What Is Cycling Cadence?


When cyclists talk about cycling cadence, do you actually know what they are talking about? What is cycling cadence and how does it impact the way you cycle and your speed?

What Is Cycling Cadence?

When cycle riders talk about cadence they are talking about the number of pedal revolutions per minute (RPMs).

Each time your foot performs one full revolution it is counted as 1 revolution. So if your right foot starts at the top position and ends up again at the top position that’s 1 revolution. If your right leg completes 60 such revolutions in a minute then you are doing 60 RPM.

If your RPM is too low you will struggle to rotate the pedals and therefore struggle to move forward on your bicycle. If the RPM is too high your legs will be spinning too fast and you will be wasting energy, in addition to bouncing up and down in your seat.

When you are at your optimum cadence or RPM, you will be able to cycle at the maximum speed without overtiring your legs allowing you to ride for extended periods of time. The fitter you are, the higher your speed will be even though your cadence may be the same as someone moving at a slower speed.

There are many bicycle computers available now that can measure your cycling cadence. Fatigue for cyclists comes mainly from how hard they press on the pedals, not how fast they turn them. So in the end it is all about the clever use of gears.

what is cycling cadence

    Most cyclists will have a certain cadence speed which they feel comfortable with when they are out riding. Because most bikes today come with a large number of different gears, it makes life easier for the cyclist, as he can stick to a cycling cadence that suits him, through a good range of different speeds that he is traveling.

    Pedaling cadence can be measured with a basic bike computer. Most long-term cyclists will agree that anywhere between 70 and 90 RPM is good for all-day riding, perhaps a little higher for a harder effort, and maybe a little lower if you’re an ultra-endurance athlete.

    Typically a common cyclist will look at having a cadence of between sixty and eighty revs per minute (RPM), whilst pro (racing) cyclists will look at theirs being between 80 and 120 revs per minute (RPM).

    However, pro bike riders will typically be able to manage 170 RPM for brief distances.

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    How to Determine Your Optimal Cadence

    • First find a route that is about 10 miles (15 km) long, and preferably flat with no traffic lights or other obstacles that will slow you down. A 10 mile (15 km) ride is long enough to ensure that if you are pedaling too hard you will not be able to keep it up for very long because of lactic acid buildup.
    • Cycle this route pedaling at different RPMs. Try starting at 60 RPM and move up in increments of 10 RPM until you reach 120 RPM. You should probably not do all of these on the same day as fatigue may skew your results.
    • You’ll also need to pick a gear since maintaining the same RPM on different gears requires different levels of effort. You’ll need to select a gear based on “feel” i.e. pick a gear that allows you to move at a good speed while not exhausting your legs. If you do get tired, lower the gear so you can maintain the RPM you started with.
    • As you do these practice rides you should monitor your heart rate and the time it takes you to finish the distance.
    • You can also monitor how you feel as you ride e.g. your perceived level of exertion.
    • Your objective is to find out which cadence allows you to complete the route the quickest with the lowest average heart rate or the least perceived level of exertion.

    However, there are numerous cyclists that believe one form of cadence is much more efficient than another. But the cadence that is preferred by each rider is completely different. Yet with racing cycle riders the variations in their most preferred cadences are extremely insignificant compared to those that just enjoy cycling for pleasure instead of as a competitive sport.

    What’s crucial to note that each cyclist will have his individual range of cadences that he likes and are much tinier than the general ranges which have been previously noted above? But what their preferred cadences are will actually influence the number as well as the range of gears that they have on their bike and which they feel are applicable for the conditions in which they ride.

    Today there are many company’s that produce devices for measuring the cadence on a person’s bicycle like the one shown here.

    These little PCs are located on to the handlebars of the user’s bicycle and then a tiny magnet is placed close to the pedal sprocket. Then as the rider is out cycling or competing in a race they will see on the tiny PC screen ( which is mounted to the handlebars ) their cadence info.

    I am hoping that after reading this post your question of what is cycling cadence is answered. Please comment below if you have anything else to add.

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