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According to the Wikipedia entry here:

Recreational and utility cyclists typically cycle around 60–80 rpm. According to cadence measurement of 7 professional cyclists during 3 week races they cycle about 90 rpm during flat and long (~190 km) group stages and individual time trials of ∼50 km. During ∼15 km uphill cycling on high mountain passes they cycle about 70 rpm.1 Sprinters can cycle up to 170 rpm for short periods of time.[citation needed]. The professional racing cyclist and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is known for his technique of keeping up high cadences of around 110 rpm for hours on end to improve efficiency.

What are the techniques to improve cadence? I am not targeting this question to touring or long-distance but for endurance-riding, meaning training for longer-distance with higher HF and higher speed. I like to do short repetitions for about 10 minutes with high rpm above 120 but I am not sure whether it is ideal and I am not sure how much resistance I should add during such periods. What kind of exercises do you do? The exercises do not necessarily need to be even on bike, as long as they meet the goal to train endurance-riding with higher cadence over longer time.

I am not sure what the last sentence in the wikipedia means actually: to improve efficiency through cadence? Anyway, I am looking for ways to improve average cadence — perhaps it will improve my efficiency also, not bad thing at all.

Some Perhaps Related questions or Useful Info

  1. How can I improve my stamina?

  2. A-bit-fuzzy and targeted-to-runners article about "faster running and better long-distance results" (using short sprints with hills) but perhaps good training also for cyclists, here

  3. Perhaps helpful about endurance and speed, also about running, question here targeted to younger audience. Not sure whether relevant to improve the cadence.

  4. In running, they have a trendy thing called "barefoot running" or "neutral running", this answer here claims that it can improve the cadence at least for running, no idea whether something like that could work in riding a bike.

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I recall reading of some research in one of the bike magazines 10-15 years ago that showed that the optimum cadence for most cyclists was around 90 (IIRC). Faster is only better for a few elite cyclists, and likely as much genetics as training. And (as I've discovered) the older you get the lower your "optimal" cadence. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 28 '11 at 22:51
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@hhh The most important thing to achieve what you want, from my experience, is to install a bicycle computer with cadence reading. Then you can catechize yourself by the number. –  heltonbiker Jan 20 '12 at 4:11
    
@DanielRHicks Ouch! I can sustain 90RPM on a -2% (downhill) grade for 2.5 minutes and then I'm burned out! –  Michael yesterday
    
@Michael - Don't increase all at once. Try to go 5 RPM faster than "normal" (maybe 10 RPM if you've been doing below 50) until you get to a "new normal", then increase again. It can take weeks or months to get your cadence up to a "proper" level. And 90 RPM is only "optimum" for most cyclists -- some may be better off at 80-85, others at 100. –  Daniel R Hicks 18 hours ago

3 Answers 3

If you want to change your cadence, just change it. Take your cruising gear on your bike and calculate what your current cruising cadence is. Let's say you usually cruise at 16mph and your typical cadence is 75. If you want to be at 90, go into a lower gear and try to keep the same speed. This will increase your cadence.

The benefit of a high cadence is that the higher the cadence the more aerobic you are (more cardio, less muscular). This will naturally increase your lung capacity providing increased stamina at any cadence because your vo2 max (google this) will increase with regular cardio sessions.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

A good option may be interval training...which extends well beyond cadence in effect...

Some background first:

  • High cadence in an "easy" gear means that you are primarily taxing your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Basically, this is aerobic activity in which one can engage for long periods of time.
  • Low cadence in a "hard" gear means that you are taxing the skeletal muscles such as the quads, hamstrings and glutes, etc. Since you are using a bigger gear you're relying more on what is commonly called the anaerobic energy system.

The gist of higher cadence riding is that your heart and lungs can take repeated punishment for long periods of time (and they recover quickly after hard efforts,) while your muscles will fatigue relatively quickly and recover more slowly.

So, since your training goal is to boost your average cadence, an effective method for improvement is interval training.

...a type of physical training that involves bursts of high-intensity work interspersed with periods of low-intensity work. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to near-maximum exertion, while the recovery periods may involve either complete rest or activity of lower intensity.

There are at least several forms of structured interval training programs such as Fartlek, Tabata, Chris Carmichael's Time Crunched Cyclist, as well as other well known cycling coaches. So, to train for cadence, you'd pick a method; and you would alternate low cadence (low intensity) with high cadence (high intensity) for the intervals. By diligently following an interval training program, you would probably see improvements in your average cadence in a relatively short period of time (1 - 2 months).

Without knowing more about your specific current conditioning, I cannot offer a particular plan; however, I and others have had great results with the Chris Carmichael method. And a nice quote by Carmichael from his book (p.42):

Keep in mind, however, that there's no magical cadence everyone should shoot for. Rather than aim for a specific number, I recommend athletes try to increase their normal cruising cadence and climbing cadence by 10% in a year (with the understanding that very few cyclists can ride effectively at sustained cadences above 120 to 125 rpm on flat ground).

Note one: Cadence training is much easier with a cycling computer that monitors cadence.

Note two: Interval training is difficult and should only be done 1 - 3 days per week and not on sequential days.

After taking a look at Joe Friel's blog via the link provided by Dana the Sane, I noticed that Joe Friel has an excellent 5 part article on Interval Training. A quote from the Joe Friel article on Interval Training, Part 4:

Speed skills sessions are intended to improve efficiency by improving movement skills. This usually involves doing drills to refine or learn a technique. Drills are common in swimming. A typical cycling drill is to increase the pedaling cadence in a low gear to a max level for a few seconds every few minutes while relaxing the body. Runners do “strides” workouts in which they run fast, usually down a slight hill, while focusing on one aspect of technique such as foot position at strike. There many, many drills for each sport.

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@hhh, etc - I in no way meant for the original line to be patronizing. I thought it was humorous. I changed it in order that no one takes it as patronizing. And the broken link is fixed... –  user313 Dec 30 '11 at 5:46
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@hhh - My cycling buddies and I switched from long-slow-distance training to farily intensive interval training ~5 years ago to enhance long-distance and fitness riding. We all achieved significant improvements in speed, endurance, hill climbing and power, plus a side effect of increased cadence. Carmichael is definitely not the only source of good info, but that's the program we've been following for the last few years to great results. Anyway, consistently boosting average cadence will require targeted drills of some sort... –  user313 Dec 30 '11 at 16:55
    
Anyway, cadence was never my goal in using interval training programs. My goals for interval training are power, endurance, stamina, speed.... and increased cadence was a result of working on the other goals. –  user313 Dec 31 '11 at 0:46
    
Related to concepts such as LSD, HR -- something here. –  user652 Dec 31 '11 at 2:02

The cadence you ride at is far less important than your abilities, such as efficiently, and your fitness. An authoritative reference on peddling efficiency is this Joe Friel blog post. The post outlines rationale describing the importance of efficiency and overviews of several pedalling drills. For some sample workouts using this type of drills, you could consult Serious Mountain Biking by Ann Trombley, though there are doubtless many others.

Also, be wary of training 'Red Herrings'. Cadence is a critical component of cycling, but even among experts, there is always some amount of disagreement on what techniques are most effective for individual riders. My opinion is that 'practice by doing' is often a good way to improve specific cycling skills. Only when you reach a lengthy plateau in your improvement, is it necessary to spend a lot of time using specialized techniques.

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