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  1. #1
    Senior Member bigboybiker's Avatar
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    spinning vs. not

    Everything I read anywhere telss me that when riding I should spin at a high cadence. I'm trying, but I find that this doesn't work well for me. I am much more comfortable at a medium cadence with larger gears. Maybe not a true "gear masher" but I REALLY don't have fast legs. For me it's not just a matter of preference. When I try to spin my lungs end up working twice as hard for the same speed, and the same goes for my lactic acid build up in my legs. Pain happens much faster when spinning quickly than when I use more muscle and push the pedals a bit slower. Anyone else ride the same way? Or should I say have the same problem?

    Jerry

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    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Many riders never increase their cadence for the same reasons you discuss. Don't expect immediate results. Take some time to master your cadence and increase your speed. It takes practice, young Jedi.
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    Senior Member Hill-Pumper's Avatar
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    Just a quick question, do you have a bike computer that is telling you your cadence number, or are you just guessing? The reason I ask, is that until recently I did not have a computer with cadence and assumed that I was a masher. When I upgraded to a cadence computer, I was surprised to find out that my numbers were in the desired 95-100 range. So, my point is to know your baseline first, then slowly try to improve.

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    ^ What he said.

    Do you know your current cadence? Via computer, or counting revolutions for say 15 seconds.

    Getting comfortable with higher cadences takes some time and effort, just like getting stronger at lower cadences does. You have to push your body outside it's comfort zone and then on recovery it will adapt. I just got back on the bike in January, after a nearly 2 year lay-off. At first I was hard pressed to even reach 90 rpm. Five months later I'm happily spinning at 90-110 and can functionally get up to around 120.
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    The Site Administrator: Currently at home recovering from a couple of strokes,please contact my assistnt admins for forum issues Tom Stormcrowe's Avatar
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    Interestingly enough, what fixed my spin and cadence issues was to start commuting around campus on a fixed gear at 70 gear inches ratio. The bike has 3 speeds, basically, spinning easy at 20 mph, standing in the pedals, or off the bike walking on too steep a hill, and those are getting to be fewer.

    It's also funny, in that it may go 30 miles on my road bike now before I remember I can coast.
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    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    Are you using clipless or toe clips and straps? If not, then get one or the other. Then you will get the spin up.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

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    I trained on my cadance all winter and had some pretty fast legs coming out the gate. One thing the spinning does is increase cardio which will eventually enable you to spin fastyer on th ebig ring which equals fast. I can attest to this, I have spent more time on the big ring this year than ever before yet my cadance is still averaging at 85 for the year. 85 is average told by Garmin but on flats I'm usally spinning around 110 the highest recorded is 185 on the road, doing a downhill leadout for a group sprint.
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    Senior Member bigboybiker's Avatar
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    I am using clipless pedals, and it sounds like maybe I might want to replace my cheapo computer with something with cadence.

    Jerry

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    My cadence tends to stay way down. For me, the issue is my knees. I mash, they scream. I try to spin, they scream. Needless to say, I'm quite a pokey rider thanks to that. On flats with little wind, I can hit around 14 to 15 mph. Hills with my knees, anywhere between 5 and 1 . My average tends to be around 10 mph. I may not blaze through the countryside, but I do cover the miles.

    And yes, I've been properly fitted. My knees can cause severe pain when I walk up stairs, steep hills, or sometimes even when I try to sit down in a chair. So, it's not my bike. If anything, cycling if I'm careful is one of the few painfree and therefore FUN active things I can do.

  10. #10
    Senior Member socalrider's Avatar
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    when you learn to spin a little better, you are just more efficient on your bike.. If you are bouncing on your saddle you are spinning too fast.. But over time if you can get right in that 90-100 rpm range on the flats, that is ideal.. Your cadence will usually drop 20-30 rpms on climbs..

  11. #11
    Faster than yesterday
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    I am a reformed gear-masher. I realize this is in the clyde section, and muscular power here probably dominates over cardio fitness in terms of natural capability, so mashing higher gears may seem more natural. I am not myself a clyde, but I am educated on the topic of exercise physiology, and thought I would contribute.

    Spinning a higher cadence can be invaluable. From a performance standpoint, you can maintain an heart-stressing activity longer than one which primarily stresses the metabolic pathways of the skeletal muscle itself. Eventually, the muscle gets tired, and you will reach a point at which it produces lactate faster than it can clear it (lactate itself is a fuel, folks, but has undesired "side effects"). This is your lactate threshold (I like the older term of "onset of blood lactate accumulation" or OBLA, which really describes what is happening). This causes local fatigue, and stresses the systems by which blood acid is buffered. You breathe harder (usually a respiratory threshold corresponds roughly to OBLA) to blow off CO2, which forms carbonic acid in blood.

    If you can maintain a constant, aerobic effort below or just above OBLA (so that lactate accumulates more slowly), the muscle experiences much less fatigue and the CV system is less stressed. At a certain point (high % of vo2 max), you breathe harder, but the oxygen you bring in is largely spent on accessory muscles (sternocleidomastoid, scalenes) helping expand the ribcage further. This effect is more pronounced for those with more massive upper bodies.

    So...you can spin faster, using your heart and lungs and accumulating lactate more slowly. Or, you can mash a higher gear and rely on the powerful, but relatively short-lived, capacities of the muscle tissue. If you're only doing shorter rides, this works just fine. For longer efforts, spinning becomes more necessary. It should also be noted that your heart and lungs recover much more quickly than muscles do from near-maximal efforts. Blood lactate returns to baseline within a couple of hours after even hard bouts, while muscular soreness and fatigue can linger for days and compromise training.

    Also, there is a lot of thought in the direction of mashing higher gears being harder on the joints. Not everyone will experience problems here, but these thoughts are out there. And they make a lot of sense given the kinds of loads one can place on their knees by the sheer force of the quads. Ever heard that knee extensions can be hard on the knee, especially if done over too wide of a range of motion? The loads that can be handled by the quads are why. Compound these forces (not identical I know, but similar idea) with the repetitive motion of cycling, and it makes sense that it could cause problems.

    Again, I am not a clyde, and as I have ridden more and more my tendency has become to spin a higher cadence. This may not come naturally to everyone else, I realize. A person's neurology and muscle fiber composition may not suit this strategy. However, I think most people ought to at least try spinning a higher cadence.

  12. #12
    creaky old bones FZ1Tom's Avatar
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    Sounds interesting, but in my fairly limited experience I've found that spinning a bigger gear, say at 60-75 rpm's gets me considerably more speed on the flats than 75-90 rpm's.....all else being equal. And I get less fatigue.

    But speed isn't an end all be all, either. I'm sure everyone has their own happy medium or best cadence, some slower, some faster (for a given speed)

    Tom

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    BikeNewbie stark23x's Avatar
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    My problem is that if I get in a gear where I can spin, I'm going like, 10 mph. If I want to make any kind of time at all over the _x_ number of miles I plan to ride, I have to pick a higher gear and slower cadence. But not too high or I also slow down. Unfortunately I don't know what that cadence *is* yet.

    I'll know a lot more when I slap a cadence monitor on there this week. Always refining the journey...
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigboybiker View Post
    Everything I read anywhere telss me that when riding I should spin at a high cadence. I'm trying, but I find that this doesn't work well for me. I am much more comfortable at a medium cadence with larger gears. Maybe not a true "gear masher" but I REALLY don't have fast legs. For me it's not just a matter of preference. When I try to spin my lungs end up working twice as hard for the same speed, and the same goes for my lactic acid build up in my legs. Pain happens much faster when spinning quickly than when I use more muscle and push the pedals a bit slower. Anyone else ride the same way? Or should I say have the same problem?
    Jerry
    Cycling is interesting. You can get a frame in nearly any size in one cm increments from 49gm to 63cm. You can get cycling shoes in a 37.5 up to 52, with weird 1/3 and 2/3 sizes in some French shoes. You can get a stem with various degrees of ascension and declension and in all manner of extensions from trick stems to stems over 150mm long. There are 650, 700c, 26", and now 29er wheel sizes, plus a host of others that we typically don't see here in the US. Seatposts come with varying degrees of setback, to zero setback posts, even to offset posts for time trial use. You can get STI levers in smaller sizes for people with little hands. Handlebars come in a variety of widths, reaches, and drops. Pedals come in different amounts of float from completely biomechanically neutral pedals like the Bebop, to old Look style that convey proper set up or a visit to your Orthopaedist.

    However, while nearly everything can be 'sized' in cyclesport crank length is often considered 'universal' for cyclists that are as divergent from 5'7" to 6'3".

    Having cranks that are too short or too long can severely affect your spin. Truly, the average cyclist has never been professionally fit on a sizercycle by a certified fitness specialist. They have never tried different crank lengths to determine what is appropriate for their cadence, nor do they necessarily choose their rings and cassettes to accommodate their cadence, and to provide the broadest usable range.

    Many cyclists are not adequately positioned over the pedal axle during the pedal stroke.

    I may not be that you "can't" spin, but rather that your bike isn' adjusted, or does not fit, thus preventing you from spinning. It is cheap to manufacture cranks in only 175mm.

    However, its absurd to simultaneously believe that we need 16 different frame sizes, but largely only one crank size.

    Your ability to spin or mash will be completely different on different length cranks. I always found it curious why people would spend thousands on a bike but never think to spend a couple of hundred on a fitting tool like an Ergostem, that they can use to make every bike more comfortable, and improve their performance upon. The same goes for crank length, I'd encourage any serious cyclist to invest in an adjustable crank. Be sure to find one that has an adjustable range proportional to your size. Having an 160mm-180mm adjustable crank isn't going to help someone 6'8" to determine what the ideal size they might need.

    Don't assume that a particular cadence is ideal for everyone. There are different natural body types, and different natural cadences. The battle between Jan Ulrich and Lance Armstrong on time trials emphasized the efficacy of mashing and spinning. Both were world class time trialists almost without peer. Their respective cadences could not be more different. It has certainly been indoctrinated into the current generation of cyclists that they need to 'spin' at a higher cadence.

    While its currently de rigueur to spin at a higher cadence the aforementioned Ulrich, Santiago Botero, and Big Mig all were very fast at much lower cadences.

    Not every cadence is appropriate for a 'universal' 175mm crank, however.

    Crank length and natural style are oft overlooked variables in finding your own 'groove'. There is not one pure spin, and what works for someone five foot nothing and someone who can dunk flat footed is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the same.

    Vastly overlooked, and what you have begun to discover intuitively, is that a higher cadence actually leads to a lower max wattage, as the muscles don't have time to adequately recover between exertions, and that lactic acid will build up quicker than it would otherwise.

    There is not one 'best' way, regardless of conventional wisdom.

    One could make the argument that had Ulrich had equal access to cutting edge pharmacology we'd all be talking about mashing big gears to go faster now...

  15. #15
    Faster than yesterday
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    Interesting observation about higher cadences and lower max wattage. I would say it's fairly obvious for MAX wattage, given that a higher force on the pedal (low cadence) translates into more type II fibers being stimulated. They are certainly more powerful than slow-twitch (type I) fibers, and should give a higher peak value. They do fatigue much more quickly, though. For AVERAGE power, i.e. what one can continuously put out, it would make sense that a style utilizing more type I fibers, which are aerobic, would be more logical. and, some motor units can rest, while others are recruited each time. This isn't to say it's only one fiber type or the other or the other, it's always a mix.

    Again, some of us have a lot more type I, or type IIA, or type IIx fibers (type IIb are present in rodents but in humans are mostly embryonic, very scarce in adulthood). This is not something you can really know, short of doing a muscle biopsy. But, it does influence what feels natural for you. Of course, over a long period of time, one can train the intermediate type (IIa) to act more like either I or IIx, but that is a whole other can of worms...
    Last edited by tadawdy; 06-10-09 at 03:00 AM.

  16. #16
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    Honestly, there's no Right or Wrong cadence. Use what works well for you! To mash at a lower cadence in a more difficult gear, you'll need more leg strength and less cardiovascular strength. To spin at a higher cadence in an easier gear, you'll need more cardiovascular strength and less leg strength. Ideally, you want to find a cadence that works both your leg muscles and your cardiovascular system without burning out either. Many people, especially beginning cyclists, tend to use gears that are too big and burn their leg muscles out early. Thus the recommendation for a cadence in the 90-100rpm range; in order to spin that fast you almost have to pick a super-easy gear.

    In the end, though, it's all about what works well for you! I like spinning at 90-110rpm on the flats, cruising at 70-80rpm on mild grades, and slow down to 50-60rpm on the steep (80-10+%) stuff...

  17. #17
    Gears? CliftonGK1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stark23x View Post
    My problem is that if I get in a gear where I can spin, I'm going like, 10 mph. If I want to make any kind of time at all over the _x_ number of miles I plan to ride, I have to pick a higher gear and slower cadence. But not too high or I also slow down. Unfortunately I don't know what that cadence *is* yet.
    Don't be fooled into thinking that "spinning" = "effortless". If your pace is slowing when you're spinning, then go up a gear and put a little bit more oomph into it. Spinning a high cadence is really about putting an even, smooth effort into the entire pedal stroke and not just putting a heavy force behind the 1 o'clock to 6 o'clock position of your pedal stroke and slacking throughout the rest.
    The best description I've heard is to imagine you're trying to scrape mud off the bottom of your shoe. That way you're concentrating on that dead-center-bottom part of the pedal stroke and consciously pulling your foot back and through what is typically a dead spot.

    I agree with Sixty Fiver about the fixed gear being a great teaching tool for smoothing out your spin. I built one up over the winter and recently did my first century on it. Maxed out my cadence at 155rpm without bouncing in the saddle, where my previous top out had been 130rpm.

    Another good spin drill:
    - Find a flat, empty 200m straightaway
    - Shift into your lowest (easiest) gear
    - Staying seated, sprint that low gear as fast as you can without bouncing.
    The low resistance of sprinting low gears on flats means that you really have to concentrate on the bottom and upswing phases of the pedal stroke to keep from bottoming out and bouncing in the saddle.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member Wogster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigboybiker View Post
    Everything I read anywhere telss me that when riding I should spin at a high cadence. I'm trying, but I find that this doesn't work well for me. I am much more comfortable at a medium cadence with larger gears. Maybe not a true "gear masher" but I REALLY don't have fast legs. For me it's not just a matter of preference. When I try to spin my lungs end up working twice as hard for the same speed, and the same goes for my lactic acid build up in my legs. Pain happens much faster when spinning quickly than when I use more muscle and push the pedals a bit slower. Anyone else ride the same way? Or should I say have the same problem?

    Jerry
    The new rider, tends to mash, because they think that they can go faster by using a higher gear. Some riders do this for many years. If you have been riding at 55RPM for years, then trying to suddenly go 90RPM because that's recommended and you just got a computer with cadence, is going to be difficult. One should ride at their normal cadence, if it's way low, say 55RPM, then try boosting it part way, say 60 or 65, then work your way up to the 80-100RPM that is considered the normal range.

  19. #19
    Senior Member nkfrench's Avatar
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    I don't have a cadence meter but I have noticed both in group rides and in a spinning class that I can't approach the rpms of the faster riders. I do try to pedal faster but find I go faster in a higher gear with lower cadence. When I lower the gear, I tend to keep the same cadence and just ride slower despite intentions to hold the same velocity.

    With a much higher cadence, the compression-helping bike shorts still aren't enough for "motion control" which makes my legs hurt well before I have any saddle bouncing problems. I also find that I am applying power through less of the stroke with the faster cadence - maybe 4PM-6PM on the "clock face". My legs are also heavy so it takes a lot of energy moving them around that many more times each minute regardless of how much force I apply.

    I wondered if this is a common Clyde problem mostly for those with big legs instead of bird legs; or if it is a Fifty Plus problem with slower reflexes. Or both.

  20. #20
    Member bigun83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wogsterca View Post
    The new rider, tends to mash, because they think that they can go faster by using a higher gear. Some riders do this for many years. If you have been riding at 55RPM for years, then trying to suddenly go 90RPM because that's recommended and you just got a computer with cadence, is going to be difficult. One should ride at their normal cadence, if it's way low, say 55RPM, then try boosting it part way, say 60 or 65, then work your way up to the 80-100RPM that is considered the normal range.
    I think you're exactly right here. When I first got a computer that had a cadence feature I was averaging around 60-70 but since then I've been focusing on keeping my cadence as high as I can comfortably maintain and I've gradually crept up to an average of 75-90. Might not seem like much of an improvement but if it keeps going then hopefully I can get up to 90-100. At first I was barely able to hold a cadence of 110 or 120 but on my ride today I got up to 150. Just keep it up and you'll get there!

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    Quote Originally Posted by FZ1Tom View Post
    Sounds interesting, but in my fairly limited experience I've found that spinning a bigger gear, say at 60-75 rpm's gets me considerably more speed on the flats than 75-90 rpm's.....all else being equal. And I get less fatigue.

    But speed isn't an end all be all, either. I'm sure everyone has their own happy medium or best cadence, some slower, some faster (for a given speed)

    Tom
    The best advice here yet. Cadence is a purely personal thing. Most cyclists do well at 80-100 rpm but many do better at 65-75. People should try and see what works best for them. Generally riders with lots of strength find 75-85 rpm works well. Riders with lean mass often have to go to 110-120 rpm to get a quick pace. But it's all an individual thing.
    You're just trying to start an argument to show how smart you are.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Wogster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigun83 View Post
    I think you're exactly right here. When I first got a computer that had a cadence feature I was averaging around 60-70 but since then I've been focusing on keeping my cadence as high as I can comfortably maintain and I've gradually crept up to an average of 75-90. Might not seem like much of an improvement but if it keeps going then hopefully I can get up to 90-100. At first I was barely able to hold a cadence of 110 or 120 but on my ride today I got up to 150. Just keep it up and you'll get there!
    Cadence is a balancing act though, you need to balance between spinning too fast and burning out, and spinning to slow and mashing. I find if I drop much below 80, I can feel it, even without looking at the computer, so I drop down a gear and spin back up a bit.

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    I posted a similar question and then got my heart rate monitor going with me. I found that I really don't care much about cadence. Some of the posters are into racing and performance stuff, I'm just a fitness guy looking to get some speed and a nice cardio workout.
    So my conclusion is that cadence is a way to train to get faster

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by guelerct View Post
    So my conclusion is that cadence is a way to train to get faster
    It's also a real effective way to save your knees. I know I want to do that

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    Quote Originally Posted by FZ1Tom View Post
    Sounds interesting, but in my fairly limited experience I've found that spinning a bigger gear, say at 60-75 rpm's gets me considerably more speed on the flats than 75-90 rpm's.....all else being equal. And I get less fatigue.
    For a given speed, the cadence and the gear have to match. If you are getting "conciderably more speed", then you are using the wrong gear (too low) for the higher cadence.

    Keep in mind that it takes some work for a higher cadence to be comfortable. At first, it would be more fatiguing.

    Anyway, whatever cadence you chose to use normally, there are advantages to being comfortable using a higher cadence. Sometimes, it's faster overall spinning up your cadence than it is to do a slow shift. Sometimes, it's easier to adjust your speed by changing your cadence than it is to shift.

    Quote Originally Posted by StanSeven View Post
    The best advice here yet. Cadence is a purely personal thing. Most cyclists do well at 80-100 rpm but many do better at 65-75. People should try and see what works best for them. Generally riders with lots of strength find 75-85 rpm works well. Riders with lean mass often have to go to 110-120 rpm to get a quick pace. But it's all an individual thing.
    It is not exactly a personal thing. Skilled cyclists, pretty reliably, have a much higher cadence than new cyclists.

    People starting-out need to learn/practice having a higher cadence before they can pick the cadence that they like. Plus, being able to vary one's cadence is a useful tool.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wogsterca View Post
    then try boosting it part way, say 60 or 65, then work your way up to the 80-100RPM that is considered the normal range.
    Definitely, work on increasing cadence gradually!
    Last edited by njkayaker; 06-12-09 at 02:00 PM.

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