If you are new to road cycling, it’s likely that you are still getting your head around all of the jargon that you see online or that others are discussing at your local bike shop. One of the most common is ‘cadence’. So what is cycling cadence? And, why does it matter?
What is cadence?
Cadence is the number of revolutions your pedals make per minute – measured in Revolutions Per Minute (RPM).
It doesn’t take long to realise that everybody’s cadence differs, some prefer a fast cadence and some slow. Even when you watch the pros. Depending on their cycling style, and the track/terrain their cadence will slightly differ. This is how they have been trained to get the most out of their body and bike.
Take Chris Froome as an example, who is synonymous with high-cadence climbing. He still manages to maintain a cadence of 100 RPM when ascending uphill.
Whereas the average recreational rider will pedal much slower at around 60rpm, with fitter and more dedicated riders hitting 80-90rpm.
So, does it matter if I have a lower or higher cadence? Let’s dive into the benefits of each, how to measure cycling cadence and what cadence you should be aiming for.
Why should I care about my cycling cadence?
Cadence is an important measurement, as it directly relates to the power output you have on the bike. Your power output on a bike is a multiplication of how hard you push on the pedals and how fast you can turn them.
Therefore to increase your power output and thus your speed, you will want to increase either of those.
If you have a large muscular build you can generate lot’s of downward force on the pedals even at a relatively low cadence, or if you have a leaner physique you will probably generate less torque, but be able to pedal with a greater cadence – both achieving similar results in power and speed.
It’s worth noting that cycling at a lower cadence will put more strain on your muscles, whereas a higher cadence will be more taxing on your cardiovascular system – it’s up to you to determine where your strengths lie.
How to measure cadence:
The old-school method to measure your cadence prior to any fancy sensors and devices is to just count how many times your legs go up and down over the span of a minute.
Alternatively, there are many cadence sensors on the market that fix on your left-side chainstay. A magnet that is then attached to your crank arm passes and triggers the sensor every time your pedals complete a full rotation.
This data is passed onto your bike computer so you have a record of your cadence. You can view your average cadence over a particular ride, or see how it is differing from week to week.
Some other cadence devices will attach to your crank arm and work as a stand-alone unit, or if you have a power meter this should measure cadence too.
What is the best cycling cadence?
To be totally honest, there isn’t one. Cadence depends on a wide range of factors and these often vary from rider to rider (we have already mentioned physique and power output).
But experience also plays a huge role here. The more you are out on your bike, the faster you will find your ideal cadence, and most riders will self-select their cadence without putting too much thought into it.
You will also be riding on new terrain and be faced with different riding challenges from time to time which will call for a new cadence to what you might have experienced last week. So it’s best not to overthink it and judge it more on the day.
What is useful is knowing that you have the ability to cycle at 70 rpm and then can ramp it up to 80-90 rpm if needed.
How to improve your cycling cadence
Instead of having the mindset that you need to be constantly increasing your cycling cadence, instead, think that you need to improve it.
This means being able to cycle at multiple cadences, whilst remaining efficient, keeping good posture, and staying stable.
Try training with high cadences at low gears to train your neuromuscular system to pedal smoothly, and at low cadences with high gears to improve your muscular strength.