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Help with fitting and knee pain

Old 01-04-20, 03:53 PM
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tedlemme
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Help with fitting and knee pain

Hi all,

I'm sadly at the point of considering that I might just not be able to ride a road bike anymore. As background: Years ago, I used to race in college, and since then, I've been off-and-on over the years between military deployments and just exploring other exercise options (running, CrossFit, karate, and a few others).

Anyway, I got back to riding last summer and got a new bike. A great bike, actually! But bike fitting and me have never really "gotten along" too well. The issue is that my leg/torso ration is WAAAAYYYYY weird. As in, I looked at a chart of thousands height/inseam ratios and I'm the most statistical extreme outlier on that chart. By the numbers: I'm 5'9" tall, and I have an inseam of 36.25". By the population male average, I should either have an inseam of 31" or I should be 6'7" tall. I've been told that for my inseam, I probably should have a 60-62 cm frame, but for my torso length, I should probably have a 52 cm frame. Good luck finding enough micro-adjustments to bridge that gap!

So, I get that fitting me to a bike is an extreme challenge. I've worked with the local bike shop and the guys there have done about the best they can: I've got an extra-long seat post pulled almost to make extension, with a stem that's about 1.5" long with a 20-degree rise. 56cm frame, otherwise the reach would just be way too much. As it is now, my handlebars are something like 6" below the top of my saddle.

I'm not sure what anyone on here might be able to suggest, so I'm really fishing. But I've always loved cycling, and I'd really not like to give it up. It's an important part of my exercise routine (weightlifting, yoga, cycling), and obviously you all know how great of a fun exercise it is. But I can't keep on with painful knees. I'll be 42 in a couple months, and I shouldn't feel like I'm 72. Unfortunately, barbell squats don't make my knees hurt, but 45 minutes on my bike does. Apparently.

Is it possible that there are some of us out here who just can't be properly fitted on road bikes with modern geometries? Or maybe I'm just at an age where things are too tight and brittle that I just can't get away any longer with a bike that's fitted "as close as possible."

So, anyway, if anyone out there might have any ideas that I haven't thought of, even outside the box, I'd love to hear it. Thanks,
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Old 01-04-20, 04:12 PM
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If there was ever a case to be made for a custom built frame, you are it. Of course, a custom frame for you would have limited resale value but that does not mean that it isn't an avenue you should explore
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Old 01-04-20, 04:52 PM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil View Post
If there was ever a case to be made for a custom built frame, you are it. Of course, a custom frame for you would have limited resale value but that does not mean that it isn't an avenue you should explore
I think custom built is the answer for you to get a frame/fork that fits you properly and comfortably. Those are definitely some odd lengths for your body parts. Unfortunately for you, the cost would be considerable, and the resale, if you ever wanted to do that, would be low. Do some surfing on the web for frame builders and send some inquiries to ones that interest you. I would definitely start with as local as you can find. LBS might have suggestions.
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Old 01-04-20, 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by delbiker1 View Post
Those are definitely some odd lengths for your body parts.
I know, right?! It's crazy! I'm afraid I only made it all those years previously because I was young enough for my body to cope. Now that's not working any more. I guess I'll try to investigate the custom route, but I retire from the military later this year to become a high school teacher... so the current and future finances may not have room for something like that.
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Old 01-04-20, 05:06 PM
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In the road cycling forum there is a thread, frames with short reach and a lot of stack. It was started a couple of years ago and someone brought it back with a post. Quit a few suggestions listed and body stats by posters. Might want to check that out, maybe can help you.
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Old 01-04-20, 05:07 PM
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Originally Posted by tedlemme View Post
I know, right?! It's crazy! I'm afraid I only made it all those years previously because I was young enough for my body to cope. Now that's not working any more. I guess I'll try to investigate the custom route, but I retire from the military later this year to become a high school teacher... so the current and future finances may not have room for something like that.
Custom does not have to mean that you pay a huge premium. What it does mean is that some of the money you spend on fittings after your purchase is spent before you acquire your bike. A simple case of "pay me now or pay me later".
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Old 01-04-20, 07:23 PM
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I have similar body type and have both stock and custom frames. Agree custom is probably your best bet.

BUT...

I suspect you should be able to solve knee problems with adjustment of cleat position, saddle height, and/or saddle fore-aft positions. See if your LBS or a good fitter can help with this.
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Old 01-04-20, 07:42 PM
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Originally Posted by datlas View Post
I suspect you should be able to solve knee problems with adjustment of cleat position, saddle height, and/or saddle fore-aft positions. See if your LBS or a good fitter can help with this.
I thought so, too, and was hoping for that. But the LBS guy who fits bikes gave it a go and told me he'd done all he could to get it as close as possible. And he's a good guy who does bike fitting and really seems to know what he's talking about. Spent a good bit of time with me on the bike on a trainer. Shop was empty so I had all his attention. So, when he said he'd done his best and there really wasn't anything else he could fiddle with, I guess that's about it. I was excited at the time, but I still took two weeks off my bike to let the residual aches die away so when I rode again I would know if it was fixed or not by if they came back. But they still did.

That's why I'm frustrated enough to think maybe I'm just done with cycling. A custom frame sounds great, but I've already got a bike (2016 Cannondale SuperSix EVO Team Edition). If I can't get this one adjusted sufficiently, I can't get something custom until I sell this. I hear the used market for road bikes isn't great, but I'll probably give it a try.
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Old 01-04-20, 08:19 PM
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I really wish I had advice for you because that's an awful shame to have to give up something you otherwise enjoy.

I'm completely ignorant of the subject, but does anyone have some names of builders he could talk to that won't have him choosing between buying a bike and eating? Might help to know roughly where op is posting from.

Crazy thought--are there any large women specific frames available. My understanding is that a lot of these are built with the assumption that women have long legs and short torsoes, but it seems unlikely that anyone built something for production with such an extreme difference.
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Old 01-04-20, 09:49 PM
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You may very well need a custom frame. In the meantime, however, the racing geometry of your SuperSix isn't doing you any favors. A more "relaxed" frame with a longer head tube would give you more stack for a given reach, and would be a move in the right direction.
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Old 01-04-20, 10:07 PM
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I started riding seriously at 62. In the six years since Iíve had four professional bike fittings, and all came up with distinctly different recommendations. First, do not take your LBS fitter on faith. You should probably seek out a more professional fitter, more technically grounded fitter. Second, the most sophisticated fitting system in my experience was based on the ďGuruĒ machine, which can replicate any combination of body requirements on the fly and draw on a comprehensive database of all available bikes in the US to determine which could be adapted to your requirements. Failing that, it would establish the specs for a custom bike. Hereís a link:

The Experience
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Old 01-04-20, 10:42 PM
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I also agree that the ďGuruĒ machine will give you almost infinite possibilities for finding a comfort zone. As far as the bike you have, Iím a little surprised you didnít try a Synapse - they have a bit more relaxed geometry (shorter top tube) which might have helped your situation. What I found when I was fitting bikes to customers is that sometimes the charts, measurement devices, standard procedures, and accepted wisdom donít always pertain to everyone. My guess is that there is a frame out there that will work for you, but it may not be the type of race frame that you envisioned when you started biking again. It may be a vintage steel bike or perhaps a custom build that someone is selling. In the end, the custom route may be your best recourse. But if youíre more concerned with getting out and riding (as opposed to racing), you should be able to find a solution. Keep plugging away, and good luck!
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Old 01-05-20, 07:42 AM
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This discussion has been all about frame size and fitting. Good discussion but how about that knee pain? Having no info from the OP on what the trouble is (and me being an engineer, NO medical training) I'll offer one idea, my experience. I've been monitoring knee pain for several years and am now in the management mode vs resolution mode.

My problem was not fitting. It was weakness and style. I had 'patella tracking error' due to a weak VMO (look it up). Leaving my bike fit the same, 10 bikes actually but all set the same, I started a home PT routine to strengthen my VMOs. That helped a lot. On the road I found that I tended to ride heel in on the pedals. I retrained to ride 'heel outward' which actually just straightened my feet on the pedals. Often the knee pain would diminish right off. I also retrained for long seated up grade climbs: reduce my lazy tendency to mash the pedals on the down stroke and focus on the back stroke, pulling them up which actually just balanced my usage around the crank rotation. Improved balance of my leg muscles usage.

I now only do my VMO PT in the winter. Balancing the pedal strokes is automatic all year. My knee pain has gone or should I say - in remission.

So in addition to working on proper fit, think on proper conditioning and proper riding technique. Beats giving up.
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Old 01-05-20, 09:00 AM
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Cycling knee pain is a very big, complex topic. Google it and you could spend hundreds of hours reading about it. But although cycling knee pain has a very wide variety of distinct possible causes, almost all of them derive from bike fit issues. Three of the four professional bike fittings I've had over the last six years have been made to address knee pain issues (which were finally resolved in my particular case by getting shoes that supported varus tilt and high arches).

First get the right bike. Then get the right fit. In all likelihood, that will solve your knee pain problem. If not . . . well, that's a complex topic.
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Old 01-05-20, 09:01 AM
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I've also got long legs and a short torso, but not as extreme as yours. One mistake was buying a frame with race geometry. You should look into endurance frames with much taller head tubes and shorter reach.

With your inseam, you should have a saddle height of around 82cm or 32 inches. That's 9cm more than mine. Starting with a race geometry frame, 2cm of spacer and a +17 stem will raise the bars by about 5cm. I'd look for a frame with about 40mm more stack height. You'd then have the same 10cm (4 inch) saddle to bar drop that I use.

I see that your c'dale should have a stack of 574mm, which is about 50mm taller than I use. Adding 20mm of spacer under the stem and 30mm for a flipped up stem should get the saddle to bar drop down to a reasonable amount.

One other thing to look at is the handlebar reach. Some stock bikes come with 90-100mm reach on the bars, but you should be using 75-80mm reach. I use Easton ec-70 or ec-90 bars with an 80mm reach.

Shimano brake hoods also have a long reach, which complicates the situation. Campy brake hoods have a shorter reach.

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Old 01-05-20, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Moishe View Post
First, do not take your LBS fitter on faith. You should probably seek out a more professional fitter, more technically grounded fitter.
Actually, this isn't the first fitter I went to. The first fitter I went to was the guy at the "big" local bike store, which is part of a fairly large East Coast chain. They're the ones in the area regarded as the really experts, the guys that know what they're doing, the ones who have had all the real training, blah, blah blah. THE bike fitters. Those were the guys that put me on this bike, told me it would be good, and that once I bought it, they'd be able to dial-in the adjustments.

As most of you recognize, and the guy above said, the bike they put me on -- Cannondale SuperSix Evo -- isn't doing me any favors. So, it was the best local fitter that put me on what seems to be precisely the wrong bike.

It was since then that I've gone to the bike fitter at the smaller, mom&pop local bike shop. The non-chain store shop with the guys that really seem to know what they're doing. More professional bike fitter? The "more professional" guy is the one that sold me a $4,000 bike that doesn't fit me well. It's the smaller, more local guy that's done what he can for me to try to make it work, since the money is spent and the bike is ridden. This is what I have to work with now, unless I can sell it, which doesn't seem too promising.
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Old 01-05-20, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Prowler View Post
This discussion has been all about frame size and fitting. Good discussion but how about that knee pain?
Good point. And that may very well be the case. My knee pain tends toward the front-inside (anterior-medial) area of the knee. Reading on the internet suggests I might want to explore arch supports and ITS wedges for my forefoot. I know I have flat feet, so that's the next thing to look at.

I feel like my feet do track pointing straight ahead. I checked on that when I thought of fiddling with my cleat angles, but I'm not seeing an obvious problem there. I took a video this morning from dead-on and I do see that my knee cap describes an arc when pedaling: it moves inwardly on the down stroke. The patella shows a horizontal movement of probably 1-1.5" from the top to the bottom of the pedal stroke. I stuck a piece of shiny tape right on my knee cap to see it clearly.

But that gets pretty complex. Is my arch collapsing and my foot rolling from the heel or the forefoot? I know foot mechanics are really complex and it's really tough to nail that one down. I think the only way to figure that out is experiment. I'll probably go to the sporting goods store today and get some insoles (conveniently, the local store carries a brand recommended for cycling shoes on the website of a bike fitter that addresses this specific issue.)

So, you may be right. Maybe we actually do have the fit close enough, and it's time to play with the next things. The way I see it, there are three parts: bike, shoes and body. If the LBS guy is right, maybe the bike is already right. It looks a little like Frankenstein with the crazy extreme seat post and stem, but if the measurements are right, I guess that's okay. Maybe it's my body, maybe it's the shoes. I can fiddle with the shoes. As for my body, when I saw the PT (who I have no choice about, because that's the way the military medical system works), he said "if it hurts, stop doing it." (My concerns about the quality of care from military medical is a WHOLE other topic). So, unfortunately, fixing any body/strength/flexibility issues is up to me and Google.
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Old 01-05-20, 09:42 AM
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I've ridden behind a lot of people whose knees move outward (wider) at the top of the stroke. Sometimes it's only on one side. I've never known what causes it, but it can't be good. The knees should track relatively straight from top to bottom of the stroke.
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Old 01-05-20, 10:31 AM
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Originally Posted by tedlemme View Post
Actually, this isn't the first fitter I went to. The first fitter I went to was the guy at the "big" local bike store, which is part of a fairly large East Coast chain. They're the ones in the area regarded as the really experts, the guys that know what they're doing, the ones who have had all the real training, blah, blah blah. THE bike fitters. Those were the guys that put me on this bike, told me it would be good, and that once I bought it, they'd be able to dial-in the adjustments.

As most of you recognize, and the guy above said, the bike they put me on -- Cannondale SuperSix Evo -- isn't doing me any favors. So, it was the best local fitter that put me on what seems to be precisely the wrong bike.

It was since then that I've gone to the bike fitter at the smaller, mom&pop local bike shop. The non-chain store shop with the guys that really seem to know what they're doing. More professional bike fitter? The "more professional" guy is the one that sold me a $4,000 bike that doesn't fit me well. It's the smaller, more local guy that's done what he can for me to try to make it work, since the money is spent and the bike is ridden. This is what I have to work with now, unless I can sell it, which doesn't seem too promising.
Well, gee whiz. I guess this goes to show that bad advice is widely available on the East Coast, and here on Bikeforums.
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Old 01-05-20, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Moishe View Post
Well, gee whiz. I guess this goes to show that bad advice is widely available on the East Coast, and here on Bikeforums.
Not to be argumentative, but I'm not sure if that's meant to be a dig at me for being gullible and believing the bike store guy? I assume it's not, and I'm not saying that any of the advice I've gotten was bad. I was just pointing out that I didn't just pick some random guy off the street and ask him to look at how I looked. I actually did seek out a reputable guy with good qualifications.

But it does point out the inherent shortcoming in some of the advice above. Namely: since even "professional bike fitters" can get it wrong and give bad advice, how would I go about finding the "good bike fitter" you guys have suggested I find? If "formal" qualifications and training (like the guy I saw at the large chain store) aren't sufficient to count on, and lots of experience (like the guy at the mom & pop shop isn't good enough, on what SHOULD I base my choice about whom to trust? Just keep driving all over the state and spending $150 on bike fittings until someone, somewhere does something that makes the pain stop?

But that would bring me back to my opening question: before I spend a ton of money and time and effort on that, is there a chance that I would never actually succeed because I'm just TOO far out of proportion for a normal bike? That I could spend thousands of dollars on this and NEVER be successful, because there's just no way with my personal "arrangement" and the bike I already have from the supposedly qualified, professional bike fitter that put me on it and sold it to me?
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Old 01-05-20, 11:11 AM
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I found a Fuji model that has a good chance of improving your fit, the Fuji Gran Fondo. The L (56cm) size has a 602mm stack and 376mm reach. The stack is 80mm larger than I use. If you saddle height is 9cm taller than mine, then it should be easy to get the bars up to a decent height. You will have a lot of seatpost showng, but that's why seatposts are made in 350-400mm lengths. The max saddle height would be close to 82cm, with a 400mm post.

Fuji Bikes | Gran Fondo 1.1
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Old 01-05-20, 11:13 AM
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Originally Posted by alcjphil View Post
If there was ever a case to be made for a custom built frame, you are it. Of course, a custom frame for you would have limited resale value but that does not mean that it isn't an avenue you should explore
i agree you.
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Old 01-05-20, 12:01 PM
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Originally Posted by tedlemme View Post
So, you may be right. Maybe we actually do have the fit close enough, and it's time to play with the next things. The way I see it, there are three parts: bike, shoes and body. If the LBS guy is right, maybe the bike is already right. It looks a little like Frankenstein with the crazy extreme seat post and stem, but if the measurements are right, I guess that's okay. Maybe it's my body, maybe it's the shoes. I can fiddle with the shoes. As for my body, when I saw the PT (who I have no choice about, because that's the way the military medical system works), he said "if it hurts, stop doing it." (My concerns about the quality of care from military medical is a WHOLE other topic). So, unfortunately, fixing any body/strength/flexibility issues is up to me and Google.
Yeah, it's important to keep in mind that everyone on this forum is speculating about your bike fit, on very little information. Your fitter, on the other hand, actually saw you on the bike and made adjustments. So, I would be very hesitant to throw your fitter under the bus and declare that he/she didn't know what they were doing. If you feel pretty good on the bike (other than the knee pain), the fit may be okay.

On the other hand, have you looked into getting a "medically-prescribed" bike fit? A good sports medicine clinic should be able to do one, and they're basically meant to deal with problems like yours. Unfortunately, you probably will have to pay out-of-pocket to have one done. It might be worth it ...
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Old 01-05-20, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by tomato coupe View Post
Your fitter, on the other hand, actually saw you on the bike and made adjustments. So, I would be very hesitant to throw your fitter under the bus and declare that he/she didn't know what they were doing.
That's fair. But the second bike fitter I went to said, "Did you consider the Cannondale Synapse?" Which is precisely what someone above said. So, you may be right, but I also have the distinct sense (now, in retrospect) that the first guy just wanted to sell me the most expensive bike he had in the store that day. Maybe not, though.

Originally Posted by tomato coupe View Post
If you feel pretty good on the bike (other than the knee pain), the fit may be okay.
Actually, I think I do actually feel okay on the bike... except for the knee pain. Even with the extreme drop from saddle to handlebars, I don't have low back pain. I have some elbow issues, but I also have reason to believe those may be due to some other issues aside from cycling. I might be wrong about that, and the drop is causing the elbow problems. So, for the most part, maybe the fit might actually be okay. Weird looking, but maybe close enough.

From what I'm reading, maybe the fit is okay and the knee pain is coming from elsewhere. Bad feet, poorly fitting shoes, maybe the pedals. I'll try insoles, maybe forefoot wedges. I have SPD pedals, so my understanding is that cleat wedges don't really work well with those, so I should stick with forefoot wedges.

So, again, in fairness to the first bike fitter that sold me the bike... maybe he just did the best he could and didn't really consider custom. He is, after all, in business to sell bikes, and sending me to a custom frame builder wouldn't have made him nearly as much money, if any. And the second bike fitter could only work with what I brought him, which was the bike I'd already bought. In my younger days, I'd never had (or seemed to need) a full-on bike fitting, so this time around, I didn't know enough about the process to fully understand what I needed to know to be sure it was right. Nobody's fault, I guess.

For the "medically prescribed bike fit:" Wow! What an idea! I'd actually shell out cash out-of-pocket for that, if I'd known it existed. But again, that goes back to the fundamental problem here: I already have a very expensive bike, and I can't just go drop a ton of cash replacing it unless I can do something about selling this one first. My initial intent with this thread was to see if anyone could give suggestions about how to work with what I already have. And yes, I know that's a tall order over the internet, so I appreciate all the ideas. It was in hopes someone would have seen some odd-ball trick that maybe not even my bike fitter had thought of. Sometimes those are out there. It seems not in this case.

And hell, maybe my knees are just going to hurt. 42 isn't that old, but 24 years of military life -- aboard ships, thousands of hours flying helicopters, in and out of cockpits, climbing up on rotors -- isn't easy on the joints, so maybe this is just how things are for me now. I started this whole post on the assumption that there's a way to fix whatever is causing the aches and pains, but maybe that's just not the case. Not defeatist, just realistic.

Thanks for all the ideas so far.
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Old 01-05-20, 01:12 PM
  #25  
tomato coupe
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Originally Posted by tedlemme View Post
And hell, maybe my knees are just going to hurt. 42 isn't that old, but 24 years of military life -- aboard ships, thousands of hours flying helicopters, in and out of cockpits, climbing up on rotors -- isn't easy on the joints, so maybe this is just how things are for me now. I started this whole post on the assumption that there's a way to fix whatever is causing the aches and pains, but maybe that's just not the case. Not defeatist, just realistic.
Cycling, when done correctly, is fairly knee-friendly compared to many other activities. I wouldn't accept a lifetime of pain quite yet...
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