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Cadence when climbing

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Cadence when climbing

Old 12-18-19, 04:47 PM
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Amt0571
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Cadence when climbing

I have started to use a cadence sensor. I read that an ideal reference cadence is around 90rpm. I've been looking at my cadence and found that I can easily ride at 90rpm (and higher) when descending with little effort. On the flats, at normal speeds, I seem to pedal more around 80rpm, only reaching 90rpm when I want to push myself and go faster than usual.

However, when climbing any meaningful slope (10%, for example) I found I'm totally unable to pedal at 90rpm. I feel really uncomfortable at that cadence, and end doing most of the climbs between 70 and 80, and, sometimes, even falling down to 65rpm if it's a really steep slope (16 - 18%).

What is a usual cadence for such climbs?
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Old 12-18-19, 05:07 PM
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Sounds like your climbing cadence is good. I average around 88 rpm, except when going uphill, then it’s whatever I can maintain, usually in the 60s. Spinning is easier on the knees, but what matters is what works for you. On the flats try shifting to the next lower gear, then spin up to maintain the same speed. Do this for brief periods then gradually make them longer.

Edit: seems my estimates were in error. A review of my Garmin data shows my rpm consistently in the high 80s when climbing. Sure felt slower than that! Next year I may experiment with lower cadence to see the effect on HR and power.
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Old 12-18-19, 05:13 PM
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Unless your bike has low enough gears, you cadence will be low. You could replace your gearing with lower gears if you were bent on spinning.
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Old 12-18-19, 05:13 PM
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I don't know if there's a right answer to your question, but, IME my best times on short climbs of 7-10% are produced with cadence 95 & above. This past spring I did a 4 week ftp builder that also increased my ability to sustain high cadence at high watts. The results was evident on competitive group rides when I was able to pedal high cadence seated up climbs and pass others that were standing mashing their way up. I was impressed results considering it was a canned Zwift ftp build program. I didn't cheat the program & fully committed to it... it was a lot of effort but it paid off.
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Old 12-18-19, 05:16 PM
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Most cyclists naturally have a lower cadence while climbing. I know I do. Not a problem or concern IMO. You can try to force yourself to spin up hills at 90+ and see if you prefer it.
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Old 12-18-19, 05:29 PM
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When I was in a training clinic with an actual coach, he had us target low 70s for climbing and 90 for steady/flat. I still use this as a guide, on long climbs I will tend to vary it a bit by changing gears, though rarely more than 80 when climbing. Of course once you're in your lowest gear and the grade gets steeper, cadence will drop.
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Old 12-18-19, 05:45 PM
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I think the best cadence for you depends on what is stronger - your legs or heart/lungs. Low cadence is harder on legs, high cadence requires more work from heart/lungs. Personally I find recommendation of 90rpm is too high for me, my cruising cadence is about 70 and climbing is lower than that. I guess I'm a masher
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Old 12-18-19, 06:21 PM
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I tend to around 80 on climbs. Too much lower & I really can't stand it. Any higher I find myself looking for another gear. The trick is to find the balance between cardiovascular and muscular systems. Hill climbing is largely about technique. It's a skill. If I'm down around 75 I don't have the right gears or I'm not on the right hill. Low rpm/high torque is hard on your knees & drivetrain. No one at the gym is doing 10 minutes of continuous squats, deadlifts,or leg presses. I don't think I should be either.

88-92rpm seems pretty average for flats just as a matter of habit. Maybe a touch lower if I'm fatigued or just not paying attention.

YMMV
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Old 12-19-19, 12:21 AM
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Old 12-19-19, 01:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Cypress View Post
Unless your bike has low enough gears, you cadence will be low. You could replace your gearing with lower gears if you were bent on spinning.
I have a 34/32 low gear, so I don't usually run out of gears unless I'm climbing something over 16% (which I do, but it's a minor part of my rides).

Thanks it all answers, I just wanted to know if I was doing something wrong, and now it seems I'm not 😊
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Old 12-19-19, 10:14 AM
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If a comfortable cadence for you is 85-90, and indeed you really have low enough gears available, why would this cadence become uncomfortable just because your bike is heading up a gradient?
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Old 12-19-19, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
If a comfortable cadence for you is 85-90, and indeed you really have low enough gears available, why would this cadence become uncomfortable just because your bike is heading up a gradient?
Maybe because the resistance is different? On the flats it's mostly aerodinamic, going up a hill slowly mostly gravity? Or the muscles work differently with the bike at an upward angle?
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Old 12-19-19, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Reynolds View Post
Maybe because the resistance is different? On the flats it's mostly aerodinamic, going up a hill slowly mostly gravity? Or the muscles work differently with the bike at an upward angle?
Maybe. I don't dispute the effect on cadence going up a hill.. I tend to drop as well, even if I'm not out of gears. It's just a curiosity. If the group wants to push on the flat to go faster, and approximating the effort you might spend on a more relaxed climb, I don't think I typically see everyone going to real high gear in order to be able to drop their cadence. Sorta a watts is watts discussion I guess.
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Old 12-19-19, 11:01 AM
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Cadence is a very personal thing and you should do what feels right. People really started to get into the higher cadence thing after Lance advocated it as a mind game on Ulrich who was a grinder. If you have a muscular build its more likely that a slower cadence would suit you better.
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Old 12-19-19, 11:42 AM
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When it comes to cycling the only thing I'm particularly good at is climbing, definitely not cornering, descending, sprinting, etc. so I've done a significant amount of research in this area and do have some advice.

After checking some of my rides this past year that included long mountain climbs at a consistent power and shorter steeper climbs that went up to 20% gradient it appears I almost always average 100 cadence when actually climbing. On flats and descents my cadence drops to 85-90.

From my research and my own experience, if tackling a long climb I've found it's always best to sit up, grip the tops, actively focus on relaxing my shoulders and neck, breath deep from the belly, and focus on a fast, 90+ rpm spin with smooth, consistent, power.

If going after a shorter climb, perhaps just a hundred feet or so, maybe a KOM, with steep gradients, I'll try and gather a decent amount of speed (while not expending too much energy) in the drops and pushing 100-130 rpm into the base of the hill. Once I begin climbing I'll try and maximize the power at the steepest portions and, because I started at such a high cadence, I'll probably only need to drop one gear and likely hold 100 rpm up the hill. When my legs are absolutely flooded with burning agony (hopefully near the top) I'll stand up to engage the slightly different muscles (some hamstring and gluts, not basically just quads) that are hopefully not too fatigued and full-on sprint to the end.
  • Some notes, in this situation (be it during a race, group ride, or KOM hunt) I will actively keep in an aero position unless my speed drops below 20mph, when that occurs I will move to the hoods or tops, gripping tightly (no relaxation) while keeping the power up while focusing on breathing.
  • Try not to keep gear changing to a minimum when climbing, every time you move up or down gears, at that moment, some efficiency and momentum will be lost, it's best to choose the gear you want to be in at the base of the hill.
  • If climbing in a group (especially on a long climb) smile and try to converse with the people around you while looking as relaxed as possible, it will annoy them So much!
As to your specific question on RPM, it's hard to say if RPM itself is something you really need to work on. I personally wouldn't do anything less than 85 RPM on any climb, and even most flats, but that could be more of a genetic predisposition than anything. There's tons of data that suggests self-selected RPM can be the best, there's also plenty to suggest that higher cadence = better efficiency, however, even this has its caveats. It's easy to argue that low cadence and high torque when climbing is bad for the knees, but maybe it strengthens them like a deadlift? So, when it comes down to it, above are my two cents, but realistically, what you're going to find the most are opinions and anecdotal evidence.

A better question is Oval vs Osymetric chainrings...


Edit: Perhaps choose a hill, use your cadence sensor and a heart rate monitor, do a bunch of passes up it with all sorts of different cadences but consistent speeds and see which one is giving the lowest HR?
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Old 12-19-19, 11:49 AM
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Everybody is different

Originally Posted by tankist View Post
I think the best cadence for you depends on what is stronger - your legs or heart/lungs.
^^^ There is merit to this. Maybe something in between? You'll have to find out for yourself. For me, I'm not light, so if I spin a high cadence going uphill, I feel like I'm moving backwards or going nowhere fast...whereas if I mash it a little I can get up and over much faster. What does your physiology and fitness tell you is best for you?
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Old 12-19-19, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by tankist View Post
I think the best cadence for you depends on what is stronger - your legs or heart/lungs.
Neither of these things are immutable.
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Old 12-19-19, 05:16 PM
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FWIW, Seana Hogan (6 time RAAM winner) would occasionally ride with a couple of us at lunch back in the 1990's. She clearly was/is a very accomplished cyclist. As I recall she turned REALLY big gears, even on the flats, where 65 was a kind of typical cadence for her. This seems to be a very personal thing. I was turning 90-95 RPM on these same rides.

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Old 12-19-19, 06:59 PM
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I have to disagree about riding climbs at a high cadence in the 90+ range. I've always found that somewhere in the 70 to 85 rpm range to be most effective. I've ridden the Mount Evans hill climb route 6 times and once managed a time of 2:35 that would have usually put a 53 year old in the top 10 on race day. I'm older now, but ride even steeper, but shorter climbs. If I ever fall below 70 rpm, it means I could really use a little lower gear, but that's rare, with a 32/34 low.

FWIW, I can still spin up into the 110-115 range, but 100-105 works best for wind assisted flats. In those conditions, 90 would require too much torque.
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Old 12-19-19, 08:51 PM
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Just thinking about climbing Mt. Evans in any gear, at any cadence, at any speed, at any gradient gives me visions of a stroke. I'm a 56 year old clyde but getting better every day. You guys are awesome Carry on...

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Old 12-19-19, 09:37 PM
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If you're climbing 16% grades you don't need advice about cadence from us.
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Old 12-19-19, 11:48 PM
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I have a cadence sensor only on the bike that's usually on the trainer. I took it out a couple of times this week to check my cadence, speed, heart rate, etc., relative to the terrain.

Looks like I average 90+ rpm most of the time, dropping to 70 rpm on seated climbs and 40-50 rpm when standing to pedal.

IOW, pretty typical.

I tend to use a slower cadence on the other road bike that has Biopace chainrings, around 80 rpm. Just feels unnatural to spin with those. A lower cadence and harder gear seems to flow better. At a slower cadence with the 42T smaller Biopace ring I can feel a bit of the leverage, but my cadence is less smooth -- more surging.

My heart rate climbs along with cadence, but saves my legs. And a lower cadence with harder gears keeps my HR lower but can cook the legs if I'm not careful. Either technique has no significant effect on my average speed along my usual 20-40 mile route. If anything, the faster cadence, higher HR and faster breathing have been a bit of a detriment in cold dry air this winter. Aggravates my asthma and makes it harder to breathe. I usually feel better after a hard ride if I'm on the bike with Biopace rings that nudge me into a slower cadence, higher effort per revolution, mostly because it avoids aggravating asthma attacks.

But the differences between the two bikes and techniques are pretty small.
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Old 12-20-19, 02:01 AM
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A person's best cadence is determined by two major categories with the second having a combination of subcategories.

Category one: How much an effort as measured in speed to you want to hit? Are you looking at a hard effort with best obtainable speed or a more medium, and sustainable endurance pace?

Categorie two with subcategories: Determining the best optimal match for your power to weight ratio, actual power, gear preference, accurate heart rate zones, and all of that will eventually with training and experimenting determine the best cadence.
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Old 12-20-19, 04:10 AM
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Originally Posted by big john View Post
If you're climbing 16% grades you don't need advice about cadence from us.
Why? since I've had a child 3 years ago I'm not really fit. Mainly commute twice a week to work (60/70km round trip depending on the route chosen) because I don't have much free time.

I live in Catalonia, in a town near Barcelona. Here it's difficult to go anywhere without hitting at least one 10% climb. This is not Holland. I replaced my 11-28 cassette with a 11-32 for this reason (and I would use a 11-34 if my derailleur accepted it). With the 28 I could climb a 16% grade, but my legs were trashed at the top and I have a history of knee issues.

This is one of the climbs I regularly do when coming back from work:

After this climb, I have to keep mostly climbing for 12 more km with a lower grade (not more than 10%), except fort a really short section (maybe 150m) that peaks at 18%. After that it's all downhill until home.
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Old 12-20-19, 07:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Amt0571 View Post
Why? since I've had a child 3 years ago I'm not really fit. Mainly commute twice a week to work (60/70km round trip depending on the route chosen) because I don't have much free time.

I live in Catalonia, in a town near Barcelona. Here it's difficult to go anywhere without hitting at least one 10% climb. This is not Holland. I replaced my 11-28 cassette with a 11-32 for this reason (and I would use a 11-34 if my derailleur accepted it). With the 28 I could climb a 16% grade, but my legs were trashed at the top and I have a history of knee issues.

This is one of the climbs I regularly do when coming back from work:

After this climb, I have to keep mostly climbing for 12 more km with a lower grade (not more than 10%), except fort a really short section (maybe 150m) that peaks at 18%. After that it's all downhill until home.
Annnnnnnnnnnndd I'm jealous of where you live.
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