Cycling Cadence Explained
When cyclists want to improve their cycling, they are often perplexed about what to change to improve.
Change is indeed essential to improvement. What can you change? Of course, you can change bikes and components. They may make some difference. However, that is not the first thing beginning cyclists should change for improvement.
As one of my cycling mentors told me long ago,
It is not the machine that makes the difference, It is the Motor
It is you, the cyclist, who needs to make some changes to improve your cycling.
There are some fundamental changes that you can make that will improve your cycling. Good nutrition, weight loss, and more time in the saddle will all help you improve. All such improvements will be helpful.
Many cyclists are unaware of how cycling cadence affects speed and comfort during long rides.
As I write this post, the Tour de France is steadily approaching its halfway point. While watching these professional cycling events, I am always impressed how members of the pro peloton seemingly fly down the road without showing a lot of effort.
When the pro peloton is racing hard, some riders pedal fast, while others pedal noticeably slower. Yet, they are all moving at the same speed. The difference is the rate of cadence each is turning.
What is cycling cadence?
The definition of cycling cadence is the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) that you turn the crank (turn the pedal).
How is Cycling Cadence measured?
It has only been in the last few decades that cyclists have been able to measure their cadence precisely.
Today cadence, in terms of RPMs, is measured by cyclocomputers. These mini-computers measure more than their forerunner, the cyclometer, which measured speed.
Cyclocomputers record various basic cycling metrics, including speed, average speed, maximum speed, trip time, total distance rode, and the current time. High-powered models add altitude, grade percentage, heart rate, navigation (via GPS), and cadence.
To measure the cadence, you need a cyclocomputer and a cadence sensor. First, attach the cadence sensor to the crank. Then check to make sure the sensor communicates paired to the cyclocomputer via Bluetooth or ANT+.
Position the cyclocomputer on the handlebars, so you can easily read it while on the road.
There are several brands of cyclocomputers on the market. For many years Garmin has been the choice of most cyclists. However, recently, Wahoo has begun to grab a large share of the market. Currently, many riders in the pro peloton now use a Wahoo cyclometer.
What is a correct cadence? Are You a Masher or a Spinner?
As mentioned in the beginning, in pro ranks, you will see some riders turning the pedals very quickly and others much slower.
Those pedaling faster are often called spinners. The riders who are pedaling slower are called mashers.
Cadence sensors and the cadence measurement only tell you how fast you are turning the crank. The higher the gear you are using, the easier it is to produce a faster cycling cadence.
We cannot talk constructively about cadence without also talking about the gear you are in.
Mashers usually ride in a low gear. However, due to the effort to turn that low gear, these mashers pedal slower.
Whether you are a masher or spinner, you should be in a gear that you can maintain, with a comfortable cadence over a long duration during a typical training ride.
Researchers have found that a cadence of 100 rpm results in less fatigued muscles than turning only 60 rpm at the same wattage output.
For most club riders, an average cadence between 85-95 is optimal for long rides.
What is a long ride? That all depends on your desires and abilities. If you think it is long, then it is long for you.
If you are open to and interested in a long, technical study of cadence, here is a significant research report.
As mentioned above, these days, cadence is most often recorded by cyclocomputers.
Garmin and Wahoo are the top two brands of cyclocomputers. I will cover these and others more in-depth in an upcoming article.
For most club riders, the Wahoo will serve you best. It is simple to use and has a large display. (click on the image for a closer look).
Garmin’s array of cyclometers are the most well known due to their long history of being the first full-function cyclocomputer. For many years, Garmin had no real serious competitors. It is still very popular. (click on the image for a closer look)
I began riding a bike with my club more than ten years ago. I have only paid attention to cadence in the past three to four. Before that, I only paid attention to my speed and gears.
Of course, I noticed the mashers and the spinners. I would experiment with each. I pedaled a low gear as a masher and pedaled a higher gear with a much faster cadence.
It was not until the past two years, after buying a Wahoo Element, that I have monitored and recorded my cadence.
I have increased my comfort and average speed by maintaining an average cadence between 80-90 rpm on rides of 20 miles to 70 miles.
Even when climbing hills, I spin at a higher rate than I did in the past. Surprisingly, I am not as exhausted carrying my large body to the top of a 5 to 8 percent grade. I like everyone else on steeper hills, laboriously pedal much slower to get to the top of some of our 10 to 15 percent hills here in North Texas.
Our 5 Key Elements to Comfortable Cycling discusses factors other than cadence.
I would love to hear about your experience with monitoring cadence on your rides. Leave comments below.
Here are some excellent workouts that will improve your cadence speed.