Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

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Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Thu Sep 09, 2010 5:10 pm

I have some knee issues with biking. I've had knee bothers off and on most of my life - hockey, motorbikes, builder. Since I got off tools they've been less painful. I could even squat with thighs horizontal a couple of months ago without pain; it was not possible to even do it 3 yrs ago.

Lately I've had both mtn and road bike fitted by a podiatrist using video for better leg angles, posture, etc. The mtn bike went very well. The roadie fit was very recent and may not be finished yet.
Last year's mileage - 1280 kms total.
This year 3000 kms so far. June and July was big increase in total riding effort; almost 40 % increase. August - tired.

Most of the pain/discomfort is in LH knee; when I push tall gears (even for a very short time) it hurts fairly quickly and after some time will lose power.
I went to physio today; she said same as podiatrist. Tight ITB, glutes, etc.
This will take some time to correct I think as it's a lifetime of habit and work, etc.

I would like to try a shorter crank (there's a thread already but not addressing these specific issues) to try to ease the load on my knees.
The road bike NOW (last couple of months) causes more pain than the mtn bike.

The roadie has 172.5mm cracks; the mtn bike (dual suspension) has 175mm cranks.
When I brought the roadie a few months ago it was nicer to pedal; I feel due to the slightly shorter crank. I had higher cadence on it as well; mtn = 95rpm, roadie = 100rpm. Now mtn = 95 - 100; roadie = 105 - 107rpm.

The knee pain above the knee where lower end of VMO sits near kneecap is the sorest bit most times.

How much difference will a shorter crank make to the knee problems? Some i/net posts I've read are saying it's much harder to pedal a short crank.
Do I go to 165 crank on the road bike? Or 170? Does anyone here know how to calculate the additional power/strength to push the short crank?

I'm keen to get this sorted; it's p1ssing me bigtime now.
Last edited by ireland57 on Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby casual_cyclist » Thu Sep 09, 2010 5:30 pm

ireland57 wrote:I went to physio today; she said same as podiatrist. Tight ITB, glutes, etc.

Did you get a clear indication that the tightness is the cause of your knee problems?

I have had tight glutes, ITB etc which caused me lower back pain. I am on a stretching, yoga, massage program which is addressing the tightness/soreness issues. It is slow and is hard work but it is a long term solution rather than a short term fix.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Thu Sep 09, 2010 8:11 pm

They both believe so; the physio said the knee is structurally sound and surrounding stuff is solid; X-rays showed knee has some rough bits (where they scrape during surgery).
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby Marty Moose » Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:09 pm

Try sitting on a chair with your leg at 90 degrees. Push slightly down onto your foot and forward at the same time. Get your VMO to turn on before your ITB. Try this very gentle at first and really concentrate on the VMO. You can feel both muscles with your hands. Its hard to do but worth a shot with what you have written. With good control you should beable to turn your VMO on with no ITB action.

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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby Nobody » Thu Sep 09, 2010 11:14 pm

ireland57 wrote:How much difference will a shorter crank make to the knee problems
Change and let us know. It made a difference to me, but stretching and strength work does more IMO. It is just part of the puzzle.

ireland57 wrote:Some i/net posts I've read are saying it's much harder to pedal a short crank.
Do I go to 165 crank on the road bike? Or 170? Does anyone here know how to calculate the additional power/strength to push the short crank.
Go 165 if you really want to see a difference. No point going for half measures if you are having problems. It effectively gives you taller gearing by 172.5/165 or 4.5%. So it would be a good idea to shorten your gearing by 4.5% at the same time, or be prepared to stand more (which also can be beneficial). I went from 175 to 165 on the road bike.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Fri Sep 10, 2010 9:32 am

Thanks for the leg hints; they'll be good to add to the physio list.

Next question is....if I'm buying a new crank (will probably be 165mm Shimano 105 level) I'm torn between a triple and a compact.

I generally do hills once per week at least on road or mtn bike as much of our mtn bike racing is heavy hill work.

The triple is heavier (and ugh...not very blingy 8) on a carbon bike) but the gears are closer together giving a bigger range and maybe making it easier on the knees (giving more gear choices).
Am I correct in thinking this or not?

The compact is plenty of gearing for me (I think) as far as hills go; at present I can climb short 20% + hills (standing only; in 39/27) but I'm not sure if the compact ratios will get me sitting enough without loading the knee up.
Which way do I go here?

All my hills on the roadie are standing efforts; I'd like to be able to do a lot more of it sitting as most mtn bike climbing is seated.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby anth73 » Mon Sep 13, 2010 4:54 pm

I suffered from a tight ITB in my right leg earlier this year an dit was about two months of treatment, stretching, spinning at high cadence and very little hill work that got me better....combined with a bike fitting. the latter was the most important as i had lost weight since my first fitting almost 2 years ago and was too far back behing the bottom bracket.

My advice - use the money you're going to waste changing your cranks on a proper bike fitting by a cyclist friendly physio. Your cranks are not the issue.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Mon Sep 13, 2010 8:10 pm

anth73 wrote:I suffered from a tight ITB in my right leg earlier this year an dit was about two months of treatment, stretching, spinning at high cadence and very little hill work that got me better....combined with a bike fitting. the latter was the most important as i had lost weight since my first fitting almost 2 years ago and was too far back behing the bottom bracket.

My advice - use the money you're going to waste changing your cranks on a proper bike fitting by a cyclist friendly physio. Your cranks are not the issue.


Thank for your input and please excuse my ignorance here but what's the difference between a cyclist friendly podiatrist fitting and a c.f. physio fitting?

I thought the angle of the knees (being forced to close to a more acute angle) at the top of the stroke would be a major issue.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby zero » Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:51 pm

ireland57 wrote:Thanks for the leg hints; they'll be good to add to the physio list.

Next question is....if I'm buying a new crank (will probably be 165mm Shimano 105 level) I'm torn between a triple and a compact.

I generally do hills once per week at least on road or mtn bike as much of our mtn bike racing is heavy hill work.

The triple is heavier (and ugh...not very blingy 8) on a carbon bike) but the gears are closer together giving a bigger range and maybe making it easier on the knees (giving more gear choices).
Am I correct in thinking this or not?

The compact is plenty of gearing for me (I think) as far as hills go; at present I can climb short 20% + hills (standing only; in 39/27) but I'm not sure if the compact ratios will get me sitting enough without loading the knee up.
Which way do I go here?


If you keep the same cassette, you'll have 34/27 on the compact, which is quite a bit shorter than 39/27. Since you have an MTB, you ought be able to work out the gear inches of 34/27 on your road bike and the most similar gear inches ratio on your MTB and try climbing the target hills with it (bearing in mind the 2 factors of heavier bike/more rolling/wind resistance vs shorter intended cranks - which are cancelling each other out, but might not be that similar in magnitude.


All my hills on the roadie are standing efforts; I'd like to be able to do a lot more of it sitting as most mtn bike climbing is seated.


I can understand that. For longer efforts there is an energy saving doing so, though I use hills as a reminder to get off the saddle to ensure circulation to an important region :)
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Tue Sep 14, 2010 8:28 pm

I've ordered a triple x 165mm crank.

It should give more gearing choices than the compact. All the reading I did on the crank lengths options only confused me.
One test would say long is good; another would say short means more effort required but good for knees. So I'll give it a shot and see what happens.

I enjoy any climbing and do both standing and sitting. I can do long standing efforts on the roadie (e.g. Mt Stuart approx 40 mins standing; 7 mins seated) but not for long on the mtn bike. Any idea why this is?
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby DanielS » Wed Sep 15, 2010 9:48 pm

Interesting thread. I've had the same problem with my left knee and am considering shorter cranks for my roadie. My track bike has 165mm cranks and my knee feels a lot better on that than on the road bike (175mm). Will be interested to learn how you go.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby anth73 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 10:20 am

ireland57 wrote:Thank for your input and please excuse my ignorance here but what's the difference between a cyclist friendly podiatrist fitting and a c.f. physio fitting?

I thought the angle of the knees (being forced to close to a more acute angle) at the top of the stroke would be a major issue.


Podiatrists are well trained in foot function and associated limb function. Fortunately I'm married to one! :D I would assume that physio's have greater knowledge of overall muscular and skeletal structures. If you're podiatrist os working for you then that's great, ditto to the 165mm cranks.

Either way, don't neglect the importance of a bike fitting my a fully qualified practitioner.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:26 am

anth73 wrote:
ireland57 wrote:Thank for your input and please excuse my ignorance here but what's the difference between a cyclist friendly podiatrist fitting and a c.f. physio fitting?

I thought the angle of the knees (being forced to close to a more acute angle) at the top of the stroke would be a major issue.


Podiatrists are well trained in foot function and associated limb function. Fortunately I'm married to one! :D I would assume that physio's have greater knowledge of overall muscular and skeletal structures. If you're podiatrist os working for you then that's great, ditto to the 165mm cranks.

Either way, don't neglect the importance of a bike fitting my a fully qualified practitioner.


The dilemma with that is we don't have a Steve Hogg (or 1/2 of one even) or the like here. There is one shop here with Specialized set up gear but I don't know how good they are or it is.

I found on a road sortie the other night when climbing (standing) my left leg wobbles (knee is very unstable) when pressure is put on the pedal at the top of the stroke. Even changing clothes in the morning lifting the left leg it's the same but the right one is fine.
Also when I push down hard the knees head outwards which (I guess) is what the physio is saying with the VMO needing strengthening and "firing up."

It may be funny but I'm very new to this and have little understanding of it.
The cranks should be here in a few days. IF they fit I'll get them on straight away.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby Bioathletic » Tue Sep 21, 2010 8:54 pm

I'd be very interested to hear how the new cranks go - please keep us posted! As for the knee, listen to your physio & make sure you do the rehab exercises - activation issues don't improve if you don't put the work in! Have you got a foam roller? Rolling on your ITB & glutes can help with the tightness issues & is lots cheaper than regular massages :wink:
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby jacks1071 » Tue Sep 21, 2010 9:11 pm

ireland57 wrote:I've ordered a triple x 165mm crank.

It should give more gearing choices than the compact. All the reading I did on the crank lengths options only confused me.
One test would say long is good; another would say short means more effort required but good for knees. So I'll give it a shot and see what happens.

I enjoy any climbing and do both standing and sitting. I can do long standing efforts on the roadie (e.g. Mt Stuart approx 40 mins standing; 7 mins seated) but not for long on the mtn bike. Any idea why this is?


Probably worth a trip down to see Steve Hogg.

Shorter cranks are easier on your knees in general - as is spinning rather than grinding.

I would have put a MTB Rear mech on your bike and a 11-34 or 11-36 rear cassette rather than a triple for your road bike. Would be a far more cost effective solution.

Maybe worth staying away from the hills altogether until you can strenghten your knees up a bit or work out what is going on at least.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Thu Sep 23, 2010 9:47 pm

New crankset is fitted and.......well, who knows?
There's good and not so.

I've had two shortish rides so far, both with some hill work.

The cranks definitely feel better to pedal i.e. the knees like the smaller circles.
But.......as mentioned previously the extra effort (from lack of leverage) to push them still takes it's toll.
I climbed Castle today; most of it standing; started off ok and fairly quick for me but ran out of knee puff.

I'm having some shifter bother at present and need to change the shifters and front derailleur. That's not helping.
Rear derailleur may need to be a long cage due to too close contact on the 27t low gear.

I have a 12 hr in a few weeks and will probably stay off the roadie until after that.

I have an ITB roller. Unfortunately. Who TF invented ITB's anyway? Man they feel good when they're being scrunched. Physio again tomorrow.
I may have more to add then.
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More on the new cranks…

Postby ireland57 » Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:08 pm

I did a 40 km ride on Thurs am into a strong headwind with almost the same result as with the old 172.5mm cranks .......but this time I was able to go a bit longer before the pain started.

This am I did a 94 km "out and back" group ride which included a 3 km climb at the mid point.
I hammered the whole ride basically. I got dropped off the group after the descent and only got back on because a very kind soul dropped back and dragged me back to the group.

The knee was hurting at the start of the climb (so I rode 35 kms before any bother) then it lost some power during the return ride (which, for me, was as fast as I could ride for 35 kms). Two of us got dropped in the sprint back home and never caught up again.

The short cranks so far…….

1. There’s no way I could have done that ride at that pace with the old cranks. My knees wouldn’t have lasted half the distance.

2. When I got to the hill (35kms from home) I really felt the short cranks and wished they were 175’s.
I really missed that power.

3. Shorter cranks take a LOT more effort to push…..but I THINK it’ll work out ok.

The bike fit……some new things occurred today. My left foot was going to sleep.
Under my wedding tackle was going to sleep.

There is something wrong the bike fit/seat/rider?
I don’t know what.
Any ideas ?

The mtn bike fit was great. No reason to think road bike isn’t as well.
Could it be the seat?
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Re: More on the new cranks…

Postby Nobody » Sat Oct 02, 2010 10:39 pm

ireland57 wrote:The short cranks so far…….

1. There’s no way I could have done that ride at that pace with the old cranks. My knees wouldn’t have lasted half the distance.
I'm glad we collectively didn't give you a bad steer on this.

ireland57 wrote:2. When I got to the hill (35kms from home) I really felt the short cranks and wished they were 175’s.
I really missed that power.

3. Shorter cranks take a LOT more effort to push…..but I THINK it’ll work out ok.
The power should be very similar as your cadence would now be about 6% higher (about 5 rpm). You miss the torque. Maybe you need to have another look at your gearing if it remains a problem.

ireland57 wrote:The bike fit……some new things occurred today. My left foot was going to sleep.
Under my wedding tackle was going to sleep.

There is something wrong the bike fit/seat/rider?
I don’t know what.
Any ideas ?

The mtn bike fit was great. No reason to think road bike isn’t as well.
Could it be the seat?
Could be. You may be sitting much longer than before due to being able to ride further in one ride. What is the saddle? Has it got a cutout? (Not that they are a holistic solution.) With the MTB you are not as likely to be sitting for as long.

If you find you are still having problems with your knees, you may want to consider Q Factor or step. You got a road triple which can have a fairly big Q Factor of up to 185mm. The MTB is likely about 172mm Q Factor. A road double or compact may be 147mm. For hips and knees it is believed that a smaller step is more desirable (obviously especially if you are smaller).

I currently own 3 MTBs with different Q Factors. I'm going to try to fit my road cranks to one of my MTBs to see if going from 170 to 165mm length and 165 to 147mm Q Factor will make a difference. I've done a trial fit and it just fits. There are going to be a few interesting challenges in doing this with gearing. Should be an interesting experiment and if it makes no positive difference (unlikely) I can just convert it back.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Sun Oct 03, 2010 11:03 am

Q-Factor:- If the measurements are from the outer face of one crank to the outer face of the other crank (where the pedals screw into the cranks) then the Q-factors are as follows:-

Road bike approx 148 - 150mm.

Mtn bike approx 187mm.

The road bike can't go a lot narrower as the crank clears the chain stay by about 6-8mm at present.

The crankset is an Ultegra triple 6700 series.

Power was probably not the right word. In cars I find it easy to separate torque and power; with the human body - endurance, power, torque, strength confuse me.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby Nobody » Sun Oct 03, 2010 2:41 pm

For a road triple, 150 is quite good. Not many around that narrow. If the MTB isn't affecting your knees then Q Factor isn't your problem.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Sun Oct 03, 2010 8:12 pm

I forgot your earlier question....the saddle is a Selle Italia Gel (oktavia - this bit is hard to read).

The mtn bike does affect my knees as well. Just that the roadie is a lot worse.....was a lot worse hopefully.
Usually though there's some relief due to downhills, standing efforts, resting a bit here and there waiting for someone.
I learnt to spin on the mtn bike a lot more to compensate and it works out ok.

I finally got serious about stretching and core work as well now all the back injuries and stomach bugs have settled and do it every two days for about an hour.

I think you're right about the Q-factor but I'll learn more as I go.

I didn't realise there was so much in it. I just want to ride the friggin' bike.......fast.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby Nobody » Sun Oct 03, 2010 9:14 pm

ireland57 wrote:I forgot your earlier question....the saddle is a Selle Italia Gel (oktavia - this bit is hard to read).
Like this?
http://www.mtbr.com/cat/controls/saddle ... 40crx.aspx
Might be an idea to start trying some other saddles.
As a generalization, cutout saddles are supposed to give less numbness but place more pressure on your sit bones. My Specialized Alias is a good example of that. No numbness, but too hard on my sit bones for a long ride.

It's no secret that I'm a Brooks fan but understand that many aren't for various reasons. If you were to look at a Brooks for a road bike, the Swift would be a good pick or the Swallow if you are particularly light (different saddles have different leather thicknesses).

On the plastic/carbon front there is Selle SMP which again polarises people like Brooks. They seem to either get great or bad results.
Other than those two brands in particular, you'd be better off finding a shop that lends/hires saddles out to try. Either than or buy secondhand on eBay and resell what you don't like.

ireland57 wrote:The mtn bike does affect my knees as well. Just that the roadie is a lot worse.....was a lot worse hopefully.
Usually though there's some relief due to downhills, standing efforts, resting a bit here and there waiting for someone.
I learnt to spin on the mtn bike a lot more to compensate and it works out ok.

I finally got serious about stretching and core work as well now all the back injuries and stomach bugs have settled and do it every two days for about an hour.

I think you're right about the Q-factor but I'll learn more as I go.

I didn't realise there was so much in it. I just want to ride the friggin' bike.......fast.
It's often easy if you're young. But as you're experiencing, it gets more complicated as you age.

Everyone is different to some degree, but things I've found worth trying:

Reading about and experimenting with saddle height and for/aft position.
http://www.cyclefitcentre.com/further%20reading.htm
http://www.cyclingnews.com/fitness.php? ... e_position
http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/techni ... ight-14608
http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/cyc ... er-24-2009

If you have cleats (like nearly everyone) it is probably better to change to flats until you sort out the knee problems with bike fit, technique, exercises, stretching and all other areas. Then go back to experimenting with cleated shoes. I say this because they can cause problems and often can be difficult to set up right. Better to leave them out of the equation rather than have cleats complicate things for now.

Oh, and if I didn't mention it before, I think crank length is more important than Q Factor but Q Factor is still important.
For example, here is a "cyclo-tourist and randonneur" sight where every set of cranks for sale has a listed Q Factor:
https://store.velo-orange.com/index.php ... ranks.html

Hope that helps.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Mon Oct 04, 2010 8:30 pm

Yes that's the seat, different colour but looks exactly the same shape.

I wear cleats and have used them since Jan this year....SPD's on both bikes. It's highly unlikely I'll go back to flats even if for a short time; everything about them feels better most of the time. If there's no improvement anywhere I'll take them off and start again.

Good reading there....thankyou. Steve Hogg is a very interesting fellow.

I learned a lot from reading those articles......takes a while to sink in with some of us though. I was lucky enough to have an experienced friend ride beside me up a long steep hill and point out (seating position while climbing) what I was trying to achieve but not succeeding with.
It was one of those lightbulb moments and a lot of things made sense then. I.e. I felt the strain on every muscle that needed stretching and was able to feel how to sit on the bike properly with my hands light on the bars.

It may sound rediculous to some but it's how it is.

The reading explains some more to me; it also hints how complicated this is.

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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby ireland57 » Thu Oct 14, 2010 8:48 pm

It's a little early for a "this was definitely a good idea" but I've now done a 3rd "hard" ride with a good result.
The cranks seem to have made a big difference on flat ground at least.

Last Sat we did 104 kms as fast as I could ride for 104 kms basically including the 3km hill again. It was a cruise for the racers though. :oops:
I hung on this time (except for the mad sprint) averaging 30kmh inc all the traffic lights.

This morning I did a group ride of 30kms. The last two attempts I had to go home tail between legs because my left knee got too painful to push any more; I turned off before we'd done 10 kms of group therapy.
Today I stayed on, led for a bit into wind, stayed with them in the sprint and just touched 50kmh (flat ground) for the first time.....into wind but kind of in a group. The knee hurt a bit but it was ok.

I've got more serious about the stretching and core work as well in the last 2 weeks and it seems to be making a difference.

So for the moment I'm happy. A big turnaround for me on the roadie; I was thinking I may have to sell it not long ago.
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Re: Knees and Cranks - How do I get a good result from this?

Postby Nobody » Thu Oct 14, 2010 9:57 pm

ireland57 wrote:A big turnaround for me on the roadie; I was thinking I may have to sell it not long ago.

Thanks for the update.

I don't think some people would realize how debilitating it can be. But by a bunch of little steps and a lot of time, you can get to the point where it won't stop you riding anymore. I took up cycling again after a big layoff from about 1996 to 2006 (business, kids, etc). I had to give it up again after a few months due to knee problems. Took it up again in 2008, but this time with more attention to my knees, fit issues and stretching. I'm still riding regularly. Rode today. I think I've still got some more fine tuning to do on the MTB (I think the road bike is sorted) but that will likely come with more time and money.
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