Updated March 23rd 2020
Paddy Doran High performance Cycling and Triathlon coach,. Does your pedalling cadence give you the most speed for the effort that you make
I was a spectator at a triathlon some time ago in the Phoenix and it was brilliant to see about a thousand competitors cycling and running around the Park.
However I noticed that there was a big difference in some of the competitors cycling efficiency. It varied from some (a minority) looking very efficient with a smooth pedaling style. Quite a number of athletes did not seem to understand how to use the gears and how to select the best gear or cadence for their speed and the terrain they were on.
Mistakes on the flat
Some athletes were pedalling much too fast and using the inside (small) chainring on the front when the outside (large) chainring or a smaller sprocket on the back wheel would have gained more speed for them.
Mistakes climbing on the Khyber hill
Some of the athletes were pedaling too slowly at very low revs by using the large chain ring and small sprockets (hard Gear? ) on the rear wheel to climb the Khyber pass.
Others were spinning the legs too fast by using too big a sprocket and the small chainring (easy gear? ) on the back wheel..
This is not so surprising with people who are new to cycling, especially with the amount of gears to choose from on a modern day racing bike.
How to select the best gear Ratio
Selecting the most suitable gear for the conditions can be learned quite easily. And with some effort can then be refined and become automatic for the cycling section.
Do you drive a car
Relate it to driving a car when you are on the open road it’s usual to drive at a speed in a gear and RPM that is most efficient for the car. It’s the same for the human body.
If very low revs are used: the main demands are on the muscles and ligaments and muscles tire quicker.
If the revs are too high: it places heavy demands on the cardiovascular system so you get out of breath more quickly.
Best Cadence zone for big performance
Every individual will be slightly different in regard to ideal cadence but there is a zone where the majority of cycling athletes operate best.
Study the professional Triathletes or Cycling time trial specialists. Their cadence is usually within a fairly narrow zone according to what suits them best.
Average Cadence zone: The majority of elite Triathletes and cyclists ride time trials between 80 to 105 pedal revs per minute. However within that zone some might prefer to ride the course between 80 to 90 revs and others might ride the course between 90 to 105 revs.
Racing and some training at race pace on various types of circuits will let you know what cadence works best for you.
How to develop great pedalling efficiency
Practise gear and cadence selection while training. Have a goal to change gears x amount of times for every session until selecting the right gear becomes Automatic.
Cycle on undulating Routes where the gears need to be changed regularly as speed increases or slows.
Safety Safety Safety Safety Safety Safety Safety Safety
Your safety is the most important thing. So, always look where you are going. It is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS to look down at the sprockets or chain rings to see what gear you are using.
Accidents while looking down at gears usually involve coming to a sudden stop as the cyclist rides into the back of a parked vehicle. This kind of accident can produce life altering injuries. So, Always look where you are going.
You must become proficient at changing gears. Develop understanding of how to get to the best gear and cadence for the terrain and speed that you are cycling at.
The big questions for safety and efficient cadence
- Am I pedaling too fast? Are the pedals running away from me?
- Am I pedaling too slow?Am I pushing too hard? Does the gear feel sluggish/ am I slogging?
- Does this gear and cadence feel perfect?
- Always make adjustment of the gears according to the answers to above
Tools to improve cadence
A turbo trainer is a great resource for practising efficient pedaling and gear changes. Keep practising changing the gears until you can do so automatically.
A simple cadence meter is very useful for training and racing for a beginner..
Use the cadence meter for some of the race speed efforts.. And maintain the effort within the zone you are targeting.. For example if you want to maintain around 90 rpm then operate in between 85 to 95 RPM.
When it drops below 85 change to a larger sprocket….. if it increases above 95 rpm change to a smaller sprocket.
Using a power meter with heart rate and perceived exertion can give good feedback on your most suitable cadence for various type of efforts.
Comparing heart rate and perceived exertion against power and time for a climb of a few kilometres could be a good test.. See what it feels like, heart rate and time for a measured distance at difference cadence.
Safety Safety Safety Safety Safety Safety
How is your very best computer?
This is going to sound far too simple but don’t get in the way of the best computer known, and that’s your brain.
If you don’t have a cadence meter, Just get on the bike and pedal according to what feels natural and your brain will do the rest if you let it…
Keep it simple
Nothing fancy, just pedal, all the rest of stuff just gets in the way… the one legged pedalling sessions – the complete circle – pulling up on the pedals and all the other gimmicky things DO NOT WORK to improve pedalling ability… what does work is kilometres on the bike.. And just cycling naturally for extended periods of time..
Enjoy the racing
RPM = one complete revolution of the crank