More bike articles
Knee pain can have a variety of causes. Perhaps the most common cause is doing too much too fast, like attacking hills too hard or doing long rides without building up to them properly. Another common problem is riding around with the saddle the wrong height, often too low.
Among seasoned cyclists a common cause is associated with the iliotibial band. Yet another problem is misaligned cleats, if you have clipless pedals. In my case it was none of these: it was caused by problems with the arches in my feet. A few other people have mentioned this problem as well. If your feet hurt as well as your knees, this may your problem. Here's my story.
In summer 1997 I found my knees hurting a great deal. It was worsened by cycling, or bending down to do gardening. It got so bad that occasionally I'd have to go up stairs helping myself by holding on the rails. At the suggestion of a friend, I figured I'd try putting some arch supports into my shoes. I went to the local drugstore and bought some Orthaheel inserts, and in a few hours my knees felt better (it took the edge off the pain) and after a few days they were feeling good.
Now I use two kinds of insoles: Orthaheels for regular shoes, and Superfeet for hiking boots and cycling shoes. Also, Birkenstock sandals have amazing arch support, so if you want to wear sandals and think that wearing inserts with sandals would look stupid, they are the thing for you. Warning: Birkenstock lookalikes don't seem to have as much arch support (at least among the ones I've seen) so accept no substitutes.
I got the Orthaheels from a drug store. They are very expensive here in England (20 pounds, roughly 32 dollars) but they are made in the US so they should be much much cheaper there if you can find them. They are great for shoes that don't come with insoles: they go under the back half of your foot and give you wonderful arch support.
The Superfeet are full length insoles, and they are for shoes that come with insoles. You take out the insoles that come with the shoes and put in the Superfeet. I have them for my hiking boots and cycling shoes. You can get them from hiking/walkng shops. Superfeet are even more expensive than Orthaheels (they are 30 pounds/ $48!!!) here, but again are made in the US and are extremely reasonably priced there (maybe $25 from stores that sell hiking boots, like REI).
I've found that for me, an acceptable substitute for Superfeet are Spenco Polysorb insoles. They aren't exactly arch supports, more of heel cushions, but they seem to provide enough to keep my feet happy while cycling. They also have the advantage of being warmer than Superfeet, since they have have a thick layer of insulating neoprene on top of them. This makes them good for winter use. They are also quite a bit cheaper than Superfeet, at $15 to $18 depending on model.
Although I haven't tried them, I feel that I can recommend Birkenstock footbeds, in particular the blue ones, for cycling. I am very happy with Birkenstock products in general. I own three pairs of their sandals, and my husband has two pairs, as well as a pair of their Footprints shoes that he really likes (he has the same sort of arch problems that I do). In addition, I recently received an email from Daniel Ford, who found that these insoles have solved his foot problems while cycling. He writes "The thing I like most about Birkenstock's arch supports is the metatarsal support", so if that's soemthing you're looking for in arch supports, these will be definitely worth trying.
I still have a problem with shoes that have a small bit of arch support, but not enough to keep my feet happy. If I put Orthaheels or Superfeet in them I end with far too much arch support. If anyone has any suggestions that might help, please let me know.... [2005 update: I never did find a solution to this problem, so now I don't own any shoes with small amounts of arch support. They either have none, so I can add my own inserts, or they have lots of arch support already (like Birkenstock sandals).]