Knee Pain and Cycling

Hey Everyone,

A few years back and a couple of years after my knee surgery (cartilage tear and ACL replacement) I went on a cross country bicycle trip.  It was about a 2700 mile trip and lasted about 2 months.  Many people I spoke with at the time said cycling was a really good thing to do coming back from a knee injury/surgery.  At that time, it was about 2 years after I had knee surgery and I was still struggling with all sorts of issues related to the knee.

  • The Knee would just sweat on its own (the rest of me would be dry)
  • The knee would still feel stiff
  • Tension in my hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders
  • Not to mention the knee pain I was still having

The reason why I was told cycling would be good exercise for my knee was due to the fact that it was a controlled range of motion and if I got “toe clips” or “clip less pedals.”  Toe clips (to a lesser degree) and clip less pedals (to a greater degree) keep your foot “tight” to the pedal allowing you to pull up with one leg while the other leg is pushing down creating a smooth circular motion with the pedals.  I would not only be working the knee in the front, I would also be working on strengthening the back of the knee as well which provides tremendous all around support for your knees.

So I bought a nice cross country bike (A Trek 520) and began riding.   Riding a bicycle with a full load (70 or so lbs.) is quite different from riding with no load on the bike.

Knee Exercises - cycling**This next point is the essence of the entire post and how you can benefit most from cycling to get over your knee pain or strengthening your knees.

It is crucial that you keep your revolutions per minute (RPM) up between 80 – 100 whether you are riding with a full load or not.  Why is this so important you might ask?

Well the reason is quite clear after you are riding long distances day after day.  I found out that I would get this terrible pain in the front of my knee below my knee cap.  The harder and heavier I pushed the more they hurt.

Think of it like shoveling dirt.  Every time you take a scoop you have to lift the weight.  If you took a full shovel load it would weight maybe 25 to 30 lbs, now shovel that over and over day in and day out.  The first few days are going to be very difficult and you might not even be able to make it.  However, it you now took only a 5 lb shovel full.  How long do you think you would be able to do that day after day?  Let me tell you it is a lot easier and you can keep it up for a much longer period of time.

The point is when you keep your RPMs up between 80 to 100 it is like you have only 5 lbs on your shovel.  You can ride for long distances and your knees will become stronger as a result with less fatigue and recovery time.

Knee Pain - CyclingKnowing your knees is important and the big thing here is not to over do it with your knees.  If they begin to hurt more while you are cycling it is time to back off and take some time to rest.  Knowing your knees is
essential and when to push them a little harder and when to back off.

So try a little bit of cycling and let me know how it goes.  Remember the more questions you ask the more you are going to understand about what is going on with your knees and the knee pain you are feeling.

Let me know if you have any questions by sending them to or just post a comment below.

Best regards,


(The Knee Pain Guru)

17 comments on “Knee Pain and Cycling

  1. Hello Bill, you talk about running as part of the advance exercises. But I was wondering whether running the stairs in my apartment block, (starting with walking) would be a good alternative. The reason is that at present I live and work in Moscow, Russia and the air quality is not that good and everyone parks their cars on the pavement anyway.

    • John,

      Thanks for the question…A lot would depend upon how your knees are feeling at the point you are at now. The running exercise I speak about in my book is more of a breathing exercise so you don’t pattern physical activity with your breathing. Knowing how and when your knees hurt would be helpful for me to more accurately respond to your question. Do they hurt when you run? Before you run or after you run?

  2. Hi Bill, thank you for your time. I have had knee problems from cycling for a number of seasons. Two years ago I had a snowmobile accident and had to have my knee tightened? I started cycling again this season and had no problems with pain. Now just today it started hurting again. When I had the surgery the Dr. said he fixed three things while he was in there. It was looking as though he had fixed my cycling problem too until today. The first time I hurt it was a cold day and many miles, too slow cadence too I suppose. Anyway, when it hurts like this seems I need to take off two to three MONTHS before I can ride again. That is a real let down for me as I just retired at 50 and looking forward to pacific coast tour in a week or two. Not now I guess. Thanks for any advice sir. Scott

  3. Hi Bill,

    Just read your article and noticed a similarity… I too have this pain in my knee, just below the knee cap. I have not been to the doctor’s yet but just want to know whether can this be cured quickly (a week or two) or do I have to lay off cycling for a while. I do mainly mountain biking, trails and some roads. In your experience, would appreciate to know whether this is not a ligament tear or so.


    • Kingston,

      Great question, however the only person who would be able to answer the question on whether what you are dealing with is a ligament tear or not is your doctor. Get to the doctor, have him check your knee out and then we’ll know what we’re dealing with. Then I would be able to let you know what sort of strategy to get your knee back to healthy again…

      Make sense?


  4. Hi Bill,
    My left knee is still painful to bend – I tried to cycle but my knee hurt above the knee cap when it bent and it still hurts when I am going down stairs. Walking up the stairs seems fine though!

  5. Hi Bill
    The problem with my knee it herts when i walk because of that i limp a little i don’t
    know if you can help but if you can i would great full

    Thank you

  6. Hi Bill Im a 57year old women and must go for a knee replacement. Sometime
    the pain is very intense and other times quite bearable. Is their any way I can prevent the operation My problems are from an injury but also osteo arthritus
    Thanks you so much
    Beatrix Cape Town South Africa

    • Beatrix – Yes, I do believe there are lots of things you can do to prevent your knee replacement surgery. It will take some work and effort on your part though. Have you looked into my program, “Surgery Free Knee Replacement”? That would be a great place to start…Bill

  7. Hi Bill,
    After 5 knee ops i cannot cycle due to the fact the vmo does not engage when cycling, even after 3 mins cycling, over the following 48 hrs my glutes, bicep femoris, lateral quads and calf muscles all go extremly tight and its seems like my shin bone is being twisted externally… there any way to sort this out??? i really miss cycling. simple stretching and trigger point therapy don’t help.

  8. Hi

    I just stumbled across this article and have a few questions.
    I have been having knee problems for a long time now, but my GP has narrowed it down to my weight issues (I am a little bit heavier than I should be but am making slow progress to a healthier lifestyle). This said, I am at the gym 4 – 5 times a week doing cardio and strength training, but my knees never seem to make the full duration of the workout. Most of the time I experience terrible pain in my right knee after squats & lunges (with different degrees) or running. This week however, I have experienced the strangest thing of all. Since Monday I’ve had the feeling like there’s a bubble underneath my kneecap, and it’s limited my range of motion. It even feels like there is some swelling in there.
    Today for the first time I have tried to only cycle as my workout. It seemed to help as the pain slowly subsided during my workout, but when I hit the stairs it felt even more strange (swollen and like bubbles a expanding in there).

    Do you have any advise on how I can deal with this. It is really hindering my progress and is very frustrating to be quite frank.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    • Jade
      You must get the knee comfortable and mostly out of pain before moving forward with any sort of exercise or strengthening routine. Your body has taken on a dysfunctional tension pattern to compensate for the pain. When you exercise or strengthen that pattern while in pain you just strengthen the dysfunctional pattern.

  9. I also got involved in an accident while riding my Morpheus CONSPIRACY Standard Build. It took me a month or so to recover. I’m just glad that you too are improving.

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