Before I get to my question, a little background might be helpful. Feel free to skip to the end if you’re feeling impatient.
Growing up, I always rode mountain bikes, partly because that’s what everyone else rode and partly because I thought road bikes looked uncomfortable. Most of the epic rides I’ve done in Taiwan (around the whole island, up to Wuling, etc.) have been on a mountain bike. Until last year, that is, when I started having pain in areas I’d rather not talk about.
Eventually I figured out that my seat was too high, but even after I fixed that, I still felt like I was riding the wrong bike. (I used to have a 22" Fuji, but I replaced it with a 21" Giant after the Fuji got stolen in 2008.) So I did some research, talked to some knowledgeable people, and ended up buying a Specialized Tricross. It has an XL frame, 700x32 tires, a 52-42-30 triple crank in front, and an eight-speed 12-26 cassette. My pedals are dual-sided, but I almost always use the clipless (not the flat) side with my SPD-cleated mountain bike shoes. I love the versatility of the Tricross: it’s faster than a mountain bike while still tough enough for rough roads, aerodynamic like a road bike (with drop bars) but more comfortable to ride, and it’s got eyelets for front and rear racks that come in handy when I want to carry a lot of stuff.
Going from a mountain bike with 26" wheels and low gearing to a cyclocross bike with larger wheels and much higher gearing took some getting used to. At first I struggled to climb steep hills, but now I can handle just about any sane gradient as long as I’m not carrying a heavy load. I regularly carry books, clothes, and other things in my front-roller panniers without any problems. And I never had any significant pain until an ill-advised ride I did in June. On day two of a three-day tour, I rode 110 km uphill from Yilan to Lishan with 15 kg of stuff loaded into front and rear panniers. Normally I don’t use the granny gear, but that day I spent hours in it, wishing I could downshift even more. I survived the climb, but the next day I had severe pain in both my knees, particularly the left: on the first 10-15 km of the climb to Dayuling, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it. Eventually the pain subsided, only to return again on the flats from Taroko Gorge to Hualien.
This wasn’t the first time I’d had knee problems from cycling. A few years back, the same thing happened to me on my mountain bike, and I dealt with it by simply taking a few weeks off and then slowly building up distance. This time around, I’ve done the same thing. I haven’t had any major pain since the Taroko Gorge day, but lately both my knees have been feeling rather gravelly and achy. I’m worried that I might damage my knees if I keep up my regimen of 600-700 km a month, but I really don’t want to cut back. Cycling is not only part of my routine, it’s part of who I am. It clears my head and keeps me sane. Other forms of exercise just don’t measure up: swimming is monotonous and the stupid cap you have to wear here makes my head hurt, it’s way too hot to run, and the gym bores me to tears.
Right now my strategy is to stretch thoroughly before every ride, keep my cadence up as high as I can, avoid unduly steep hills, and pray that the cycling gods will smile upon me. What I’m wondering, though, is whether it would help to see a professional bike fitter. I keep reading on forums that small adjustments to the height and positioning of your saddle or the angle of your cleats can go a long way toward preventing injury. Problem is, I don’t know where to go for that. This sort of thing is big business in America, but the shops here don’t seem to take bike fit very seriously. I know there’s lots of information online, but I only started learning about bike fit last year, and I’ve never been much good at DIY.
I’m also wondering if it would help to see a physical therapist about what exercises and stretches I can to to strengthen my knees. Does anyone know anyone like that with experience working with cyclists?
Even if you don’t know of any bike fitters or physical therapists, I’d like to hear your experiences dealing with (or preventing) injury. Reading through other threads here earlier tonight, I got the impression that injury seems like a pretty common thing for cyclists on Forumosa. I hope we can all stay healthy enough to enjoy all the incredible roads this place has to offer!