the downhills?
what was your ratio before you shortened it?

that's interesting because the whole balance out the opposing muscle idea comes up in a lot of other bike areas - you know, work your abs because your lower back gets stressed, work your core so your quads don't pull your hips down - i just haven't heard it too much in regards to knees
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Old 03-21-08, 08:40 AM   #8
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I don't have a lot of experience with joint health, but if your really concerned...

I have gone to see a osteopath for pain in my knee with great results. They can pin point where problems are, give you advice and some exercises to help the joint.

Most of the time knee/hip problems begin because of the feet or one leg being shorter than the other, which is the case for 90% of people.

A podiatrist can also be a great starting point. Orthotics are great!
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Old 03-21-08, 08:43 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by barba View Post
In order of importance:
Make sure your bike fits you.
Choose an appropriate gear
Use a brake.
Truth.

To the OP - 27 going on 28 is nothing. That's the age were the greats started becoming great. ****, there are guys in the pro peleton who didn't start competing until their mid-20s.
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Old 03-21-08, 10:59 AM   #10
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Truth.

To the OP - 27 going on 28 is nothing. That's the age were the greats started becoming great. ****, there are guys in the pro peleton who didn't start competing until their mid-20s.
Maybe second and third-tier domestic pros, who get a free bike and some travel expenses and race fees covered, started riding in their 20s after a collegiate career of rowing, cross-country, etc. However, for most of those guys racing for the big-time pro teams over in Europe, they've been riding and racing bikes since they were in their early teens,
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Old 03-21-08, 11:50 AM   #11
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I'm 45, and have no knee problems at all. I skied professionally for several years as well, and was taught how to work out properly by an ex national ski team member. Any activity (skiing, cycling, etc.) will build up strength in certain muscles preferentially to others. This has the effect of pulling the knee joint out of alignment eventually due to a strength imbalance across the joint. The best way to preserve your knees well into your senior years is to build the joint strength equally by working out properly.
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Old 03-21-08, 12:11 PM   #12
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In order of importance:
Make sure your bike fits you.
Choose an appropriate gear
Use a brake.
qft.


again.

[edit: for the record, i'm 26 going on 27.]
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Old 03-21-08, 12:16 PM   #13
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if you have patella pain, a great way to relieve it to some degree by building up muscle (which takes the stress off of the knee itself) is to flex your thigh muscles whenever your just sitting. watching a movie? sitting at an office? the bar? spend the whole time flexing (tensing and releasing slowly is another way to describe i guess) your thigh muscles. it will work wonders for you by taking the stress off the knee and to the muscles.

this is where most knee (patella) injuries come from. tough guys (like me) who push it too hard on weak muscles and the bone starts to scrape against the cartiledge.
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Old 03-21-08, 01:45 PM   #14
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if you have patella pain, a great way to relieve it to some degree by building up muscle (which takes the stress off of the knee itself) is to flex your thigh muscles whenever your just sitting. watching a movie? sitting at an office? the bar? spend the whole time flexing (tensing and releasing slowly is another way to describe i guess) your thigh muscles. it will work wonders for you by taking the stress off the knee and to the muscles.

this is where most knee (patella) injuries come from. tough guys (like me) who push it too hard on weak muscles and the bone starts to scrape against the cartiledge.

ive heard of this. i also heard to fold your leg and sit on so the knee is the furthest part away from you. i dont know if this works so i would start sitting on my legs
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Old 03-21-08, 01:45 PM   #15
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wouldn't****
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Old 03-21-08, 01:55 PM   #16
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I rock a low gear everywhere but the velodrome. I've been riding fixed since 86 and my 34 year old knees (with OSD in the right one) are golden.

WTF is the point of a big gear on the street? Most track coaches will tell you leg speed equals bike speed more than anything else. Learn to spin at 120 plus and watch your bike speed go through the roof.
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Old 03-21-08, 02:00 PM   #17
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I geared up to 77 gear inches the other day, poor choice, I definately felt it in the knees after a long ish ride. Now I cant get the lockring off and am bummin hard for the moment.
Keep it low, I like it below 70 gear inches.
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Old 03-21-08, 02:03 PM   #18
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Trackstand sparingly.
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Old 03-21-08, 02:03 PM   #19
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I'm only 20, but my knees used to hurt after long rides on my road bike. When I built up a fixed conversion last year, I chose a very low gear (32x13, 65") because I didn't know that people usually pushed higher gears. Ever since I've been riding fixed, my knees haven't bothered me. Because my spinning has improved, I can push lower gears at higher cadences on my geared road bike for longer stretches, improving my stamina and knee health, I'm fairly certain.

Of course, I'm not a doctor, so this could all be incorrect, as we all know that correlation does not necessarily equal causation.
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Old 03-21-08, 02:04 PM   #20
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I'm only 20, but my knees used to hurt after long rides on my road bike. When I switched over to fixed last year, I chose a very low gear (32x13, 65") because I didn't know any better. Ever since I've been riding fixed, my knees haven't bothered me. Because my spinning has improved, I can push lower gears at higher cadences on my road bike for longer stretches, improving my stamina and knee health.

Of course, I'm not a doctor, so this could all be incorrect, as we all know that correlation does not necessarily equal causation.
I run a 66 or 67 gear inch ratio (44x17) normally and have a similar experience.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:34 PM   #21
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Glucosamine Sulfate helps too. But it's a bandaid treatment - it'll relieve pain and kill inflamation, but if bike fit and technique are off, things are going to go wrong.

Oh yeah, about technique. No one has mentioned it yet. I've heard that keeping a flat foot throughout the stroke results in less stress to the knees. Either way, that's the proper method that every coach will tell you to pedal, so do it. Avoiding hard backpedaling... yeah, riding a brake will help a lot too.

I find that the more of these things that are present, the more crucial proper fit is:
-brakeless
-high gearing (76+ GI)
-regular hill riding
-regularly doing long rides (above 20 miles)

Seat should be just high enough that you don't rock your hips but can still keep a flat foot throughout the stroke. If the knees ache really bad and you feel it just sitting down or walking, take atleast a week off the bike. I had to do exactly that a few weeks ago because I was messing around with my fit and not realizing that I was royally screwing things up.

Oh yeah, cleat position on clipless pedals is crucial.
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Old 03-21-08, 07:35 PM   #22
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this is where most knee (patella) injuries come from. tough guys (like me) who push it too hard on weak muscles and the bone starts to scrape against the cartiledge.
pretty sure this is exactly what was bothering me a couple weeks ago. i felt like things were rubbing in a way they shouldn't have been. what gym workouts can i do to strengthen the areas that need strengthening besides just flexing?
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Old 03-21-08, 08:35 PM   #23
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Oh yeah, cleat position on clipless pedals is crucial.
Ok, I'll take the bait. I've read a lot on bike fit, but recall zip on cleat position. I always just move the cleat to the middle of the adjustment, just behind the balls of my feet usually. But that's completely arbitrary - any pain in my feet has been because I have trouble finding the right size shoe (wider but not wide feed).

I have egg beaters, which to me feel like the have tons of easy free float.

So what do you know about cleat position?
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Old 03-21-08, 08:47 PM   #24
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Needs to line up just about spot on with the ball of your foot. May not be the same position for each foot (it's not for me). You'll know it if you ride long rides because your feet will start bothering you if it's off, or maybe only one foot will (happened to me). When things are spot on there shouldn't be any pain in the feet, everything should feel efficient as far as power transfer, and your patella should align to the ball of the foot at the 6 o clock position.
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Old 03-21-08, 09:07 PM   #25
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My knees are made of rice krispies.

Seriously though, I'm 31 and my knees are still fine. I've been riding fixed with and without brakes for like 12 years now? And I rode ss mtb for many years also. To keep all your parts running smoothly and healthy on a bike, proper bike fit is crucial. So is stretching. I always stretch out my legs and knees before riding. Kinda all throughout the day really.
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