This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
From: Roger Marquis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[More up to date copies of Roger's articles can be found at
As the weather becomes more conducive to riding, the racing season
gets going, and average weekly training distances start to climb
a few of us will have some trouble with our knees. Usually knee
problem are caused by one of four things:
1) Riding too hard, too soon. Don't get impatient. It's going
to be a long season and there's plenty of time to get in the
proper progression of efforts. Successful cycling is a matter
of listening to your body. When you see cyclists burning out,
hurting themselves and just not progressing past a certain
point you can be fairly certain that it is because they are
not paying enough attention to what their bodies are saying.
2) Too many miles. The human body is not a machine. It cannot
take all the miles we sometimes feel compelled to ride without
time to grow and adapt. Keep this in mind whenever you feel
like increasing average weekly mileage by more than forty
miles over two or three weeks and you should have no problems.
3) Low, low rpms (also excessive crank length). Save those
big ring climbs and big gear sprints for later in the season.
This is the time of year to develop fast twitch muscle fibers.
That means spin, spin, spin. You don't have to spin all the
time but the effort put into small gear sprints and high rpm
climbing now will pay off later in the season. Mountain bikers
need to be especially careful of low rpms. I generally
recommend that even full time MTB competitors do most of
their training on the road.
4) Improper position on the bike. Unfortunately most bicycle
salespeople in this country have no idea how to properly set
saddle height, the most common error being to set it too low.
This is very conducive to developing knee problems because
of excessive bend at the knee when the pedal is at, and just
past top dead center.
If you've avoided these common mistakes yet are still experiencing
knee problems first make sure your seat and cleats are adjusted
1) Check for leg length differences both below and above the
knee. If the difference is between 2 and 8 millimeters you
can correct it by putting spacers under one cleat. If one
leg is shorter by more than a centimeter or so you might
experiment with a shorter crank arm on the short leg side.
2) Use shorter cranks. For some riders this helps keep pedal
speed up and knee stress down. I'm over 6 ft. tall and use
170mm cranks for much of the off season.
3) Try the Fit-Kit R.A.D. cleat alignment device and/or a
rotating type cleat/pedal system.
4) Cut way back on mileage and intensity (This is a last
resort for obvious reasons). Sometimes a prolonged rest is
the only way to regain full functionality and is usually
required only after trying to "train through" pain.
Roger Marquis (www.roble.net/marquis)