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I recently got a cyclocomputer that measures cadence and I'm not sure what a good speed is or what benefit I would get by altering my natural cadence. On good, level tarmac, I find myself doing about 75-80 RPM. I'll get North of 100 when sprinting away from a stoplight, and down in the 50-60 range when mounting a moderate incline.

I don't know what might impact cadence, but I'm 5'11 (180 centimeters), 150 pounds (68 kilograms, 10.7 stone). In addition to biking 30-40 miles a week, I do CrossFit, a combination of gymnastic and weightlifting exercises, so I've got quite a bit of raw strength.

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Here's a pretty good article on cadence. beginnertriathlete.com/cms/article-detail.asp?articleid=433 –  user313 Sep 13 '10 at 17:34

8 Answers 8

up vote 22 down vote accepted

For any given speed, you can either spin at a higher cadence in a lower gear, or a lower cadence in a higher gear. The high cadence + low gear combination should reduce the strain on your joints since you don't have to push as hard. You just have to do it more often.

I like to ride around 90rpm and sometimes drift up to 100-110 especially if I'm trying to catch up to or overtake someone. I'll drop down to 80 for long, steep climbs (seated -- no idea what my cadence is standing).

Lance Armstrong apparently maintains 110rpm for efficiency. It took me a while to get used to 90 so I'd suggest building up to it slowly. Let us know when you can do 110 comfortably!

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Chris Carmichael, Lance A's coach, recommends higher cadences, and working to increase your overall cadence by about 10% per year. Some of his earlier books mentioned shooting for around 100 rpm on the flats, apparently there is some beneficial assist to circulation at that rate, which helps offload some of the work from your heart. While climbing he says you will usually need to drop down to around 70-75 rpm to be effective. –  Jay Sep 13 '10 at 21:38
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Oh, and bouncing in the saddle is the limiting factor for anything sustained. –  Jay Sep 13 '10 at 21:45
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The problem with trying to copy Lance is that he's a physiological freak of nature. The reason he uses a high cadence is to shift stress away from his legs and onto his freak of nature cardiovascular system. The best thing you can do is measure your power output at different cadences. I find I can generate the most power at 90 rpm. YMMV –  John Lam Sep 15 '10 at 4:31
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A big reason to have your cadence around 100 is that you are pressing down less for the same speed which in the long run will save your knees. Slow grinding pedaling will also grind out your knees. It is a bit tricky at first but when you get the hang of it over the course of a summer it will just feel natural. –  John Dyer Apr 23 '11 at 19:46
    
@JohnDyer and the Darkcanuck: What difference is seen in our muscles during different cadence? I heard calves are used for high and quad for low cadence, am I correct? –  Freakyuser Jul 25 '13 at 14:58

I'd rather see at least 70 most of the time, and never drop below 60 if there's any way to avoid it. Then again, I've always pedaled a high cadence -- even now (in my mid-40's) I break 160 RPM sprinting, and on a smooth road, I'm typically around 85-90 RPM.

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As I became more experienced I noticed that I began to spin at a higher cadence. I typically stay between 85-95 now, while when I started I spun at around 70.

But cadence is a very individual thing, and bike fit can play a large part in how comfortable you are at a particular cadence. If you find that you want to pedal faster, but have difficulty maintaining that cadence you might investigate slightly shorter cranks. By the same token, you may be a Jan Ulrich type, who mashes the pedals with tremendous force but a lower cadence - longer cranks may be the ticket for you.

Ultimately, ride at the cadence that feels comfortable to you.

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From experience and from what little I've read cadence beats power (and cadence with power is the winner) - in general you want to be turning the pedals more often with less effort in a smooth motion not stomping down each time.

To which end you probably want your cadence to be in the 90+ region as consistently as possible (including when climbing) I'm not quite sure where the ideal "band" is any more (is been a long while since I looked at this) but I think I was aiming for something like 85 to 105.

What I do recall, quite vividly, from racing the recumbent round velodromes was that changing down and getting the cadence back in band would usuall result in me going faster for a similar amount of effort (given that I had very little in reserve at the time).

I think that most of us (definitely the case for me at the moment) don't use a high enough cadence and I believe it is worth making the effort to pay attention to and to improve your cadence - but it is something you have to positively work at in the first instance.

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When you start bouncing in the saddle, then your cadence is too high and you should back it down some...

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Here's an anecdote: when I'm overtaken on a flat bike path, it's usually by a man who's wearing bike clothes and who's spinning faster than I am, and it happens when I'm going slowly because my legs are feeling tired. And if I downshift then to a faster cadence then I can suddenly go faster, and do a better job at keeping up with the person who just overtook me.

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I've always heard that lower cadences tend to put more stress on the knees, and I've definitely felt more knee pain after grinding away on higher gears on hill climbs and such, vs when I'm spinning more lightly on flatter terrain.

It kind of makes sense when you think about it -- you have to apply higher pressure against the pedal riding a higher gear. That might also partially explain why the pros keep a higher cadence. They need to spare their joints as much wear as possible.

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One aspect of cadence that hasn't been mentioned is that, ideally, the point of your gears is to allow you to maintain your optimal cadence and force on the pedals, while only varying your ground speed. If you had a ideal bicycle with an infinite number of gears, your pedaling cadence and force would be completely independent of uphills, flats, and downhills — you would simply go faster or slower based on conditions.

Obviously, you don't have an ideal bicycle, but the number of gears on modern bikes is more than enough to closely approximate it. So find a cadence that works for you and try to stay as close to it as possible. Eventually it will become second nature. You will spin faster in a sprint to increase your peak power, or slower to recover after the sprint, but outside of those, keep it constant.

Generally speaking, your optimal cadence will be where the load on both your anaerobic (strength/muscle) and aerobic (endurance/cardiovascular) systems are sustainable. At the constant power output, keeping your RPMs too low will tire your muscles, but ramping them up too high will exceed the capacity of your heart to keep up. However, it's much easier to increase your cardiovascular endurance than to increase your muscular endurance; that's what your heart excels at in the first place. So pushing your RPMs higher will (to a point), strengthen your heart and allow you to maintain a higher power output for longer periods of time.

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