01.24.2006 | 5:37 pm

As I chose today’s topic, I had to ask myself: “Is there any possible way this won’t come across as the most random collection of advice, observations and anecdotes I have ever written?”

That is because I have chosen “knees” as today’s topic. Which explains why I’ve titled today’s post “Knees.”

I’m already losing focus, I can tell. Sorry. I’ll try to stay on point going forward. Although, before I do, I would like to point out that the word “knees” looks like you’ve spelled it wrong, even when you’ve spelled it right.

And you can’t say the word “knee” without sounding like you’re in a Monty Python sketch.


How to Look Like a Better Cyclist Than You Actually Are

Try this experiment. Go out and ride your road bike for two hours. From time to time, take note of the lateral distance between your knees and your top tube. Here’s what this distance means:

  • Less than 2 inches: You look like a pro
  • 2 4 inches: You look like a recreational enthusiast
  • 4 8 inches: You look like a circus bear on a bike
  • 8 inches or greater: You look like you’re convinced your bike is actually a horse

It’s true. Watch any serious expert racer or pro on a bike. They keep their knees tight in to the top tube. Why do they do this? In truth, I have no idea. Maybe because it’s more aerodynamic? Maybe because you get better power transfer? Maybe it’s better for your knees? Maybe it’s modesty? Maybe they all do it because everyone else does it?

Regardless of why, the fact remains: you’ll look more like you know what you’re doing if you keep your knees close in.

Bonus Tip: This is much easier to do, I’ve noticed, if you don’t have a big ol’ gut getting in the way of your knees on the upstroke.


What to Do If You Are Experiencing Knee Pain on Your Bike

If during a long ride, you begin to experience pain in your knees, it means your saddle is not at the right height, or is positioned too far forward or back. Here’s how to correct this problem:

  1. Move the seatpost down a little bit
  2. If the pain gets worse, move it up
  3. If that still doesn’t work, move the seat forward on its rails a little bit
  4. If that doesn’t work, move the seat back on its rails just a smidgen
  5. Repeat steps  1- 4 until you have just about lost your mind, without experiencing even the tiniest bit of relief from your pain.
  6. Go to a bike shop and have someone who knows what he’s doing fit you for your bike and adjust your bike to that fit.

Bonus Tip: If, while adjusting your seatpost height, the seatpost comes out of the bike, you have adjusted the height too high.


The Most Obnoxious Thing I Have Ever Heard In Response to a Compliment

Bob, Dug, and I were picking up our race sweatshirts — the ones with our finishing times screened on — after the Leadville 100 one year. As someone we had never met came and picked up his sweatshirt, one of us (I forget who) politely asked how he did. He told us his time (I don’t remember what it was), and then said, “And I did it on a singlespeed!

Clearly, we were supposed to be impressed.

Obligingly, Dug said (Pay attention, now: this is where the tie-in to today’s “knee” theme comes in), “You must have knees of steel.”

“You mean balls of steel!” the guy said, triumphantly.

I remember very clearly the awkward silence that ensued.


Something I’m Reluctant to Admit That I Really Enjoy

Occasionally, as I ride, I’ll start to feel a grinding sensation in my left knee. It will go on for about fifteen or twenty revolutions of the crank, after which there will be an audible “pop” in my knee, and then the grinding sensation will go away.

I love that pop — both the sound and the feel of it.


  1. Comment by Tyler | 01.24.2006 | 6:00 pm

    Knees are the most annoying, weakest link in the human body. Serious, they should replace all of our knees with titanium units immediately following puberty.In any case, pros have their knees so close together because it definitely is more aerodynamic, for one — look at how narrow their knees are on time-trial rigs!Also, pros’ rides tend to have very small Q factors, which, within certain limits, reduces medial knee strain.Check out a whole BUNCH of stuff about knees!

  2. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 01.24.2006 | 6:13 pm

    Elden, have that knee looked at. It isn’t supposed to do that! You might try adding Glucosamine Sulfate to your supplements. It stimulates the bones secretion of lubricants to the joints and helps cartilage rebuild and strengthen. Just a thought there!

  3. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 6:20 pm

    Being a professional bike type guy i wouldhave to agree with steps 1 thru 5. One other thingif all of these don’t work is a sure fix.Step # 7 – don’t ride. This step also works mightyfine for people who are experiencing a huge numberfo flat tires. However, be aware of the fact thattucking your knees closer to the top tube also helpsto prevent flats.Putting the the bike in the big chainring and the 11right out of the parking lot seems to be a quick fixto alot of knee problems. I also like to drop the airpressure down to about 60 psi, this put the bikein the so called "sweet spot" knee comfort range.If all of this fails, have your mechanic adjust your brakes to just rubbing your rims so you don’tget the speed up thus creating more knee stress.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 6:24 pm

    i have abrasions that won’t heal on the insides of my knees from my top tube. does this mean i’m like a pro cyclist?

  5. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 6:45 pm

    I’d rather die on my bike than live on my knees?

  6. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 6:50 pm

    Oh, and Argentius, you clearly aren’t much of a bike guy. Any real bike guy knows that we shouldn’t bother with titanium replacement knees, because nobody really knows how reliable titanium is (no titanium framed bike ever having broken, apparently). Thus real bike people prefer Carbon Fiber replacement knees. They are wicked light. Plus your knees would have a cool, black cross-hatched look to them. And you could probably get the knee caps made in an aero profile, which would be sure to shave some time off your result in the local time trials. Well, every real bicyclist prefers carbon fiber, except for the old guys from Rivendell and Harris Cyclery. Those guys prefer steel knees. With long geometry. Even though they are much heavier and subject to rust problems, they ride much, much smoother and are more comfortable long term. And they are easier to drill out to install braze ons for braces, extra water bottle racks, rear facing track dropouts, etc.

  7. Comment by Conejita | 01.24.2006 | 7:31 pm

    Okay, this has nothing to do with knees but oh well. I kind of sort of need a favor from you guys so just hear me out.Ill admit that I know nothing about cycling. I probably havent ridden a bike since the age of 11 or so. That being said, you guys crack me up so much on a daily basis that I have started to take an interest.That being said, this quarter at college I am taking a technical writting class. I have to write this huge (think 30-40 pages) paper on the topic of my choice which will compare a bunch of different things and then make a recomendation as to which on is the best.Now, since a.) I had no other ideas and b.) you guys make me laugh every day when I should be studying, I decided to allevieate the studying issue. Since most of you are insane (just my opinion and has not been medically tested) and doing multiple epic races this summer, I decided to compare training methods and preperation for such events. I am going to try and include diet, interval training, and maybe gear recommendatins (especially for the unsupported races).Like I said, I know nothing about cycling except for what assos has taught me (something about how cycling moments should be cherished and that I want to upgrade my body to the luxury model…Im sure that will be expensive), so if anyone can give me some direction where to look for research material, it would be much appreciated. Also, if you guys could compile a list of which events you are enetered into, I will pick which ones are most popular and try to make my paper relevant to those. Finally, I have to do some interviews for this project, so if anyone is willing (I live in Bellevue) let me know or I can it via email.I just started a space which I will try to keep updated about my progress on this and post my final paper when I am done, which should be in March. Thanks alot,ConejitaPS Sorry dug that this is so long : P

  8. Comment by joan | 01.24.2006 | 7:35 pm

    That pop is just like cracking your knuckles – you’re forcing the fluid that lubricates your knee (synovial fluid) to travel quickly to the other side of your joint and cavitation occurs (which is my high-falutin’ way of saying that bubbles pop). Won’t hurt you – but the grinding is probably not the greatest thing for your knees!

  9. Comment by joan | 01.24.2006 | 7:38 pm

    Conejita – look here:

  10. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 01.24.2006 | 7:56 pm

    I suspect that there may be some relationship between leg hair volume and knee distance. It’s just an observation, I haven’t done a survey or taken measurements or stopped Al to ask him what the hell he thinks he’s doing.Bonus Tip #1: nodding.That grinding feeling in the knee, followed by a pop – that’s old age biting you in the knee. Soon enough it will get bored with your knee and bite you in the backside.Knee geometry is the primary reason Lance Armstrong was so fast. Imagine how much closer together you could get your knees if you only had one goollie getting in the way.Dug – you’re either a pro or deformed.

  11. Comment by tayfuryagci | 01.24.2006 | 8:16 pm

    hmm that occasional pop you get from an unexpected place of your body, how sweet it is…rivendells are cool

  12. Comment by craig | 01.24.2006 | 8:51 pm

    nothing ruins the beauty and simplicity of singlespeeds like the riders who feel that riding one makes them gods gift to toughness and or hipper than thou…dug…DID you mean balls of steel? because, due to old age and gravity, I get my knees and balls confused regularly (hilarity often ensues)

  13. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 9:05 pm

    Mike, my hairy knees are actually pretty close to the top tube when I ride, as I keep my saddle so high, that I generally need supplemental oxygen to ride, so my knees hyperextend and sometimes dislocate on every single pedal stroke. It’s excruciatingly painful… but man, that sound I hear every time the knee joint pops apart and I tear a little cartilage… it’s so satisfying, every single time. It’s like cracking my knuckles or slapping myself in the face, except much more dynamic, and I just can’t stop myself. It’s like the time I discovered that whacking myself in the side of the head with the round side of a ball peen hammer produces an amazingly crunchy "splaaat" sound. Wow. That was the coolest noise. And now I have lots of places to store grapes under my helmet on long rides. I’m sure that when I’m done grinding down my knees, I’ll have lots of places in there to keep stuff too. Jokes aside, I need to shave up the legs when I lose a little more weight. Scrubbing gravel out of a scabbed up cut on the thigh is bad. Scrubbing *hair* and gravel out of a scabbed up cut is much much worse. As you know, some recent experiences caused me to conduct a test (under simulated laboratory conditions) to confirm this horrifying truth.

  14. Comment by dr-ben | 01.24.2006 | 9:26 pm

    Bonjour!First of all, im a first time visitor the site, it’s great! My life is complete. Gone are the days , fat cyclist is now my premier source of cycling info.Anyway onto the knee thing. I myself am in the under 2 inch category. I look very kool although, I can guarantee you my speed does not seem to match, so whenever a fellow cyclist I continue with my wiked pedalling style and quickly take a big breath and hold it, closing my mouth. The result, the passing cyclist belives I am a top racer on his post race spin, just taking things easy. This trick does work if you are cycling in a group, I tried it once and fainted!

  15. Comment by Zed | 01.24.2006 | 9:46 pm

    Dr Ben, you wouldn’t happen to know a Michael Lammler over there, would you?BTW, Fatty, I experience the same knee-pop thing, and I think it’s disgusting. Oh, and the story about the guy at the end of Leadville was even funnier than yesterday’s post. Perhaps because those awkward experiences are so true to life. I need to avoid rereading that so I don’t have an awkward experience explaining to my coworkers why I’m laughing so hard …

  16. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 10:15 pm

    What if my knees are only one inch from the top tube and I am able to ride at a blistering 10.235 mph? Will I still look fast?

  17. Comment by TIMOTHY | 01.24.2006 | 10:57 pm

    I agree with StormcrowePrime. I was training for a solo 24 Hour race a couple years ago and had a lot of knee pain towards the end of long rides (I would go for a couple hours, rest for an hour or so, and repeat….). I started taking a Glucosamine/Condrointin supplement to see if it would help and it seems to have really made a difference. I would recommend it.

  18. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 11:20 pm

    What if I am bowlegged and I can’t get my knees close to the top tube?

  19. Comment by Unknown | 01.24.2006 | 11:41 pm

    I call my bike "Trigger".Uncadan8

  20. Comment by barry1021 | 01.25.2006 | 1:17 am

    Wow this is informative stuff. I very much want to look like a professional rider, so today, I rode with my legs two inches from the top tube. Now I carefully read the part of FC’s instruction that said "This is much easier to do, I’ve noticed, if you don’t have a big ol’ gut getting in the way of your knees on the upstroke."Now my interpretation of this was if you DO have a big ol’ gut, (which I duz), it doesn’t mean you should NOT attempt this professional riding style, only that it is harder to do. So, properly inspired by the great stories of horrific face plants, fearless pulverizations of uncouth males, etc, of recent days, I was determined to succeed.Sure enough, as our intrepid leader explained, the Big Ol’ Gut (let’s call it BOG for short) made it harder. Not only did my knee smack my protuberance, it did it with such force, I found myself letting out an "OOF" sound on each upstroke as my BOG was forced up against all sorts of offended organs. Not only that, I found my Big Ol’ Butt (BOB) came right off the saddle, landing with a loud "THWAK" each time. So there I was, heading down the road, "OOF THWAK, OOF THWAK, OOF THWAK", looking professional. Thanks for the tip Fatty!! If anyone asks me who taught me to ride, I won’t forget to mention your name!!

  21. Comment by Donald | 01.25.2006 | 1:33 am

    i use the 2-4 inch theory but with a twist. since my big ol gut is on the softer side i use it to my advantage. since my knees are trashed and i have to spin instead of hammer, i use the upstroke to compress the fat then use the rebound for more power. or at least thats what i am convinced of, maybe, i hope.

  22. Comment by Unknown | 01.25.2006 | 2:08 am

    My knees pop regularly, several times a day, when I get up in the morning and after sitting for an hour or more at work.A couple months ago I injurred my right knee from running, and it stopped popping. The left knee still popped. The right knee, nothing. I must have had internal swelling, because although it looked about the same as my left knee, it felt really tight. Like someone had wrapped an elastic bandage around it. It was really hard going up and down stairs.Anyway, after about 4 days I was in my closet trying to figure out what to wear when my knee finally popped! I can relate to Fatty’s enjoyment of the sensation. It was glorious, and signalled the beginning of my recovery.Don’t know what makes ‘em pop. But I like it too!

  23. Comment by Yokota Fritz | 01.25.2006 | 4:28 am

    You probably know this for real, but keeping the knees close in indeed helps with keeping injury at bay.Your hair post was the best, BTW. Incidentally, U.S. Olympic athlete Zach Lund — who is bald — tested positive for the banned substance Finasteride (aka Propecia or Proscar), which is used to treat baldness. The only possible reason the WADA could ban Finasteride is that there is something to your theory that big hair can improve athletic performance.

  24. Comment by Sue | 01.25.2006 | 5:22 am

    Pay no attention to the knee-fearful among us. Grind ‘em to powder and get a couple total knee replacements. A local clinic is offering a buy two get one free deal on knee replacements right now.Botched

  25. Comment by Loes | 01.25.2006 | 3:02 pm

    Less than 2 inches, thanks to my knock-knees.

  26. Comment by tayfuryagci | 01.25.2006 | 3:15 pm

    today I saw that my knees are about 3 inches away from the top-tube, that puts me in the second category. not bad.

  27. Comment by John | 01.25.2006 | 4:02 pm

    I often feel that my knees may be sticking out farther than Dumbo’s ears, a consequence of belly, thunder thighs, and a large "sack of jewels" converging just over the top tube. It takes concentration and some serious rearranging to get everything situated "just right" so that I can keep my knees over the pedals.

  28. Comment by Unknown | 01.25.2006 | 5:22 pm

    ‘S true. All the best riders keep their knees in close to the top tube. I have no idea why, but you never see a good racer with knees flailing out to the sides. Back when I was racing, our club was coached by Eddie Borysewicz for a season. He used to point to me to show all the other riders how their knees should look. I wasn’t the best rider in the club, but I had the best knee position, and that was good for something.

  29. Comment by Unknown | 01.25.2006 | 7:52 pm

    So the gluocosamine/chondroitin some people take can help slow the deterioration of cartilage. Try taking it *before* you have major damage. It works for some people and not for others. You should feel a little better after taking it; if, after three or so months, you feel no difference, you’re someone it probably doesn’t help.Check out this link for more info:

  30. Comment by Kenny | 01.25.2006 | 8:21 pm

    I almost exclusively ride a single speed mountain bike or a fixed gear road bike and I have to tell you, I literally have balls of steel. I enjoy having balls of steel and take every opportunity to let people know that I indeed have balls of steel. However, it’s not always a good thing to have. Besides the constant clang clang sound emanating from my loins, like Nigel from Spinal Tap, it makes going thru airport security very uncomfortable

  31. Comment by Unknown | 01.25.2006 | 8:29 pm

    Kenny, I commute and go out to bars/coffee shops on a fixie, but usually train and do most longer rides (>40) on a geared rig. Consequently, one of the family jewels is made of spring steel studded with spiky adamantium bits, but the other one is still made out of mere mortalflesh. Every time I hit a bump, go jogging, or re-adjust whilst watching football, the boys clang together, with terribly painful results for me. It’s especially bad when I try to ride with my knees really close together.Any advice?

  32. Comment by Kenny | 01.25.2006 | 9:19 pm

    Al, Be a full man. Cowboy up and get rid of the gears. May I suggest a little Noxima or Bagbalm applied generously to your sensitive areas. Go all the way or don’t do it at all.

  33. Comment by Unknown | 01.26.2006 | 3:51 am

    Re. ciggy butts… I think you’re right that "they" think ciggy butts "don’t count," but my question is why anyone would expect anyone who doesn’t care about his or her own body, family, quality of life, etc., to care about littering.And I actually wonder if they ever do disintegrate… the butts, I mean; I know from personal experience that the smokers do. The other day, I asked myself that same question about the people throwing out trash. It doesn’t get press these days. We often see beer bottles, often neatly in their cardboard carriers, beside the road in the citrus groves. I’m sure those people do it so they won’t have "open container" if they get stopped. And I think an awful lot of trash blows out of pickup beds—people toss their fast food trash and other stuff back there and pay no attention when it goes airborne.Hugs,MuMo

  34. Comment by barry1021 | 01.26.2006 | 5:15 pm

    As to butts breaking down, the issue is the filter obviously, this is from the Eastman Chemical web site:Having introduced acetate tow to the industry in 1952, Voridian remains today a leading global manufacturer of acetate tow which it sells under the trademark Estron acetate tow. Voridian supplies Estron acetate tow in many different specifications for a variety of end uses, including cigarette filters and ink reservoirs for fiber tip pens. Voridian is one of the top three global manufacturers of acetate yarn, and the only U.S. manufacturer of colored acetate yarn. Estron white acetate yarns, in bright or dull lusters, and Chromspun solution-dyed acetate yarn are used in applications including linings for men’s and women’s clothing, party dresses and blouses, industrial fabrics, drapery linings, holiday ribbons and fabric blends.As you can see Filter tow is an acetate yarn, basically a spun plastic. I think it will break down as quickly as a soda bottle, which ain’t quick, especially if not exposed to sunlight.


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