Q: I have been getting a lot of knee pain as I have increased my miles. I tried moving my saddle up and then down, but neither helped and both caused additional pain. What should be my next step before breaking down and getting my first bike fit in over 40 years of riding?
A: Knee pain is a common battle for those that start increasing miles and/or intensity. It can take some time to develop, since impact is minimal on a bike, but the repetitive motion means it can be debilitating once it starts. This is likely not a new occurrence and is now developing because the stress of added mileage is too much. It’s an indication of either physical changes from age or injury, which is common, or that your fit has never been truly optimum.
If you want to try a few other adjustments, first look at cleat position. This and saddle position over the crank are the two main touch points that affect how the knee moves other than saddle height. Only a few millimeters can make a drastic difference on the motion of the knee. Selle Italia has a great system called Idmatch Cleat Fit that helps position and transfer cleat position on shoes.
Another thing to consider is shoes. I find that, like saddles, many people find a shoe that works well and run them to the ground. While I understand the reasoning, many times the shoe’s upper, inner sole, padding and retention system deteriorate. This isn’t always to the extent of failure, but enough that your foot doesn’t position itself in the same way, and under load this can be amplified. This means your cleat is in the same place on the shoe but not the same place under your foot.
As with everything, there is a lot to consider. A bike fit is always recommended, especially if you have increased training and intensity. Don’t overlook the condition of your shoes and the way your foot fits in them, whether it’s the arch support or whole fit.
Last, although often overlooked, your cleat position can impact your physiology in a big way, and small changes can make all the difference. Most shoes have indicator marks on the sole to align both cleats evenly. I’ve seen riders dragging their foot as they stop. This not only leads to premature wear of the cleat, but as the cleats wear, that can have an adverse effect on the cleat’s position over time. Make sure the cleat is in the same position you originally intended it to be.