I've been running 3+ times/week for cardiovascular fitness and other benefits but recently been feeling a bit of strain on my right knee. Its not painful but I guess it's prudent to hear the message that the body is trying to send and replace running with something more knee friendly.

It seems to me that the action of pushing the pedal does put stress on the knees so all that cycling really seem to do (compared to running) is to eliminate the sudden impacts of feet hitting the ground.

Given above -

  1. How much more/less stressful on knees is cycling compared to running?
  2. Is cycling really more knee-friendly compared to running or is it just a different type of equivalent stress?
  3. Are there any scenarios where it could be worse on some joints/tendons/muscles than running?

PS: 1. I won't be getting a bicycle with gears etc. 2. The objective is to minimize joint damage while improving overall fitness. 3. Not planning to train for races etc.

2 Answers 2


TLDR: Yes, cycling is better for your knees (and more than that)

Cycling is significantly better for not only your knees but also your ankles and your entire spine. The fact that you push a pedal won't hurt your knee, the sudden impacts while running is what will hurt the join. These sudden impacts are also the reason why it's worse for your spine and ankles.

Cycling is actually a good sport if you have problems with your spine, for instance if you have a herniated lower back.

Keep in mind: You burn less calories while cycling than whilest you're running, so if your goal is to lose weight you have to keep in mind you'll have to spend more time on a bike to burn the same amount of calories.

  • 1
    Thank you. Will your answer still apply if one were to try to consistently paddle as hard as possible for the duration of the workout (let's say 30-60 minutes) to keep the heart rate up (sort of cycling equivalent of maintaining the fastest possible running pace)? Meaning that instead of subjecting the joints to jolts of force every few milliseconds while running, we're keeping the joints under constant pressure for minutes/hours while cycling.
    – Achilles
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 11:39
  • @Achilles Yes for the most part. Those milliseconds you're talking about during running is what's bad for the joints. The thing with cycling is that you gradually go from cycling slow to cycling fast and then maintaining that speed. That makes it a lot easier on the joints. This pressure is a lot lower than the impact of every individual step. Obviously at some point it will become hard on your joints if go cycling for 8 hours for example.
    – MJB
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 12:16
  • 1
    @Achilles this information is correct assuming good form. Being fit inappropriately to a bicycle (seat-tube length/top-tube length/seat position/handlebar angle/having the cleat for the clipless (long story but the one on your shoe) pedal in the wrong spot) can cause just as many orthopedic issues if not more than running. Some of the reasoning is wrong. Cycling can burn more than running based on the speed that you can maintain. Cycling @ 14-16mph but only being able to run 5mph will burn ~140 calories in the same duration (example using my metrics).
    – BryceH
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 14:51
  • @BryceH Thank you for pointing out the bicycle fit issues, that's something I was completely unaware of, I suppose I need to research this further.
    – Achilles
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:24
  • @Achilles, just make sure you buy the right bike for you. The frame is the most important part. You can replace anything else as you go along. Measurements are easy enough to get. Then use a tool like this - competitivecyclist.com/Store/catalog/fitCalculatorBike.jsp - to find recommendations on where to start. Then go to one of your local cycling shop (generally there will be one for "general buys" and a more competitive cyclist store) to purchase and get fully fit to the bike.
    – BryceH
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 15:31

Cycling is different for your knees than running. Both runners and cyclists complain of knee pain, though usually for different reasons. Cycling is doing the exact same thing bajillions of time in a row, in a manner that we're good at, but not evolved for. Especially if you use clipless pedals, there can be issues.

Running causes more stress on the knees. But it's stress that we're evolved to need in order to strengthen our joints (assuming it's not too much, too fast). My first year running, my knees hurt about once a month. Since then, they just don't. Even the one that had surgery 20 years earlier due to a cycling issue, and had hurt consistently since then.

Also, cycling requires more careful setup, the right bike, pedals, cranks, clips have the right float,.. And accidents on a bike are likely to be going faster than on foot, have your center of mass higher, more likely to involve a car,...

It's not cut and dried.

A lot of runners that I know use cycling as cross training, specifically to prevent knee issues. A lot of cyclists that I know use running as cross training, specifically to prevent knee issues.

Overall, I'd say it's easier for a modern first-worlder to run too much before they acclimatize than to cycle too much. After that, I don't see a lot of difference in incidence or severity between cyclist and runner knee issues.

If your goal is to maintain joints while improving fitness, then some of both seems like the best option (or swimming. No impact at all, no chance of getting hit by a car,..).

Good luck to you and your knees.

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