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Old 04-21-08, 05:43 PM   #1
RichardNoggin
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Cadence for long distance cycling

I do mostly long distance cycling. I probably average about 150 m per week and do as 1-2 centuries a month. planning on doing STP in a day 205m. What cadence do you all use. I have read the articles talking about 85-95 cadence being optimal. Is this for everything? or just road racing. I just got a cadence meter and was suprised that my cadence is lower, prob 70-80 range when I feel comfortable. 85-95 makes me feel like my legs will spin off. Should I just keep pushing forward to see if i can get to that level and get used to it or do what feels comfortable. I am a big muscular rider at about 6, 2" and 215lb. Does this way into equation?
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Old 04-21-08, 07:02 PM   #2
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Ride the cadence that is comfortable to you.
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Old 04-21-08, 07:13 PM   #3
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While I can't disagree with comfort, this is worth some experimenting. Most beginning/recreational riders ride at a relatively low cadence, so a higher cadence will feel "uncomfortable" at first.

I had the same question/concern a several years ago when I started cycling seriously. I found that the more I rode (especially with lots of climbing), the more a higher cadence started to feel more natural for me. I do many centuries now, and have even done a couple of doubles. If I keep my cadence up around 90rpms or higher, my legs always feel good after long rides.

Again, that's me, and your mileage will vary. You'll want to spend some time training at a higher cadence to see if it's going to work for you. I'd recommend rollers or some specific high-cadence training, to get your legs accustomed to turning over at a higher rate. Worst case scenario, your pedal stroke and overall form will improve, even if you decide you're not a "high cadence" kind of guy.

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Old 04-21-08, 07:24 PM   #4
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One of the books I have (not with me right now, I'll have to double-check next week) says something like this ...

The cadence for beginners is usually in somewhere 70-ish.

The cadence for long distance cyclists is usually around 85 to 100.

The cadence for racers is 100+.

I'm quite comfortable with about 85, although I think my spinning classes are helping me pick it up a bit.
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Old 04-21-08, 09:45 PM   #5
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Even among the racers you'll find that cadence varies. Some fellows pedal pretty quickly -- Armstrong, most notably -- and others are known for "muscling" through a slower pedal stroke. Many top racers spent a career at 80-90 RPM. Seventy RPM, though, is probably too slow to really be efficient. I'd strive for 80, in general. You will almost certainly find that with a few weeks of conscientious effort 80 RPM will become very comfortable and natural, and that you suffer less fatigue after many hours in the saddle.
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Old 04-21-08, 10:17 PM   #6
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I do mostly long distance cycling. I probably average about 150 m per week and do as 1-2 centuries a month. planning on doing STP in a day 205m. What cadence do you all use. I have read the articles talking about 85-95 cadence being optimal. Is this for everything? or just road racing. I just got a cadence meter and was suprised that my cadence is lower, prob 70-80 range when I feel comfortable. 85-95 makes me feel like my legs will spin off. Should I just keep pushing forward to see if i can get to that level and get used to it or do what feels comfortable. I am a big muscular rider at about 6, 2" and 215lb. Does this way into equation?
When you're riding, you can sustain a given amount of force in your legs for a given amount of time. If you ride lightly, you can ride forever, if you ride at a medium level, you can ride for a couple hours, and if you ride really hard, you might burn your legs out in 10 minutes.

If you and I are riding together, you at 70 RPM and me at 100 RPM, when you're pedalling, you'll be pressing about 40% harder than me, and so assuming we have the same strength profiles, I'll be able to ride that pace a lot longer.

Or, to put it another way, if you were able to learn to ride at 100 RPM, you would be pressing a lot easier and your legs wouuld be much less tired on longer rides.

That sounds great, doesn't it? So, what are the downsides?

1) First, you have to spend time training yourself to ride at a higher cadence.
2) Second, you will tend to get more out of breath at a higher cadence than a lower one, *especially* when you first start.
3) You can generally ride faster at a slower cadence than your maximum, though you can't do it as long.

If you want to work on it, here's what you do:

Cadence drill:

At a comfortable cadence on a flat/slight incline, increase your cadence slowly over 30 seconds until you reach your maximum. Hold it for 30 seconds, and then spend 30 seconds slowing down. Repeat 3-4 times. If you start to bounce, slow down. After you've done this a couple of times, increase the time at maximum to 60 seconds. I generally did this once or twice a week.

One-legged drill:

On a trainer or on a flat empty road in a light gear, unclip one leg, and ride with that leg for 30 revs. Clip in and ride with both for 30 revs, then clip out on the other side. Repeat this 2-3 times or until you get tired. I'll usually do this once a week or so.

Both of these are going to feel really weird when you are first start doing them, as you have to change how your muscles are used to firing.

After a few weeks, you should see some decent improvement. I went from 90ish to being able to ride at 110RPM for as long as I want, and my top has gone from about 110RPM to 150RPM.
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Old 04-22-08, 04:05 AM   #7
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Over the past 3 years, I have used the Wisconsin winters for working on basic skills on my trainer. One of those skills is high cadence. Spin ups are especially usefull. Work up to the highest cadance you can without bouncing on the saddle. Hold for 30 sec. Recovery interval for 4:30min. Do eight sets of those.

Now I can easily maintain 100rpm on 50mile rides. Higher cadence is definitely a learned skill. You can't do this kind of focused training on the road.
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Old 04-22-08, 06:06 AM   #8
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Nice, helpful advice people. Thank you for your input. I am doing a ride today and I am going to consciously start speeding up my cadence and see how I feel.
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Old 04-22-08, 10:48 AM   #9
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Not that it's an option for everyone, but if you've got a beater bike laying around, converting it to fixed gear at a lower gear than you normally cruise in makes for a great cadence trainer. I've noticed a big increase in my cadence (and comfort level with higher cadence) since I've started doing a couple flat weekly rides on my fixed gear at about 67 gear inches.
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Old 04-22-08, 04:47 PM   #10
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Well, I did 80 miles today and tried to work on my cadence. For the most part I kept it in the 85 to 95 range. My legs feel ok. I might be more fatigued now than I normally would be after a ride and I think my speed was down a little overall. Is this normal? Will running in a higher cadence become second nature if I keep working at it? Before looking at cadence I would just run in whatever gear feels good that I think I can sustain all dayish without burning myself/legs out. I have been reading the 'science' about higher cadence though and it seems logical. again, thanks for your input all. noggin
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Old 04-22-08, 04:58 PM   #11
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I tried riding at a higher cadence today - when I upped my cadence to about 100 or so (not many more at all) the gear I went into was low enough it felt like I was barely pushing against anything. Is this the point?
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Old 04-23-08, 12:15 PM   #12
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Higher cadence moves the work to your heart where it should be. For me it also helps to smooth out my pedal stroke so I am more of a humming high performance engine as opposed to the old pickup truck that lugs it's way up the hill.
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Old 04-23-08, 04:33 PM   #13
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Watching other brevet riders, I'd say that many ride a fairly high cadence, maybe 95 on the flat. But quite a few are obviously more comfortable at lower cadences. My observation is that the faster finishers ride higher cadences, all the way up to 1200s. My average cadence on a ride with a good bit of climbing will be about 88. Not that I'm any model . . .

Yes, the point is to be able to "spin easy." Yes, you'll get used to it. Efficiency will drop off a bit to begin with, but the more you do it, the better you'll get at it.
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Old 04-23-08, 04:40 PM   #14
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My observation is that the faster finishers ride higher cadences, all the way up to 1200s.
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Old 04-23-08, 05:38 PM   #15
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Not that it's an option for everyone, but if you've got a beater bike laying around, converting it to fixed gear at a lower gear than you normally cruise in makes for a great cadence trainer. I've noticed a big increase in my cadence (and comfort level with higher cadence) since I've started doing a couple flat weekly rides on my fixed gear at about 67 gear inches.
very good advice. worked for me!
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Old 04-24-08, 07:02 AM   #16
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From what I've read, 80-85 rpm is the most efficient in terms of energy expended and energy moving you forward, but higher cadences have the advantage of less perceived exertion. This is because the lower force of pedaling produces less torque in your knee and as a result tends to feel easier, even though you're working a few % harder to keep the same pace as with that optimum 80-85 rpm cadence.

For what it's worth, I'm typically around 100-110 just based on my mph and the gear I'm using.
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Old 04-24-08, 11:37 AM   #17
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This is pretty much a personal choice.

That Being said, I prefer to stay in the 90-100 rpm range. at that point, the hard work shifts to the heart and cardiovascular system as somebody else said. Part of my reasoning is that recovering my breath is easier than recovering from muscle exhaustion on a ride.

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Old 04-24-08, 01:15 PM   #18
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This is pretty much a personal choice.

That Being said, I prefer to stay in the 90-100 rpm range. at that point, the hard work shifts to the heart and cardiovascular system as somebody else said. Part of my reasoning is that recovering my breath is easier than recovering from muscle exhaustion on a ride.

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I would agree that it should be personalized but if you're looking to maximize your efficiency, it's not a "choice." You need to discover what your physical "makeup" is. For example, some people (like Lance armstrong) have phenomenal cardiovascular systems (and a huge/powerful heart) and thus can take a bigger strain on their cardiovascular system. That means a high cadence will be very successful and efficient for them. Others have phenomenal musculature but slightly less powerful cardiovascular systems (like Jan Ullrich). For them, a lower cadence will likely work more efficiently.
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Old 04-24-08, 03:57 PM   #19
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You need to discover what your physical "makeup" is. For example, some people (like Lance armstrong) have phenomenal cardiovascular systems (and a huge/powerful heart) and thus can take a bigger strain on their cardiovascular system. That means a high cadence will be very successful and efficient for them. Others have phenomenal musculature but slightly less powerful cardiovascular systems (like Jan Ullrich).
Well, I don't pretend to have the physical attributes to either of these two and probably only very few people do but I do see your point. My question now is : do most people running with a higher cadence do so naturally because that is what their makeup is or are they making the conscious choice to do so because they know intuitively that that is the most effecient way?
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Old 04-24-08, 06:22 PM   #20
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Head-to-head, Ullrich was never able to sustain it with Armstrong, and I think the consensus is that cadence had a lot to do with the American's dominance. As I understand it, Ullrich once tried to ride with an increased cadence, but didn't feel "comfortable" with it, and resorted to his old technique. So, really, the argument for mashing just doesn't hold.

Increased cadence does require a certain conditioning of the cardiovascular system, but once that is achieved, and the habit is formed, riding long distances with a higher cadence will reduce leg fatigue (in my experience).

Higher cadence also is very advisable for anyone who has suspect knees.
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Old 04-24-08, 08:45 PM   #21
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Well, I don't pretend to have the physical attributes to either of these two and probably only very few people do but I do see your point. My question now is : do most people running with a higher cadence do so naturally because that is what their makeup is or are they making the conscious choice to do so because they know intuitively that that is the most effecient way?
I don't know what my natural makeup is. My guess would be that my cardiovascular system is not naturally any better than average. But I had heard that faster cadences were better, so before I had a cadence meter I worked some on pedaling faster. Once I got a meter, I discovered that I was pedaling 100-115, with 90s feeling slow and below 90 feeling like mashing.
So I don't think it came to me naturally or intuitively, but now 100+ is what feels natural.
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Old 04-24-08, 09:13 PM   #22
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this is all very interesting. I am going to make an effort on my commute to really sustaing a higher cadence. To tell you the truth, when I run in the 95 plus range I feel lilke there is no resistance at all and this feels kind of wierd. I have read much of the literature and listened to all your comments and I feel it is probably the most efficient thing for me to do. I come from a mountainiering background where often you are plodding slowly up a hill with a heavy pack and taking "rest steps" as you ascend. Fast cadence sort of conflicts with this.
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Old 04-24-08, 09:24 PM   #23
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I would agree that it should be personalized but if you're looking to maximize your efficiency, it's not a "choice." You need to discover what your physical "makeup" is. For example, some people (like Lance armstrong) have phenomenal cardiovascular systems (and a huge/powerful heart) and thus can take a bigger strain on their cardiovascular system. That means a high cadence will be very successful and efficient for them. Others have phenomenal musculature but slightly less powerful cardiovascular systems (like Jan Ullrich). For them, a lower cadence will likely work more efficiently.
This is exactly on the mark.

The majority of riders find that the ideal (sustained power output) tt cadence is 75-85 rpm. For longer distances, that usually drops to 85-95 rpm. But it's all a personal thing. Experiement and find what works best for you.
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Old 04-24-08, 10:12 PM   #24
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Well, I did 80 miles today and tried to work on my cadence. For the most part I kept it in the 85 to 95 range. My legs feel ok. I might be more fatigued now than I normally would be after a ride and I think my speed was down a little overall. Is this normal? Will running in a higher cadence become second nature if I keep working at it? Before looking at cadence I would just run in whatever gear feels good that I think I can sustain all dayish without burning myself/legs out. I have been reading the 'science' about higher cadence though and it seems logical. again, thanks for your input all. noggin
It will feel a little weird because you aren't yet efficient at the higher cadences.

I think that specific cadence drills are far better at improving cadence than just trying to ride long distances at a slightly higher cadence. They also don't make your legs feel quite as weird.
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Old 04-24-08, 10:32 PM   #25
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The much-maligned John Forester posted on another forum quite some time ago a reason why there is some resistance to higher cadences when riding a bike. It relates to the human response to fright and flight and I've thought often about it.

In normal daily living, people walk with what would be considered a slow cadence. When it comes to hunting or flight from danger, the body's responses change (probably with the release of adrenaline), with a higher pulse rate and movement of energy stores in the liver to the muscles. Suddenly, the person is running at what can be extremely high cadences.

When getting on a bicycle for the first time, most people become "wheeled pedestrians". In other words, they try to translate the casual rate of walking into pedalling on the bike. The need for resistance to make that feel worthwhile adds to this sensation. Plus there is that "need" to ride slowly because they fear falling off )when in fact riding slowly is the most dangerous phase, and they need to increase speed to become much more stable).

It takes a certain discipline to select a lower gear when there is comparatively miniscule resistance, and as alluded to before, there is a different stress on the cardio-vascular system, probably related to the inbuilt hunt or flight reaction.

In my mind, another benefit of high cadence is that the muscles are continually pumping away lactic acid, rather than building up the residue because the muscles are concentrating so much on effort. Certainly, I find people who mash are less inclined to continue "ghost pedalling" after reaching the top of a hill and coasting down the other side. That "ghost pedalling" is important in removing lactic acid. Mashers tend to just want to rest and coast because there is no resistance which is foreign to their technique.

Armstrong did a lot for opening people's eyes to the benefit of high cadence, and especially using lower than previously accepted gears in climbing hills. I am not sure, but I have a feeling that the introduction of compact cranksets had a lot to do with Armstrong's influence on cadence. Along with the increased emphasis on "sprinting" in stationary bike programs.
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