I've recent purchased a road bike bit of a classic with the downtube shifters, lugged steel frame etc etc.

Before I mainly road my fixie, thou I do have another geared bike, but it left a bit to desired; just had the top tube indexed shifters, which were a little off to say the least. So between the both of them I never really bothered much with changing gears.

Now I hear a lot of the whole:

"spinning is winning"

I want to improve two things, my endurance and cadence.

I want to know what way to change gears in an efficient manner as to maintain optimal power output.

A situation that comes to mind:

Coming up to a hill to climb

--Fixie it was a cause of momentum is your friend ass off the seat and sprint on them pedals.

--What should I do on a geared bike and what are the signs of doing it right?

Other situations

  • Starting from standstill?
  • Coming to a stop?
  • Long prolonged climb?

3 Answers 3


If you want to improve your efficiency and endurance on your bike there are several strategies that you can use to accomplish that.

The "Spinning is winning" concept is only partly about when and how you change gears for a given situation. It is about making sure you use the mechanical advantage of your bike's drivetrain to ensure that every bit of energy you burn goes into making you move forward, faster.

For most cyclists, 90 RPMs cadence is an efficient balance point between speed and energy loss. And it can be remarkably hard to maintain that cadence in all situations. The "Spinning is winning" concept pushes that even farther. 100 to 110 RPMs is common for those cyclists following that track, and Lance Armstrong was well known for staying in 120 to 130 range.

In order to improve your metrics in this area, you need a way to measure them. If you don't have one, get a good wireless cadence capable cyclometer. Preferably one with training software included. I usually recommend the Garmin products, but they aren't cheap.

Then ride your bike. Try to maintain a cadence of 90 RPMs, regardless of your riding situation, once you're up to speed. That means when downhill, on flats, or uphill, your legs should always be moving at about the same rate.

This can only be accomplished by shifting your gears efficiently. As we move into the base of a hill, there is a natural tendency to set the body to engage with more power, to slow the cadence, and grind it out. Instead of doing this, increase your cadence slightly to build momentum for the hill, and as your cadence drops 10 RPMs below your goal (approximately) shift to a lower torque gear, and it should rise back up to your goal cadence, or slightly higher.

If you always pattern your shifts to keep your cadence consistent, you will find better aerobic fitness, and better efficiency on the bike, come naturally.

And once you can do it easily at 90 RPMs, move up to 100 as a goal, then 110. It will work.

  • Seems a purchasing a bike computer is next on the list of things to :)
    – will
    Apr 18, 2012 at 9:04
  • Yeah, if you don't have one with cadence. I would recommend a Garmin Edge 500 or Edge 800, if you have the budget. I use the Edge 800, and the Garmin connect training software is pretty good.
    – zenbike
    Apr 18, 2012 at 9:27
  • Bike computers are always pricey - a budget cadence meter can be found in your cellphone's MP3 player. Simply find music with a speed of 90 or 180 BPM and load a playlist. Only use one earphone for safety reasons, or use speakers (however spinning and bopping along to Disco music can earn you funny looks from other people !) I'm tempted to do a community wiki answer of titles and speeds, for reference.
    – Criggie
    Mar 2, 2016 at 0:43
  • Headphones, even one ear, highly unsafe while riding on the roads.
    – zenbike
    Mar 5, 2016 at 3:24

The answer depends on the cyclist. Some cyclists are mashers and some are spinners.

You are a masher if: - Lower cadence (70-80 RPM on flats) - More time standing on the climbs

You are a spinner if: - Higher cadence (80-100 RPM on flats) - More time sitting on climbs

I personally used to be a masher until I started mountain biking in the off-season. Now I'm more of a spinner.

I think the way to become a better spinner is to learn to climb at a higher cadence. This is a lot easier to do if you have a cadence sensor on your bike, otherwise you are going more by feel. But it seems the approach is to stand up in a lower gear to get your speed up and then downshift and sit. It should tax your heart more than your legs if you are spinning.

I think these same concepts apply to your other scenarios as well.

NOTE: There is nothing wrong with being a masher either. Joe Friel suggests doing the same climb twice with the same conditions. Once with lower cadence and once with high cadence. You might be faster and more efficient as a masher.

  • 2
    Of course, a lot depends on your goals too. If you're attempting a sprint then more mashing is appropriate. If you're looking at a ten mile climb in the middle of an 80-mile day then spinning conserves your strength/energy better. Apr 17, 2012 at 18:44
  • Yeah I'm pretty sure I'm a masher out of habit. I do have a new goal of getting larger distances under my belt and upping my endurance since it's pretty meh atm.
    – will
    Apr 18, 2012 at 9:09

A lot will come down to what works better for you - I tried for years to learn to get my cadence rate up, and I can happily go at a 100+ rpm, but not at a low gear as I find myself needing to push against something. What works for me is just brute force in a high gear. As @Bryant says - I'm a masher through and through.

Try both and see what works for you.

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