How to Prevent Knee Pain When Using Recumbent Bicycles

by Torrey Nelson for

Although most people who try recumbent bikes find that the seating and hand positions are much more comfortable than a typical upright bike, some new riders do complain of knee pain. There are three things you can do to reduce or eliminate knee pain when using recumbent bicycles.

1) Pedal with a higher cadence by completing more rotations per minute (rpm). This involves shifting to a lower gear and pedaling faster. You want to be spinning, not stomping. If you are putting less pressure on the pedals, then you should also be putting less pressure on your knees. This is true for any bike, not just recumbents.

2) On an upright bicycle, your feet just dangle down from the seat and land on the pedals. However, on a recumbent, your feet have to reach the pedals and gravity tries to pull them off. This fight against gravity causes you to expend energy and effort to keep you feet on the pedals. The solution is to upgrade to clipless pedals and matching shoes. Despite the name, clips on the shoes do click into the pedals. You release by twisting your feet out. When you do this, you will no longer have to expend energy and effort to keep your feet on the pedals. Once your feet are clipped to the pedals it will be easier to pedal which should result in less knee strain.

They are called clipless pedals because they don't use the old toe clips, but they do clip in. Toe clips may work as well, but I don't think they would help as much as true clipless pedals. There is a bit of a learning curve with clipless pedals, but after a few rides you should be very happy.

As for which type to buy, there are many types and I've only used one type so far. I use Shimano SPD and they work great. I've also heard that many people like Speedplay Frogs. There are other brands and I'm sure many of them are good too.

One note on Shimano SPD: Initially, I had the springs real tight. This made it hard to release and resulted in a couple of falls. I loosened the set screws and they have worked great ever since.

3) Recumbent bikes utilize muscles differently than upright bikes. It takes time for your body to adjust when you first move from an upright to a recumbent. You don't want to do 100 miles on your first ride. Start small and build up from there. As you train your legs to work the recumbent way, knee stress should decrease.

I hope these ideas work for you. They have been working for me.

For more information on recumbent bike riding, please read The Recumbent Bicycle, by Gunnar Fehlau.

Read radbike's article on Recumbent Bicycles.


© Copyright 2005, 2006 by Torrey Nelson Productions