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I am going to ride long distance like 200 km on my hybrid. I am not sure if I should pedal in a higher cadence (a lower gear, pedaling more frequently) or a lower cadence (a higher gear, pedaling less frequently) for the same distance. Or should I mix between both?

Can anyone please suggest?

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Note that you'll definitely find that your cadence "sags" as the day wears on. Perfectly normal, though you want to not let the tendency go too far. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 4 '13 at 20:32
I see that you do Triathlons. As a "road-only" cyclist, my target cadence on the flat is 100+ (if it drops to 100 it's time to change gear); in the hills it has to be lower. But Triathletes use a lower cadence and a different pedaling technique to preserve the muscles used in the run. – andy256 Mar 18 '14 at 22:00
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Out on the road its a mixture. But first, are you able to measure your cadence?

I use this as my guide (i.e. I try and keep my cadence within a certain range no matter what the gradient) - if I am able to pedal comfortably at over 80rpm, then its time to change to a bigger gear. If I'm unable to pedal comfortably at 65rpm, its time to go to a smaller gear.

That's my scientific approach. Alternatively, when it starts hurting I change down, and when it feels too easy I change up. But again I'm trying to maintain a constant-ish cadence. Climbing hills obviously takes it out of you as you're climbing them but generally speaking it should only be a short while (minutes) after you've passed the summit before you're able to pedal as normal.

But over that kind of distance you'll need to take your nutrition seriously - keeping your energy levels up will be to key to allowing you to control your cadence.

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THe method of controlling your shifts works well, but I would suggest a much higher cadence, to increase your efficiency. 90 RPM is good. 105, shift down, 75-80, shift up is a more typical pattern. – zenbike Jan 6 '13 at 9:11
@zenbike - yeah, right. Maybe when I've lost another 10kg ;) Seriously I'd have thought those kind of numbers would put you on a par wit the pros, is this the case or are these numbers what "normal" people typically turn? – PeteH Jan 6 '13 at 22:39
That is "normal". Pros, especially those that specialize in higher cadence riding, like Armstrong, would be between 100 and 140. As for your weight, it really has nothing to do with the cadence you choose. I'm 115 Kg, and regularly ride with a 95 average cadence. In fact, riding with a higher cadence is necessary if your goal with cycling is weight loss. – zenbike Jan 7 '13 at 3:38
@PeteH Thank you very much. The higher cadence worked good for me during the 210 km ride. My weight is 54 kg and I'm 24 yrs aged with a height 172.5 cm. Does the answer still stand good for me? I don't want to lose weight. – Freakyuser Jan 7 '13 at 7:00
@Freakyuser - I think the last time I was 54kg was when I was about twelve! – PeteH Jan 8 '13 at 9:19

100 RPM minus your age. (Only half kidding.)

80-90 RPM is a good target for younger, fairly serious bikers. When I was in my 20s-30s I could do that for several hours. As I get older (I'm 63) I find it harder -- 70 RPM is probably closer to my "optimal" speed now, and I drift down toward 60 if I don't keep at it.

One rule I tell folks that I think is good for almost all environments, whether flat-out or casual, uphill or down, is to never pedal slower than you're breathing. Keep your cadence at 1-2x your respiration rate.

If you're riding along lazily with a resp rate of 30 you can get away with a cadence of 45, but if you're resp rate is 60 your cadence should be at least 60, maybe 80-90.

Similarly, if your cadence is 90 and your respiration rate only 40 then you should be using a more difficult gear.

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Nice suggestion – Freakyuser Jan 4 '13 at 18:18
is it older or just less time on the bike? – imel96 Jan 5 '13 at 1:48
@imel96 - Yes... – Daniel R Hicks Jan 5 '13 at 2:27
@DanielRHicks the "never pedal slower than you're breathing" rule is interesting, is that something you came up with yourself or .. ? – Code Bling Apr 4 at 3:59
@CodeBling - It's something I came up with, but based on some specific testing I read about maybe 20 years ago, done with competitive cyclists on treadmills (and also based on observations of myself and others). I just extrapolated down to lower levels of exertion. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 4 at 12:14

Optimum efficiency is usually quoted as being somewhere above 80rpm which is usually a good deal faster than most people spin.

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The link was very helpful, thank you. – Freakyuser Jan 4 '13 at 10:40
One thing to understand is that there are two types of muscles -- "fast twitch" and "slow twitch". The former are (simplified version) more aerobic -- pull energy from the blood -- while the latter depend more on (limited) stored energy in the muscle. So you fatigue faster when you depend on "slow twitch" muscles, which you do when your cadence drops. (Though that's over-simplified -- lower cadence isn't so bad when energy output is low.) – Daniel R Hicks Jan 5 '13 at 14:26

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