What is Cadence in Cycling?


bicycle cadence

Master Your Cadence.

A common questions from cycling beginners is about cadence, what is cadence in biking? In this article you will find everything you need to understand cadence along with some insight on how to improve yours.

What is Cadence?

Cadence is all about the rate at which the cyclist pedals. Have you ever experienced that perfect stride where each pedal glides through its arch in an effortless fashion? That is perfect cadence, something cyclists strive to achieve. It is all about the revolutions per minute (RPMs). Cadence is a metric that professional cyclists pay close attention to as it is closely related to their power, speed, endurance, and fatigue.

Why does it Matter?

Cadence is used to make cycling easier for the cyclist. As your speed increases you find that each subsequent stroke is easier and places less force on your muscles. This is critical to cyclists, especially distance cyclists who need to conserve their energy. Using poor cadence is the easiest way to burn out on any sort of ride. By using your optimal cadence you will find greater endurance in your cycling ability along with a significant decrease in your fatigue.

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How Can I use Cadence?

Cadence is far more than just pedaling as fast as you can, it is about adjusting your pedal speed according to your ability as a cyclist. The great thing about cadence is that it is a highly accessible tool that riders of any skill level can begin implementing. There are a variety of simple training regiments to elevate your cadence to that of the professional cyclists.

For endurance cycling a high cadence with a low gear would most likely be appropriate. By cycling with a higher speed your slow-twitch muscle fibers would be engaged. These particular fibers use fat as their energy source which prevent tiring during long distance rides, they also recover quickly with a brief breaks. Within the cycling world this sort of cadence would be called “spinning”.

In some instances you may need a lower cadence at a higher gear, this is not an optimal cycling style and comes with a variety of downsides. This style of cadence may be necessary for scenarios like hill climbing and steep terrain. This however is extremely taxing on your muscles as you are activating your fast twitch muscle fibers. This style of cadence is referred to as “mashing” and is often not preferred due to the amount of work required to maintain this cadence.

Much like the muscle fibers that power your cadence, your cadence will require training to optimize. Professional cyclists are able to maintain around 100 RPMs which enables them optimal endurance while beginner cyclists will usually be around 60 RPMs.

How Do I Measure Cadence?

While it may seem like a simple question, cadence is not easy for the cyclist to measure on their own. Can you imagine counting your thrusts while keeping your eyes on the road? In training it may be easy to measure as you will be on a standing bicycle. Technology nowadays also has improved cadence tracking. Standing bicycles often contain devices for measuring and tracking cadence. There are also a variety of instruments for sale which can be attached to your cycle that will allow you to track your cadence on your rides. These are referred to as cyclocomputers.

Do I Need a Cyclocomputer?

Generally yes, but it depends on how serious of a cyclist you are. If you are a weekend warrior who does a small race or two a year you may not significantly benefit from a cyclocomputer. When it comes to longer and more intense races a cyclocomputer can be an invaluable instrument to improve your performance.

These instruments retail for $20 and up from cycling retailers everywhere with a mid level model selling for around $45. Higher end models will include a variety of additional features that may be invaluable for advanced cyclists including gearing monitors, heart rate sensors, weather information, and more. If these features are worth the price to you then a cyclocomputer is an excellent addition to your cycle.

How do I improve my cadence?

Cadence is a matter of discipline in training. The easiest way to improve your cadence is to focus on maintaining consistent RPMs throughout a distance ride. One thing to watch for is how quickly you tire as this will be a critical factor in determining the appropriate cadence for your level. Your goal will be developing the proper slow twitch muscle fibers for distance.

If you are a beginning rider you may begin with a training regiment that involves a one hour ride while aiming to maintain 60 RPMs. If you find that this speed leaves you with tired and cramped legs then consider shortening the distance or reducing your RPMs, you can always improve both as you progress with your training! When you have comfortably mastered the RPMs and distance of your training you can then begin to increase your workout.

How you increase your training will depend heavily on the goal of your training. If you are preparing for your first race then it may be optimal to increase the distance of your training. Your goal will be about finishing the race strong instead of achieving the best possible time. If you are a seasoned pro who has raced before then it would make sense to work on increasing your RPMs from 60 to 65 or above depending on your skill level and comfort. This will make it easier to boost your time and bring your optimal performance come race day.

Cadence is unique to both the cyclist and the conditions present. However, by putting in the work to master your cadence you will find your cycling efficiency skyrocket. Your rides will become significantly more enjoyable and you will be able to master both your speed and endurance. To become a cadence pro you will need to train while maintaining a steady RPM for the duration of your ride. By mastering cadence you will become a better rider with significantly less fatigue.