I just wanted to know if I will be doing more effort while riding at the maximum gear all the time, rather than changing gears constantly.

My commute is an hour long, but I want it to be tougher on the muscles, I've tried going at the maximum gear all the time but I'm not sure I'm doing more effort by it.

Could someone confirm?

  • 4
    What do you mean by fitness? Cardio, strength, ability to walk? High gears typically means high force which will damage your knees. Questions like optimal cadence and high/low cadence may answer your question, in which case this is a duplicate. But if you're asking about training regimes that's a different thing.
    – Móż
    Jan 16, 2016 at 10:51
  • 2
    I'd go along with @Carel's answer below, but would also add that if you do ride in too high a gear (for the terrain, for your muscles) you risk damaging your knees. So be aware that there can be negative consequences to "going at the maximum gear all the time"
    – PeteH
    Jan 16, 2016 at 11:43
  • There is a fairly wide range of choices between effort and cadence that various people argue to be "optimal", but there are extreme points beyond which you shouldn't usually go, for extended periods. In particular, as PeterH suggests, riding in too difficult of a gear greatly increases the danger of knee damage over time. Plus, such a high gear is unlikely to be optimal from several training standpoints. Jan 16, 2016 at 13:33
  • 1
    The work required to propel your bike to work does not change with gear - you have same rolling and wind resistance. You have a good answer from Carel. You could sit up for more wind resistance or take a longer route if you want more exercise. An hour is good length commute - I would just ride it hard.
    – paparazzo
    Jan 16, 2016 at 14:01
  • Thinking of cycling as a strength training exercise is probably a mistake. Think how many sets/reps you'd do, or rather how few. Specific leg strength exercises may pair well with cycling, with care.
    – Chris H
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:57

3 Answers 3


No - Struggling away in the small rear cog/large front chainring combo is bad.

Fitness is an overall term that has many components, so:

  • If you want power you need to work on intervals, which is as fast as possible at full power for short burst times, then recovery time at a middling state.

  • If you want to train for endurance, being at the steady state for as long as possible, but working to nudge the steady state up to a consistently higher average.

  • If you want to get somewhere and not be too stinky, riding at 10-20% less than your steady state is good. I (try to) do this on the way to work, but its not easy. I leave the fast run for the scenic route home.

Simply pushing really hard on your gears means you're exerting a lot of force through your knees, and mine ache just thinking about it. Instead you want to pick a gear that keeps you around 90 RPM is the common thinking, but personally I pedal faster. Any lower than 60-70 is going to damage/hurt your knees faster and produce no gain in fitness.


No, the ideal is to keep up a constant high cadence rather than to apply maximum pressure. Gears were invented for just that reason. Explanation: Muscles work better and develop better under lower strain. The evacuation of waste (lactic acid) is blocked when the muscle is under higher load.

  • 4
    The statement "muscles develop better under lower strain" needs some qualification. If you are talking about muscle mass this is not the case.
    – ebrohman
    Jan 16, 2016 at 17:56

Cycling in a big gear is a very common training session for cyclists. Big gear & low cadence seated hill climbs are sessions I have done in the past. The idea is to build muscle and consequently strength. This on its own is not ideal - since one must also have the ability to spin a bigger gear. So other sessions are designed to improve pedal action & leg speed.

Bring leg speed together with more strength and you simply get faster.

Not so sure about the point about additional strain on the knees - since in theory by pushing a bigger gear in lower cadence doesn't mean you are going to be going any faster than if you are pushing in a smaller gear in faster cadence. And this means the power you can make is the same regardless of gear - for the same power output.

  • 2
    On the contrary, a bigger gear at a lower cadence can leave you with no momentum on really steep climbs just as the pedal is at TDC in the stroke. This can result in the front wheel leaving the ground when you do get some power on the pedal, and that's a really bad thing when on a steep grade.
    – Criggie
    Jan 17, 2016 at 6:17
  • 2
    If you read the first answer in the duplicate question I linked to above it suggests your final point is wrong. It'd be good if you could link to research showing that power doesn't depend on cadence. My understanding from the literature is that humans have a very definite power-cadence curve.
    – Móż
    Jan 17, 2016 at 11:05
  • I have Garmin Vector power meter pedals. The measured power over all my turbo sessions regardless of cadence does not change against speed / gearing. ie I have not produced more power over any measured time interval due to the gearing / cadence chosen. If momentum is proportional to speed and speed proortional to power and power unaffected by gearing - does this also mean momentum is unaffected?
    – OraNob
    Jan 17, 2016 at 12:05
  • 2
    When you're on a trainer, your momentum is almost zero since only the rear wheel moves, and power is the product of the rear wheel's speed and trainer resistance. With the trainer, the resistance is whatever the trainer is configured to, in real riding it's roughly proportional to square of speed on flat road.
    – ojs
    Jan 17, 2016 at 13:22
  • Apologies for any confusion. Power, cadence/gearing, speed measured on a turbo trainer was to illustrate the relationship between the three in isolation of terrain and hence my question regarding momentum.
    – OraNob
    Jan 17, 2016 at 16:12

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