The importance of leg speed

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.

Get your legs up to speed!

We have an 6 week training plan dedicated to improving your cycling cadence.

Get a Plan

Until Next Time,

Train Smarter Not Harder,

Coach Rob

5 Comments on “The importance of leg speed”

  1. Thank you very much. Definitely an area that should be worked on in the off season. Trainer helps too 😉

  2. This is the fourth Polar S-Series Cadence Sensor that I’ve phcsuared. No, none have worn out, nor have there been any issues; it’s just that the sensor is so good and helpful, that I’ve put one on each of my three bikes, and picked up this fourth one for when I travel and rent at my destination. In this case, Las Vegas. Having one to use strictly for travel may seem extravagant, but it serves me well for two points: (1) I don’t have to keep snipping the zip ties on one bike, removing the sensor and the pedal magnet, then reattaching them when I’m back from my trip; and (2) If any of my other three sensors do break or run out of battery, I’ve got a handy replacement.I’ve had no interference issues with this sensor, and no apparent drop-out, nor weird spikes that I sometime see with my heart rate and speed. The only downsides that I see with this sensor are: (1) The price it seems to be about $5 to $10 more than *I* think it should; and (2) The declining availability; as Polar’s moved to newer models of heart rate monitors, it’s getting tougher to find the S-Series components.In conclusion, if you’ve got an S-Series monitor, and are serious about your bike training, I highly recommend this sensor. It’s been of great help to me, both on the road and when riding the trainer indoors with the Carmichael Training System videos.

  3. I have been using mytracks with a Droid on my bike all sumemr. Its a exellent app. I mounted a Droid on a bike the day it was released. Very cool stuff.Have been following the Tour De France as well. With the addition of Radio Shack up against Garmin and HTC the has begun.Dont forget all the stuff the companies are giving away too. You can win a Trek Bike and tons of other cool stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.