If you’ve been riding fixed for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard someone say something like “you ride a fixed gear, I heard those are bad for your knees”. I often shrug these questions off, regarding them as, well, stupid. But I have recently found myself wondering if they actually do.
I’ve been riding fixed for years and have experienced no detriment to my knees or any other part of my body. In fact, I have experienced the opposite – have never felt better. But what about the masses; How does riding fixed affect other people? I did some digging around to answer the question: are fixies bad for your knees?
Fixed gear cycling requires constant pedaling, which may accelerate joint wear. However, All physical activity contributes to joint wear, and riding a fixed gear bike casually with proper technique should not damage your knees.
But there’s a lot more to it than that, so if you are as interested in this topic as I am, strap in because, in this article, you will learn if riding fixed is bad for your knees. I will also offer tips on how to prevent knee problems down the line.
What Is a Fixed Gear Bike
Before we can answer the question, we first need to explain what a fixed gear bike is and how it works.
Fixed gear bikes or “fixies” are bicycles that have a single direct rear-wheel-drive mechanism. Fixed gear bikes have a single gear called a “cog” connected to the rear wheel. The speed of the bike is determined by how fast the rider can pedal. The motion can be forward or reverse. The gear mechanism does not allow the rear wheel to operate freely, or “coast,” like most other bikes.
Health Benefits of Riding a Fixed Gear Bike
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s discuss some of the various health benefits of riding a fixie. Since you’re constantly pedaling the bike, you are burning a lot more calories than you would on other bikes. The constant pedaling makes fixed gear bikes excellent for losing weight or getting in shape. It’s an excellent workout. It also trains the rider to pedal consistently and budget their energy for the ride upon knowing that they cannot stop peddling. This also provides more road traction which you cannot achieve on a freewheeled bike.
Another benefit of riding fixed is better balance. With a fixed gear bike, you can balance yourself while not in motion using the pedals. After practicing this as, say every red light, you will find that your overall balance will have improved dramatically.
Why Do People Say Fixies Are Bad for Your Knees
The answer depends on your overall health and existing knee issues. It also depends on your riding technique. Cycling is an excellent method for conditioning the knee joint, but proper cycling techniques are required.
For a fixed gear bike to stay in motion, the rider needs to pedal consistently. There is no “coasting” with a fixie. This means your legs will remain pedaling along with the muscles and tendons around the knee joint. Additionally, a “real” fixed gear bike has no brakes, so more leg work, work is required to stop.
Constant pedaling can result in the overuse of the muscles that stabilize the knee joint. The muscle group that supports the knee joints can become uneven when overworked, and this, in turn, can lead to chondromalacia patella (knee pain). With all this said, it’s not difficult to see why people say riding fixed is bad for your knees.
Too much skid stopping can also be detrimental for your knees. It is possible to time traffic lights and traffic behavior to the point where skid stopping is unnecessary. I have been riding fixed for years and have not skid stopped once.
A heavy gear ratio can also be detrimental. If you experience knee-pain or have difficulty ascending up hills, then your muscles are not developed enough to backpedal in which case you can upgrade to a larger rear sprocket to take the pressure off.
Propper Fixie Riding Technique
As a rider learns how to use and control a fixie, they need to learn proper riding form. The appropriate riding form ensures all your muscle groups are functioning in a way that minimizes stress on the knee joint.
Proper riding form starts with getting a bike that is fit to your height and body type. The position of the seat, the fit of the toe clips, handlebars, and overall bike fit should not be overlooked.
For those with knee pain, it is best to have your seat a bit higher than you normally would. This reduces the maximum knee flex, which can help with the pain.
Efficient Pedal Stroke Prevent Knee Injury
The most efficient pedaling method is pedaling in a circle, like a motor. Put very light foot pressure around the circumference of the stroke. And use your thighs to do most of the work and relieve pressure from your knees. Practicing efficient pedal strokes also means using your back, leg, and arms to achieve good balance and stable support for your knee joints.
The most efficient pedaling revolution is using the ball of your foot to push on the downstroke and then using your foot inside the toe-clip (you should be riding with toe-clips and/ or straps when fixed) to scoop the pedal back up. A lot of energy is lost on the upstroke and it is very beneficial especially when climbing up a hill.
Other Factors Which May Impede Riding Form
Weather conditions can alter your riding form and the traffic around you. Try not to ride in the rain or heavy winds. Always adjust your riding form to maintain control and stability. Fixed gears do fair better in rain and snow than their freewheeled counterparts. This is mainly due to the constant force applied from the cranks
Stay In-shape to Prevent knee Damage When Riding a Fixed Gear Bike
It is important for fixie riders to be in good physical shape and properly use all muscle groups to avoid unnecessary overuse of the knee joints when pedaling. The hamstring and glute muscles are important muscle groups to ensure an efficient fixed gear pedal motion.
Serious fixed gear riders should include some regular leg muscle strength training as part of their regular routine. The muscles that support the knee joint and the other muscle groups used in cycling should be in the best shape possible to avoid knee stress, which is obviously bad for your knees.
There is less risk of injury when riding a fixie if your overall muscle conditioning is in good shape. If you’ve been a “couch potato” for a few months, jumping on your fixie for a long ride is not a good idea.
Prepare Before Riding Your Fixie
To prevent any injury during a ride, do some warm-ups and stretches as you would before any heavy exercise routine. Stretch your back, shoulder, and leg muscles to avoid cramping or soreness that can be bad for your knees. Make sure your tires are fully inflated to the max psi reading on the sidewall as well
Take It Easy on Your Fixed Gear When Going Up Hills
If you feel more pain than usual, give it a rest. Plan your rides in range of your limits and increase speed and ride duration slowly overtime.
Do not overdo the intensity or duration of your ride, as fatigue can be bad for your knees and can alter your riding form and put excessive pressure on your knees. Fixed gear bikes are not great when going uphill. Doing so could be bad for your knees. If there are hills in your ride location, plan to take it easy going up and in full control coming down. If you feel pain when riding, stop pedaling, and walk your bike up or down the hill.
I know this article might have made riding fixed seem like its bad for your knees, but If you are in good shape and your fixed gear bike is in good operational condition, you will have nothing to worry about.
Approach your ride on a fixed gear bike as you would with any sport that works your leg muscles and requires a proper form. And for the record, I don’t feel significant pain. In fact, I feel stronger, faster, fitter, and overall better than ever, and I have been riding fixed for years. Everyone is different, but for me, nothing can take me away from riding fixed. Point is you will never catch me saying fixies are bad for your knees.
- Riding fixed has many health benefits
- The constant churning of the pedals can be bad for your knees
- Practice proper form and efficient pedaling to reduce risk
- Stay in shape to reduce risk
- If you experience pain, stop riding
Do you believe riding fixed is bad for your knees? Let us know in the comments below. Want more fixed gear tips and content? Click here to see all of our blog posts. Thanks for reading and stay fixed.