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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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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
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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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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.

  • There is such as thing as an 'infinite geared' bike apparently .. Novara Gotham which uses a carbon fibre belt drive. – dodgy_coder Sep 11 '16 at 14:07
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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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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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When you start bouncing in the saddle, then your cadence is too high and you should back it down some...

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    Bouncing in the saddle is also a good indicator of poorly fitted bike or that more work is needed on pedaling form. – altomnr May 2 '16 at 14:44
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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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Cadence smadence, this old debate's being rehashed again.

Back in the olden days, like 100 years ago, there was only 1 gear on a bike, usually fixed. Euro racers varied their cadence from 20-180 RPM depending on incline, road conditions and wind speed. They could travel over 200 miles on a 40 lbs fixie.

For 30+ years the standard gearing on a racing bike was cranks 42/52, freewheel 13 or 14-24. Cyclists had to get off their rear ends and pump themselves up hills at low RPM and spin like crazy downhill or in a sprint. These guys mastered a very wide range of cadences and had more efficient cardiovascular systems and nicer muscular bodies, much more so than cyclists today.

Bernard Hinault, the 2nd greatest cyclist in history had this to say about perfect cadence, "Do both low and high cadence training, low cadence is good, it builds strength."

Now would you rather have the legs of Bernard Hinault or Andy Schleck?

All this emphasis on high cadence pedalling only is based on artificially hyperactive EPO bloodstreams of pro riders where cardio trumps muscle. Normal non dopers can't pedal efficiently like Lance Armstrong at 110 rpm. I say mash away until your knees say otherwise. Do spin too, for heart strength.

Just listen to your body, mash when you can't breath, spin when your legs are thrashed.

Go back and forth and you'll be a better all round cyclist and get the buff legs.

Spin only, and you'll be skinny.

When you get old with creaky arthritic knees never dip below 80 RPM on climbs, 90 RPM on flats.

Ride a single speed in 10 mph+ headwinds if you wanna force the issue from both extremes and get a great leg/heart workout.

Stop fixating on the cadence thing. Some serious mashing is good for you at regular intervals. Sprint intervals are even better, especially if you don't get your minimum mileage in.

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