Top cyclists average 300 to 400 watts of power when riding. That’s enough energy to power three to four 100 watt bulbs. They achieve this power by knowing their ideal cadence.
Whether you’re are road racing, doing triathlons, or just interested in fitness, your cycling cadence is important for pedaling at your maximum efficiency.
When you pedal at maximum efficiency you’ll be able to ride longer and build more muscle and endurance.
1. What is a Cycling Cadence?
Cadence is the speed of the rotations of the gears. This needs to be looked at in conjunction with power and torque.
Torque is the force that the rider is putting on the pedals. Power, or watts is the torque times the cadence.
A lower cadence requires higher force. This means more fast muscle movements.
A higher cadence requires less force. This means less or slower muscle movements.
2. Understand Where Your Energy Goes
Pedaling with a high cadence in a low gear will cause a rider to lose up to 60% their energy. For example, using a small gear at 110 rpm results in 60% of the rider’s energy going to their own body.
Ony 40% of the energy output went into the spinning cranks. This is incredibly inefficient.
The goal is to find the cadence that maximizes the rider’s muscle efficiency. Muscle efficiency is the speed at which the rider’s muscles contract.
3. Faster Isn’t Always Better
Many riders believe that a faster cadence is always the way to go. These are the people whose legs are spinning around like mad with no resistance.
Sure technically the faster you pedal, the faster you should go. It isn’t always that simple though.
Pedaling fast with no resistance will burn calories. It doesn’t improve your performance.
4. Find Your Normal
When looking at professional cyclists, each one has their own preferred cadence. Lance Armstrong preferred a higher bicycle cadence. Jan Ulrich preferred a low biking cadence style.
There is a typical range of normal that most cyclists will find their comfortable cadence in. This range is between 80 and 100 RPM.
It’s important for beginners in the world of cycling to not compare themselves to experienced riders. Those who have been riding for a while will pedal faster due to the development of their leg muscles and endurance.
5. Context is Key
When you began to train with power you will learn that there are many different ways to achieve your goal. Each rider needs to find the method that works for them.
Three riders riding at 60, 80, and 100 RPM can all have the same watts. Each rider will be using the method that feels easiest to them.
6. Cardiovascular vs. Muscular
A higher cadence is going to put stress on your cardiovascular system. A lower cadence, in contrast, is going to put stress on your muscular system.
When a rider chooses a lower cadence more of their muscle’s fibers are required. The muscles are required to contract and release using more of the muscles in your legs.
This makes the stress on the muscular system high. The oxygen consumption is low with this method, meaning the cardiovascular system doesn’t experience as much stress.
A higher cadence doesn’t require a lot of force and work from the muscles. The legs move more rapidly, which requires a lot more oxygen consumption.
7. Consider the Terrain
All of the math a rider has done to find the ideal cadence can mean nothing when it comes to riding hills and mountains. When attempting hills a rider needs to take into consideration the assent and dissent.
When ascending hills or mountains a rider may want to lower the resistance. This way a rider’s legs are working against the hill and not the hill and the bike.
When the resistance is too high a rider will twist their body and throw their weight around while pushing the pedals down. This puts too much stress on the knees and increases the risk of injury.
8. Know Your Crank Length
When a crank length is too long a rider will have to reach too far when they go through the motion of pedaling. This results in loss of efficiency.
A shorter crank will open the hips so they can relax. The glute muscles will engage more.
9. Start Tracking
Riders that are serious about finding their ideal cadence need to start tracking. A cadence sensor or bike computer will track a rider’s performance and is one of the hottest triathlon trends of 2018.
A cadence sensor works in a similar manner as a speedometer and pedometer. It measures the rider’s energy output in the form of RPMs.
A quality cadence sensor will be a set of devices. They will need to be mounted on the bike.
The first device is mounted on a spoke. The second device is mounted on the frame. When the spoke sensor passes by the frame sensor a rotation of the wheel is recorded.
10. Types of Sensors
When shopping for a cadence sensor there are three main types to be on the lookout for. Riders that are looking for cadence tracking need to be sure that the sensor they buy is going to give them the data they are looking for.
A speed only sensor is only going to track the distance and speed of the ride based on the circumference of the wheel. While this is useful, it is not a complete picture
A cadence only sensor is only going to track the rotations of the crank arm in a minute. This may help riders take their first steps into tracking their cadence.
To get the full picture of a rider’s cadence, a speed, and cadence combo sensor is needed. A bunch of sensors placed on the bike will track both the speed and cadence data for a full picture.
Technology is Your Friend
To find the ideal cycling cadence need to fully understand what cadence is and how it affects performance. Finding a rider’s ideal cadence will increase endurance and energy efficiency.
It’s important to remember that the ideal cadence will change depending on the rider’s experience, the terrain, and crank length.
Find out what other wearable technology you need to embrace when training for your next triathlon.