What is the cadence in cycling?
Cadence in cycling is the measure of how many times your legs turn over in one minute. That’s all there is to it, really – how fast you pedal your bike.
It might sound quite boring, but cadence in cycling can have a huge effect on your cycling efficiency and performance.
In this article, I’ll cover some common myths about cadence and the interesting science that explains why our bodies like high cadence riding so much. Yes, get ready for a science-filled post!
What is the low cadence in cycling?
Low Cadence is a very low pedaling speed. It usually refers to pedaling below 60rpm, which is equivalent to a power of 100 W (5.4 kJ/s).
Why should I care about Low Cadence?
Let’s take an example from life outside of cycling: If you are running on the treadmill and set it at 1 km/h (0.6 mph), that would be your Low Cadence! Very easy to maintain and you will burn calories quicker than walking but… Would you ever run outside like this?
And if so, how far could you go? Probably not that far without stopping because it does not feel natural or efficient. This might sound crazy but I have seen people using the same Low Cadence on a bike!
A race does not consist of one effort, but rather of many efforts that need to be paced well. A cyclist can go for long periods at his/her peak power output when needed (e.g.: climbs or time trials).
Cyclists are even able to produce more than 20 W/kg for an impressive amount of time and this is how you win races if you have good aerodynamics too.
It takes great fitness and a fine-tuned cardiovascular system to make all these things possible, which is why you should never forget about Low Cadence training! As simple as it sounds, your pedaling cadence in cycling will determine how fast you will burn fat!
What is the high cadence in cycling?
High cadence refers to a pedaling speed with a lot of revolutions that is measured in RAMs. The higher the cadence in cycling, the faster your legs are turning over.
Usually, you can only sustain high cadence for short periods of time before you fatigue…and/or risk destroying your knees and ankles if you don’t have good form and technique.
To calculate your current cycling cadence just count how many times one leg goes around in 1 minute while sitting on your bike without pushing off from anything.
Try this: Just sit on the bike for 60 seconds or so, don’t pedal but simply roll back and forth on the seat like you were trying to go nowhere (to ensure no deception).
Then when time is up, just counting how many times your right leg moved around, then add that to how many times you counted with your left and divide the total by 2.
How to improve cadences in cycling?
- Make them faster but shorter so you don’t have to recover as much.
- Work on the explosive power needed for quick acceleration.
- Get better at running fast (and use cycling to improve running!).
The first two are probably more familiar than the last one: lots of resistance work with short pauses between reps is a good way to get faster cadences (For example, pedaling against your own body weight + strap in the trainer).
Likewise, lots of high-pedaling drills (i.e. practicing using your upper leg muscles with extra weight added), or doing slightly easier/sedentary intervals while adding 5 x 15 steps run-run are great ways to get better at running fast!
Role of cadence in cycling
A new study examining the role of cadence in cycling finds that a higher cadence is as efficient as lower cadences, but also reduces the forces on hip and knee joints during pedaling.
The findings add to mounting evidence that cyclists should adopt larger pedal revolutions per minute (rpm), perhaps by changing gearing or using special shoes with reduced cleat protrusion.
Most studies on the topic have compared top-end efforts at similar power outputs, says Inigo Mujika, an exercise physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead author of the new paper.
“But you cannot do that in everyday cycling,” he notes. “In real life, people cycle all day from home to work—60 km—at a low cadence they have adapted to.”
Mujika and his colleagues sought to address these limitations of previous studies by comparing three different pedal rates at similar power outputs, all performed at the same (low) gearing.
The rate was based on the rpm that produced 80% peak torque in each subject. The cyclists started from a self-selected cadence, pedaled for 30 s against a resistance equal to 4 W/kg body weight, rested for 30 s, and repeated this sequence until volitional exhaustion.
All three-pedal rates involved about 3,000 rpm during maximum effort; this was also the rate used most consistently during daily cycling (see figure). But it contrasts with the majority of everyday efforts that reportedly hover around 90 rpm, according to Mujika.
How to calculate cadence in cycling?
It is a pretty simple thing, to calculate cadence in cycling, you simply need to divide the number of pedal revolutions by time. For example, say your bicycle has 200mm cranks and the “rev counter” is showing between 60-80 rpm then
Cadence = 200/60 = 3 (or three) times per second. You would have one full pedal cycle every 3 seconds. If you peddle faster you will get more revolutions for the same time period. If you do not understand pedaling, go here first.
Here are some vocabulary words that describe different ways of spinning: Smooth Spin – when someone pedals around their normal cadence and they take relatively long smooth strokes – this is probably what most people think of as a cadence.
Fast Spin – when someone tries to pedal faster than they normally do by taking short quick strokes, this increases the power for hill climbing or sprinting but also makes it harder to keep control of your bike.
Smooth fast spin – when someone takes long smooth strokes, but they use more force than normal cadence so that their RPM is relatively high compared to their normal cadence.