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how important is cadence on the bike?

I thought I'd got this straight and that you needed to be aiming for a cadence of about 90 rpm and have been working towards spinning the legs a bit quicker as I naturally seem to prefer a higher gear and slower rotation but now I read that hussler prefers to "mash out a big gear" rather than aiming for a high rpm.

I'm confused.

Perhaps hussler's "slow" is already faster than mine?


  • shadowone1shadowone1 Posts: 1,408
    I would be interested in this thread.

    I noticed that I find it easier to be on the big gears and getting to a decent output rather than maintaining the rpm. I only try and maintain the rpm on the hill climbs.....
  • willieverfinishwillieverfinish Posts: 1,381
    I would assume it's whatever suits TBH.

    I like to spin at 90-100 rpm - but then again my skinny lanky legs don't provide much wattage/power.

    I tend to feel more comfortable spinning then grinding our each pedal stroke.

    Stick to what works best for you.
  • FlavadaveFlavadave Posts: 749
    I'd agree with willieverfinish. Seems to be a lot of advice advocating 90rpm but whatever suits, I get up to about 80-85 then it feels like my legs are going to spin off.

    Think Chrissie Wellington rides at about 65rpm (?), but then again she's a cyborg or something.
  • Me too... This is somethig I'd be very intersted to hear from others on.

    My own personal feeling is that as with so many things it simply comes down to what is best for you. There is no magic cadence that one should aim for.

    I originally started cycling just for fun and as cross training for rowing. Back then I used to mash pretty big gears and go pretty quickly on the flats, however I was always dropped on the hills. To be honest I don't know if this has anything to do with the cadence or whether I was just being soft.

    As I started cycling more in prep for my first Tri I began to wonder about cadence. I read that Lance cycles at 100-110rpm, and that this is one theory behind his repeated success since cycling at a higher cadence apparently generates less lactic acid build up which helps lots over long multi stage races. If it is good enough for Lance I figured it was good enough for me, and less lactic acid sounded attractive too. In blind imitation I've been cycling at 95-100 ever since.

    At first this change really slowed me down but I persevered and now I feel very comfortable spinning along at 100. To be honest I have no idea which option is better for me, let alone whether there is a general rule, but to paraphrase conehead in another thread: I chose a path and I've stuck to it.

    While i'm not lightning quick on the bike I like to think I'm no slouch, and in TTs and my still very limited Tri experience I seem to climb faster than most others around me. I have no idea if changing cadence would make me faster but 100rpm is what I train and race at and it seems to work ok for me.
  • ZacniciZacnici Posts: 1,385
    All I can do is comment from my own experience (I am 52 and have done some running in the past and only threw my leg over a bike 3 years ago):

    I initially ran a 53/11 but struggled to stay in cog 11 at 75-80 rpm and more often could only get cog 13/12
    According to Sheldon Brown's calculator at 53/11 at 80rpm the max theoretical speed is 49.8Kph and at cogs 12 and 13 45.7Kph and 42.2kph respectively
    With a 50/11, cog 11 at 90rpm equates to 52.9Kph and 12 cog 48.5kph, 13 cog 44.7kph. At 80rpm the respective speeds are 47kph, 43.1kph and 39.8kph

    So from my own experience and research I concluded that:
    With a 53 at best I could just about pull cog 12 at 75-80rpm at most 45.7kph - more often I would be at cog 13 - 42.2 kph or 12 - 45.7kph
    With a 50 I could pull cog 12 more often at 90rpm - 48.5kph or cog 11 at 80rpm - 47kph

    In other words I am faster (and that is certainly true on the lumpy bits as again courtesy of Sheldon I am 15% faster using my 34 chainring than the old 42)

    The faster cadence also suits my physiology as I can launch off into the run (my strongest discipline) with fresher legs.

    There is also the debate about Fast twitch and Slow twitch muscles, all I know is that a 50/39 (50/34 if it is really lumpy) and a higher cadence gets me there faster and fresher.
  • hussler.hussler. Posts: 390
    As quoted originally i tend to mash my gears.... keep at 70-85 rpm rather than spinning the legs....

    My knees hurt and my VMO becomes painful if I spin in an easy gear.
    Sometimes ill be going that fast that ill spin at 90rpm or more in the 11 tooth on a very fast course or down hills etc and then I think......maybe I should get a 56 Tooth Chainring fitted.

    On a normal race, ie mix of hills/flats, ill spend most my time in the 12/13/14 tooth and turn over at whatever cadence feels natural.

    When Im doing tests on the turbo ill just let my legs go to a natural comfortable cadence and it always turns out to be around 80ish....

    However on hills i will change to a smaller gear and spin up them around 85-90 but once im at the brow then its throw the hammer down again into a big gear.

    With enough practise on the bike/run brick sessions I can run a 17/18min 5k, 36/37min 10k or a sub 1:30 half off the bike, with no probs with heavy legs.

    My threshold power output is 280W which equates to around 50kph on the turbo... that figure is from a proper test and not just using the Tacx flow which is massively out with its power readings, as I can hold 350W on there for ages.... 54min 25mile TT.

    Cadence is individual so its whatever your comfortable with. Jan Ulrich mashed big gears and Lnace spins a smaller gear. BWe all know Lance was far better than Jan however Jan was no slouch!!
  • julesojuleso Posts: 279
    Small contribution from me; apparently beginners tend to push a harder gear than they should. I try to remember that when I'm cycling and I try to drop down a gear to get used the the feeling of spinning more. Recently got told off for having a cadence of 60 on the turbo; should be working towards 85-odd apparently. But I'm told that that comes with experience.
  • GGBGGB Posts: 482
    I am still learning this bike thing and as for cadence I have not got a clue - I do tend to mash as bigger gear as possible, though lately have been dropping down the gears to try keep the cadence up - Hills I generally Mash bigger gears and then spin up when I am wasted (in training) -
  • durhamvamdurhamvam Posts: 246
    Thanks everyone, I guess I've got the right idea in spinning just a bit more quickly then is quite comfortable (although this makes me very slow at the moment ) and trying to keep the cadence higher up hills which feels like it gives me a smoother quicker ride - although I am becoming good friends with my lactic acid threshold

    As a complete bike Rookie (I have allan key 101 so far) still very confused about these chain ring numbers 53/11???? But I guess before I ask stupid questions I should RTFM
  • SwizzlenapSwizzlenap Posts: 160
    Good question with some really helpful info.

    I naturally tend towards a high cadence but I sometimes wonder if this is because I don't have the strength to push a harder gear. My legs tire fairly quickly on hills and I've begun to think that I need to improve the force I'm capable of putting into the pedals.

    I'ts v interesting to see how you experienced guys pick apart your ratios etc. Think I'll start to take a look at what I'm doing in a bit more detail.
  • ZacniciZacnici Posts: 1,385
    Ref the 53/11 bit etc

    Some dudes and dudettes will have a 'standard' double chainring with 53 teeth on the outer ring for faster speeds and an inner ring with say 42 teeth for climbing and slower speeds, commonly called a 53/42. Others, like me, have a 'Compact' typically 50 teeth outer with 39 inner, 50/39.

    The cassette on the rear wheel has various cog sizes varying from say 11 teeth which is for fast work down to say 27 teeth for climbing.

    You will typically use a range of gears and chainrings to maintain cadence, i.e. inner ring with say the biggest 4 or 5 inner cogs and the outer ring with the smallest cogs out outermost cogs, hence expressions like pulling 53/11.

    Do a search for Sheldon Brown, sadly now dead, that chap sets things out nice and clearly and has a great online gear calculator, in fact here is the link: http://sheldonbrown.com/

    You also need to be aware that the 'Standard' uses a different crank setup of 130mm BCD and the 'Compact' with 110mm BCD, see http://sheldonbrown.com/gloss_bo-z.html#bcd

    Some people like to 'mash' along at 75rpm others like to spin out at 90rpm as I do. There are also arguments that 'mashing' uses Fast twitch muscles which reduces oxygen demand but has a limited store of energy (2,00 Cals I believe but may be wrong) and has a knock on effect of a reduced initial pace when starting off on the run. Faster cadence uses primarily Slow twitch muscles which utilises energy stored in fat and hence has a greater store, is geared towards endurance and allows a quicker transition to run.

    I am primarily a runner and find that a Compact with a 90 rpm cadence suits me best - but it is an individual thing.

    Hope that helps.
  • Jack HughesJack Hughes Posts: 1,262
    Cadence is important! But not necessarily a particular value.

    Really, it all depends where you are in your development as a racing, as opposed to touring cyclist.

    Generally, speaking, a tourist will pedal at around 40 - 60 rpm. Have a look and you will see this.

    A time triallist/road racer will probably go at around 80 - 100.

    A sprinter or track cyclist might be up to 140 at the highest speeds.

    When hussler says that he pushes a big gear slowly, this is relative to his own particular abilities - he means that he could push a lower gear at a higher rate. However, compared to a non-racer, he will be pushing a higher gear, at a higher rate.

    Ultimately, it all comes down to the power that you can produce.

    When training, you are trying to stress the body so that it develops. For power development, you are attempting to building strength, along with the necessary CV development to sustain the evidence.

    Other things being equal, a training strategy that emphases cadence over gear size should be better. i.e. this means that aim for a higher cadence, keep that up, then try to push a bigger gear at that cadence. This would be as opposed to trying to push the highest gear possible, and then bringing the cadence up. Not sure if that makes sense, but it means that your training goal might be keep a cadence of 90 rpm for five minutes in X gear. Then a bit later, the same thing, but with a bigger gear.

    When it comes to racing, it depends on the type of race and course. You want the mix of gearing that allows you to generate the maximum amount of power over the distance. A higher gear and lower revs would be the way to do this. However, this strategy would only work in a time trial type event - i.e. where you are keeping a constant level of effort/pace. And again, ony where the terrain was really flat. This is because it is harder to accelerate when you are pushing a big gear at a lower cadence (exactly the same as driving a car), So, in uneven terrain, you might find a higher cadence with a lower gear is better (i.e. where you spend more time accelerating/decelerating, than travelling at a constant speed).

    Finally, if you are following the bike with a run, then you need a strategy that copes with that. The optimal running cadence is 90 RPM. Studies have shown that if you complete the last part of the preceding bike leg at that cadence, then the transition from bike to run is better (less jelly legs). Only the last 500m or so have to be done at this speed though (IIRC).

    Even more finally, getting used to a higher cadence is probably good mental training for making that transition from riding to racing. My pet hobby horse is that, in contrast to running - where the change from a walk to a run is obvious, the same isn't true on a bike - where the transition from touring to racing is much more subtle. I think a lot of people have problems with making this transition - i.e. being able to "get it all out" when doing a bike race. I believe that training/getting used to higher cadences is a good way of tackling this problem.
  • hussler.hussler. Posts: 390
    Well said Jack....

    That is basically what I meant lol.. I push the biggest gear I can on the given terrain.

    I have fairly strong legs so dont need a rear cassette with a cog of more than 23 teeth. If I am in a flat race I will do away with the 23 and have 21teeth as my biggest cog. I will always have an 11 tooth though regardless of whether Its mega hilly or not.

    One of my sessions to develop power on the turbo is as follows:

    20 mins warm up (build up pace with a few short sprints towards the end)

    2 x 8-10 second All out sprints and this is absolutely everything you have....
    Record the highest speed reached...At the mo my highest speed is 84.9kph which I think is around 800W on the Taxc Flow.....

    then have a 2 min recovery spin

    then comes the hard bit......

    work out 1/3rds and 2/3rds of your max speed - 1/3rd of mine =28kph 2/3rds of mine = 56kph

    hold 2/3rds speed for as long as possible until your speed drops below the 1/3rd value...

    I have only done this session once so far in my new training block and I held 56kph for 38 mins 16s

    I think I can go longer though.... next time I do this is next Tuesday:)

    Really gets the legs burning and develops power well:)
  • durhamvamdurhamvam Posts: 246
    Thanks everyone again,

    Much clearer now although I think it is also plain I have much, much work to do I might also have to start paying attention to what I'm actually doing rather than just being pleased to get up the darned hill......

    Also I think it is clear that I 'need' a nice new shiny cadence counting thing don't I? Otherwise I can't be expected to improve and that would negate the whole training thing right? This doesn't need HAT approval since it is clearly a necessity
  • BmanBman Posts: 442
    I just tried my new shiny cadence thing out this week. A cateye V3. Loving it.

    220 posts, does that mean I become a better triathlete now? Or that I just spend too much time on the forum when I should be training?
  • LeezarLeezar Posts: 36
    Great topic and is very interesting how everyone is different.

    I was wondering if the size of the person has any bearing on the way they ride. Are the lighter framed people spinners and heavier riders more comfortable with being able to push a higher gear at a slower cadence?

    I’m a spinner but only weigh 68kg as there is no way I’m going to be able to grind a huge gear and not suffer badly in the run as I just do not have the power.
  • hussler.hussler. Posts: 390
    Weight doesnt have anything to do it in my opinion..... Im 70kg and as I have said before I hit a big over a small one anyday:) I may have small build but my legs are powerful....

    I dont use a cadence sensor.... I go off feel, if I feel I can use a bigger gear I will do, if I need to use a smaller gear I will do regardless of cadence.
    However I can usually guess my cadence to within 3-5rpm just from feel:) I used to use one but ditched it once I knew what different cadences felt like.... Its just more wires to attach to the bike unless you buy a wireless one and also Its more numbers to make you feel pissed off when you cant maintain your usual cadence in a gear because of weather, fatigue, road surface etc

    Use one to start with but try and get used to how different cadences feel then ditch it......and go on feel:)

  • durhamvamdurhamvam Posts: 246
    I'll certainly ditch the monitor when I've got an idea of what the hell I'm doing! At the moment I'm just trying use a slightly higher cadence than I'm quite comfortable with and maintain it despite the terrain - I'm finding that slower and harder work. Feels smoother and a bit more powerful up hills though

    I'll keep working on it
  • entry11 wrote:
    So Cool!!! So beautiful!!!
    Thanks to the Internet, er.. thanks to moderator.
    You have to admire their Chutzpah!!! Thanks to the moderator.... Brilliant.
  • shadowone1shadowone1 Posts: 1,408
    Yeah and thanks to the mod.... now zapped

    Prob be back tomorrow under a new name tho....doing my nut in
  • QuitterQuitter Posts: 160
    Tell you what tho.....they're resurrecting some cracking threads I'd never have seen otherwise!
  • dhcmdhcm Posts: 67
    This seems to be one of the (many) questions to which there is no one-sized-fits-all answer. When I picked up a bike 2 years ago (and still no great shakes) I found it most comfortable at cadence below 80. Then read lots of views and decided that while it was worth trying a higher cadence, should allow for the possibility that it is not for me. Now I find 80-85 is most comfortable, but if I hadn't I would have stuck with less.
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