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Why is cycling so hard for me?

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I seriously need some advice here. I have been trying to ride my bike to school. It is about a 30 minute ride or so to get there, it is mostly uphill (mostly a gentle slope with one big hill). I am really out of shape I think, and I also have a bad knee (I am 25 years old, but due to osteoarthritis, I have been told I have the knee of a 60 year old). In spite of the bad knee, I have been told by my doctor that cycling is one exercise I can probably still do. So I want to do it badly - there are lots of other exercise options that are now closed to me (jogging, running, most stuff at the gym other than stationary cycling).

The first day I rode to school was last Friday. I had minimal stuff in my backpack, and I felt pretty good. I was exhausted after riding up the big hill (it is very steep; I had to walk the bike up the last 100 meters or so, but I made it most of the way). I was really tired and a bit sore at the end of the ride, and winded too, but I felt good about having "made it" all the way to school and back.

Then today, when I rode to school again, I found even the flat parts of the ride just super tiring. It was like my muscles were still fatigued from last Friday - is that possible? I felt like I wanted to cry the whole way, the muscles were complaining that bad. I had maybe an extra 5-10 pounds in my backpack, and i think my tires were slightly squishy, which probably made it worse. Now my bad knee is a bit swollen and I am feeling very discouraged.

Is cycling supposed to be this hard? Is there anything I can do to make it easier? My bike is a used hybrid bike, it's not exactly the best bike in the world but I can't afford a new one. The tires are kind of worn tread. I think I have the seat adjusted OK for my height.

Everyone is passing me, I am very slow, and it just feels so physically HARD to ride my bike. Even on flat ground, just so exhausting. So what the hell is wrong with me? Am I THAT out of shape?

7 Replies (last)

cycling is tricky, have you had your bike serviced? if the tyres are at the wrong pressure & mechanically it's not great that could make things really hard.  As to bike fit, that makes a massive difference to how you pedal.  A local bike store should be able to help you out, especially if you have one you regularly use for all your gear!  Lastly what kind of gear are you trying to use?

There are 2 schools of thought on cycling up hills, one is to push a harder gear and stand up on the pedals.  This probably isn't going to work for you because it's hard on the knees.  The other is to drop into a really easy gear and spin (pedal fast) ideally you should be pedalling at between 90-100rpm on the flat, which might seem really fast at first but you will get used to it.

A really steep hill first thing on a ride isn't really giving your body much of a warm up, so perhaps try adding in another street before you go up the hill.

Lots of those people passing you will be seasoned riders with clipless pedals (that makes your power even more) and part/full carbon fibre road bikes, they weigh less are heaps faster and cost don't need one to be good, you just need to keep going!

Good on you for even trying to ride your bike to school, I hope you keep at it and soon you will be eating up that hill and looking for mountains!

All the best :)

I second the notion that you should have the bike serviced by a bike shop.  It won't cost much and that way you'll know that the bike is safe to ride and that everything is working right.  A bike in need of service could be working against you.

Also as mentioned used the gears to your advantage.  You want to stay in a gear that allows you to spin fast an easy, shoot for 80 - 100 ppms.  It may not be possible to keep your cadence that high on the hill but make sure you are using you easiest gear.  The extra weight in your backpack will slow you down so try not to compare your speed to the other riders.

While having the bike serviced, have them check to make sure your saddle is at the proper height.  This will help your knees.  Cycling is easy on the knees but yo still need to give yourself time to get in shape.  You may want to do some shorter less hilly rides on day that you aren't riding to school to help build your endurance.  Once you've been riding for a month or so you should be able to ride to school every day without any problem.

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Thanks for the advice. I am going to get my bike tuned up and adjusted for me I think. Also you are probably right trhawley, that I should start with some easier rides. I sort of had done that, in that I bike to work sometimes too which is a lot easier ride than to school (only about 15 mins, one medium hill involved), but I don't do that often enough for it to be really helping me build up strength.

Anyway I am not going to give up :)

Was it windy by chance the day you had a harder time?  I'm not an expert by any means, but I ride my bike to school/work when there's good weather.  I've found that windy days can make it MUCH harder to pedal.  Also, low air in the tires can really make a huge difference. 

When I first got a bike (well, as an adult anyway), the first few times I rode it, my quads were just dying.  It wasn't that I was totally out of shape, but those particular muscles were weaker than the rest.  It got easier and easier the more I kept at it.  I bet you'll find that you improve rapidly with time.

There's no shame in walking your bike up the hill if you have to, IMO.  Especially if it's hurting your knees to go up the hill--you should never be pushing so hard that it hurts your knees--either shift to a lower gear or just walk the bike. 

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the point is you need to do it often enough! Hills might be great for training, but can become a mental barrier to the novice cyclist, so I applaud you for tackling the steep one!

how is your bike riding now?

Like others have said you want to make sure your equipment (i.e. your bike) is in good shape. But also if you don't exercise regularly and suddenly you are going on 30 minute bike rides with challenging up-hills, it's going to shock your body. It's going to take time to recover between rides. And if you aren't getting enough rest/sleep or aren't eating enough carbs for energy it's going to take even longer to recover.

It's not that you just aren't good at biking or that biking for you should be any harder than for any other member of the general population!

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