Question: I think I was recently reading that the best cyclists havea cadence of 110 rpm. This seems very fast (at least for me). I am probably in the 70-90 range. Do most riders do better at higher rpm? Is there benefit to sometimes powering up hills at lower rpm? I asked a question earlier in the year about maintaining cycling shape while doing bouts of backpacking. The advice I received was very good. The first ride after getting back is slow and heavy but after that it comes back quickly. Thanks. – Steve Koester
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Good question about cadence. In general, riders have individual optimum cadences because of factors like muscle fiber type, neuromuscular wiring and experience. But most experienced riders settle in at a cadence in the 85 to 100 range for most riding.
Cadences of over 100 move a lot of the effort to your cardio-vascular system rather than your legs. You’ll breathe hard but your legs will be spared so that they have something left later in the ride. Conversely, grinding along at a low cadence stresses the quads and can lead to “dead legs” or cramps as the miles go by.
Studies of elite riders show that the higher the power output required, the higher the cadence, at least for relatively short efforts. So when pursuiters on the track go for several minutes, they often ride at cadences of over 120.
For longer efforts – say a 40K time trial – cadences are lower but for elite riders they rarely dip below 100. There are a few outliers who grind along at 80 rpm in TTs, but they’re in the minority.
If you watched the Tour last summer, you probably noticed that Chris Froome used a rapid cadence when he attacked in the mountains. He couldn’t sustain rpm over 100 for too long on grades over 10%, but when he wanted to get a gap to his rivals, he pedaled at a very fast pace.
In your case, you seem to be comfortable at a lower cadence. It’s possible to raise your comfort zone by simply concentrating on a faster cadence for 5-minute sessions on a regular ride. Do some of these faster spins on the flat and some on gradual uphills. Don’t let your hips rock in the saddle. Remember – don’t pedal harder, pedal faster with a focus on a smooth stroke rather than a jerky, up-and-down motion.
Finally, on short hills that you’d normally power over in the big ring, sit and spin fast. I bet you’ll notice quickly that your overall cadence rises about 5 rpm and you feel more efficient.
Riding short hills this way next to a riding buddy is a great way to see the advantages of a faster cadence. If he grinds up the hill in the big ring, you’ll keep up or even go past him if you sit and spin. And your legs will feel a lot better at the top of the hill!
Great summary Coach Fred! The ‘dead legs’ caused by low cadence is due to the build up of lactic acid. Like you said, low cadence works the neuromuscular system and high cadence works the cardiovascular system. Higher cadence wins! I’ve written a ‘Power Primer’ ebook which gets into this topic further. John is reviewing so expect to see this available soon!
When I tried to sustain 5minutes or more at a high cadence, my heart rate rose to an uncomfortable level..and I had trouble maintaining the high cadence..@ 120 rpm..suggestions? This was my first effort at this cadence. Thanks!
David Frost says
Learning to “spin faster” can be easier if you imagine moving your feet in [u]smaller[/u] circles.