Knowin’ When to Fold ‘Em

Perry wasn’t kidding about the EcoVelo knee curse. —Alan

I wrote earlier this week about staying the course and choosing to take the bike, even when offered a lift in the car at 5am on a cold, dark, wet Monday morning.

For the committed bike commuter, it can be equally tempting to ignore the signals your body is sending and “ride through” an oncoming injury. I was able to get away with this when I was young, fresh, and fit, but now that I’m approaching middle age, my body is being far less cooperative in this regard.

Earlier this year, I ignored the glaring signals my knee was sending and ended up with an overuse injury that kept me off the bike for the better part of 3 months. I would have been far better off to take a couple of days to rest the knee before it became serious; that’s why I begrudgingly asked for a lift to the train station today. I may be a slow learner, but there’s nothing like the frustration of sitting on your butt for three months to motivate a recalcitrant, over-zealous bike commuter to take a rest day when it’s needed.

33 Responses to “Knowin’ When to Fold ‘Em”

  • Tom Robinette says:

    Arg, I think I’ve been cursed too – except it’s my wrist that’s hurting from hitting the pavement while coming through the main gate at work. At least the only witness to my inattenion to basic cycling skills was the gate guard – there’s usually a line of cars behind me ;-). Ace bandages, ice and Ibuporfen are on the menu for the rest of the weekend.

    So that’s three of us – does it mean the curse is lifted?

  • Alan says:

    Ouch. Get well Tom.

    Unfortunately I’m not sure there’s a way to lift the curse of growing old… ;-)

  • Perry says:

    Unfortunately I’m not sure there’s a way to lift the curse of growing old

    Alan, yes there is and it’s most disagreeable. ;-)

  • Perry says:

    So that’s three of us – does it mean the curse is lifted?

    Tom, they say things tend to run in three so let’s hope.

  • anvil ed says:

    Every situation is different but here is some food for thought. We need to think about more than working and biking to work or the grocery store. As we get older, weight training, improving our balance, and cross training should be a regular park of our health plan. Cross training might be something like walking or swimming. I’ll recommend a book, “Younger Next year” by Cris Crawley. Best wishes , Eddie

  • Dave Kee says:

    Short cranks, short cranks, short cranks. Please, at least give them a try if you haven’t already. Oh, and Q-Rings.

  • Mike says:

    Listen to Dave K.

    I second Short Cranks….and Q-rings!

    Mike

  • Alan says:

    Short cranks are great on recumbents with their wide range of adjustability, but on uprights they might require a different frame size or at least a new uncut fork because of the need to raise the saddle, and consequently the handlebars, to compensate.

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    read an article about short cranks for ‘bent bikes and would like to know more about them.

  • Eddie says:

    So what’s the excuse not to try Q-rings? They are wonderfully kind to your knees. Seriously.

  • Darryl says:

    Don’t forget about adjusting the seat, either. I don’t know about California at this time of year, but here in Wisconsin we pay attention to how many studs are in our tires. (Besides the one on the seat.)
    Which also means it’s that time of year to wear heavier clothing and heavier shoes. I’m not going to get into which jacket is better or how many layers is better. The fact is on a recumbent thicker clothing makes the seat back seem shorter. Likewise with thicker shoes, that shortens the bike even more. A half inch here and a half inch there and your pedal stroke is cramped. Even on my Trek changing shoes from clipless shoes to dress shoes affects my seat height.

    I did change to shorter cranks and smaller chain rings this summer and it made an improvement with my comfort. But now I’ve also had to change my seat to give me more winter room. Maybe it’s that I ate too much turkey last week.

    I also agree with anvil ed that there’s more to physical fitness and social well being than riding bicycles to work or for fun. I”m going to see about a fitness program this winter, with the doc’s OK.

    DJ

  • Alan says:

    I like the idea of stretching, cross-training, and appropriate rest, combined with accurate bike fit. The rest part is sometimes the hardest…

  • Adrienne says:

    Alan,
    I have become quite a dedicated bike commuter myself, and when I have to drive, it can feel like a capitulation. I have had 4 knee surgeries and just had wrist surgery and I HATE giving in to any of it, so i am right there with you.
    I have found that if I collect several audio books, which I only listen to when I am in the car, it takes the sting out of having to drive.

  • Mike says:

    Alan,

    You have a point about adjusting seat height and Handlebar height when switching to short cranks. I’ve gone from 170′s to 150-155mm cranks. I’ve had to raise the seat by about 1/2 the difference in crank length (around 10mm). And I’ve had to raise the handlebar about the same amount. but short cranks are definitely worth a try if you suffer from chronic knee pain no matter what kind of bike you ride. Just have to remember to spin. like powering over a rise in the road or uphils, spin faster vs pedaling harder. My biggest surprise is that the small circles I am able to pedal using a short crank has eliminated my knee pain AND has increased my speed (both flats and up hills).

    The bad thing is that there is not a large selection of short cranks. The good thing is that there are inexpensive short cranks so trying a set won’t set you back too far. Look for BMX cranks.

    An added benefit for people like me who have developed a belly over the years (mine has shrunk considerably in the last year, but still there ;) ), short cranks have allowed me to ride drop bar bikes again. Short cranks means my knees aren’t coming up as high and bumping into my belly when riding drop bar bikes.

  • Rick says:

    Don’t forget restzzz as part of your program. There is growing medical evidence that productive sleep is maybe more important to health than exercise!

  • Perry says:

    @ Roberto: Here is lots of reading on short cranks:

    BROL

    Mark Stonich

  • Alan says:

    @Rick

    Yup, that’s my biggest challenge – both getting enough sleep and knowing when to take a rest day off the bike. When my knee blew up, I had ridden everyday for at least 4 months straight – not too intelligent. I find that when I’m cycling for transportation, I think more about the getting around and less about the bike riding part of it; the days, weeks, and miles pile up pretty quickly.

  • Dann says:

    One other thing no one’s mentioned is the clipless pedal. I believe they are an abomination and a major cause of pain and injury to those who use them (an opinion shared here http://www.rivbike.com/article/clothing/the_shoes_ruse). When you are locked in place on the pedal, you cannot move your foot around to relieve stress and pain when the body feels it. With flat pedals – with or without straps/cages – you can change the position of your foot as often as you need to. When more power and leverage is needed, you can get on your toes. When you’re coasting or spinning or just goofing off, you can pedal with your heel if it helps relieve some pressure or pain when your body is crying out for relief, and still provide forward momentum.

  • Annika DeJaegher says:

    When my cycling was stopped short by a closed brain injury due to being hit in my truck by a drunk driver, I sold my stable of bikes and went to a Greenspeed GT5 Recumbent Trike. I still have huge balance issues, even though I am 9 months out from the accident. Getting a recumbent trike was the best move in the world. A wide range of gears, coupled with stability, and I came to the conclusion that as we age (I am 58) we need to make adjustments. For me, with the balance issues, the trike was the only viable alternative. There has to be a huge market out there for trike riders, from those of us who are aging, to MS sufferers, to people who want a really cool fast ride. This article really hammered home the fact that we are all getting older, and in order to keep on the paths, trails and roads all of us will need to evaluate our steeds to make the best choices possible to keep out there as long as we are able.

  • Darryl says:

    Annika –
    Trikes are a very fast growing segment in the recumbent industry. Check out Bentrider Online listed as a blog link on this page. After riding in the snow today, I’m very tempted but I have no room for them in my apartment right now.

    Dann -
    Clipless pedals are very awkward in urban stop and go environments. My worst spills were due to not unclipping in time when my DF bike lost momentum. However, out on the open roads and trails they help keep my feet on my recumbent pedals and they do help going up hill. Prudence dictates when to say when. I have reversible pedals so I can go either way.

    Alan -
    I work nights. My diurnal schedule is so screwy from the weekend to work week that I really don’t have a schedule. I move when my body says it’s time to move. So I feel for ya. ;-))
    But seriously, even if most Americans got on their bike just once a week to run an errand, would be enough to shift the balance in favor of a cycling infrastructure and slow the demand to auto based lifestyle. So don’t flog yourself for using an auto mobile once in a while. They’re good at what they do. Just don’t use them so much.

    DJ

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    Perry:
    thanks for the links.

    Roberto Rodz.

  • Julian Smith says:

    Lynne and I went to short cranks some years ago, and it has certainly allowed me to continue cycling. My reason was arthritis in my hips, which reduces the ability of the hips to move in large circles. The short crank suggestion was made by Tom Bruni, a bicyle builder in Baltimore, MD. He had tried it shortly after an injury, and discovered that not only did it allow him to recover faster, but actually to cycle quicker also. Alan noted above that you will need to adjust the seat, and that your bike may not have enough adjustment. This was almost true for me. Theoretically, you need to move the seat backward and/or upward the same distance by which you shorten the cranks. If you can buy the length crank you need, it might be a small distance, e.g. 10 mm. However, if you need to shorten existing cranks, the shortening must be at least 20 mm to retain enough metal beyond the new pedal hole to provide strength for the crank.

  • Julian Smith says:

    Many or most components of a bicycle are adjustable. Why are one-size cranks assumed to fit everyone? There is no reason that people with short legs should use the same length cranks as long-legged people. I really don’t understand why the industry does not provide more choice. I personally know many people who want or need shorter cranks. I am sure others do also. If you add on those people who should be using shorter cranks and don’t even know it, I suspect there is a good market out there.

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    julian:

    i just got a EZ-1 and i use the seat all the way back, even if i am 5’6″ tall. could i go short cranks?

  • Perry says:

    i just got a EZ-1 and i use the seat all the way back, even if i am 5’6″ tall. could i go short cranks?

    @ Roberto: You are talking about the seat base, right? If so, probably not. But I do find it odd that your seat is all the way back. Isn’t the EZ-1 one size fits all? If so, I doubt someone 5’6″ would max out the seat adjustment range.

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    hello, perry! and thanks for your response.
    i must say that you are so right and i so wrong! LOL!!! hadn’t noticed that the seat tube was in the way of further adjustment. and, yes, did read somewhere that the EZ-1 is one-size-fits-all. so, what do you advise me to do if i go short cranks?

  • Perry says:

    @ Roberto:

    I am glad you have the room in seat adjustment to try the short cranks. I have 153mm cranks on my Tour Easy (175 originally, shortened by Mark Stonich). I can’t say for sure that they make a difference to my knees but I do recommend them. They take a bit getting used to but not much. The key is to remind yourself to spin those cranks instead of mashing on them at low cadence. I’ve always been comfortable spinning at 90-110 RPMs so it was not hard for me. I suggest lower gears if you already use your lowest gears for hills.

    The reason I like short cranks is that they enforce good habits (spinning) and that your whole leg from hip to knee is engaging in less movement of joints and also less stress to those joints (especially the knee) because you are applying pressure at an angle not as extreme.

    On a recumbent, I see no reason not to try short cranks to find out if you like them (assuming you have the seat adjustment room necessary and it seems like you do). On a DF, I’d be concerned about how high the seat goes and whether your frame size will allow you to get in a good position with the bars high enough, etc. Never tried them on a DF though, so don’t know too much about it.

    Cheers!

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    Perry:
    thank you very much for your advice. don’t know if i was clear enough about it (lol!) but i can definitely move back the seat base some 5 or 6 inches more if needed.
    i understand that “spinning” means to pedal al high rpm in low gears. the most rpm i can do is around 80 in my ‘bent exercise bike, and for some 15 to 20 minutes. i’m not even close to that riding the EZ-1 (although i still have not installed a computer on it to know for sure). i’m not especially athletic (=overweight) so, would it make a difference for me if i go short cranks, or should i first try and drop weight before attempting the change? on the other hand, i have knee issues that started in june on a trip to europe (had to walk a lot!) so maybe i need to try going short cranks asap.
    thanks again!

  • Perry says:

    @ Roberto: I think the short cranks would be a good option for you to try. There’s no telling whether you’ll will like them or whether they’ll help your knees but if you are keen on trying them, I don’t think you need to wait to lose weight first. Good luck.

  • Julian Smith says:

    @Roberto: Sorry for the long response time, but I was out of town. I agree completely with Perry. Try the short cranks, and try to avoid “mashing”, i.e. pushing hard on the pedals. Your body will probably tell you to use a lower gear.

    As you get used to the shorter cranks, consciously try to pedal faster in a lower gear, i.e. spin. This will take time, so don’t be discouraged.

    You might consider another option before going with short cranks. A company called SCOR Productions makes a product called Kneesavers. They can be reached at:

    http://www.kneesaver.net/

    I have tried them and they certainly helped my knees. It is possible that this product is all you need. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tell if this product will help your particular knee problem. The company will be happy to discuss it with you, but remember that their goal is to sell their product.

    Regardless of the solution, you should still learn to spin in a lower gear to put less stress on your knees.

    It is probably not advisable to use KneeSavers on cranks that have been shortened, because the cranks may no longer be strong enough.

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    Julian:
    thank you very much for your response. Perry and you have helped me a lot. i’ll start today to look for some cranks. someone suggested to look into the bmx type, they do seem to be priced right, around $30 and less in amazon but i’ll go to the lbs so i can benefit from the expertise of the salesperson.
    the first webpage i open daily is ecovelo. keep up that excellent work!

  • Roberto Rodz. says:

    Perry:
    hello! the salesman at the lbs says he got for my EZ-1 a Pyramid crankset 152mm 48-38-28, that a couple of chain links must be dropped and probably make a small adjustment of the front derailleur. what do you think?

  • Perry says:

    @ Roberto: The 152 sounds good but ask him what is the smallest granny (chain ring) that crank will take. I think 28 teeth is too high for a granny on a short crank if you have any hills in your area. I’d like to see a minimum of 24 teeth. 22 would be even better still. That’s my opinion. Others here may have further advice for you.

 
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