I ride fine through the summer and spring, but when the weather drops to sub 50F, my knees complain. Doesn’t matter how much I layer up. Wool layers, nylon pant shell, knee warmers, 3/4 tights, etc., my knees just ache on long rides after about 20 miles and I don’t know what to do. I’d like to ride through the winter, but my knees seem to be limiting me. Any advice would be appreciated. – Michael L.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies:
It’s unusual that added layers of warmth don’t eliminate the pain you feel from cold weather riding. Knees don’t usually complain from cold if they’re covered by even a fairly thin layer of tights or leg warmers.
Knee discomfort is even less likely if you use more aggressive cold weather leg covering like a pair of wool-blend tights with a wind panel sewn in.
So I’m guessing that the way you’re trying to reduce knee pain in cold weather is making the problem worse.
Here’s what often happens — we layer several garments to cover the knees like a pair of knee warmers covered by tights. The result is that the combination pushes on the knee tendons and they respond by aching. We feel the ache and assume it’s from the cold so pile on more layers which makes the pressure on the knees worse instead of better.
Knee problems can also result from only one layer that’s too tight. I have to be careful not to wear tights that are too snug or I develop tendonitis that presents as a sharp pain on the outside upper point of the kneecap where the tight garment pushes the tendon into the bone on each pedal stroke.
I’ve heard of a number of other riders with this type of tendonitis and we’ve all eliminated the problem by wearing leg covering that’s a bit looser over the kneecap area.
So I’d try this approach first — find your loosest tights and stretch them by hand around the knee area before you put them on. They should be loose over the knee even when your knee is flexed with the pedal at the top of the stroke. You may need to purchase tights that are cut looser in the leg or ones that are a size larger than you normally wear.
Don’t worry about how the “loose” tights look — being able to ride is more important than style at this point.
If this doesn’t work, you can try more layers but they have to be loose. Any pressure on the knee may make them ache.
Try this approach and see if it helps resolve the problem.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.