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Old 11-30-09, 03:32 PM   #1
jcharles00
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Any tips for building a smooth, fast cadence?

I'm fairly new to road cycling - been at it 3 or 4 months. Before that, I've ridden BMX bikes off and on most of my life. I've found that apparently like most new roadies, I feel more comfortable pushing big gears than spinning small ones. I've been feeling like this may be the cause that I get dropped so easily on climbs or in headwinds - I start out strong but just get too tired to keep up.

Having this in mind, I've been trying to focus on spinning faster. When I'm on the bike, spinning fast, I feel like I'm hopping on my seat with a jerky motion. I also feel like I'm not getting as much of a stroke out of each leg as I should be. (probably because on my BMX bikes, I'm fully standing when mashing, so my leg is fully extended.. nowhere close to that on a road bike) When I'm on a stationary, I seem to have more luck reaching high RPMs, but my cadence still isn't very smooth and on lower resistances it gets really uneven.

So, my question is, does anyone have any tips for smoothing out my cadence and working on spinning fast? The computer I currently have doesn't have a cadence sensor, but I hope to get one in coming months.
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Old 11-30-09, 03:53 PM   #2
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Couple tips. Start by thinking of each stroke section separately. Pushing down through the front is easy, followed by pulling back slightly at the bottom (think of wiping your shoe soles off), then think unweight your foot as your coming up the back side, and as you round near the top of the stroke pretend your going to throw your knees over the handlebars (helps carry momentum forward). The coach at my shop suggested concentrating on each stroke section independently for about 30 seconds each, alternating through all four. After you get the feel of each section, start blending them together.

It really just comes with time, and a cadence sensor helps. If you've got a trainer or rollers, now's a good time to work on stroke. I just started road riding 4 years ago and could barely hold 60-70. Worked all that first winter on cadence and now average 95-105 consistently.
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Old 11-30-09, 04:12 PM   #3
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Make sure your saddle height is correct, there are a number of different methods and there is some leeway, but if it's too low, you may end up pushing bigger gears more, and if it's too high you may end up bouncing in the saddle often.

single legged pedaling helps. Just unclip one leg and pedal with the other on a fast straight smooth section of road. Try to keep your cadence the same (70 or higher) for about a mile, then switch legs. It's even easier if your bikes in a trainer.

Another drill is to do rides only in the small (or middle if you run a triple) chainring.

Finally, riding a fixedgear bike with a fairly low (42x17) gear will do wonders for developing a good spin.

Most important thing is to just keep at it. The more time you spend riding, the better you spin will become. Just make sure you are mindful of it, and it will develop over time.
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Old 11-30-09, 04:22 PM   #4
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I think maybe riding in more traffic will help. When you're on lonely roads you can cruise but when you're dealing with twists and turns and traffic you have to stay in a lower gear and accelerate without shifting.
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Old 11-30-09, 05:26 PM   #5
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Mashing is easier on your aerobic system, but harder on your legs. Spinning is the opposite. Spinning is the way to go because your aerobic system won't wear out on a ride, but your legs will. So until your aerobic system comes up to speed, you may actually go a little slower when you spin than when you mash. Ignore that and just stick with it. Do get a cyclocomputer with cadence. They're not expensive, expect $30-$50.

The quickest way to improve your spin is to spin much faster than is comfortable. This is neuro-muscular training which teaches your nerves and muscles when to fire. There are two types of drills. The first is easier, but I of course prefer the second:
1) Spin-ups - Increase your cadence to the point where you begin to bounce in the saddle. Hold that for 1-2 minutes, then recover at normal cadence for 5 minutes and repeat until whenever.
2) FastPedal - Increase your cadence, in a very low gear, to a point where you begin to bounce in the saddle or 115-120, whichever comes first. Hold that cadence for 15 minutes. Over a period of weeks, gradually increase the length of time at high cadence until you can do 45 minutes of continuous high cadence pedalling. As the length of the interval increases, you will find that your cadence will increase also. Do this drill once/week.

Personal preference: I like 88-94 on the flat, 78-85 climbing if I have a low enough gear to allow that cadence.

When doing this, keep your feet flat and imagine that you have a layer of air between your foot and the sole of the shoe. IOW, don't push down! Keep your back straight and use a low enough gear that your breathing stays relatively slow and easy. These drills are much easier to do on a trainer or rollers than on the road. However, they must be done on your road bike, not a gym stationary or spin bike.

These drills are in addition to, not replacing, the advice given above.
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Old 11-30-09, 05:45 PM   #6
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I agree with most of what was said above. Fit is very important. You should have a tiny bit of bend in your knee when your leg is fully extended, so that you don't need to rock on the saddle.

I've done drills with a friend to help her raise her cadence. What we did was find an isolated loop with a clear straightaway (maybe 1/4 mile); we'd drop into a low gear and sprint like crazy on that straightaway, and then recover for the rest of the loop. Do that about ten times, every day for a couple of weeks. You'll notice a difference.
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Old 11-30-09, 08:26 PM   #7
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Thinking about throwing my legs over the bars helped me speed up the cadence. Maybe also work sometimes on pushing the pedals forward and backwards rather than just up and down.
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Old 12-01-09, 11:55 AM   #8
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My indoor cycling class (my bike on their stationary trainer) includes several drills to smooth pedal stroke and increase sustained cadence that includes many of the suggestions already posted. Single pedal drills: 30 seconds on one leg, switch and 30 seconds on other leg, repeat total of 5 times. You'll know you're getting tired when you feel a dead spot near the top of the stroke.
Spin ups - somewhere between 30-60 seconds at a fast cadence, then increase by 5 rpm and hold, increase by 5 rpm and hold,... then step back down. Recover for several minutes (5), repeat. The instructor suggested we could work on this even just 1 time per outside riding between classes and see benefits; which I've been doing on my commutes. Ask me in a few weeks if it's working (although I think it is, really too early to tell).
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Old 12-01-09, 12:20 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
Mashing is easier on your aerobic system, but harder on your legs. Spinning is the opposite. Spinning is the way to go because your aerobic system won't wear out on a ride, but your legs will. So until your aerobic system comes up to speed, you may actually go a little slower when you spin than when you mash. Ignore that and just stick with it. Do get a cyclocomputer with cadence. They're not expensive, expect $30-$50.

The quickest way to improve your spin is to spin much faster than is comfortable. This is neuro-muscular training which teaches your nerves and muscles when to fire. There are two types of drills. The first is easier, but I of course prefer the second:
1) Spin-ups - Increase your cadence to the point where you begin to bounce in the saddle. Hold that for 1-2 minutes, then recover at normal cadence for 5 minutes and repeat until whenever.
2) FastPedal - Increase your cadence, in a very low gear, to a point where you begin to bounce in the saddle or 115-120, whichever comes first. Hold that cadence for 15 minutes. Over a period of weeks, gradually increase the length of time at high cadence until you can do 45 minutes of continuous high cadence pedalling. As the length of the interval increases, you will find that your cadence will increase also. Do this drill once/week.

Personal preference: I like 88-94 on the flat, 78-85 climbing if I have a low enough gear to allow that cadence.

When doing this, keep your feet flat and imagine that you have a layer of air between your foot and the sole of the shoe. IOW, don't push down! Keep your back straight and use a low enough gear that your breathing stays relatively slow and easy. These drills are much easier to do on a trainer or rollers than on the road. However, they must be done on your road bike, not a gym stationary or spin bike.

These drills are in addition to, not replacing, the advice given above.
All very good advice, but why must they be done on your road bike? Last year I injured my elbow and was unable to reach the bars on my bike, so I spent some time on the horrible stationary bike at the gym. As soon as I got back onto my road bike the first thing I noticed was that my average cadence shot way up and I felt much more comfortable spinning much faster (and this after a few years on fixed gears!).

Also, I don't believe that fixed gears do much for your pedal stroke.
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Old 12-02-09, 01:06 PM   #10
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All very good advice, but why must they be done on your road bike? Last year I injured my elbow and was unable to reach the bars on my bike, so I spent some time on the horrible stationary bike at the gym. As soon as I got back onto my road bike the first thing I noticed was that my average cadence shot way up and I felt much more comfortable spinning much faster (and this after a few years on fixed gears!).

Also, I don't believe that fixed gears do much for your pedal stroke.
You do what you gotta do. The drills really don't have to be done on a road bike, I just think that's more effective and safer. More effective because spin bikes and stationaries normally don't have a freewheel, so you don't learn the correct firing sequence. Safer because you're less apt to get RSI on your own, properly fitted bike. And I "misspoke myself" when I said the drills are easier on rollers or a trainer. I should have said "more convenient and more effective." The drills are physically easier on the road because your momentum on the road is much greater than the momentum of just your rims on rollers. Could that account for your gym/road experience? I agree about fixies. Keeping a tight chain is what improves your pedalling.
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Old 12-02-09, 03:01 PM   #11
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thanks for the advice everyone! lots of things to think about and work on.
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Old 12-03-09, 06:23 AM   #12
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Best thing to smooth out the spin? Rollers! You don't get smooth, you don't get to stay on them!

Even when I rode outside daily, I hit the rollers for 20 minutes 1-2 times a week just to smooth out the spin. Worked on the cadence outside.

Keep at it. You'll get there.
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Old 12-13-09, 07:18 AM   #13
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Try doing "ultimate" spins - in a fairly easy gear spin as fast you possibly can for a moment, ( no need to "hold" it, just get there) pedal easy for a while to recover and repeat. The faster you can make yourself spin, the smoother your stroke will be as this makes your muscles "fire" more efficiently This REALLY works! The other stuff mentioned above is good too especially one legged pedaling and using rollers
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Old 12-13-09, 09:53 AM   #14
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All the advice in this thread is good. Don't forget to get a good fit before trying all of this if you havent already. No amount of training will give you a good spin if your body too stretched or too scrunched.
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Old 12-13-09, 10:38 PM   #15
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I've been feeling like this may be the cause that I get dropped so easily on climbs or in headwinds - I start out strong but just get too tired to keep up.
Have you considered that you just aren't as strong as the people you are trying to keep up with?
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Old 01-06-10, 08:43 AM   #16
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Have you considered that you just aren't as strong as the people you are trying to keep up with?
I suppose it's possible, but I doubt it. I have no problems keeping up until my legs get tired, which seems to tell me (although admittedly uneducated) that my legs are either using up their glycogen stores or are full of lactic acid. In either case, I take this to assume that 1. I'm mashing when I should be spinning. 2. my cardio-vascular system isn't keeping up enough to allow me to spin and/or carry away the lactic acid.

in both cases, it seems like working to increase my cadence will help. please let me know if I've made incorrect assumptions. I'm just trying to improve.
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Old 01-06-10, 10:55 AM   #17
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I suppose it's possible, but I doubt it. I have no problems keeping up until my legs get tired, which seems to tell me (although admittedly uneducated) that my legs are either using up their glycogen stores or are full of lactic acid. In either case, I take this to assume that 1. I'm mashing when I should be spinning. 2. my cardio-vascular system isn't keeping up enough to allow me to spin and/or carry away the lactic acid.

in both cases, it seems like working to increase my cadence will help. please let me know if I've made incorrect assumptions. I'm just trying to improve.
Lactic acid (more properly, lactate) is fuel, good for you. That's an old tale. Probably not glycogen stores, either, unless this is happening on hilly rides of over 3 hours or so. When umd says "strong" he doesn't mean how much weight you can lift or how hard you can push. When a cyclist says "strong" he means the whole body thing: aerobically, muscularly, coordinatedly, mentally, digestively. Spinning more will probably help because it will stress your aerobic system more and that's the system that doesn't get tired. Legs get tired, never the heart.

Other than that, it takes a lot of time on the bike to get strong. Your heart has to get larger, your arteries and veins have to get larger, you need a lot more capillaries, your blood supply has to increase, you need more red blood cells in all that blood, your muscle cells have to learn to move the sodium and potassium around a lot more quickly, your connective tissue has to develop, your lower back and neck probably need some strengthening, too. Keep chasing those guys. Do what they do. You'll get better.

Oh - getting dropped in headwinds is silly. Headwinds is the easiest time, because the line is moving so slowly. When it's your turn to pull, just maintain speed for a little bit, then come off. That's the right thing for the weakest rider to do. Shows mental toughness, not weakness. When you're in the line, just stay out of the wind as much as you can. Match your cadence to the other riders. Keep the gap constant. Keep your wheel a few inches to one side of the wheel ahead of you. Pay attention. If you're behind a wobbly or unsteady rider, at the next intersection maneuver to change your position in the line. Let someone else deal with them.

Going downwind with a fast group is what's killer, because some strong person will get on the front and kick it up past the mid-twenties, and then everyone has to work that hard. No rest for the weary.

For now, when you come over the top of a climb, keep up your climbing effort. You'll be dropped, but everyone else was going hard, too, and they'll take a rest. You don't. Keep at it (hold your climbing HR, but on the drops) and you'll have them back. This will also give you a little more time in zone so you'll improve even faster. You'll also get better in the aero position. You'll get tireder than they will, but that's a good thing: you'll improve faster, too. Be sure to have a good recovery drink.
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