Gearing for the old man with bad knees



RCope47

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Sep 19, 2009
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OK, I know this subject has been beat to death and I have been looking all over the net, because most of the LBS I have visited and/or talked to are too snobby to give me a decent answer, and I hate to even ask, so hopefully I can get a little insight here w/o too much BS, know what I mean? I have a Specialized Allez Sport triple, 50-39-30 crank and 12-25 cassette. Ive been riding a couple years now, and I do OK on it, have been in the 30-40 mile range mostly w/o too much of a problem, except for hills, I have 2 bad knees, one is shot, bone on bone, and will need a replacement within the next 5 years or so if I take care of it, the other one just had ACL reconstruction and a little meniscus trimming, this happened about 4 months ago, and I've been rehabbing it back and have been riding quite a bit lately, will it make much difference to go up a couple teeth on the cassette to give me a little lower gearing? or do something different at the front? I have a hard time standing to pedal and can only do it for a short time, but stomping the pedals, even in the granny gear I have, is not very comfortable, so, now you know, yes I'm a crippled wimp, but I do enjoy myself, and it keeps me relatively fit despite my joints, so any suggestions would be appreciated....thanks in advance!:D
 

tafi

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Jul 31, 2003
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The gearing itself isn't likely to make a difference to the knees. Whether you kill them with a lot of force in fewer revolutions or with smaller forces over many more revolutions isn't likely to make a difference.
However, if standing on the pedals causes problems and a lighter gear will allow you to avoid standing, then I can't see how it could be be detrimental.
It is probably worth getting a physician to check that your knees are moving vertically and parallel during pedalling. Knees wobbling around cause misalignments in the joint which can cause injury over time. Bernard Hinault is an example of knee injuries cutting riding careers short.
 

genedan

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Feb 13, 2010
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Yeah those sound like some serious knee issues and it'll definitely be worth it if you can find a sports doctor who likes cycling as much as you do.

About stomping on the pedals, if you really can't do it while in the granny gear, you probably shouldn't do it at all. It's probably more about the motion of your legs rather than the gearing. Just be prepared to accept not doing some things (you really don't need to be out of the saddle that much anyway) if you have a knee issue.

For instance, I can't use fixed cleats because I'm still healing from a knee injury. I also can't get out of the saddle as much as the other riders either. Having pedals with extra float robs me of some of the power I can get but hey, it definitely beats tearing something while fighting for a pizza prime.

How long do you ride, and when does pain happen during the ride? When I injured my knees I took two months off and when I started back on I could do about ten minutes worth of stationary bike before it started hurting. I gradually went back up minute by minute and after 4 months I was able to get on a real bike. I'm in pretty good shape now, riding as much as everyone else, but boy did that take a while, so just remember to take it easy.
 

RCope47

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Sep 19, 2009
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Thanks for the replies, I guess what I was asking though is in regard to my gearing, my knees are fine as long as I'm spinning and moving along flats and rollers, I can average around 15-17 with no real problem and the Dr even recommended cycling, I've had a professional fit done, Ive been using Speedplay Zero pedals, the float is great, and have decent gear, I'm still seeing a PT every week and everything is coming along nicely, knees are doing as well as can be expected, I just wanted to see if there would be any difference in changing my gearing, or is it already about as low as I can go?
 

jhuskey

Moderator
Oct 6, 2003
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I had ACL/meniscus surgery last year and I am familiar with your issues but disagree with the therory about the force on the knee as opposed to cadence. The stress on the knee is much harder than the spinning so I suggest going to a 12/27 if you think it is necessary. Not sure what kind of hills you are climbing but I would think the triple would be sufficient.
Keeping those knees moving is necessary to rehab them.
The bad news is that you will probably eventually have arthritis but that is just the way it is.
 

Froze

Well-Known Member
Jul 13, 2004
4,712
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NE Indiana
RCope47 said:
Thanks for the replies, I guess what I was asking though is in regard to my gearing, my knees are fine as long as I'm spinning and moving along flats and rollers, I can average around 15-17 with no real problem and the Dr even recommended cycling, I've had a professional fit done, Ive been using Speedplay Zero pedals, the float is great, and have decent gear, I'm still seeing a PT every week and everything is coming along nicely, knees are doing as well as can be expected, I just wanted to see if there would be any difference in changing my gearing, or is it already about as low as I can go?

How fast are you spinning at 15-17mph? If your spinning at 90-100 rpm then your all ready at the right gearing. The only potential problem with your gearing is climbing steep hills which is where most of your knee stress will be. Thus hopefully you have a triple gearing and NOT a compact triple.
 

RCope47

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Sep 19, 2009
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Froze said:
How fast are you spinning at 15-17mph? If your spinning at 90-100 rpm then your all ready at the right gearing. The only potential problem with your gearing is climbing steep hills which is where most of your knee stress will be. Thus hopefully you have a triple gearing and NOT a compact triple.

Just got back from a little ride, 14.8 miles avg 15.2 mph, avg cadence of 87, I am aware of the benefits of keeping a high cadence in relation to my knees, and the cardio benefit, I am aware of my form and alignment all the time, and try to keep as much force off my knees when possible, I have been doing this a while, my knees are feeling good, but, when the occasional hill pops up and I have to gear down and mash the pedals, would going from a 12-25 to a 12-27 or 8 really make the much difference to me? I know my knees are F---ed, they have been since I was 16, I know more about knee's and and the joint than most people on here, I've rehabbed from knee injury more times than I would care too,and yes, I know arthritis is on the way, I eat glucosomine like candy, and it does help, I'm just trying to hold off the inevitable, that is why I took up cycling, low impact, and I can still participate in an activity and keep the rest of me in shape. So, back to the gearing.....yes, would it benefit, or no, it wouldnt make that much difference? thanks
 

jhuskey

Moderator
Oct 6, 2003
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RCope47 said:
Just got back from a little ride, 14.8 miles avg 15.2 mph, avg cadence of 87, I am aware of the benefits of keeping a high cadence in relation to my knees, and the cardio benefit, I am aware of my form and alignment all the time, and try to keep as much force off my knees when possible, I have been doing this a while, my knees are feeling good, but, when the occasional hill pops up and I have to gear down and mash the pedals, would going from a 12-25 to a 12-27 or 8 really make the much difference to me? I know my knees are F---ed, they have been since I was 16, I know more about knee's and and the joint than most people on here, I've rehabbed from knee injury more times than I would care too,and yes, I know arthritis is on the way, I eat glucosomine like candy, and it does help, I'm just trying to hold off the inevitable, that is why I took up cycling, low impact, and I can still participate in an activity and keep the rest of me in shape. So, back to the gearing.....yes, would it benefit, or no, it wouldnt make that much difference? thanks

It will make some difference. I ride a 12/27 due to the fact that I have to deal with a lot of 18-23% grades and my knees have been abused from ski injuries.
It won't be magic but every little bit helps. I am sure there is a chart somewhere that would show torque factors.
I take every advantage since I have noticed I am not getting younger each year.
 

Froze

Well-Known Member
Jul 13, 2004
4,712
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NE Indiana
RCope47 said:
Just got back from a little ride, 14.8 miles avg 15.2 mph, avg cadence of 87, I am aware of the benefits of keeping a high cadence in relation to my knees, and the cardio benefit, I am aware of my form and alignment all the time, and try to keep as much force off my knees when possible, I have been doing this a while, my knees are feeling good, but, when the occasional hill pops up and I have to gear down and mash the pedals, would going from a 12-25 to a 12-27 or 8 really make the much difference to me? I know my knees are F---ed, they have been since I was 16, I know more about knee's and and the joint than most people on here, I've rehabbed from knee injury more times than I would care too,and yes, I know arthritis is on the way, I eat glucosomine like candy, and it does help, I'm just trying to hold off the inevitable, that is why I took up cycling, low impact, and I can still participate in an activity and keep the rest of me in shape. So, back to the gearing.....yes, would it benefit, or no, it wouldnt make that much difference? thanks

Depends where you live, if you find yourself climbing steep hills and are using 1st gear and still not spinning comfortably for the knees then a 28 would be helpful, or perhaps even better a 14x33 if the derailleur can handle the teeth if you rarely or ever use the 12 gear you now have. Or stay with what you have and go with a 32 tooth small chainring on the front.
 

Resistorlead

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May 31, 2010
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Just found this forum and thought it was me posting- old man with bad knees! I'm 55 and have significant arthritis and have had meniscus work on both knees. I used to ride a lot and then on and off the last couple decades. I'm just starting to ride again after a few years off. IMO, use whatever gearing is needed to avoid severe pain. Other than that, strength seems to be key and it gets harder and harder to obtain. My efforts to "save" my knees have only resulted in weakness that makes them unstable and prone to damage. Not the right way to go.

FWIW, I remember the exact day that my knees went from perfect to problem. About 20 years ago I had raised my seat no more than 3/4" and ridden less than 1 mile. I didn't like it and put the seat back down. It was the first time my knees had ever bothered me in the slightest, and they slowly went downhill from that day on. Not badly at first, but it was a definite turning point.

Best,
CH
 

RCope47

New Member
Sep 19, 2009
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Thanks for the advice all, went up to the lbs this morning, thought they would be swamped, but surprisingly, they were not, so I bought a 12-27 and had them mount it for $5 :eek:, bought a couple of continental GP's while I was there, and away I went, didnt get to try it yet, but looking forward to see how big of a diff it makes, oh, and that long legged dude that blew by me this morning, cruising up the grade by Standley lake, pushing that tall gear at about 20 mph, how the F$#& do you do that? Looked like he was sight seeing! Ah, to be young again! :p
 

Camilo

New Member
Apr 5, 2007
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You can run a mountain bike drive train with your road bike shifters. You can get very low front and rear gearing with that and still be able to push 30 or so MPH without spinning out (and changing to coasting). You would have to invest some money in the crank and bottom bracket, and if you decide to go with a big-cogged MTB cassette, you'd probably also have to buy a MTB rear derailleur, but you wouldn't have to buy new shifters, wheels, etc. If it makes your cycling more do-able or more enjoyable, it would be well worth it. (plus you can sell the old stuff).
 

swampy1970

Well-Known Member
Feb 3, 2008
10,057
183
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RCope47 said:
OK, I know this subject has been beat to death and I have been looking all over the net, because most of the LBS I have visited and/or talked to are too snobby to give me a decent answer, and I hate to even ask, so hopefully I can get a little insight here w/o too much BS, know what I mean? I have a Specialized Allez Sport triple, 50-39-30 crank and 12-25 cassette. Ive been riding a couple years now, and I do OK on it, have been in the 30-40 mile range mostly w/o too much of a problem, except for hills, I have 2 bad knees, one is shot, bone on bone, and will need a replacement within the next 5 years or so if I take care of it, the other one just had ACL reconstruction and a little meniscus trimming, this happened about 4 months ago, and I've been rehabbing it back and have been riding quite a bit lately, will it make much difference to go up a couple teeth on the cassette to give me a little lower gearing? or do something different at the front? I have a hard time standing to pedal and can only do it for a short time, but stomping the pedals, even in the granny gear I have, is not very comfortable, so, now you know, yes I'm a crippled wimp, but I do enjoy myself, and it keeps me relatively fit despite my joints, so any suggestions would be appreciated....thanks in advance!:D

Since you have a triple, I'd take a guess that the inner ring is a 74mm bcd. You can go down to a 24 tooth inner ring. TA makes excellent quality chainrings and they can be found here:

Chainrings

You might want to consider changing the other chainrings (talk to peter about that) as there'll likely be an issue with running that big of difference 50 to 24 with the front mech that you have.

Alternatively, you could use a mountain bike rear gear and a larger cassette, like those sold by IRD. They offer 10 speed cassettes that have upto 36 tooth rear. If you have a 9 speed setup then you could use an XT cassette and a long cage rear mech. I have a setup that has Dura Ace shifters, XTR rear mech and an IRD 11-32 cassette and it works pretty slick.

If people give you [email protected] for running dinner plate sized sprockets on a road bike just remind them that Contador used a 32 when winning the Tour of Italy a couple of years ago in a short mountain time trial. ;)

Good luck with the cycling.
 

root

New Member
Nov 1, 2007
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RCope47 said:
OK, I know this subject has been beat to death and I have been looking all over the net, because most of the LBS I have visited and/or talked to are too snobby to give me a decent answer, and I hate to even ask, so hopefully I can get a little insight here w/o too much BS, know what I mean? I have a Specialized Allez Sport triple, 50-39-30 crank and 12-25 cassette. Ive been riding a couple years now, and I do OK on it, have been in the 30-40 mile range mostly w/o too much of a problem, except for hills, I have 2 bad knees, one is shot, bone on bone, and will need a replacement within the next 5 years or so if I take care of it, the other one just had ACL reconstruction and a little meniscus trimming, this happened about 4 months ago, and I've been rehabbing it back and have been riding quite a bit lately, will it make much difference to go up a couple teeth on the cassette to give me a little lower gearing? or do something different at the front? I have a hard time standing to pedal and can only do it for a short time, but stomping the pedals, even in the granny gear I have, is not very comfortable, so, now you know, yes I'm a crippled wimp, but I do enjoy myself, and it keeps me relatively fit despite my joints, so any suggestions would be appreciated....thanks in advance!:D

I think first and foremost you must make absolutely sure that your bike fits you properly and that it is setup for comfort followed by most efficient power transfer to the pedals. Make sure you seat height is not too low, that your seat forward/backward position is correct and that your knees don't hurt when you ride on flats.

Once that is done all I can say about climbing is to avoid pedaling slow in high gears, and go for much lower gears with increased cadence if necessary. It doesn't matter if you go slow (even so slow that you feel you will tip over :D), but you will keep the strain on knees lowest this way. 30/25 sounds like it should be sufficient, but if you are struggling with this gear ratio don't hesitate to put 12-27 or 12-28 cassette on your bike.

Also, get the longest cranks you can comfortably use for your height (leg length). This gives you more leverage and makes pedaling easier across the board.

And as suggested try to find a good sports doctor who has worked with cyclists or is cycling as well if at all possible in your area. People who don't cycle can't really relate to cyclists even if they know all about anatomy :D.