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Are Fixed Gear Bikes Bad for Your Knees? (The Truth)

The truth behind the the pain.

Cyclist rides wondering if riding fixed is bad for your knees.

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 that very same question.

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. I’ve never felt better. But what about the masses? How does riding fixed affect others? I did some digging around to answer the question, are fixed gear bikes 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 do too much harm to your knees in the long run. Skidstopping, however, can do long-term harm. To prevent long-term issues, use a front brake with your fixie.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. So, strap in because, in this article, you will learn if riding fixed is bad for your knees and how to prevent knee problems down the line, so you can stay fixed for longer.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on November 9, 2021, to include additional information regarding cycling health.

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What is a fixed gear bike?

Before we can answer the question, we first need to explain what fixed gear bikes are and how they work.

Fixed gear bikes or “fixies” are bicycles that have a single direct rear-wheel-drive mechanism. The gear mechanism does not allow the rear wheel to operate freely or “coast,” like most other bikes. They are descendants of track racing track bikes.

If you want to learn more about fixies and the strong culture behind them, check out our complete guide on fixed gear bikes.

Fixed gear bikes come in many shapes and sizes.

What are the health benefits of riding a fixed gear bike?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s discuss some of the 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 also trains the rider to pedal consistently and budget their energy for the ride.

Another benefit of riding fixed is better balance. With a fixed gear bike, you can balance yourself while not in motion using the pedals. This is called a track stand. 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

Every physical activity poses some risk to injury, especially to the knee. Knee wear is common in jogging or playing basketball. But why might riding fixed be bad for your knees?

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. 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).

Additionally, a “real” fixed gear bike has no brakes, so more leg work is required to stop. 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.

With all this said, it’s not difficult to see why people say riding fixed is bad for your knees.

Peeter Griffin experiencing knee pain.

Why do my knees ache after biking?

The majority of cycling knee discomfort is caused by a condition known as patellofemoral pain syndrome. This condition is commonly caused by athletic overuse or high-impact knee use (among bikers, overuse is the more common culprit.) 

Propper fixed gear riding technique

As a rider learns how to use and control a fixie, they need to learn proper cycling form. The appropriate riding form ensures all your muscle groups are functioning in a way that minimizes stress on the knee joint

Proper cycling 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. Practicing proper cycling form also means using your back, leg, and arms to achieve good balance and stable support for your knee joints.

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. Put light foot pressure around the circumference of the stroke. Use the ball of your foot to push on the downstroke, and then use your foot inside the toe-clip to scoop the pedal back upward. Use your thighs to do most of the work and relieve pressure from your knees.

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Efficient pedal strokes with toe cage straps.

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.

A heavy gear ratio can also be detrimental. If you experience knee pain or have difficulty ascending up hills, consider upgrading to a larger rear sprocket to take the pressure off. If you don’t know your gear ratio, check out our full guide on how to choose your ideal ratio.

Stay in shape

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 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 other muscle groups used in cycling should be in the best shape possible.

There is less risk of injury if your muscles are 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. 

Streach before every ride

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. 

There are many stretches that are made specifically for cycling, check out our post on the best stretches for cyclists.

Man stretching to make sure riding a fixie isn't bad for your knees.
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Man stretching before riding a fixed gear bike to prevent knees pain.

Take it easy when going up hill

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.

If you feel more pain than usual, give it a rest. Plan your rides in the range of your limits and increase speed and ride duration slowly over time.

If you are experiencing knee pain, sorry, that sucks to hear. Consider using these products to ease your pain.

Conclusion

I know this article might have made riding fixed seem like it’s bad for your knees, but If you are in good shape and your bike is in good operational condition, you should 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. The point is you will never catch me saying fixies are bad for your knees.

In this article, we covered cycling and how it can relate to long-term knee damage. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways 

  • 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.
  • Streach often and stay in shape to reduce risk.
  • If you experience pain, stop riding.
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Do you feel riding fixed is bad for your knees? Let us know in the comments below. (we read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out our full blog for more tips and tricks on everything fixie. Thanks for reading, and stay fixed.

Written by Bradly Knight

As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

4 Comments

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  1. Hey Bradley, awesome article, thanks a lot!!
    I’m going to get my first fixie and still thinking actually cause I already have problems with knee pain (overuse from different sports, especially unicycle trial).
    Do you think that if go easy for the start (just home-job 14 km daily, little elevation) and when I follow your tips, I could make my knees a bit stronger due to this exercise or it would be only worst as I already feel pain (even when going long upstairs at the moment… 🙁

    • I would stay single speed for a while, try fixed (with both brakes!), and give that a shot. While fixed, don’t try to skid stop. it really hurts your knees. you WILL feel it immediately! Also, make sure you have pedal straps, they help spread the word from the downstroke on the left foot to the upstroke on the right. It makes a 25% difference. I highly advise it. Hope this helps.

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