Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Bike Is a Bike Is a Bike -- Or Is It?

Here’s a short post in reaction to something I read in the comments. Someone was frustrated about how his knees reacted badly to a session on a stationary bike but were okay on a real bike, out on the road. Which makes no sense at all, right?

After all, a bike is a bike is a bike. Right?

Ten years ago, before my experience with knee pain, I would have said reflexively, “Sure. No appreciable difference.”

But once you have knee pain ... well, I’m not so sure. Your knees in this state are more tender and more easily disturbed. You start to appreciate subtleties, slight differences between Activity A and Activity B that actually can matter.

Personally, I’ve noticed differences in how my knees react to riding a stationary bike versus a bike on the open road.

The stationary bike has certain advantages. It’s easier to control the force exerted. You can simulate an 18-mile stretch of easy, flat road if you want to. Hell, you can even spin backwards.

But what I find more interesting is that riding on the open road may have certain advantages too. It’s easier for my knees to ride hard on the road than on a stationary bike. Why? Maybe because I’m shifting my body around, moving on the seat more, slightly altering the way that my joints take the pedaling force. Or maybe because sometimes I’m slowing (or even stopping for traffic lights), other times accelerating. Or maybe because occasionally I’m standing up on my pedals. I don’t know.

Then there are the bike setups to consider. Chances are very good that your stationary bike and road bike aren’t configured exactly the same way, in terms of distance from seat to pedal, for example. Does that matter? If you’ve got great knees, probably not. If you don’t, it might.

Anyway, this is just my way of urging you to stop and think a bit if you’re doing two things that you think are basically the same and one bothers your knees and one doesn’t. Maybe they aren’t really the same. And maybe that slight difference is actually important.


  1. I agree I think it's probably that on a stationary bike you are stressing your joints in exactly the same way on each turn of the pedals - like some mechanical part that is rubbing on exactly the same spot on each revolution. On the road the variation in positions spreads the stress/load.
    Before my cascade of pain i noticed that after a group turbo session in the post session stretches I felt an incredible tightness around my hips which sadly I ignored and missed the signals. I don't remember getting this after road cycling though I confess I didn't generally bother with stretching. Yesterday I cycled about 8 miles on a softish path on a mountain bike. Afterwards I felt less pain everywhere knees hips shoulders etc. This has lasted into today. I don't have the references to hand but as well as the potential cartilage repair stimulus exercise is supposed to have an analgesic and an anti-inflammatory effect. A little bit of hope...

  2. sorry for not staying within the topic of the post; but have you had experience with knee effusion (water on the knee)? if yes, did you do anything special about it or just went about your "normal" recovery process?

    1. Typical treatment for knee effusion is an injection of cortico-steroids, but you really need to weigh up whether or not this is worth it long term... as there is a lot of evidence emerging that highlights the long term negative effects of cortisone injections into joint (it causes cartilage to deteriorate at a faster rate). Really glad you brought up this topic though as it is important for people in this community to remember that things like joint effusion and fat pad issues (fat pad is full of nerves) can present almost identically to chondromalacia. It's really important to get some firm evidence in the form of imaging (mri or ultrasound) to work out whether or not your problem really is cartilage damage (chondromalacia) or one of the many other structures surrounding the kneecap...otherwise you can end up chasing your tail for a long time trying to fix a problem you don't have. Fixation error, it's rife in the medical community, watch out!

    2. I think I had slight swelling at times, but only slight. Swelling was never a big problem for me, fortunately. Others may be able to share some tips.

  3. I had my OS telling me not to go for steroid injections as it would accelerate the rate of cartilage damage. To consider the injections only if all the conservative management had failed and when I can no longer continue with daily activities due to pain. As we need to think on rehabilitation on long term and not on temporary basis