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Lower RPM's and bigger gear generally = faster riding

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Lower RPM's and bigger gear generally = faster riding

Old 09-09-06, 07:53 PM
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Lower RPM's and bigger gear generally = faster riding

From a recent issue of Men's Health magazine:

A recent British study with several elite road cyclists found that on a FLAT course riders were generally able to acheive faster TT times @ lower avg. heart rates turning larger gears @ lower RPM's. The optimal RPM in the tests appeared to be about 84rpm. Higher rpm's of 90 and 100+ resulted in slower times, higher avg. HR.

This comes as no particular surprise to me. When I'm 'on the rivet' on a ride that's too fast for me - the only way I can hang on is by clicking to a higher gear and trying to muscle my way on top of it. Trying to spin up to the speed typically results in getting dropped for me. So I can feel it. The bike goes faster in a bigger gear - even at a slightly lower rpm. At least that's my experience most of the time. Generally the faster I'm trying to go the more true this seems to be, and most of the time that starts happening in pacelines going 27+ mph.

All this business about Lance spinning higher RPM's in lower gears while climbing in the Tour de France - whatever works for him. And that's CLIMBING. And that's Lance.
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Old 09-09-06, 08:02 PM
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On flat terrain I find it is easier on my legs and aero tuck to spin at a slower RPM (85) in a higher gear..... but when the road reaches to the heavens then I am better off spinning at 95-110.
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Old 09-09-06, 08:34 PM
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I agree that higher gear = faster. I feel one of the more important reasons why is that on any slight downhill you can accelerate better, whereas in a higher gear you are limited by your max spinning speed.

edit: ooops...whereas in a lower gear you are limited by your max spinning speed.

Last edited by godspiral; 09-11-06 at 07:19 PM.
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Old 09-09-06, 11:28 PM
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I try to train at a higher cadence but in a race I am all about conserving energy and going fast which means I shift allot to spin a bit slower than my training cadance. So I agree.
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Old 09-10-06, 05:10 AM
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Originally Posted by godspiral
I feel one of the more important reasons why is that on any slight downhill you can accelerate better, whereas in a higher gear you are limited by your max spinning speed.
huh?
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Old 09-10-06, 09:50 AM
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After much testing by my coach on a computrainer we found that my 'sweet' spot is between 90-105rpm. My pedal stroke and wattage were smoother and higher in this rpm range. In this range I hit my optimal HR/Watts/Smoothness below or above the numbers were not as good.

Like all things in this sport there isn't a 'one size fit's all' template.
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Old 09-10-06, 11:53 AM
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I would agree that in general, for a longer effort, that lower cadence = higher speed. But like el diablo says, you need to find what works for you, and I also agree with Hiromian that its good to train at a higher cadence than what you will race at. Higher cadence develops your spin better and is also more aerobic than mashing.

For explosive speed, however, definitely high cadence.
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Old 09-10-06, 03:39 PM
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You may be able to achieve a faster top speed with a lower cadence but you cannot adjust to others accelerations as quickly and may be gapped. An individual's top speed is less than the speed of similar able riders in a group. If you cannot stay with the group your top speed may not be that important. Speed comes in different forms and top speed is only one aspect. Higher cadences allow a rider to accelerate faster- which is just as important when riding or racing in groups.

However, a lower cadence and higher top speed would be beneficial for riders that only race TTs and for Tri athletes. The individual efforts of both of these disciplines are more dependent on top speed. Each cadence style has benefit and draw-backs and each cyclist must decide on their style based on their objectives and talents.
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Old 09-10-06, 04:30 PM
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I fall into the camp of higher RPM. 95-100 at any speed below 32-33 works great for me. I'm able to respond to most attacks and have the ability to spin a bunch of guys off my wheel as well.

However, above 32, I have to shift up as I don't have leg strength to keep the spin up. I'm a bigger rider (6'2", 185), but too skinny to overtake the big brutes in the sprints. I find my high RPM model fits well on a rolling crit course. I can power up short hills - emphasis on short - as fast as anyone and faster than the big brutes - and have enough in the tank for a sprint at the end to beat the smaller guys who fade fairly quickly.

I'm still learning, but w/o that high spin I find I can't respond as I need to in a race situation. I'm able to generally participate in the selections I want as long as I stay near the front. Anything below 90-95 in race situation and I find that my legs start to tire very fast, so only go to 53-11 in the sprints and power it hard.
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Old 09-10-06, 04:34 PM
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Originally Posted by PedalMasher
I fall into the camp of higher RPM. 95-100 at any speed below 32-33 works great for me. I'm able to respond to most attacks and have the ability to spin a bunch of guys off my wheel as well.

However, above 32, I have to shift up as I don't have leg strength to keep the spin up. I'm a bigger rider (6'2", 185), but too skinny to overtake the big brutes in the sprints. I find my high RPM model fits well on a rolling crit course. I can power up short hills - emphasis on short - as fast as anyone and faster than the big brutes - and have enough in the tank for a sprint at the end to beat the smaller guys who fade fairly quickly.

I'm still learning, but w/o that high spin I find I can't respond as I need to in a race situation. I'm able to generally participate in the selections I want as long as I stay near the front. Anything below 90-95 in race situation and I find that my legs start to tire very fast, so only go to 53-11 in the sprints and power it hard.
I find that if I'm strong enough to comfortably handle the speed - higher rpm's work for me. But when I'm at my limit - that's when I generally have to upshift even if I feel the next gear is too stiff. Usually it's not- and I'm turning lower rpm's than I'd prefer - but my speed goes up and I can hang on. When things back off I can get back into a gear that lets me turn my normal cadence (about 95 rpm).
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Old 09-10-06, 05:06 PM
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my best speed vs cadence solo flat road that I can maintain comes in at about 82-85rpm @27mph
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Old 09-10-06, 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by pedex
my best speed vs cadence solo flat road that I can maintain comes in at about 82-85rpm @27mph
If you can manage this for an hour you're a Cat 2+ racer. I can manage 28 - 30mph - for a couple of minutes or so. So this statement is somewhat meaningless in the absence of a time qualifier.. i.e. '27mph for 20 mins or 3 mins.' or whatever.
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Old 09-10-06, 05:39 PM
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26.74mph hour time on an outdoor jogging track 2 years ago riding a track bike with drop bars, dunno if im any slower or faster since then, havent tried it since then, but I do have another 20k+ plus miles in my legs
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Old 09-10-06, 05:46 PM
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Originally Posted by pedex
26.74mph hour time on an outdoor jogging track 2 years ago riding a track bike with drop bars, dunno if im any slower or faster since then, havent tried it since then, but I do have another 20k+ plus miles in my legs

If you're really that fast why risk your life delivering packages? You're far too fast of a cyclist for that. Get a racing license man. Kill them Pedex.

That is faster than 95%+ of the USCF and 99.999999% of the cyclists here - myself included.

Gee whiz, maybe this guy COULD be a cycling pro in the more widely understood sense of the word : ).
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Old 09-10-06, 06:08 PM
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Sheot, im slow, Nate and Davey rocket(also messengers) smoke me, Ive seen both Nate and Davey ride @30mph for more than 2 miles, im not much faster than about 27mph for any distance, even shorter ones unless its a sprint. Ive gotten faster just from sheer repetition, you do 50-60miles a day, day in and day out for years on a singlespeed or fixed gear bike and you get to be brutally strong on a bike, you have no choice. Nate's a cat2 about to go to cat 1 or pro(they race together here so it seems) I think, Davey is cat4, both are a few years younger than me, both dont seem to have any plans of leaving the streets either, here in the midwest it really isnt that dangerous or tough, just lots of riding and winter can be kinda mean.

I make more $$ by about a factor of 5 over a domestic pro and im 40yrs old, and pro racers have little future, I will have enough guys working for me in a few years to stop riding prettymuch. Im not genetically gifted at all, just the right size and very motivated, the ride or starve choice does that to you.

Last edited by pedex; 09-10-06 at 06:13 PM.
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Old 09-10-06, 06:08 PM
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Yeah, that's at the very top of the USCF racing ladder as it is, even up there with the pros who make a living riding bikes.

Cadence is only partly about speed & efficiency. Muscle-fatigue and recovery is the other factor. Typically the higher cadences will spare your legs to allow longer endurance and faster recovery day-after-day. When I'm doing my long weeks of 500-miles+, I make a concerted effort to aways use low gears and spin. On short weeks with sprints & intervals, yah, I'll push a big gear at high-speed. But I definitely need more rest days and time off.

Picking cadence comes down to a matter of balancing your muscles with your heart/lungs.
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Old 09-10-06, 06:30 PM
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There's lots of fast guys out there that dont race too ya know? I know people diss messengers for obvious reasons, but those of us that do this permanently take it pretty seriously, and we ride an awful lot, usually in an extreme hurry. I dont know how many times ive literally blown by a rec rider and not even said hello because I was on a mission. I would think always hauling stuff probably helps too, my bag empty of freight weighs 8lbs, w/o it I feel like a feather when riding.

Back to spinning and Lance, thats also a post cancer thing for him, one of the results of chemo was he lost all his muscle mass, post cancer he developed a faster spin, but he also had like 15-20lbs less upper body to haul around and I still wonder how much or if he had any lung damage. It was something the good Dr ferrari got him started on after watching kenyan runners with their short stride gait which does the same thing, shift the burden to your cardio system. But you look at guys like Sergei Honchar that really get down the road and you have to do what works for you. Some people crunch big gears slower and others spin real fast.
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Old 09-11-06, 02:40 AM
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Originally Posted by patentcad
If you can manage this for an hour you're a Cat 2+ racer. I can manage 28 - 30mph - for a couple of minutes or so. So this statement is somewhat meaningless in the absence of a time qualifier.. i.e. '27mph for 20 mins or 3 mins.' or whatever.
Will you write a letter so I can get my upgrade from 3?

That was averaging 91 RPM for the 40k. According to my SRM my watts dropped substantially when my cadence fell below 88. Optimal was around 95. Max at a recent RR was 140...chasing down a hill.

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Old 09-11-06, 09:37 AM
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Lower RPM's and bigger gear generally = faster riding, Agree. I would add,

Ability to ride fast through a wider range of RPM's = faster racing.
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Old 09-11-06, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Vinokurtov
Will you write a letter so I can get my upgrade from 3?

Dear USCF-

Please upgrade Vinokurtov to Cat II. Just because of his name. That should be enough.

Patentcad
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Old 09-11-06, 10:32 AM
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Originally Posted by patentcad
Dear USCF-

Please upgrade Vinokurtov to Cat II. Just because of his name. That should be enough.

Patentcad
Cool, thanks.
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Old 09-11-06, 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Vinokurtov
Cool, thanks.

Should we ever ride together in return I expect a one time pass to pee on the side of the road without you attacking me.
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Old 09-11-06, 01:08 PM
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Might simply indicate that most people aren't very efficient and thus do better churning a gear because spinning demands a level of economy/efficiency that they can't muster.
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Old 09-11-06, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by flythebike
Might simply indicate that most people aren't very efficient and thus do better churning a gear because spinning demands a level of economy/efficiency that they can't muster.

This study reportedly/allegedly involved ELITE level racers. I would presume that would be the equivalent of American Cat II's or pro cyclists. It jives with my experience, and if anything I'm a smooth and experienced rider regardless of how fast (or slow) I may be. I've always found the lower rpm/higher gear the only viable option @ the limit.
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Old 09-11-06, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Trevor98
Higher cadences allow a rider to accelerate faster- which is just as important when riding or racing in groups.
In the case of accelerating from one high speed to another higher speed, I find a higher gear is more responsive than a spinnier gear. Basically, going from 100->120rpm is entering territory where I start bouncing on my seat, and huff and puff, in ways that going from 80->96rpm (same speed increase) doesnt.

That's essentially what I meant by taking advantage of slight downhills in TTs, or presprinting ahead of small hills. I get more responsiveness from the harder gear, in addition to more headroom.

The most useful approach I've found to help me climb better, is counter to the most typical advice. Pedalling slowly and concentrating on posture, breathing, and relaxation, helps me notice and feel small changes in technique. I can probably later apply that to faster spinning, but currently spinning uphill makes my breathing choppy.
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