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RPM vs power

Old 07-02-13, 08:57 PM
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RPM vs power

For a new rider, what is most important to focus on: speeding up your pedal revolutions (at an easier gear) or keep the gear tougher to build up more push strength? I am wanting to increase distance and time and improve fitness, not entering races or anything.

I did another 7 miles tonight. Hand didn't fall asleep! So I must be making progress.

Thanks!
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Old 07-02-13, 09:17 PM
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RPM vs power

I think that you will find that most will favor a higher cadence, RPM, versus mashing a higher gear. Mashing tends to lead to knee problems. In the pre-electronics days the rule of thumb was if you were gasping for air shift to a higher, harder, gear. This will slow down your cadence. If your leg muscles were hurting shift to a lower, easier, gear. This should speed up your cadence.

Some one will know what cadence is good but I believe 70-80 or so, I could be wrong on the numbers though. Taller people tend to have a somewhat slower natural cadence.

Bill

Last edited by LongT; 07-02-13 at 09:19 PM. Reason: Clarification
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Old 07-02-13, 09:17 PM
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My thought is: Whatever makes you go faster. Don't intentionally use a harder gear to build leg strength- that'll come anyway, and you're liable to start having knee problems if you try to work things that way. You don't necessarily need to work on "speeding up" pedal speed, you may have plenty of that already, but you need to keep it high enough for best all-around performance.

FYI, using tougher gear is "mashing". Speeding up pedal revolution is "spinning". Rate of pedal revolutions is "cadence".

I've read where one of the racers was asked, "Is it better to spin a small gear or mash a big gear?" and said, "Well, in racing, you pretty much have to spin a big gear..."
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Old 07-03-13, 01:41 AM
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Originally Posted by StephenH View Post

I've read where one of the racers was asked, "Is it better to spin a small gear or mash a big gear?" and said, "Well, in racing, you pretty much have to spin a big gear..."
Hmm. One of the racers? It was Eddy Merckx.

OP, it isn't RPM (cadence) vs power, it is cadence vs force. The distinction isn't trivial, because the power you produce is a product of the force you apply to the pedals multiplied by the speed at which you spin them.

Most beginners tend to default to a lowish cadence of around 60 rpm. That feels natural to them, both because it minimises the demand on their cardiovascular system and because it is similar to the rhythm of walking, where one take one step every half second or so - so a complete rotation takes a second.

However, the stronger and fitter one gets, the higher the cadence one can sustain. As LongT has suggested, pedalling faster but exerting less force on each pedal stroke increases the stress on heart and lungs, but reduces stress on the leg muscles. So if you are aerobically fit (in which case the extra cardiovascular load really doesn 't matter) a high cadence will mean you can ride for longer at a given speed without exhausting your legs. This is why you'll see the professionals spinning at between 90 and 100 rpm, it means they can sustain high power with less fatigue.

You're new. Don't worry too much about the figures. A good rule of thumb is to shift to one gear lower (easier) than you think you think feels natural to maintain your speed. This will encourage you to gradually increase your cadence over time. I don't have especially great leg speed, I'm lazy about training it, but my cadence is usually above 85.

Last edited by chasm54; 07-03-13 at 01:45 AM.
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Old 07-03-13, 06:10 AM
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The goal for most of us, regardless of fitness level or the type of cycling we do, is to go as fast as we wish with the least effort possible. Achieving that requires high(er) cadences and low(er) gears. As your form improves your cadence increases, and as your fitness improves you move into higher gears and go faster. Everyone's a little different, but for many years the most often quoted target was about 90 rpm, but like most rules-of-thumb, it shouldn't be viewed as an iron-clad rule (FWIW, my typical cadence on flat terrain is around 95). I don't know anyone who cycles primarily to build leg strength, which is what low-cadence, high-gear riding would be good for (it's also good for blowing out knees).
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Old 07-03-13, 06:48 AM
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Originally Posted by CraigB View Post
I don't know anyone who cycles primarily to build leg strength, which is what low-cadence, high-gear riding would be good for (it's also good for blowing out knees).

I don't know anyone who cycles primarily to build leg strength either. However, almost everyone who trains seriously for racing will do some low-cadence, high-gear work to build force. Especially important in a sprint, and they don't blow their knees if their form is good. And actually, most of the research indicates a very poor correlation between cadence and power produced.

That's not to say that moving to a higher cadence, most of the time, isn't a good thing. It is.

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Old 07-03-13, 07:12 AM
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If your lungs are burning, shift to a higher (requiring more force) gear. If your legs are burning shift to a lower (higher cadence) gear. Just ride lots, my understanding of cycling is it takes a couple of years or more and plenty of miles for you to build the vasculature and muscles in your legs up. This also requires riding hard enough to force adaptation.
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Old 07-03-13, 07:31 AM
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I'm a new rider, about 10 days into riding again and I've already learned in practice what these guys are saying. A higher cadence (~90rpm), while putting higher demands on your cardiovascular system will mean your leg muscles last a lot longer than at a lower cadence in a higher gear.

So far I've been trying to balance between cadence and force so try and have both my cardio system and legs be tired but not destroyed when I finish my daily ride. I figure this is the quickest path to building my fitness in both capacities, especially as I'm riding 7 days a week.

I actually bought a cheap bike computer that has a cadence function just so I could make sure I was spinning fast enough. As it turns out I already was averaging 90-110 rpm when pedaling (now, if I can just spend more time pedaling and less time coasting...)
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Old 07-03-13, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post

I don't know anyone who cycles primarily to build leg strength either. However, almost everyone who trains seriously for racing will do some low-cadence, high-gear work to build force. Especially important in a sprint, and they don't blow their knees if their form is good. And actually, most of the research indicates a very poor correlation between cadence and power produced.

That's not to say that moving to a higher cadence, most of the time, isn't a good thing. It is.

Agreed, though I'd add that those who do low-rpm high-resistance work are experienced cyclists who do it as a supplement to the rest of their training, and if they're really serious they do similar work off the bike. And they tend to have the mileage base, fitness level and muscular strength to prevent knee injury when doing it. A new rider here in Clydeland isn't likely to have that kind of conditioning in his legs just yet.
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Old 07-03-13, 10:23 AM
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Interesting discussion. Here are two graphs from my last ride (way back on May 5th ) This was from a local mountain we like to ride up (GMR) and I was really pushing myself for the first half. I don't know what the blue bits mean. The three curvy lines in the second picture represent my threshold power values (which are pathetic but it's all I've got)... the lower curve is 216 watts and the upper curve is 264 watts.

Anyway, the first picture is power vs cadence, the second is force vs pedal velocity (circumferential meters per second). It's not particularly obvious but I think there's a slight negative correlation between power and pedal speed but there is a DECIDED negative correlation between force and pedal speed. Keep in mind this was from a ride up a mountain so I was either huffin and puffin going up or coasting down, very little in between. Surprisingly, I've found that when I go up long hills my peak power is pretty low, probably because there's no incentive to really stand up and stomp on the pedals. It's a long aerobic activity, not a sprint.



Anyway, I hope that helps you visualize what's going on at the pedal level if you were wondering.

Edit: for the health of my bad knees, I try to keep at least 80-100 rpm on flats and 70-80 rpm on hills if I can manage it
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Old 07-03-13, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by LongT View Post
... Taller people tend to have a somewhat slower natural cadence.
Never heard this before. Could explain why I turn the cadence I do. I'm 6'3", (190cm), and have always been a masher. I've tried to spin, but just can't get comfortable doing it. Takes the joy out of riding. On almost all my rides, from short 15 milers to metric, double-metric, and imperial centuries, my average cadence is usually in the mid 60's. No knee problems yet in almost 55 years of riding.

Last edited by volosong; 07-03-13 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 07-03-13, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by volosong View Post
Never heard this before. Could explain why I turn the cadence I do. I'm 6'3", (190cm), and have always been a masher. I've tried to spin, but just can't get comfortable doing it. Takes the joy out of riding. On almost all my rides, from short 15 milers to metric, double-metric, and imperial centuries, my average cadence is usually in the mid 60's. No knee problems yet in almost 55 years of riding.
May not even be true but my coach, back in the late '70s told me that. I have heard reference to it in running also. Slower leg speed for longer legs.

Bill

Last edited by LongT; 07-03-13 at 03:08 PM. Reason: Clarification
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Old 07-03-13, 04:23 PM
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It's probably true. Taller riders also tend to use longer cranks, which reputedly are also harder to spin. Honestly, I don't know how much of a difference 5mm makes - except for adjusting my saddle I don't think I noticed when I went from 172.5 to 175.
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Old 07-03-13, 08:42 PM
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My cadence has always been fast (95-100) and I'm 6'4"....in the late 80's and early 90's I was hard core and high miles. I desperately wanted a set of 175mm or 180 mm cranks but couldn't find any (at least not at a price I was able to pay). I started spinning when I raced BMX in the 80's and emphasized smoothness and spin over mashing. I was able to spin 185mm cranks at a pretty high rpm back then. (try riding rollers on a 20" wheeled bike with 185mm cranks!)

My point is that you can train yourself to spin the cranks at higher rpm's, but you gotta emphasize smooth and circular peddling (do they still use that description?)
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Old 07-06-13, 03:58 AM
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Originally Posted by TrojanHorse View Post
It's probably true. Taller riders also tend to use longer cranks, which reputedly are also harder to spin. Honestly, I don't know how much of a difference 5mm makes - except for adjusting my saddle I don't think I noticed when I went from 172.5 to 175.
Originally Posted by hockeyref View Post
My cadence has always been fast (95-100) and I'm 6'4"....in the late 80's and early 90's I was hard core and high miles. I desperately wanted a set of 175mm or 180 mm cranks but couldn't find any (at least not at a price I was able to pay). I started spinning when I raced BMX in the 80's and emphasized smoothness and spin over mashing. I was able to spin 185mm cranks at a pretty high rpm back then. (try riding rollers on a 20" wheeled bike with 185mm cranks!)

My point is that you can train yourself to spin the cranks at higher rpm's, but you gotta emphasize smooth and circular peddling (do they still use that description?)
I've spun 180's up to 170rpm on the road and 180+rpm on the trainer. In practice most riders aren't going to exceed 120 or so on the road.

With regard to working on RPM vs Power: As has already been stated, it's more a case of rpm vs. force. The product of which is power. No matter how strong your legs are, without an effective and efficient pedal stroke you will struggle to put that strength/force to use. So, I would suggest first working on developing a good spin and becoming comfortable at cadences in excess of 100rpm for extended periods of time. Higher cadences do not initially feel natural. The ability to spin at high rates is something that is however, easily trained.
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Old 07-06-13, 05:37 AM
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As a beginner, my advice, for what it's worth, would be to emphasize spinning the pedals, but not to stress about it, one of the beautiful things about cycling is that when you're workout consists of a bike ride, and you get tired, you can coast, you can pedal slowly, and you're already sitting down. And yet, if you take it easy on the way home, you're still doing some work and getting some benefits.
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Old 07-06-13, 11:55 AM
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Something else to consider is leg length....Is a 175mm-180mm crank is more natural for a 6'4" rider with long legs than a 165mm-172.5mm.. I've rode cranks from 160mm- 190mm through the years on various type bikes..... I notice a difference between the 172.5 on my road bike vs the 175 on the mountain bike. I much prefer the 175 and really would like a 177 or a 180 on my road bike..... If you can spin the longer crank, does it make sense that you could also push bigger gears easier because of the mechanical advantage of the longer crank arm?
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Old 07-07-13, 11:09 PM
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Originally Posted by TrojanHorse View Post
It's probably true. Taller riders also tend to use longer cranks, which reputedly are also harder to spin. Honestly, I don't know how much of a difference 5mm makes - except for adjusting my saddle I don't think I noticed when I went from 172.5 to 175.
Thats not what she said
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Old 07-07-13, 11:11 PM
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Hey now.
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Old 07-08-13, 12:48 AM
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Originally Posted by hockeyref View Post
If you can spin the longer crank, does it make sense that you could also push bigger gears easier because of the mechanical advantage of the longer crank arm?
Absolutely. The move from 180mm to 200mm directly equates to an 11% increase in torque. Subsequently, for any given speed, gear and cadence your legs will need to exert less force. Or, if rpm and force are to remain constant a larger gear would be required with a subsequent increase in speed.

The oppopents of proportional cranks keep saying, "but you'll suffer a reduced cadence red line". When, in practice, the vast majority of us never, or, only very rarely actually utilize our full cadence potential. How many full out 10/10 sprints do most of us engage in? And, in how many of those are we starting in and staying in a low enough gear to warrant needing to spin up close to 200rpm? If you're on the track and a fixie, sure. But, on a geared bike already rolling at some considerable speed, even Cavendish isn't spinning up to his redline when he's sprinting for the line. The only time I do anything similiar is for the occassional town line sign on some of my group rides and that's just for fun. Most of use spend the vast majority of our time somewhere between "most economical cruise" and "maximum torque". And probably utilize "maximum power" far more frequently than "maximum redline", albeit for fairly short periods of time.

So, if optimal cadence for most of us lands somewhere between 80-110rpm and our usable range is approximately 70-120rpm, doesn't it make sense to size one's cranks for this range? Instead of defending shorter cranks with the justification that they can be spun up to a cadence we aren't ever going to actually utilize?
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Old 07-08-13, 02:01 AM
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Originally Posted by bigfred View Post


So, if optimal cadence for most of us lands somewhere between 80-110rpm and our usable range is approximately 70-120rpm, doesn't it make sense to size one's cranks for this range? Instead of defending shorter cranks with the justification that they can be spun up to a cadence we aren't ever going to actually utilize?
No. Yes, you have greater leverage so can push bigger gears. But just as most of us rarely achieve our maximum cadence, most of us very rarely spin out of our optimal range with standard cranks and gearing. And changing gear from a 53-12 to a 53-11 achieves almost the same increase as increasing the crank length by 20mm. So unless you're like a hamster on acid with standard cranks, which would imply an ability to spin an enormous gear, in my view moving to the longer cranks is pretty much immaterial and will just end up with similar speeds at lower cadences.

There are some very tall riders in the pro peloton. Van Summeren is 6'5". Do we know what cranks he uses?
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Old 07-08-13, 03:09 AM
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Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
No. Yes, you have greater leverage so can push bigger gears. But just as most of us rarely achieve our maximum cadence, most of us very rarely spin out of our optimal range with standard cranks and gearing. And changing gear from a 53-12 to a 53-11 achieves almost the same increase as increasing the crank length by 20mm. So unless you're like a hamster on acid with standard cranks, which would imply an ability to spin an enormous gear, in my view moving to the longer cranks is pretty much immaterial and will just end up with similar speeds at lower cadences.

There are some very tall riders in the pro peloton. Van Summeren is 6'5". Do we know what cranks he uses?
You seem to mis my point. So far, in my few weeks of experience with the 200mm cranks, it appears as though they won't result in my riding at lower cadences. Yes, I may have a reduced maximum cadence (red line) that I never approached anyhow. But, I'm still able to effectively spin them in the 90-100rpm range, while also benefitting from the increase in torque. Subsequently, I'm able to select a cog one tooth smaller than I would otherwise and achieve greater speed. Or, run the same rear cog and speed as before, but, require less force from my legs and subsequently experience less fatigue.

I'm hesitant to turn to the pro peleton for confirmation, for the simple reason that they are paid to ride with the gear provided. Yes, in some instances riders may get to select what they use. But, in many they do not.

We do know that the last several hour records were set with cranks in excess of 180mm and at cadences of between 100-110rpm.
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Old 07-08-13, 03:25 AM
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Originally Posted by bigfred View Post
You seem to mis my point. So far, in my few weeks of experience with the 200mm cranks, it appears as though they won't result in my riding at lower cadences. Yes, I may have a reduced maximum cadence (red line) that I never approached anyhow. But, I'm still able to effectively spin them in the 90-100rpm range, while also benefitting from the increase in torque. Subsequently, I'm able to select a cog one tooth smaller than I would otherwise and achieve greater speed. Or, run the same rear cog and speed as before, but, require less force from my legs and subsequently experience less fatigue.
I didn't miss your point, but am happy to accept your account of your experience. Of course, the relationship between power and cadence is pretty loose anyway. If they suit you, they suit you.

Don't dismiss the pros' selection of equipment, though. Yes, they have to ride the sponsored bikes, but they do tinker around with components. For example, Cavendish is riding with the new Sram hydraulic rim brakes, which aren't standard issue for OPQ.
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Old 07-08-13, 04:02 AM
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Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
I didn't miss your point, but am happy to accept your account of your experience. Of course, the relationship between power and cadence is pretty loose anyway. If they suit you, they suit you.

Don't dismiss the pros' selection of equipment, though. Yes, they have to ride the sponsored bikes, but they do tinker around with components. For example, Cavendish is riding with the new Sram hydraulic rim brakes, which aren't standard issue for OPQ.
I wonder if Cav is tinkering, or being used as a guinea pig and marketing tool?
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Old 07-08-13, 04:50 AM
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Originally Posted by bigfred View Post

We do know that the last several hour records were set with cranks in excess of 180mm and at cadences of between 100-110rpm.
I went looking and have to correct this statement. It appears that only Sosenka and Indurain used 190mm cranks. Obree, Rominger and Boardman appear to have used more conventional lengths of 170-175mm.
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