What Is Cycling Cadence?

If you’re a cyclist, you’ve come across different jargon in this sector, each with its unique meaning and application. What is the meaning of cadence, and is it important for a cyclist?

What Is Cycling Cadence thumbnail

Cycling entails a lot of actions put together to have the bike move. One of the crucial things you have to do to have your bike move is pedaling. As you move downhill or uphill, you’ll encounter different challenges that require you to be smart to win.  

If you want to learn more about cycling cadence, this article is for you. We’ll help you understand what cadence is and its importance in a rider’s life.  

What Is Cycling Cadence?

If you love watching professional cyclists do their thing, you’ve probably admired how they do it effortlessly but at a higher speed. They move their legs smoothly, in a coordinated way regardless of the terrain. What makes them achieve this is having the right cadence.

Cadence is the rate at which a rider pedal. It’s the number of revolutions your pedals make in a minute while you cycle. Every cyclist has their cycling rates depending on fitness, experience, and nature of the trail. For example, an experienced cyclist will pedal very fast on a flat track, with their cadence being 100 revolutions per minute (RPM). However, when riding on hilly terrain, they’ll pedal slower but might maintain the cadence.

What Is Cycling Cadence
What Is Cycling Cadence?

This will be different with an amateur rider who will pedal slowly at 80 RPM while an average cyclist will manage 60 RPM. Also, if you’re pedaling at a high cadence, it’s likely to reduce when you get tired. You will, in this case, reduce your pedaling speed to help conserve your energy. It’s best to pedal regularly to have a consistent cadence and improve certain aspects of your training.

Related: What Is FTP and Why Does It Matter for Cyclists?

What Is the Right Cadence I Should Have?

Every rider aspires to have the best cadence. However, not everyone will have the same RPM rate for various reasons. The difference in cadence comes about because of varying experience levels, as riders who’ve covered many miles pedaling know the right cadence that suits them.

Also, each ride’s nature of terrain and demands will determine your cadence. So, it’s best to experiment with different situations to help you identify your best cadence. But have an aim of improving your cadence and not increasing it.

What Is the Right Cadence I Should Have

Most cyclists work hard to have a cadence of 90 RPM, which is achievable through consistent training. The recreational riders can manage a 60-80 RPM, while the pro cyclists can do between 90 and 110 RPM.

If you ride at a high cadence of 85-90 RPM, your lungs and heart will experience more stress. But the same cadence will prevent your legs and back from straining, reducing fatigue in these areas. You can work to reduce the stress on your lungs and heart by improving your fitness level, allowing you to pedal for long.

On the contrary, cycling at a lower cadence will make you push the pedals harder to get the cranks moving. This will let your knees, back, and hips strain to sustain the low speed, making them painful.

Related: How to Choose a Mountain Bike: A Buying Guide

Riding In a Bigger Gear

If you ride in a bigger gear that is hard to push pedals, you’ll have to cover a long distance per pedal stroke and use a lot of strength. You will also need to have good muscle strength to pedal the big gear, which can be challenging to maintain if you’re cycling for a longer distance. Your chances of getting injuries also increase when you ride in bigger gear.

What Happens If You Cycle in A Small Gear?

If you ride a small gear that is easy to pedal, you’ll not struggle as when pedaling a big gear. You will turn the bike’s crank three times to cover the same distance as one revolution in a bigger gear. The strength level also differs as you’ll pedal easily.

What Happens If You Cycle in A Small Gear

Remember, you cannot change your cadence faster as it’s a process that requires time. Depending on your body state and last cadence, it can take weeks to months. However, you need to put in a lot of effort and concentrate more on changing your cadence.

How To Measure Your Cycling Cadence

If you intend to change your cadence, it’s best to know your current RPM. Knowing your rhythm will help you work towards achieving your long-term training goals. It will also help you be much fitter and reduce injuries and fatigue levels.

You can do that by;

  • First, choose the right trail/road with no vehicle interruptions. Opt for a flat route that will allow you to do a 30-20 minutes ride.
  • Then ride at your normal speed while counting the number of times your left or right knee comes up in the 30-second ride.
  • If you double that number, you’ll get your revolution per minute. You can repeat the process about three times and calculate your average cadence.

However, there’s a better way of getting accurate cadence easily with technology. You can use several tools to measure your cadences, like Wahoo, Garmin, and Bontrager. You can rely on the cadence sensors to help determine this.

How To Measure Your Cycling Cadence

You should attach this cadence sensor to the left chainstay. This is on the crank arm using a magnet. After that, the sensor will record the number of rounds it covers and then remits the reading to your bike’s computer. The cadence sensor will have all the records of your cycling, enabling you to analyze your progress.

A power meter can also measure your cadence and remit the reading to your computer.

Related: Can You Get a DUI on a Bike?

How To Improve Cycling Cadence

If you’ve interacted with veteran cyclists, they’ll advise you to improve your cadence rather than increase it. You should do this after knowing your current cadence and then work towards changing it. For example, if your current cadence is 80 and you want to improve, it’s best to switch to easy gear but maintain your speed.

As you begin working for the change, it will come with many challenges as your body is not used to such. However, you need to be patient and give your body and brain time to adapt to the new cadence. Then when training, focus on your fitness and not the cadence and achieve your desire without much effort.

How To Improve

It’s advisable to try indoor training sessions to help you improve your cadence. This is because there are less interactions indoors, making you stay focused. During the session, you’ll not concentrate on your rider friends or get interrupted by traffic or cars.

Consider adding your training sessions per week to increase/improve your cadence. You can introduce 2 to 3 20 minutes training sessions to see the change.

Related: What Is MIPS Helmet?

The Two Training Sessions to Help You Improve Your Cadence

Some recommended training sessions will help you improve your cadence. These will help you improve your pedaling fluidity and build your strength.

They include;

Training 1: Pedaling Fluidity and Coordination

You can do 20 minutes of 4 by 4 minutes at 120 RPM. Then take a minute to cool down. During this session, ensure you maintain your upper body still and let your energy concentrate from the waist downwards.

Training 2: Strength Endurance

Concentrate on a lower cadence drill with high power output if you want to build your strength. Do 2 by 15 minutes blocks of 50-60 RPM at an 89 to 90 FTP. Then take about 10 to 15 minutes to recover fully.

Benefits And Disadvantages of High Cadence

There are good sides to improving your cadence and achieving a higher RPM. On the other hand, it’s disadvantageous pedaling at a higher cadence, so you need to watch out. We’ll elaborate on both below.

Pros Of High Cadence

  • It will help you when cycling uphill with less stress on your vital body parts and win the race easily. If your cadence is high and you’re approaching a hill, you’ll not worry about it or try to change the gear. You will, in this case, face the mountain, pedal, and do the necessary to climb it without changing speed. This is because your legs won’t get tired faster as there’s delayed fatigue.  
  • High cadence will help you adapt to different situations without feeling a pinch. You can comfortably go from low to high and vice versa.
  • It also enables you to pedal faster, reducing muscle, back, and legs strains. This will help you have improved blood flow to the muscles. When your muscles have enough blood, the oxygen level also increases, enabling you to do a higher aerobic performance.

Disadvantages Of High Cadence

  • It makes you get fatigued faster as you pedal at high RPM, wasting energy. This can make you not ride for long, cutting the fun, especially if you’re not fit.
  • A higher cadence also increases your heart rate and stresses the lungs, affecting your overall body performance.

Related: What Is the Best Bike for Commuting?

Advantages And Disadvantages of Low Cadence

Low cadence is preferred by beginners who are learning how to stay fit and pedal faster. It also has its pros and cons, just like the other type.

Pros of Low Cadence

  • It reduces the stress on your heart and lungs.
  • Low cadence makes you subject your muscles to stress and reduces oxygen consumption in the body.

Cons Of Low Cadence

  • Low cadence brings a lot of pressure on your back, hips, and knees. Such will leave you in pain after a training session. Since the recovery time of these body parts takes longer, you might stay out of training for some time affecting your performance.

What Is the Best Cadence for Losing Weight?

Sometimes your main aim for cycling is losing weight and getting the desired body structure. Remember to lose weight, you need to burn fats in your body. The best cadence which will enable you to burn these fats is a low cadence. This is a 40 to 60 RPM which will allow you to burn more fat using less energy.

What Is the Right Cadence for Beginner Cyclists?

As a beginner cyclist, your energy levels might not sustain high cadence, and you’re prone to get tired faster. So, it’s advisable to begin with a lower cadence of about 60 RPM and work towards improving it to about 85-90 RPM. 

Remember, your fitness level might be lower, affecting how you sustain long, tough training sessions. Go for low cadence, which will not interfere with your heart rate and lungs that can reduce your body’s oxygen levels. But be patient to improve your cadence as it’s not an overnight experience.

Related: Mountain Bike Sizing Chart: What Size Do I Need

Bottom Line

Every cyclist is wired differently with unique capabilities. However, each strives to have the highest cadence to enable them to win races and be an admiration amongst other riders. This isn’t bad. However, you need to first work with what you’re comfortable with and then look at the best ways to improve. You can train regularly to help improve your cadence. But understand that your level of experience and the nature of the trial will determine your level of cadence.

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