If you are a recreational or competitive cyclist you may have been introduced to cadence as a measurement by now. If not, cadence is a cyclist’s measurement of how fast you are turning over the pedals in a given gear. The cadence measurement available on most cyclo-computers is displayed as RPM – Revolutions Per Minute.
Is cadence important?
Understanding when a higher or lower cadence can benefit you would be very important. I think the most common question I get from new cyclists is “What is optimal cadence?”
It has been written that a cadence of 85-95 RPM is optimal. The problem I have with this is that more often than not these articles don’t say which gear combo, terrain, wind direction or position of the cyclist is in when describing optimal cadence. All of these variables play an important role in applying an optimal cadence.
While I am not comfortable making a blanket statement that all cyclists should maintain an average cadence of 85-95 RPM. I can say that I often reach for a cadence of 110-115 RPM in training. This usually means an average RPM of 96-105 is reached.
What am I hoping to gain from such high RPMs?
In one word, efficiency, I want to train my body to be able to produce the most amount of power with the least amount of work. In your next group ride watch more experienced riders and observe if they are spinning quickly and lightly or if they are mashing the pedals almost violently. Riders who are pedaling quick and light look as if they are riding effortlessly. You would also see that their upper body is very still.
Higher RPMs are also important in accelerations. I am not talking about sprints but the countless small surges in speed that happen in group rides or in the peloton of a race. Being able to quickly increase cadence by 20-30 RPM in a given moment can mean the difference of holding on to a group of riders or getting dropped. Granted it may not happen the first few times in a ride but if you have struggled with them you will get dropped.
Another place understanding cadence will help is with climbing. Far to often I see recreational riders suffering on long climbs only to discover they are in the big ring and a very hard gear pedaling squares. They usually have a very pained look on their faces too. By using the small ring and easier gears you can move up a hill in a cadence of 60-80 RPM and probably get up the climb faster with out the pained face and poor form.
Similarly I watch people in Time Trials who try to slavishly maintain the same cadence over an entire course in the same gearing. While pace setting and tempo are incredibly important in time trials or the bike leg of triathlons or duathlons. It’s important to remember that the course elevation may dictate different gear selection and cadence. I usually use a tactic where I put the vast amount of my power into the flatter sections of a course and back off a bit on the hills.
So these are just some examples where cadence plays an important roll in cycling performance. So the big question I am sure you are asking your self is how do I improve my leg speed and cadence? While I typically shy away from prescribing training to my readers I will tell you one very simple rule. To ride fast you have to ride fast. I know its an old cycling cliché but it is true.
So to improve cadence and leg speed you will need to use interval training that prescribes easy gearing with short bursts of leg speed followed by periods of complete recovery. As soon as these types of work outs get easier then you can increase the gearing.
Have a great ride.