Cadence in Cycling

What is the cadence that you most often use?


  • Total voters
    31

Doug3

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Jun 24, 2010
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#1
Maybe you have heard of "Spin to win" or similar phrases indicating that high cadence is the best way to ride. Is this necessarily so? There is a lot of debate on the subject of optimum cadence.

One way to define power in cycling is the product of the torque applied to the cranks at the pedal shaft and the angular velocity of the crank. The torque results from the force applied to the pedal, and the angular velocity is proportional to the cadence.

For a fixed power output, riding at lower cadence means that you need to apply more force to the pedals when compared to the higher cadence. This brings in muscular recruitment and muscle fiber types into the picture.

Type I muscle fibers are the slow-twitch or endurance muscles which are primarily aerobic, while Type II fast-twich muscle fibers are the ones for shorter bursts of power and tend to be fueled anaerobically. Both types of fibers are capable of producing similar force (per contraction), but Type II can do it quicker.

I have been studying myself on the trainer recently looking at how my heart rate changes at constant power output for different cadence levels. I am finding that my hr is generally a few beats lower at lower cadence when riding at low to moderate intensities.

Came across a recent article on the subject that also supports lower cadence as being more efficient.
http://jssm.org/vol13/n1/16/v13n1-16pdf.pdf

What are your experiences?
 

GrantT

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Oct 2, 2012
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#2
How quickly you can go a particular distance assuming everything else is equal seems a better test. Did you try comparing how quickly you could complete a simulated hill climb at a higher and a lower cadence?

Personally, I started increasing my cadence on the climbs in November and it definitely helped my speed. I imagine there might be a different effect in the summer though as I lose heat easily in the winter but also overheat in the summer.
 

Trek DJ

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Jan 27, 2009
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#3
95-105.
Lower on hills naturally.
But, I think you need to take into account cardio fitness.
The better cardio you have, then you can maintain a higher cadence a bit easier, and take the load off your legs.
 
May 22, 2007
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#4
I read - most likely on TCC or on an article linked therefrom - an opinion piece that the whole high-cadence thing was lent too much credence by Lance Armstrong. Lance had a high cadence, and he won races, therefore high cadence is a winning strategy.

Lance was then revealed for the druggie cheat that he is, somewhat muddling the aforestated hypothesis.
 
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Musashi13

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Aug 27, 2012
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#6
Since I have been using the trainer and keeping to the instructions of the workouts on trainerroad.com I have been spinning at a higher cadence (95-105). This certainly has been elevating my heart rate and leading to much more expenditure of energy but I thought that was good. This study seems to suggest that it is not optimal to spin that high but a sub 80 is more efficient and allows a higher power output for the energy expended.

I'll start experimenting.

Certainly, I have noticed that, I can mash out more power in a higher gear at lower cadence than frantically whizzing round in a low gear.
 

joewein

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Oct 25, 2011
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#7
Averaging very close to 80 on several of my recent rides. I was surprised to find how consistent my cadence was across both short but fast and long but slow rides.

I only installed a cadence sensor late last year. The Garmin combined cadence/speed sensor doesn't work with the Bike Friday (no pedal / wheel overlap), but Bontrager has separate sensors, which I use with my Garmin 500.
 

rwc

Cruising
Apr 17, 2013
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Ota-ku, Tokyo
#9
I'm generally comfortable in the 85-95 range cycling on flat roads, and on run lately I've been feeling good at 95-100 if I want to go my race pace and I certainly wouldn't have said that last year. I'm not sure why but i'm not in top shape right now either. I am injury free though. For me, it's more about comfort and I never over force myself into a certain cadence.

Would be interesting to know if there's a way to match my cadence to HR to power in a single number and play around with variations to know the optimum for me. Right now though I have trouble just finding a easily accessible tool to map my run speed to HR and see how they correlate over time like during 3 months of training. I use mostly free tools like Garmin Connect, Strava, SmashRun, etc. The put out charts but don't really help me make even simple, reliable analysis.
 

GSAstuto

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Oct 11, 2009
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#10
So much depends on the discipline. Track sprinters will often spin up to more than 180rpm on a consistent basis. Development of the fast twitch muscles to support this mean the rider must 'over train' that facility and spin at even higher rates. Slow twitch activity tends to be a bit more bio-mechanically efficient which suits most rider's style and discipline requirements. But almost any amateur rider can benefit by fast twitch exercise. Which is better? It's very indidivual based on proportion of muscle fibers, mechanics of motion and cardio efficiency.

This is why the PowerTap tests I do every week are useful. You can learn what zones to ride in to develop more efficient style at various power outputs. Once you have baseline data - then you can train to approach different goals or experiences.

Personally I tend to ride in the 80-95 range. And when I do any events (competition or otherwise) I set a minimum cadence warning at 85rpm. Regardless of my general condition and how I 'felt' , I KNOW based on my power / zone curves that I will perform best when I'm at 85rpm or higher.

However - riding fixed gear and especially road fixed and climbing, it's not possible to keep such narrow cadence. So, I don't really track it , or care. I just ride and do whatever the road gives me. Being able to punch out very low cadence, high torque sessions also has its benefits in helping develop pedaling smoothness, power range over the full stroke and opposite leg awareness. This is why you will see most Keirin pros doing exercise like Tire Hiki at very low , constant efforts. Then take that pedaling condition and ramp it up into the extreme high spin rates with the same smoothness.

There is no way you will be able to pedal smoothly at 150+ rpm, or even 100+ rpm without first being able to do it at 50rpm.
 

bawbag

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Mar 20, 2013
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#11
Since I got a cycle computer with cadencey stuff, I've been able to keep an eye on all this malarkey and how it's affected my cycling.

I'd read that 90 is the magic number so to speak for cadence, so I decided to stick to it as much as I could. As it turns out, 90 is indeed the magic number where my legs suddenly feel less like they're making an effort and more like they're a part of a David Cronenberg flesh and metal machine, efficiently running along. It's helped me to know more clearly when I should be shifting instead of grinding along at 75.

So yeah. 90 seems perfect. Staying 85-95 is the "zone" for me.
 
Dec 31, 2009
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#12
Just like pedaling style (toe dipper, heel dropper) it varies over terrain and energy levels. I usually try to spin to win but when racing it's hardest gear possible up hills at 80 or less. If I spin up these hills I get dropped by lighter riders. I noticed it is Easyer to keep up if I kick harder and pedal slower, but only on short stuff. Some people ca that faking it. I never got that. I call it burning your matches. It will get you there but at a cost. High cadence is good for Econ mode but when it's go time, f it all an MASH
 

zenbiker

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Mar 4, 2008
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Chofu
#13
How quickly you can go a particular distance assuming everything else is equal seems a better test. Did you try comparing how quickly you could complete a simulated hill climb at a higher and a lower cadence?

Personally, I started increasing my cadence on the climbs in November and it definitely helped my speed. I imagine there might be a different effect in the summer though as I lose heat easily in the winter but also overheat in the summer.
The one thing a power meter has shown me is that when climbing, I'm faster and more efficient going up a gear and using a slower cadence than what feels comfortable.
 

undftd1984

Speeding Up
Jul 26, 2013
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Honolulu
#14
I generally train between 100-110rpm because when I'm tired my cadence tends to drop when I'm not making a conscious effort to keep a high cadence. Training at a high cadence tends toward me being able to spin between 95-100rpm on fast group rides and upwards of 85rpm on climbs without constantly checking my head unit or having a rhythm playing in my mind. We'll see how this all works out during this year's road season :)
 

Aron B

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Mar 24, 2012
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#15
My own personal superstition is that higher cadence is easier on the legs but more demanding of the cardiovascular system and lungs, and lower cadence is easier breathing while wearing down on the leg muscles . I sometimes call it "local lactic acid": your lungs have the capacity to get enough oxygen for the effort, but it cannot reach the smallest veins in the muscles. (This is probably bullshit by the way).

Anyway, in this reasoning, on longer rides it definitely pays off to practice higher cadence, otherwise your legs will be toast before you need them most. I would never have survived our annual 2x75km team time trial if I weren't able to keep it above 100rpm, counter-intuitively but especially against a headwind. Another advantage is that, when getting tired, you can almost always go down a notch in cadence but never up. The same holds for short climbs: just push it through on lower cadence, then recover a bit in higher cadence. In short, higher cadence pays off in long rides; similarly I think a one-hour time trial could also be done at low cadence, think of e.g. Serhiy Honchar. Fabian Cancellara is a good example of someone almost always spinning, combined with sublime dosage of effort.

That being said, whatever you do, you have to get used to it. You can't just one day start riding at 110rpm if you've always done 90rpm. I spent my first several years on the bike getting comfortable with high cadence, maintaining efficiency. A downside of higher cadence is lower force per pedal stroke, implying you're actually sitting more on the saddle as opposed to pushing your body upwards against gravity. Thus slower rides on high cadence tend to get annoying (the best solution is obviously to ride faster).

I also think that the fashion of riding at higher cadence (>100rpm on the flats and 80-90rpm on climbs) only became possible with the introduction of 9-speed gears. Higher cadence riding requires that you remain within a rather narrow comfort zone, let's say between 100 and 110 rpm. With 7 gears, the difference between each gear is just too large to accommodate such a range in varying conditions.
 
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Aug 27, 2012
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#17
I'm very comfortable in the 85-95 range on the flat, and I've been trying to improve my cadence with my weekend rides that tend to be on the flat this time of year. Quite happy to push out 95-100 for 30mins+
But I've noticed once I get above 100 I must be becoming inefficient because if I shift up at that point, the speed I can obtain with the higher gearing and slightly lower cadence is higher without any noticeable increase in effort. (the same isn't true if I shift up below 95)
That said once I hit the hills I don't seem to be able to keep up the cadence trick. Everything drops sub-75 and more often into the late 60s

is that higher cadence is easier on the legs but more demanding of the cardiovascular system and lungs, and lower cadence is easier breathing while wearing down on the leg muscles
If I spin up these hills I get dropped by lighter riders. I noticed it is Easyer to keep up if I kick harder and pedal slower, but only on short stuff. Some people ca that faking it. I never got that. I call it burning your matches. It will get you there but at a cost. High cadence is good for Econ mode but when it's go time
I kind of feel similar to Chuck and Aron's points.
I also suspect I cannot find a "good" cadence on hills because (i) slope varies too much (ii) the step between my climbing gears is too large. I haven't (yet!) developed the strength to ride the mountains around Tokyo in anything other than granny and granny+1. Hence cadence approach doesn't work for me on hills
 
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FarEast

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May 25, 2009
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#18
My own personal superstition is that higher cadence is easier on the legs but more demanding of the cardiovascular system and lungs.
Yes and as Mike points out these studies were done during the peak of the systemised doping era and was used as an explanation as to Lance Armstrong's meteoric return to Pro Cycling when previously he had been labeled as below average.

So as Pete points out high cadence is much more demanding cardiovascular system and so when combining this style with blood boosting products, such as EPO or blood packing (increasing you blood volume by IV drip with red plate rich blood) you are able to maintain this style.

Back before the introduction of blood doping it was the opposite, big gears and painkillers/steroids / alcohol to mask the pain of pushing such big gears in the mountains.

Now research is beginning to emerge that optimal cadence is around 80/90 rpm. This allows the muscles to engage both types of muscles. Anything below the 80 mark can effect the joint tissue and goes premature wearing and excessive stress on the joints.

However at the end of the day our own bodies will regulate what is "Best" for the individual some may find a low cadence is best while others will happily spin perfect circles at 115rpm. Anyone watching our Belgian hard-man Tom will see a perfect example of a cruncher/grinder, while with me you'll see a spinner.

However as of late I've noticed in my hill climb training I'm able to maintain over 300w for long periods (1 hour +) at a cadence of around 85 rpm. +/- 3

This is why training or riding with a power meter is very valuable as it allows you to see just what is working - yes lowering my rpm put me out of my comfort zone, however it also highlighted that if I was prepared to put up with the slight burning in the muscles I could hold the wattage for much longer.

So in a nutshell I learned that I was being lazy and could push a much bigger gear over the same distance and finish faster and just as knackered only in different places.
 
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