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Cadence too low?

Old 12-27-19, 05:54 PM
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Synack42
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Cadence too low?

So I've been experimenting with some Christmas presents: HR strap, cadence and speed sensors.

I'm not a competitive rider and the only group rides I've participated in are casual charity rides. I pretty much like food and pedal to repent for caloric sins. I do ride as often as possible, usually one hour, ~17 miles a day, every day. ( Unfortunately stuck in the basement a lot this time of year.)

I'm loving the stats for nerds aspect of all this data. Looking at it I'm realizing my cadence seems low. It is extremely flat around my house, I usually stay in a 48/11 combo constantly, aside from stopping at lights. I rode the normal workout route today and cadence averaged 56 RPM: https://www.strava.com/activities/2960322315

Think it would be beneficial for a calorie burning oriented rider to mix it up and spin faster in a different gear?

Thanks
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Old 12-27-19, 07:00 PM
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It is my belief that each person has a natural cadence. At sub-20 MPH speeds, It may not make a whole bunch of difference between what is comfortable for you, and someone else's recommendation to be spinning at 120 RPM.

However, you will also have a maximum comfortable amount of force to apply to the pedals.

As you start pushing speed and power, you will find that there will come a point where it will be easier to increase cadence than to increase force on the pedals to increase power. You may even decrease force on the pedals as you increase cadence.

So, for status quo... don't worry about it.

For stronger/faster, a little higher cadence is good. But, that may also just come natural if you try pushing the speed up some.

There is some debate on the effect on the knees. It is my belief that some moderate stress on the knees is good, so I wouldn't worry about it if it isn't giving you problems.

I haven't been in a "spin class", but perhaps riding an exercise machine is time to change things up a bit.
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Old 12-27-19, 08:29 PM
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Your data is really interesting. It suggests that you have a lot of natural power and excellent high power potential. You are pushing a 48-12 which is a decent hard-working ratio for maintaining at that speed and the 50 plus cadence while having approximately 300 watts estimated average power on very flat terrain.

Last edited by BengalCat; 12-27-19 at 09:06 PM.
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Old 12-27-19, 11:13 PM
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Average cadence isn't very useful to know if it includes time you weren't pedaling.

The far and away best method of measuring calories on a bike is with power. You don't have a power meter, but that's kind of beside the point (that I'm getting at). 1 watt = 1 Joule per second; 1 Joule on a bike = 1 calorie with a maximum error of about 5%. You can hit any power number at any cadence you'd actually pedal at; faster cadence means lower pedal force, and vice versa. What this all means (since you asked) is that just raising your cadence won't burn many more calories. Probably a few more because you're moving your legs more, but, again, it'll be within 5%. Pushing harder at a faster cadence will do what you want.
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Old 12-27-19, 11:24 PM
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Originally Posted by BengalCat View Post
Your data is really interesting. It suggests that you have a lot of natural power and excellent high power potential. You are pushing a 48-12 which is a decent hard-working ratio for maintaining at that speed and the 50 plus cadence while having approximately 300 watts estimated average power on very flat terrain.
Where are you getting 300 watts?
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Old 12-27-19, 11:54 PM
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Originally Posted by caloso View Post
Where are you getting 300 watts?
That is coming from the Strava estimated power on the ride linked above:
https://www.strava.com/activities/2960322315/overview
https://www.strava.com/activities/2960322315/analysis

Avg: 293 or 295 watts (estimated, not based on a power meter).

That seems to be higher power than I would expect for a relatively flat course.

I've compared it to a couple of my 16/17 MPH rides over a similar distance, and for me, Strava estimates around 150W (more or less).
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Old 12-28-19, 12:16 AM
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If you're getting from point A to point B at the speed you want, with nothing hurting afterward, your cadence is fine.
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Old 12-28-19, 12:20 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
That is coming from the Strava estimated power on the ride linked above:
https://www.strava.com/activities/2960322315/overview
https://www.strava.com/activities/2960322315/analysis

Avg: 293 or 295 watts (estimated, not based on a power meter).

That seems to be higher power than I would expect for a relatively flat course.

I've compared it to a couple of my 16/17 MPH rides over a similar distance, and for me, Strava estimates around 150W (more or less).
I see it now. Yeah, 300w for a 16mph ride on flat ground seems....optimistic.
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Old 12-28-19, 09:36 AM
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You said you have a heart rate strap. Maybe focus on heart rate for a few weeks and see how your workouts are working out. Then, see how your cadence looks, has it changed? I would expect if you are increasing your heart rate you will be pushing your cadence up too.

If you have a good medical plan, maybe ask the professionals what they think you should use for a heart rate for exercise?

If you do not have a good health plan and a conversation with them would cost you $, perhaps use the standard 220 minus age formula to estimate max heart rate. Then start out in the 60 to 80 percent of max range during workouts. Then if you feel good, let that slowly rise until you can stay around 80 percent or more.

Bottom line, only do what feels comfortable. But, keep in mind that pushing a high gear at low cadence will cause more aggravation on your knees.
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Old 12-28-19, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
... perhaps use the standard 220 minus age formula to estimate max heart rate.
And advise him to wear a size 9 1/2 shoe while you're at it. Trying to apply population averages to an individual is stupid.
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Old 12-28-19, 04:28 PM
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Yeah, that's what I did when I got my first road bike. I rode my first solo century - one quick stop for an orange and candy bar - at about that cadence. I wondered why on earth road bikes would be geared so low!. I know that the OP and I are not the only ones. It seems natural. 90 cadence seems absolutely nuts. 90 is the turn-over rate at a decent running pace, and we don't want to run everywhere on our bicycles, do we? The thing that the beginning road rider misses is that running at 90 puts much more stress on one's body than does cycling on the flat at 17 mph. It's easy to "get away with" cycling at 56 on the flat, but that won't work as well on hills.

Anyway, long digression, but try working your cadence on the flat up toward 90. It'll seem unnatural at first, but you'll gradually get used to it and like it better. You'll find that higher cadences are much easier if you have toe clips on your pedals, or better yet, clipless pedals and shoes.

And to your real question, yes, you will run a higher HR pedaling at 90 than you will at 56 at the same speed, even though your leg effort will eventually become less as you get used to moving your feet more rapidly in circles. Higher HR means faster breathing and a bit more physiological stress. To really burn some calories, ride up hills if there are any around. On hills, ride a bit over 70 cadence. The big advantage of higher cadence is that your legs will last a lot longer, meaning that you can ride further. The great fun in cycling is going places under your own power. Things start to get interesting at about the 50 mile mark. Hope to see you here again.
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Old 12-28-19, 04:35 PM
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Originally Posted by caloso View Post
I see it now. Yeah, 300w for a 16mph ride on flat ground seems....optimistic.
The calculator I use says 130w for 16 mph and 180 for 18. That latter is way too high for me, but I'm more aero than the average for some reason.
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Old 12-28-19, 04:52 PM
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On the heart rate (HR) thing, the beginning HR device user should accustom themselves to riding by breathing rather than HR, while noticing what their HR does at various breathing levels. Breathing and HR are very closely related. At rest, we breathe quite slowly, maybe 60/minute. As we increase our activity level, we begin to breath deeper and a little faster. At some very noticeable point, we can no longer just breathe deeper and keep breathing slowly. Our breathing rate must increase and we can no longer speak in complete sentences. That is known as the first ventilation threshold or VT1. Note that HR. Just below VT1 is an excellent pace to hold on the flat. One can ride for many hours at that pace. One can check on that by seeing if one can recite the alphabet comfortably in one breath. If that's easy, one is below VT1. If one keeps pushing hard and harder, one will eventually reach the second ventilation threshold, called VT2. That's the point at which one can no longer breathe deeply at all and one is forced to pant no matter what. That's a hard hill-climbing pace which one won't be able to hold longer than a few minutes. Note that HR also.

In general, ride at HRs near VT1, but to burn more calories and go faster, ride somewhere between your VT1 and VT2 HRs, say halfway between. You'll find that to be more tiring and more necessary to turn a faster cadence to keep that up. It's not necessary to know your max heart rate, only your VT1 and VT2 HRs.
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Old 12-28-19, 05:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
The calculator I use says 130w for 16 mph and 180 for 18. That latter is way too high for me, but I'm more aero than the average for some reason.
I looked at a couple of flat 17mph rides and itís typically 175-200W.
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Old 12-28-19, 05:07 PM
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56 rpm is pretty low. and using that 11t cog all the time will wear it out. But more importantly, you will wear your knees more.

each person is different, but typically 80-100 rpm is normal cadence for regular riding. Occasionally people will go above or below that band - for short period of time.

I started out with low cadence, but upped it to ride from 80-100. i only occasionally look at the meter. I noticed on my fatbike I end up on a lower cadence than on my hybrid. this may be related to the different geometry.
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Old 12-28-19, 08:59 PM
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Synack42, I hope the variety of input from various members and their posts has been helpful for you.

IMO bottom line is an average cadence of 56 on the flats or the flats with moderate climbing tossed in is absolutely positively way too low for a healthy cyclist. (Fit or unfit.)

Most experienced or serious recreational riders will agree that cadence is certainly individualistic. But...the overwhelming majority will agree on what the window for an acceptable cadence is. I think the best and most liberal broadest statement is individual sustained or average cadence variance is 70-100. A bit more narrow, and in my opinion applicable to the majority of serious recreational riders is 80-100 with the narrowest range 90-100.

Good luck on finding what's best for you. Ride safe and have fun riding.
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Old 12-28-19, 09:51 PM
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That Strava data is really spiky. If I saw that after a ride I'd bet on glitches in the log due to data and/or GPS sync errors. I'd repeat the ride, preferably using two fitness/tracking apps (assuming the sensors will share data).

Over the past few years I've used Strava (when it supported sensors), Wahoo Fitness, Cyclemeter and others. Occasionally they differed a bit but overall they were pretty close. So whenever I spotted unusual power estimates I could tell it was a glitch in the GPS sync or sensor. Before Strava smoothed out GPS sync errors by default it wasn't unusual to see a straight line between points where GPS sync was lost and reacquired. A couple of years ago that was pretty common, and Cyclemeter did a better job of guesstimating my most likely road route, rather than showing me flying in a straight line through fences and across miles of open prairie.

And my various speed and cadence sensors, ANT+ and Bluetooth, often show some glitches. RFI, EMI and other factors can occasionally interfere and cause data glitches. Typically it's a clash between our own bike doodads -- LED headlights in particular can interfere with sensors. Separating them by a couple more inches can help. Sometimes the problem is the surrounding environment and there isn't much we can do about it other than ride someplace else.

If I rode 17 miles at 16-17 mph on flat terrain, Strava's power estimate would be around 120-135 Watts. It would vary a bit depending on what I entered as my own weight and bike weight. But it wouldn't be anywhere near 293 Watts. I know guys who can average that and I'm quickly shelled off the back on group rides. They're churning out 290-300 Watts at 23-24 mph on the same flat course, measured with power meters. That's consistent over many runs, including back and forth rides that over time balance out the effect of wind (predominantly from the south in our area but often shifting from the north in spring and winter).

Last edited by canklecat; 12-28-19 at 10:54 PM.
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Old 12-28-19, 10:51 PM
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Regarding cadence, go with whatever works for you. If low cadence in big gears feels right and doesn't cause injuries, it can't be wrong. Especially if you're getting the results you want.

For years I've been a spinner, naturally averaging 90 rpm like clockwork. But in August this year I shifted gears, literally, and switched to more low cadence, big gear efforts. I was very careful to maintain good form and stay well within my aerobic limits to give the legs plenty of time to adapt. It's been working. I've equaled or surpassed my best times on several Strava segments, without pegging my heart rate as I usually do when spinning.

It's going well enough that I've gradually shifted from my usual 90 rpm cadence to 75-85 for about a month and, this past week, around 60 rpm. And that's keeping my heart rate well under maximum. My tested maximum is 173, typical for my age. When I reach 160 bpm on any effort I can feel it, and tend to hit that routinely when spinning at a sustainable cadence around 90 rpm. But with pushing bigger gears at lower cadence my HR has stayed closer to 150 and slower, so I have plenty of headroom remaining.

The real test will come soon when I begin to push the heart rate limits while sticking with slower cadence and bigger gears. But I wanted to be sure my legs were adapted before pushing the felt effort.
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Old 12-29-19, 01:19 PM
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Originally Posted by asgelle View Post
And advise him to wear a size 9 1/2 shoe while you're at it. Trying to apply population averages to an individual is stupid.
Two different doctors, one a cardiologist told me to use the 220 formula.

Shoe size?
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Old 12-29-19, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Two different doctors, one a cardiologist told me to use the 220 formula.

Shoe size?
That just proves you need to find better doctors. 220-age is the average for the entire population. It has no relevance to any individual. If the average shoe size for an American male is 9 1/2, would you tell a friend he should wear a size 9 1/2?
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Old 12-29-19, 08:29 PM
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If you enjoy digging into statistics on Strava, you may also enjoy the free "Elevate" browser extension. It takes Strava to another level! For example, here's a look at cadence data for your ride:



On any sort of training ride, on flat or rolling terrain, I try to maintain 90rpm... and I think that helps me quite a lot in terms of endurance. It does take anyone a while to get used to spinning.

Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
That Strava data is really spiky. If I saw that after a ride I'd bet on glitches in the log due to data and/or GPS sync errors.
I think the two screenshots below support that conclusion. The first one shows one mile of your ride, and the second shows one mile of my most recent ride - at similar speeds and on similar terrain. According to Strava, you averaged 15.8mph, but as canklecat said, your speed appears very "spiky". I averaged 16.3, but my speed trace appears much smoother. Now, if your speed really was varying so rapidly, that mile would have included many incidents of very rapid acceleration, and all that accelerating would have required a lot of power. Indeed, Strava estimates your average power output was 282W and just look at that Estimated Power trace! According to my power meter, I maintained a roughly similar average speed while producing just 78W.




(for comparison... note that speed data is much smoother. Power data provided via Favero Assioma pedal-type power sensor, rather than estimated by Strava.)
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Old 12-29-19, 08:56 PM
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The Strava estimated power is so high because the HR is so high for the relatively low speed. The Strava Guesstimator is wondering why someone is grinding so hard on flat ground to manage 16mph.

Were I to guess, I'd say the output for a rider of average size on a road bike, 125-130W. The cadence is only too low if the OP's knees say it is. Fifty six happens to be my standing cadence while climbing-- I don't think I could do it seated for any amount of time.
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Old 12-29-19, 09:21 PM
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Originally Posted by asgelle View Post
That just proves you need to find better doctors. 220-age is the average for the entire population. It has no relevance to any individual. If the average shoe size for an American male is 9 1/2, would you tell a friend he should wear a size 9 1/2?
That rationale is stupid. The 220-age formula is a good starting point. Rejecting it because no individual is "average" makes no sense whatsoever.
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Old 12-29-19, 09:28 PM
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Originally Posted by DeadGrandpa View Post
That rationale is stupid. The 220-age formula is a good starting point. Rejecting it because no individual is "average" makes no sense whatsoever.
By your logic, I should start out wearing a 9 1/2 shoe because that is the average for the population and see how that works for me. I think thatís stupid. What I would do is measure my feet and see what size foot I actually have. Do I really need to add that the best way to determine an individualís max heart rate is to just go out and measure it (assuming thereís no underlying pathology that would make that dangerous)?
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Old 12-29-19, 09:48 PM
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Can anybody tell me what size shoe to wear?
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