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  1. #1
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    What's the Big Deal with Cadence

    I post in both the 50+ and Clydesdale forums, because I unfortunately meet both criteria. I think this question is best posted here.

    I think that the "experts" say that the most efficient cadence is 80-90 rpm. My question is, "is this true for all body types and cycling objectives?"

    First, body type. I am just under 6', weigh 225-230 and have a body fat of just under 25%. I would call myself in reasonable shape for 67, but certainly have room for improvement. I have huge muscular legs. I don't know names of muscle types, but I don't have the long leg muscles built for speed. I have very large, short muscles built for pushing heavy objects. I have always been the strongest AND the slowest in my group. I find moving my legs at 80-90 rpm to be a real challenge and one that I have a hard time sustaining. On the other hand, I can put my bike in a higher gear and the weight of my legs alone seems to keep me moving at an easy pace.

    Second, cycling objectives. I have no need for speed. I am not trying to determine how quickly I can go from point a to point b, but how much I can enjoy the trip. I like to observe what is growing in the fields, watch the surfers and see if any dolphins are jumping today. Oh yeah, and watch out for drivers doing the same thing. My typical ride is 30 - 50 miles and I just did my first Century.

    Should I be concerned about cadence? Have any studies been done on cadence for our type of rider?

  2. #2
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Dog View Post
    I post in both the 50+ and Clydesdale forums, because I unfortunately meet both criteria. I think this question is best posted here.

    I think that the "experts" say that the most efficient cadence is 80-90 rpm. My question is, "is this true for all body types and cycling objectives?"

    First, body type. I am just under 6', weigh 225-230 and have a body fat of just under 25%. I would call myself in reasonable shape for 67, but certainly have room for improvement. I have huge muscular legs. I don't know names of muscle types, but I don't have the long leg muscles built for speed. I have very large, short muscles built for pushing heavy objects. I have always been the strongest AND the slowest in my group. I find moving my legs at 80-90 rpm to be a real challenge and one that I have a hard time sustaining. On the other hand, I can put my bike in a higher gear and the weight of my legs alone seems to keep me moving at an easy pace.

    Second, cycling objectives. I have no need for speed. I am not trying to determine how quickly I can go from point a to point b, but how much I can enjoy the trip. I like to observe what is growing in the fields, watch the surfers and see if any dolphins are jumping today. Oh yeah, and watch out for drivers doing the same thing. My typical ride is 30 - 50 miles and I just did my first Century.

    Should I be concerned about cadence? Have any studies been done on cadence for our type of rider?

    We have about the same build but I am in my fifties.

    I find that a faster cadence is a huge benefit. It reduces stress on the knees and my legs are never tired. It also places higher demands on my cardiovascular system. I like the fact that I am pushing the heart and lungs to greater fitness without stressing my legs which, like you, are already strong.

    I'm often using a 38t chain-ring with a 15t cog and spinning at 90 to 105 rpm. Its the best work-out IMO & YMMV.

    Michael
    Last edited by Barrettscv; 10-24-09 at 11:56 AM.
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    Senior Member Shimagnolo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barrettscv View Post
    ...spinning at 90 to 105 rpm. Its the best work-out IMO & YMMV.
    ^This.

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    I'm in my 60s, no longer a Clyde, and feel better.

    It took me about a year to raise my comfort level from 60 to 80, and find it a HUGE improvement for both speed and endurance.

    It's much easier to make power with RPM than it is by force. I spend a lot of time in the 80s, with occasional forays into the 90s and 100s.

    It is much easier now, much easier!

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  5. #5
    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    I might add that it's hard to maintain a fast cadence without good cycling shoes and matching "clipless" pedals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Barrettscv View Post
    I might add that it's hard to maintain a fast cadence without good cycling shoes and matching "clipless" pedals.

    Michael
    Toe clips work just as well as far as cadence goes. I ride toe clips and sandals and maintain an average cadence of 80-90 and can spin up over 120 for bursts.

    Many factors influence your optimum cadence, bike fit (including saddle height and positioning) crank length and posture. Optimizing those will allow for a more efficient, smoother pedaling motion that will allow for a higher and more comfortable cadence. Trying to force a higher rpm when the rest of the bike doesn't fit right will result in wasted effort.
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    Senior Member nkfrench's Avatar
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    I wonder the same thing as the OP. Cadence over 80 causes a lot of muscle/etc heaving and is painful even with snug good-quality bike shorts. Not sure I can even break 100 rpm with zero resistance. I also do not seem to have the coordination to apply power through as much of the pedal stroke spinning as I would with a slower cadence. I have "thick" legs. While I can slog along for a long time, I have no speed in any athletic endeavor I've tried.

    When I work on the cadence and give up after a while, it is such a relief to shift onto the big ring! Typically when I downshift to focus on cadence, I just end up riding slower. Frustrating.

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    The big deal with cadence is it works. If you want to go farther,faster use it .I do it almost automatic now but still do better if I consentrate.AHH if its good enough for Lance its good enough for me./Kenneth

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    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    If it wasn't for Lance Armstrong we wouldn't be having this conversation. Spinning fast works for some people it doesn't work for others!!!!!! Just like everything else in life. If you remember watching the TDF when Lance would spin up the hills and John Ulrich would be spinning a much slower cadence you have a very good example of different styles for different people. Two elite cyclists with two completely different cadences and styles. If it was Ulrich who won we'd all be spinning like tractors.
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

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    Uber Goober StephenH's Avatar
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    Good point, there.

    The thing is, try it, and see what works.

    Riding my Worksman single-speed for a couple of years had some advantages. One was, to move at a decent pace, you had to spin at a good speed. Second was, riding up some hills at too slow of a cadence, you learned exactly why you needed to keep your cadence up.

    I've seen people riding up hills at 5 mph just barely able to turn the cranks over, and for whatever reason, they wouldn't/ didn't downshift. Experiment around some, and you'll figure out what works best for you. It may vary depending on the length of the hills and stuff, too.
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    Disgruntled grad student beingtxstate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    If it wasn't for Lance Armstrong we wouldn't be having this conversation. Spinning fast works for some people it doesn't work for others!!!!!! Just like everything else in life. If you remember watching the TDF when Lance would spin up the hills and John Ulrich would be spinning a much slower cadence you have a very good example of different styles for different people. Two elite cyclists with two completely different cadences and styles. If it was Ulrich who won we'd all be spinning like tractors.
    This is a good point. It took me a lot of practice and effort to get my cadence up to ~80, but I found that once I did, I have a much better time of it. I find it easier to ride longer distances (which may be a function of more riding in general...). Finally, I find hills to be much better. When I did my 330mi tour of the MI Upper Peninsula this past summer- I learned this lesson hard and quick. During the fist day I 'pushed' up hills, and as a result had to SAG the last 1/3 of the day. The rest of the trip, I focused on spinning, and climbed all day. It really made a difference in my progress, moral, and the whole experience.

    Yes, it may not be for everyone, but before you totally give up on it try practicing higher cadences for a few weeks.
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    Have bike, will travel Barrettscv's Avatar
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    I used a 1X10 drivetrain for about 4000 miles during the last 12 months. I installed a single 44t chainring and a 12-27 ten speed cassette. This required me to spin above 100 rpm when traveling above 25 mph and to attack hills to keep from bogging down.

    It has been great to increase my performance. Being able to produce power over a wide cadence range improves cycling substantially.

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    Plenty of research into this question can be found on the web. Strictly speaking cyclists are most efficient at 50 to 60 RPM, in that they produce the highest wattage to oxygen consumption ratio....however they cannot produce much power at this slow cadence.

    So if the question is how to ride further or faster, then plenty of studies document the advantages of higher cadences in the range of 80 to 100 rpms, once again science can prove what the best cyclists have known from trial and error, for say 100 years.

    80 rpms may be the best for you and 95 rpm may be the best for me...it is a function of many things such as VO2 max, muscles and leg lengths, and years of cycle training.

    Do some research, experiment with and on yourself....remember that Roadies are just lab rats running their own experiments

  14. #14
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    If it wasn't for Lance Armstrong we wouldn't be having this conversation. Spinning fast works for some people it doesn't work for others!!!!!!
    John Ullrich? He defected to California too?

    True, but! The rider that suggested Lance go high rpm is Big Mig Indurain. He won 5 TDF's and Lance won 7!...Jan Ullrich won....... uhhh 1

    Mario Cippolini pushes big gears too. So does Eric Zabel. Neither have ever won the tour!

    So question is, do you want to be like Lance and Big Mig, or Jan and Mario?

    Lance and Big Mig can push big gears as both win most of the timetrial stages in the TDF. SO, pushing big gears helps but seems the riders that also ride high rpm, do best overall.

    That's the way I see it and I'm sticking to it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Beanz View Post
    True, but! The rider that suggested Lance go high rpm is Big Mig Indurain. He won 5 TDF's and Lance won 7!...Jan Ullrich won....... uhhh 1

    Mario Cippolini pushes big gears too. So does Eric Zabel. Neither have ever won the tour!

    So question is, do you want to be like Lance and Big Mig, or Jan and Mario?
    In terms of cycling ability I'd be ecstatic to come close to any of them - and I suspect that would be true of almost everyone here. I'm also sure that all of them did enough cycling to know what pedaling style worked best for them individually. The fact that there are such different styles among the pros shows that there's a lot of variation between individuals and that you need to experiment for yourself to see what works best for your body, muscle type, and fitness level.

  16. #16
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    Should I be concerned about cadence? Have any studies been done on cadence for our type of rider?

    Don't worry about it.
    I have rode 25,000 miles without knowing my cadence or heart rate.
    Ride Safe Ride Slow
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Homeyba's Avatar
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    Here is an article on it. There is more to this article but it doesn't fit here so I snipped the end were it talks about how to train at different cadences. This is pretty much the jist of it though.
    Beanz, If I had the legs and lungs of any of those guys I'd be happy! btw, Indurain also ran 200mm cranks.

    Cycling Cadence and Pedaling Economy

    by Ken Mierke on September 12, 2005 in Bike
    Tags: Cadence
    Lance Armstrong's miraculous comeback from cancer and his domination in both the time trials and the mountains of the Tour de France have inspired many cyclists to imitate his extreme high-cadence style. The world watched Jan Ulrich appear to struggle up the climbs at 80 rpm while Lance rode away from him at 110 rpm. Many people wondered, 'Why doesn't Ulrich just shift to a smaller gear and spin faster?' Hasn't Lance proven to the world that very high cadences are better?
    The answer is no. Lance rode away from Ulrich because he produced more watts per pound of bodyweight ' because he is a stronger cyclist - not because he has discovered a secret that Ulrich doesn't know. Should you mimic Lance's high cadence? Maybe ' I can't tell you that, but I will give you some information that will help you figure it out for yourself.
    When you pedal a bicycle, your muscular system produces power to propel the bicycle and your cardiovascular system delivers oxygen, fuels the muscles, and removes waste products such as lactic acid. Selecting your optimal cadence is a matter of keeping these two systems in balance. The optimal balance is different for each person.
    Spinning at higher cadences reduces the watts-per-pedal-stroke, a measure of the force required to produce a given wattage. This makes the workload more tolerable for the muscles. Most experts believe that this is because fewer fast-twitch muscle fibers must be recruited to create the high torque levels required at low cadence. Pedaling with a too-low cadence increases reliance on fast twitch fibers, causing premature lactic acid accumulation, which makes your legs burn.
    Pedaling with high cadence, however, does waste some energy. Imagine setting your bike up on an indoor trainer and cutting off the chain. If you spun 100 rpm, the workload would be zero watts, yet your heart rate would elevate significantly above resting. Just moving your legs fast does use energy. Research has consistently demonstrated that cycling at 40 to 60 rpm generates the lowest oxygen consumption for a given wattage. Pedaling at too high a cadence overloads the cardiovascular system's ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles. The most obvious symptom of this is ventilatory distress.
    High-cadence pedaling works your cardiovascular system more, but reduces the relative intensity of the leg muscles. The key, then, is pedaling with enough cadence to keep your watts-per-pedal-stroke at a level that your muscles can handle, but at a cadence that will not overload your cardiovascular system. The optimal balance is different for every rider.
    Lance Armstrong has an extraordinary cardiovascular capacity. His heart and lungs can deliver enormous quantities of oxygen to his muscles. Yet Lance does not posses huge, muscular thighs. His muscles are much more likely to be overloaded by high watts-per-pedal-stroke than his cardiovascular system is to be overloaded by the oxygen demand of the workload. Therefore, high-cadence pedaling, even at a slightly higher energy cost, is most effective for him. Jan Ulrich, on the other hand, is not gifted with the cardiovascular capacity of Lance, but has much greater muscle mass in the hips and thighs. His legs are able to withstand high watts-per-pedal-stroke, so he correctly minimizes the 'wasted' energy to prevent cardiovascular limitation. Both Lance and Jan pedal using the cadence that is most effective for their unique physiology.
    Each cyclist brings a unique set of genetics and training to the sport. The basic rules are, if your legs hurt more than your lungs, increase cadence. If your lungs hurt more than your legs, use a lower cadence....
    It doesn't get harder, you just go slower.

  18. #18
    Senior Member deraltekluge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Dog View Post
    Second, cycling objectives. I have no need for speed. I am not trying to determine how quickly I can go from point a to point b, but how much I can enjoy the trip. I like to observe what is growing in the fields, watch the surfers and see if any dolphins are jumping today. Oh yeah, and watch out for drivers doing the same thing. My typical ride is 30 - 50 miles and I just did my first Century.

    Should I be concerned about cadence?
    No.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    Here is an article on it. There is more to this article but it doesn't fit here so I snipped the end were it talks about how to train at different cadences. This is pretty much the jist of it though.
    Beanz, If I had the legs and lungs of any of those guys I'd be happy! btw, Indurain also ran 200mm cranks.

    Cycling Cadence and Pedaling Economy

    by Ken Mierke on September 12, 2005 in Bike
    Tags: Cadence
    Lance Armstrong's miraculous comeback from cancer and his domination in both the time trials and the mountains of the Tour de France have inspired many cyclists to imitate his extreme high-cadence style. The world watched Jan Ulrich appear to struggle up the climbs at 80 rpm while Lance rode away from him at 110 rpm. Many people wondered, 'Why doesn't Ulrich just shift to a smaller gear and spin faster?' Hasn't Lance proven to the world that very high cadences are better?
    The answer is no. Lance rode away from Ulrich because he produced more watts per pound of bodyweight ' because he is a stronger cyclist - not because he has discovered a secret that Ulrich doesn't know. Should you mimic Lance's high cadence? Maybe ' I can't tell you that, but I will give you some information that will help you figure it out for yourself.
    When you pedal a bicycle, your muscular system produces power to propel the bicycle and your cardiovascular system delivers oxygen, fuels the muscles, and removes waste products such as lactic acid. Selecting your optimal cadence is a matter of keeping these two systems in balance. The optimal balance is different for each person.
    Spinning at higher cadences reduces the watts-per-pedal-stroke, a measure of the force required to produce a given wattage. This makes the workload more tolerable for the muscles. Most experts believe that this is because fewer fast-twitch muscle fibers must be recruited to create the high torque levels required at low cadence. Pedaling with a too-low cadence increases reliance on fast twitch fibers, causing premature lactic acid accumulation, which makes your legs burn.
    Pedaling with high cadence, however, does waste some energy. Imagine setting your bike up on an indoor trainer and cutting off the chain. If you spun 100 rpm, the workload would be zero watts, yet your heart rate would elevate significantly above resting. Just moving your legs fast does use energy. Research has consistently demonstrated that cycling at 40 to 60 rpm generates the lowest oxygen consumption for a given wattage. Pedaling at too high a cadence overloads the cardiovascular system's ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles. The most obvious symptom of this is ventilatory distress.
    High-cadence pedaling works your cardiovascular system more, but reduces the relative intensity of the leg muscles. The key, then, is pedaling with enough cadence to keep your watts-per-pedal-stroke at a level that your muscles can handle, but at a cadence that will not overload your cardiovascular system. The optimal balance is different for every rider.
    Lance Armstrong has an extraordinary cardiovascular capacity. His heart and lungs can deliver enormous quantities of oxygen to his muscles. Yet Lance does not posses huge, muscular thighs. His muscles are much more likely to be overloaded by high watts-per-pedal-stroke than his cardiovascular system is to be overloaded by the oxygen demand of the workload. Therefore, high-cadence pedaling, even at a slightly higher energy cost, is most effective for him. Jan Ulrich, on the other hand, is not gifted with the cardiovascular capacity of Lance, but has much greater muscle mass in the hips and thighs. His legs are able to withstand high watts-per-pedal-stroke, so he correctly minimizes the 'wasted' energy to prevent cardiovascular limitation. Both Lance and Jan pedal using the cadence that is most effective for their unique physiology.
    Each cyclist brings a unique set of genetics and training to the sport. The basic rules are, if your legs hurt more than your lungs, increase cadence. If your lungs hurt more than your legs, use a lower cadence....
    Great article and it has such a simple conclusion. If your legs hurt more than your lungs, increase cadence. If you lungs hurt more than your legs, decrease cadence. Using this, I will start doing some experimentation.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by barturtle View Post
    Toe clips work just as well as far as cadence goes. I ride toe clips and sandals and maintain an average cadence of 80-90 and can spin up over 120 for bursts.

    Many factors influence your optimum cadence, bike fit (including saddle height and positioning) crank length and posture. Optimizing those will allow for a more efficient, smoother pedaling motion that will allow for a higher and more comfortable cadence. Trying to force a higher rpm when the rest of the bike doesn't fit right will result in wasted effort.
    +1 on all of this!

  21. #21
    Banned. Mr. Beanz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Dog View Post
    Great article and it has such a simple conclusion. If your legs hurt more than your lungs, increase cadence. If you lungs hurt more than your legs, decrease cadence. Using this, I will start doing some experimentation.
    Hmmm, pretty much saying, if your legs fatigue from pushing a big gear, spin since there is no way your legs can overpower your lungs if one has a good cardio base.

    The whole article is just another guy's opinion except that it's in a bike magazine....I'm sure there are other experts that would have other claims.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Homeyba View Post
    If it wasn't for Lance Armstrong we wouldn't be having this conversation. Spinning fast works for some people it doesn't work for others!!!!!! Just like everything else in life. If you remember watching the TDF when Lance would spin up the hills and John Ulrich would be spinning a much slower cadence you have a very good example of different styles for different people. Two elite cyclists with two completely different cadences and styles. If it was Ulrich who won we'd all be spinning like tractors.
    My overall take on cadence is, increase your cadence if you need to. Now why would you need to?

    First is a need for high power output. For meager but useful power like 50 to 75 watts (utility riding on a 3-speed, tootling to the grocery store), 60 rpm is very efficient. Lance is producing in the 350 to 500 watt range, as are the other top pro racers. Knees are sensitive to excessive force transmission, so if you need to produce this kind of power, you pretty much need a higher cadence. I think that for us older folks, higher cadences are safer than lower, by some similar "reasoning."

    Second is to reemphasize knee preservation. Pedaling too slow and too hard (aka "mashing," or "pedaling square") can lead to knee problems. They can be accelerated by poor fit. Good fit can be a matter of adjusting to the millimeter, for some of us.

    Third is to improve the aerobic nature of your workouts. Faster cadence usually results in higher heart rate than slower, at the same road speed.

    Changing to higher cadence - this should be done gradually, and may require learning how to spin, or to "float" one's leg up, rather than let it be forced up by the descending leg. If you don't have a smooth circular pedal stroke, it will be hard to go past some speed. The highest speeds require a smooth motion.

    Higher cadences are related to how high your leg raises (so-called closure angle), and whether you body allows clearance for your thigh (ahem). My issue with this, being a slim but overweight mini-clyde (not 200# but on the verge of obesity nonetheless), is that my belly can contact my thigh as it comes up. The contact is not painful, but it actually does subtract some energy from the pedal stroke, depending on how far I am able to raise the saddle. I'd think that my efficiency at higher cadences will be limited unless I can get rid of my spare tire.

    Not saying you have this issue, just including it to explain my take on cadence.

    Upshot is I start each new season riding around 75 rpm, increasing to 85-90 in a few rides or weeks. One hard runs or moments of inspiration I'll get up to 25+ mph and spin 95-105 for a while. I get the power, but this is not a long-distance technique, for me. Through the season I take 10 minute bouts of spin training, shifting down one gear to increase my pedal speed, training the neuromuscular response. On our short midwestern climbs I slow down to 75 or so, which usually lets me stay 9 to 12 mph (used ot be only 6-8 mph on these same hills!)

  23. #23
    Senior Member MorganRaider's Avatar
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    I average 82-85 RPM to avoid knee injury (less force on knees) and to ride longer distances (don't wear out legs prematurely). If it starts to drop below 80, I drop a gear. I monitor cadence more than speed.

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    So if one is looking to work on cadence

    What is the best or a few of the best Bike Computers for keeping track of cadence along with other data elements we watch

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    I like my cadence of over 80 as it feels better on my left knee compared to under 80. I pretty much run a consistant 87-90 cadence on my 40 mile rides. That also considers any 0 cadence if coasting according to the Garmin Forerunner 305 that tracks the data for me.
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