Training Rides | Picking Up the Cadence

Cadence = Not Just an Awesome Movie with Charlie Sheen
For the past couple weeks I have been working on improving my cadence when I ride. This is essentially the number of pedal rotations you take in a minute of cycling. Based on the information I have gleaned of the internets, beginning riders usually spin at around 50-60 rpm. While more experienced riders generally range around 80-100 rpm or so. Professional riders allegedly range closer to the 100-110 mark.

Average Cadence for Riders*
Beginners = 50 – 60 rpm
Intermediates = 80 – 100 rpm
Experts = 90 – 110 rpm

*These numbers are for straightaways on flat grounds without a stiff headwind. So, like a good Summer early morning in St. Pete, Florida.

It’s the Efficiency, Stupid!
Why these numbers? What do they mean? Why so? Well I am not entirely clear on that. But what I am told is that this is all about finding efficiency in your energy expenditure. So the higher cadences are recommended for endurance riding, and might sometimes be lower (depending on the riding style) for time trials – or just faster, shorter rides.

Where My Cadence At?
I received a cycling computer as an anniversary gift, and from that I have learned that my cadence is more similar to that of a beginning cyclist. Ouch. This hurts the old ego a little bit, if I had one, which I don’t because I am a Buddhist.

Average Cadence for Me*
73 = 19 mile ride (8/17/11)
74 = 54 mile ride (8/13/11)
75 = 16 mile ride (8/11/11)

I really feel like the way I ride isn’t all that bad. But I did find myself getting up in to the higher (faster, higher tension) gears more quickly than other people I ride with. I felt like it was faster and easier to keep the gears higher, and the rotations less frequent. I figured it was less effort, and that meant I could ride longer. I am still struggling with that still… so any feedback from advanced riders is appreciated. Here’s how I am managing my gearing, which affects my cadence.

*Expert Rider Input Requested*
I like to spin with a tension similar to that of… say… kicking an inflated basketball. In order to get my cadence up to 90, and maintain a manageable speed, I feel a tension more like that of kicking a super light beach ball. At the higher cadence, I also find that I am not as solid on my saddle. Do I just need to buck up and get that pedal stroke down till I can spin that high? Is ‘basketball’ tension about right? Too much or too little? Also, I think the heart rate goes up when the cadence goes up. Does that really lead to a more efficient effort for long distance? Or am I just outa shape?

Anyway, I have been working on it. And one of the ways that I try and stay on track – without having to watch my cycling computer all the time – is to count in my head, or imagine a rhythm like a hi-hat cymbal hitting a series of 16th notes.

Lately, here is what I hear in my head (and visualize in my brain) as I am trying get my feet moving to the 90 cadence beat.

I had to look the video up on youtube see how fast the Wicked Witch of the West (aka Mrs. Gultch or Elphaba) was pushing her chain. Turns out, not as fast as I had visualized. But, I think it will still help me get to the rotations I am aiming for.  I will keep on trying to Defy Gravity!


About Jennifer Andrews

is probably listing to musicals or covers and singing along.

3 responses to “Training Rides | Picking Up the Cadence”

  1. Jason Daniels says :

    Great post. It is most excellent to seeing for the topic you have expressed. I am looking very forward to hearing more information on this subject.

    Hahaha! I just made myself laugh. If you have ever spent any time managing a blog spam filter, this is how most posts begin (followed by the spammiest links imaginable)…

    Great post!

    I was interested to see your research on how beginning riders typically fall on the old cadence spectrum. Now I want to check the gear ratio on kids bikes (mostly of the single-speed coaster brake variety) and see if there is any correlation…

    Anyway… regarding harder gears / lower cadence versus easier gears / higher cadence, there are benefits to both:

    Pushing bigger gears is more taxing on the muscles and bones, making you stronger. Pedaling at a lower cadence is requires less from the heart and lungs, keeping your heart rate manageable, and keeping you from gulping for breath…

    Smaller gears are easier on the joints, which can make a big difference when you look at the cumulative effect over time. Also, the muscle composition of the heart and lungs is such that once you have acclimated to faster breathing and higher heart rates, you can go for much longer – you will run out of “leg” much faster.

    Another big benefit to running a higher cadence is that you have much more power on demand. Think of a transmission in a car – when you are in a higher gear and lower RPMs, it is not as easy to accelerate when necessary. If you have an automatic transmission, your car will downshift if you try to speed up.

    The reason why you are able to push higher gears is because you have strong legs. That is a good thing. Your legs want to feel like they are doing work (i.e. kicking a basketball), however, you can train your legs to feel comfortable spinning lighter gears, and reap the cardiovascular benefits.

    My training program includes drills that help me in both areas, as they both offer huge benefits to cyclists. Here is an example of each:

    High Cadence Drills:
    Warm up 15 minutes at easy / moderate pace
    Move to the small chainring / small cog (note: the small cog is actually a bigger gear)
    Start to increase cadence by downshifting cogs – remain seated the whole time
    Speed up cadence to maximum in 30 seconds – maximum cadence is the fastest you can pedal without bouncing. (When I started, I was about 120, now I can hit 160 – pro sprinters can get over 200… ridiculous!)
    After 30 seconds, relax – you will want to!
    Ride at an easy pace for 5 minutes
    Lather, rinse, and repeat…
    Go for 4 – 5 sets of these
    Cool down for a total of 15 minutes

    Big Gear Intervals: These are best done where there are hills / overpasses
    (Make sure you have a good 5 weeks of solid “base” training before attempting these, as your joints need to be in great shape to take the abuse)
    Warm up 15 minutes at easy / moderate pace
    Find a climb that will take about 3 – 4 minutes (you can simulate this with bigger gearing)
    Approach the climb at a slow / moderate speed (do not “attack”)
    Begin the climb, and begin shifting to find a gear that puts you at 50 rpms
    Remain seated! If you feel like you have to stand up to keep this cadence, then shift to the next easiest gear
    Once you have completed the interval, ride at an easy pace for 7 minutes
    Lather, rinse, and repeat…
    Go for 3 – 4 sets of these to begin with, if you do not experience any post ride joint pain, then you can add another set.
    Cool down for a total of 15 minutes.

    As you incorporate some of the high cadence drills, you will want to increase your regular riding cadence bit by bit. The key is moderation. I know how you are a good-time party girl, but remember how out of control you got at Tim’s wedding???

    Oh, yeah, and the video of Miss Gulch is no help. You can’t look to single-speed dustbowl hipsters for cycling guidance – they are much more interested in looking ironic than pedaling efficient circles. Oh, and by my count, it looks like her cadence is about 69 rpms. Hmmm…..

    I hope this helps! Keep on pedaling, and keep having fun!


  2. Laura Leigh says :

    In the interest of full disclosure and because I want to know, it may be important to note that Jenn does not use clipless pedals. Does this have an impact on cadence?

    • Jason Daniels says :

      Clipless pedals do help with overall efficiency, and there are some great drills that you can only do if you are running clipless, but it should not make a difference. I read somewhere that, contrary to popular belief, you are not getting much muscular benefit with the upstroke, or trailing foot. The goal as you increase cadence, and work the drills is to imagine the trailing foot “getting out of the way” of the pedal. Obviously, if you move the trailing foot faster than the leading foot, then you will come off the pedal, but with practice, this won’t happen.

      (FWIW, there are several proponents of platform pedals online, and they present compelling arguments, and one of the leading “voices” still recommends high cadence training).

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