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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 07-15-11, 06:45 PM   #1
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Cadence for maximum benefit, minimum wear? Advice for a newbie

I'd like a little help with strategy.

Three days ago I took a 10 mile ride and was stoked! I NEVER road that far in my life! Then I read a brief note somewhere that said that you shouldn't slow your cadence too much, even it means 'spinning' faster at a higher gear, one should choose the faster cadence. I tried that today and went 20 miles! Holy crap! SO, it it clear to me that there is some wisdom out there about this process that I'm not going to just figure out on my own as a brand new rider.

Can some more experienced riders lend a few words on this topic? Thanks!
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Old 07-15-11, 07:01 PM   #2
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I fairly recently returned to riding after a long time away and my first mistake was riding in too high a gear at a cadence of probably around 60. After following this and a couple other forums and getting to know some other riders, I began riding with an average cadence of 80-90 on flat ground (got a lot of that around here) and 90+ in a lower gear on uphills. I went from a 5 mile rider four months ago to riding anywhere from 20-50 at a stretch with little or no knee pain the next day. Considering I have somewhat bad knees from numerous abuses over the years, this amazed me as it was my knees that kept me out of running and got me into riding.

I'm not saying what I'm doing is completely "right" but the tip to shift down and pedal faster made a huge difference.
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Old 07-15-11, 07:15 PM   #3
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even it means 'spinning' faster at a higher gear, one should choose the faster cadence.
You mean a lower gear? It works for me, legs don't fatigue as much on longer rides. Plus, when heading into a big headwind, if I downshift, I can pick up speed into the wind with a higher cadence, lower gear.
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Old 07-15-11, 08:13 PM   #4
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oops...yeah, lower gear i guess. Like I said NEWBIE.
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Old 07-15-11, 08:26 PM   #5
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I have a cadence count that I start with: one-two, one-two. I'd estimate it at about 60 cpm. Then when the going toughens and I have to shift gears, I keep that count going and shift to the gear that keeps me at the count. I don't worry about speed as much as cadence, although I do have a cyclo computer with speed readout.

The way I set the count is by feel - when the up and down of my legs gets all my fat flying around too much, the cadence is too fast. Too slow is obvious, as well. SO I shoot for the rate that keeps my fat under control. It's all very scientific.

When I get to the really steep grades, I do something a bit different. I keep the cadence going and downshift until I can ride that pace. I may end up in the lowest gear, crawling at 6 mph - it doesn't matter.
But then, instead of counting, I start reciting Hail Mary's and the Lord's Prayer at my cadence rate.

Hey, we have some steep hills around here.... I need all the help I can get.
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Old 07-15-11, 08:42 PM   #6
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There is a simple formula that works for cadence. If your legs limit your performance then a higher cadence is appropriate. If your lungs/breathing is limiting your performance a slower cadence is appropriate.
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Old 07-15-11, 08:50 PM   #7
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GOOD responses! thanks

what you're strategy with dealing with downshifting when you're on the hill? Do you do it BEFORE the hill to safe the derailers? I can't decide if it's better to get the momentum right up until the end, then shift... I have a feeling I might wear through this first chain and derailers sooner than I'd like.

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Old 07-15-11, 09:22 PM   #8
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GOOD responses! thanks

what you're strategy with dealing with downshifting when you're on the hill? Do you do it BEFORE the hill to safe the derailers? I can't decide if it's better to get the momentum right up until the end, then shift... I have a feeling I might wear through this first chain and derailers sooner than I'd like.
One of the cardinal rules of good cycling is: Plan Ahead. Just as you watch traffic well ahead, or have a flat repair kit on hand, you must plan a strategy for the road conditions.
I shift down well before I get to a steep grade. Coast to it, match cadence and start the grind. By now I can look at a hill and know what gear will take it.

If I have to shift while on the grind, I slacken my power as I do, so the chain meshes instead of snatching at the cogs.
Then I push hard into the cadence through four or five revolutions, until everything smooths back out. Then I find a place to get off and gasp for breath... still saying my Hail Mary's.

All this is just like a manual transmission in a car. You dont grind and cram the gears, you finesse them.
The derailleur/gears/chain system is your bikes transmission - so use it like you have to fix it if it breaks.
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Old 07-15-11, 09:44 PM   #9
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There is a simple formula that works for cadence. If your legs limit your performance then a higher cadence is appropriate. If your lungs/breathing is limiting your performance a slower cadence is appropriate.
+1
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Old 07-15-11, 10:31 PM   #10
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imagine you're lifting weights. you can do a certain number of reps. the more weight you add, the fewer reps you can do. you're training the muscle for strength in short bursts. the muscle burns the glycogen stored within muscle cells. there is a limited supply and when it's gone it's gone. you'll replenish overnight or over the next few days.

on the bike, this is mashing -- high gear, low rpm. you go anaerobic quickly this way (feel the burn) and then you have to slow down to recover. this wins sprints.

on the other hand, when you downshift and spin faster, your muscles aren't doing as much work -- there is less force applied to the pedal. so the muscle can get it done with the glucose arriving in the blood, without digging into the glycogen it has on the shelf. so, as long as your heart and lungs can supply enough oxygen and glucose, you can keep spinning. well, maybe not really, but you can go farther than you can by mashing.

one method relies on/strengthens the muscle, the other relies on/trains your cardiovascular system.

of course, this is all based on reading and being dork and it's worth what it costs you.

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Old 07-15-11, 10:39 PM   #11
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I'd like a little help with strategy.

Three days ago I took a 10 mile ride and was stoked! I NEVER road that far in my life! Then I read a brief note somewhere that said that you shouldn't slow your cadence too much, even it means 'spinning' faster at a higher gear, one should choose the faster cadence. I tried that today and went 20 miles! Holy crap! SO, it it clear to me that there is some wisdom out there about this process that I'm not going to just figure out on my own as a brand new rider.

Can some more experienced riders lend a few words on this topic? Thanks!
Work on spinning faster than you normally could (whatever that means - 80 RPM instead of 70, or 120 RPM instead of 110) so your brain learns to coordinate your muscles instead of having them fight each other, once your body can spin faster efficiently figure out what effects that has on your fatigue at various intensities, perceived effort a given speed, and maximum speed; then pick what ever works best.

Generally the least fatiguing cadence is higher as power output increases (going faster, climbing) - I might ride around the neighborhood with my wife at 60 RPM (you want to feel some resistance on the pedals), threshold intervals at 90-100 (10+ minutes all-out; I found out that I could do that two days in a row with cadence over 90 but not in my preferred 80-90 RPM range), and VO2max intervals at 100-110 (3-5 minutes, I can feel better after).

At very high power outputs (sprinting) you can't push any harder on the pedals and are only going to make more power to go faster when you turn the cranks around more quickly (110-120 RPM; the extra RPMs gave me a few more MPH).

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Old 07-16-11, 09:48 AM   #12
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There is a simple formula that works for cadence. If your legs limit your performance then a higher cadence is appropriate. If your lungs/breathing is limiting your performance a slower cadence is appropriate.
+2 Cadence allows you trade leg strength off against cardiovascular strength. The trick is to find the right balance between the two for you.
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Old 07-16-11, 03:19 PM   #13
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imagine you're lifting weights. you can do a certain number of reps. the more weight you add, the fewer reps you can do. you're training the muscle for strength in short bursts. the muscle burns the glycogen stored within muscle cells. there is a limited supply and when it's gone it's gone. you'll replenish overnight or over the next few days.

on the bike, this is mashing -- high gear, low rpm. you go anaerobic quickly this way (feel the burn) and then you have to slow down to recover. this wins sprints.

on the other hand, when you downshift and spin faster, your muscles aren't doing as much work -- there is less force applied to the pedal. so the muscle can get it done with the glucose arriving in the blood, without digging into the glycogen it has on the shelf. so, as long as your heart and lungs can supply enough oxygen and glucose, you can keep spinning. well, maybe not really, but you can go farther than you can by mashing.

one method relies on/strengthens the muscle, the other relies on/trains your cardiovascular system.

of course, this is all based on reading and being a dork and it's worth what it costs you
.
You, I like. "Mashing" and "spinning" - that's good right there.
That we have dipped into dorkdom is interesting, too. Im not sure the OP was going there, but, well - here we are.
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Old 07-16-11, 03:33 PM   #14
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There is a simple formula that works for cadence. If your legs limit your performance then a higher cadence is appropriate. If your lungs/breathing is limiting your performance a slower cadence is appropriate.
Figures. I'm doing about 80-85 on average now and my legs are always the limiting factor. I keep trying to average 90 but I always feel too bouncy when I do that. Guess I need more practice.
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Old 07-16-11, 03:36 PM   #15
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GOOD responses! thanks

what you're strategy with dealing with downshifting when you're on the hill? Do you do it BEFORE the hill to safe the derailers? I can't decide if it's better to get the momentum right up until the end, then shift... I have a feeling I might wear through this first chain and derailers sooner than I'd like.

It depends on what my goals are for the ride. If I'm on a long distance ride, then I will most definitely shift down before hitting the hill to spare my muscles.

However if I'm on a short hill training ride I will hit the hill with the gear I was using for level ground and stay in that gear for as long as possible until I can no longer maintain the cadence, then shift down once or twice, and repeat. Lately I've added a new twist: establish a "do not go below" gear, so say I start out in 2-7, and I say "do not go below 2-2", then I'll try to stay as high as possible for as long as possible, and eventually hit 2-2 and then refuse to go lower than that, even if I'm tempted to. This really works the muscles out well.

And thank god hills have a downside to them. Gives me time to rest up the legs without spinning at all... this process really takes the energy out of you.
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Old 07-16-11, 03:53 PM   #16
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I'd like a little help with strategy.

Three days ago I took a 10 mile ride and was stoked! I NEVER road that far in my life! Then I read a brief note somewhere that said that you shouldn't slow your cadence too much, even it means 'spinning' faster at a higher gear, one should choose the faster cadence. I tried that today and went 20 miles! Holy crap! SO, it it clear to me that there is some wisdom out there about this process that I'm not going to just figure out on my own as a brand new rider.

Can some more experienced riders lend a few words on this topic? Thanks!
Faster Cadence is something that comes to you as a rider over time.. You want to keep your stroke smooth and getting to a point where you are smooth and fast(cadence) takes time building that muscle memory.. Ideally on a flat road you should be between 90-100 rpm, since you are new to riding this will take time.. If you find yourself bouncing on the saddle, you are spinning too fast..
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Old 07-16-11, 04:45 PM   #17
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I'd like a little help with strategy.

Three days ago I took a 10 mile ride and was stoked! I NEVER road that far in my life! Then I read a brief note somewhere that said that you shouldn't slow your cadence too much, even it means 'spinning' faster at a higher gear, one should choose the faster cadence. I tried that today and went 20 miles! Holy crap! SO, it it clear to me that there is some wisdom out there about this process that I'm not going to just figure out on my own as a brand new rider.

Can some more experienced riders lend a few words on this topic? Thanks!
I once read a theory that humans have a natural cadence of 120 steps per minute or a rpm of 60. The argument goes, that it is for the most part a natural or innate rpm range when people first get on a bicycle. If the bike has multiple gears this usually manifests itself in pushing a higher gear, becoming tired or sore and then both gearing down and slowing down in response.
Which of course feels a whole lot better and easier and almost certainly guarantees that the rider will never be interested in cycling longer distances.

Optimal cycling cadence is much higher than 60 rpm -- say, 90-100 and even higher for racers.

This is not a natural cadence and has to be learned and worked at. It also requires a certain level of fitness to achieve. Like attempting anything similar, shortness of breath will most likely be the limiter. However, the body does adapt and fairly quickly.

The higher cadence increases your fitness and your riding skills, both excellent results.

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Old 07-17-11, 03:29 PM   #18
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There is a simple formula that works for cadence. If your legs limit your performance then a higher cadence is appropriate. If your lungs/breathing is limiting your performance a slower cadence is appropriate.
+1 to this~!

Also, a minor point that may, or may not concern you? A higher cadence is better for your knees. If you find yourself mashing (mashing is a combo of a low cadence, AND, a high effort), if you have knee issues you will most likely make them even worse.

I *try* to keep my cadence somewhere between 70 and 85. There is nothing wrong with a cadence of '50', *if* you are just taking it easy, but 50 and pedaling hard = bad idea.

Welcome to the herd and I'm glad you're here~!
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Old 07-17-11, 03:49 PM   #19
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this is great help, thanks everyone! This is fun! I like that there is some nerd-dome about this, it means I can think technically about my new hobby and I won't get bored. AND, i'm beginning to feel like I can treat this like a set of skills I need to refine to work my way up to competitive rides (even if with myself), like a half-century (was inspired by another post on the topic)...first time I've ever felt like I could be the one training
for an event, and not just trying to fight fat (Feels A LOT better).

Now i need to learn to figure out what my cadence is....no, not spending $300+ for a garmin right now, will have to figure it out the old fashion way...where's my watch....
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Old 07-17-11, 05:58 PM   #20
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Count as your right foot goes down, try to do 35-40 of them in a minute - after a while you will know

FYI - My Cateye 'wired' Strada with cadence was like 30 bucks or so...

Amazon $39.99 Strada with Cadence
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Old 07-17-11, 06:12 PM   #21
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Count as your right foot goes down, try to do 35-40 of them in a minute
With all due respect, this will produce a cadence that's less than half of what most consider optimal for road riding (if that's what the OP is doing). Peter's right about how to count - count each time one foot, and one foot only, goes past a particular point in the circle - like your right foot at 6:00 o'clock. Counting that way will ensure you're counting a complete revolution of the crank each time. But the number you should shoot for is about twice what he said.

Having said that, everyone is an individual, and some are mashers and some are spinners, and among each group there's little absolute consensus. But I was alway taught that 90-100 was a good target for energy efficiency and knee preservation, and for whatever reason, it's worked very well for me.

Shifting on hills is easily done if you think about how to do it. The key is to keep the pedals moving, but not to apply a ton of torque to them at the moment you shift. That means part way into the hill, if you need to downshift, you'll have to put a little extra oomph into the couple of pedal strokes preceding the shift, so you can get your momentum up a little. That will ensure you don't slow too much during the shift itself.
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Old 07-17-11, 08:20 PM   #22
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True - that would give a cadence of 70-80RPM. Thinking the OP is rather new to all of this, I feel that 70-80 is a great goal for a beginner. That said, with my out-of-shape engine, I am still (16 months, and some 760 miles later) not smooth at 90 RPM. As you stated, and I agree, everyone is different.

I personally do not favor mashing, but I also have one new knee, and the other ought to be replaced - so my focus comes from a desire to protect the knees, and anything below 60 is bad news - unless just coasting along at that RPM.
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Old 07-18-11, 11:09 AM   #23
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True - that would give a cadence of 70-80RPM. Thinking the OP is rather new to all of this, I feel that 70-80 is a great goal for a beginner. That said, with my out-of-shape engine, I am still (16 months, and some 760 miles later) not smooth at 90 RPM. As you stated, and I agree, everyone is different.
Your right foot going down 35-40 times a minute would produce a cadence of 35-40 RPM (since you're counting how many times the cranks go around, not how many times one foot does).
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Old 07-18-11, 12:11 PM   #24
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Your right foot going down 35-40 times a minute would produce a cadence of 35-40 RPM (since you're counting how many times the cranks go around, not how many times one foot does).
Quite. One complete revolution is what you count.

OP, don't get too nerdy about this. Everyone is different and there is no "right" cadence. As has been said above, low cadences are tougher on the legs, high cadences make greater demands on heart and lungs. And training at low cadences is sometimes a good idea, it recruits more muscle fibres to the task and ultimately builds strength.

Having said all that, most of the time spinning rather than mashing is a better strategy. My knees think so, anyway. There's really no need to count the cadence, though. Just cycle in a gear that is one lower than you think you could comfortably use to maintain your momentum. This will involve you pedalling a little faster, while exerting lighter pressure on the pedals. As you get fitter you'll find your cadence increasing naturally.
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Old 07-18-11, 06:13 PM   #25
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I am new to cycling but am somewhat OCD on research. Last year when I started, I started the search for "ideal" cadence. What many many sources agreed on was that 80 to 85 rpm is the point where demands on leg strength and cardiovascular / lung capacity are balanced, and if both systems are in equal physical condition, will be taxed equally, ON A TYPICAL RIDER (Lord knows what that means). Slower takes more leg, faster takes lung. Also found that the average novice rider has a natural cadence of around 60, favoring leg strength over cardiovascular.

Another interesting Cliff Claven tidbit.. fifteen years ago all the pros were 85 to 90 cadence, til the little Texan came along with crazy high spinning. In the Ulrich - Armstrong era the commentators would drive you to the brink of insanity on the differences in the two. Now that high cadence has been shown to work, everyone shoots for it. And it is not an easy target.

And as to bouncing on high cadence, seat height and core strength. This is from research and personal experience. Learn to love the Plank.
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