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Cadence, who needs it?

Old 01-16-23, 11:18 PM
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Cadence, who needs it?

We all ride at our own pace as evidenced by a poll I held on the Road Bike forum. For decades I maintained a high 70s and low 80s pace because I felt like my legs were engaged and working. Regardless of how tired I felt I maintained that cadence and have up until about 6 months ago. That’s when I did my first Zwift workout series, Build Me Up. It had me spinning at what I considered ludicrous rates, up to 110 RPM. It also had plenty of 60 RPM high torque moments as well. What I learned ( better late than never) is that a high cadence makes high effort sessions (say 250 Watts for me) much easier when I spin like a mad man - about 100+ RPM. OK, so that worked on the trainer but what about real life IRL/OD?

Today I went out for a ‘short’ ride and decided to use high cadences because my legs were still a bit tired from yesterdays trainer session. I kept it on the flats and rolling hills about 90 and felt like i was not putting out any energy - and I really wasn’t since I was putting along at 16-17 MPH. On the 11 and 12% climbs (all four of the bloody things) I tried to keep it around 100 but since I was riding my vintage 12 speed, 26 lb Bianchi - it was more like 50-60. But when back on the flats, back to 90 which again felt effortless.

My 20 mile short ride turned into an almost 40 miler with 2000’ of climbing which I thought I would regret, but returned feeling really quite good, but not more tired than I started. This proved to me, that high cadence, even though can be a bit slower (I had no PRs doing this) was really quite helpful when tired and can comfortably extend a ride.

In the future if I get tired pushing lower gears, go to the higher ones and spin away. The morale to the story, an old dog can learn new tricks.

So have all of you known this high cadence ‘secret’ forever and have been hiding it or was the ‘spin to win’ the secret all along?
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Old 01-17-23, 12:29 AM
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It was said in racing circles long before that certain American racer championed cadence that if you could out-spin your rival, come crunch time you could beat him. Hardly a new concept.
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Old 01-17-23, 01:44 AM
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You must have missed all the arguments in the Road section where seasoned riders tell newbies to spin faster and they say that's too fast. Just count the pedal strokes in the pro peloton of le Tour as they come into the closing kilometers. No secret.
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Old 01-17-23, 02:15 AM
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Never had cadence, never needed it.
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Old 01-17-23, 03:12 AM
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In my experience, the high rpm, low torque Spin puts a much lower peak load on the muscles than a high -torque, low rpm grind. That peak load is what causes the level of fatigue in your muscles; the higher that sustained peak load, the farther you'll have to back off during the "rest" cycles, and the longer those rest cycles need to be.

To urbanknight racing example; a group that breaks away early usually gets reeled back in by the peloton, because they've "burned all their matches" getting clear, and don't have the reserves to stay ahead of the bunch that's been at a slightly lower, but more sustainable speed.
Conversely, the sprinters have been hanging back in the crowd, doing the low-effort spin, conserving their ammo for when it's time to drop Watt Bombs fighting for the finish line
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Old 01-17-23, 05:03 AM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
We all ride at our own pace as evidenced by a poll I held on the Road Bike forum. For decades I maintained a high 70s and low 80s pace because I felt like my legs were engaged and working. Regardless of how tired I felt I maintained that cadence and have up until about 6 months ago. That’s when I did my first Zwift workout series, Build Me Up. It had me spinning at what I considered ludicrous rates, up to 110 RPM. It also had plenty of 60 RPM high torque moments as well. What I learned ( better late than never) is that a high cadence makes high effort sessions (say 250 Watts for me) much easier when I spin like a mad man - about 100+ RPM. OK, so that worked on the trainer but what about real life IRL/OD?

Today I went out for a ‘short’ ride and decided to use high cadences because my legs were still a bit tired from yesterdays trainer session. I kept it on the flats and rolling hills about 90 and felt like i was not putting out any energy - and I really wasn’t since I was putting along at 16-17 MPH. On the 11 and 12% climbs (all four of the bloody things) I tried to keep it around 100 but since I was riding my vintage 12 speed, 26 lb Bianchi - it was more like 50-60. But when back on the flats, back to 90 which again felt effortless.

My 20 mile short ride turned into an almost 40 miler with 2000’ of climbing which I thought I would regret, but returned feeling really quite good, but not more tired than I started. This proved to me, that high cadence, even though can be a bit slower (I had no PRs doing this) was really quite helpful when tired and can comfortably extend a ride.

In the future if I get tired pushing lower gears, go to the higher ones and spin away. The morale to the story, an old dog can learn new tricks.

So have all of you known this high cadence ‘secret’ forever and have been hiding it or was the ‘spin to win’ the secret all along?
Most modern training plans include both high and low cadence work and encourage you to push your "default" cadence slightly out of your comfort zone. My natural cadence was around 75-80 rpm, but with training, I've gradually pushed up closer to 90 rpm, especially when riding tempo. At VO2 max power I'm pushing 100+ rpm for a few minutes. But I also train the lower end of my cadence range (down to around 50 rpm) for very steep climbing. On extended Alpine climbs I often find myself bogged down below 70 rpm, even with a 1:1 low gear (compact 2x), which always makes me wonder about road gearing for the average rider. But that's another topic all by itself!

Remember that power = pedal force/torque x cadence. So increasing cadence is just as effective in producing power as pushing harder on your pedals. But intuitively it can feel like you are making less power when spinning vs pushing a bigger gear. Riding with a power meter helps you to understand this relationship better. I often find myself producing more power while spinning, even though it "feels" like less power than grinding out a higher gear. For example dropping from large to small chainring on a climb often boosts my power as I spin up, even though it "feels" like the complete opposite at the time as the muscular load drops off.

Spinning puts more load on your cardio system, but it's faster to recover. Muscular fatigue requires a much longer recovery. So having the ability to spin faster is a useful advantage in endurance events. But there's always a balance to find and that varies from rider to rider. But the pros are all relatively high cadence riders from what I've seen.
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Old 01-17-23, 05:06 AM
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Originally Posted by BikeLite View Post
Never had cadence, never needed it.
So you just read about it instead?
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Old 01-17-23, 06:34 AM
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Originally Posted by BikeLite View Post
Never had cadence, never needed it.
Originally Posted by PeteHski View Post
So you just read about it instead?
He has an E-bike, and doesn't have to pedal.
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Old 01-17-23, 06:45 AM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
So have all of you known this high cadence ‘secret’ forever and have been hiding it or was the ‘spin to win’ the secret all along?
I learned it back in 1976, shortly after the doctor removed the cast from my leg after surgery to put my kneecap back where it belonged, rather than off to the inside of my leg. Part of my PT was to ride my bicycle (with my crutches bungie corded to the top tube) on flat roads at a high cadence, to increase my range of motion without risking damage to the kneecap. To this day, I ride at an 85-95 cadence on the flats. Of course, there aren't a lot of flat roads here, so I got a new bike with Sram 12 speed. 46/33 crankset and 10-36 cassette gets me up the hills without too much low cadence grinding, which my knee still does not like. I'm not likely to capture any KOMs, but at least I'll be able to walk the next day.
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Old 01-17-23, 06:47 AM
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On an easy ride where you’re not working hard and going slower than usual, I wouldn’t attribute too much to the benefits of cadence. Maybe you could have completed the same ride feeling just as fresh pedaling at a slower average speed. Maybe you could have pedaled slower on the flats and pushed it harder on the climbs? Lots of ways to slice the cake, so to speak, but what’s the point?

I mean, it’s unusual to accept *going slower* as a training benefit, right?

EDIT: Oh, nevermind…I didn’t read it right. I see the OP clearly said the point was extending the ride when tired. Got it!

Last edited by chaadster; 01-17-23 at 06:53 AM.
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Old 01-17-23, 06:57 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
On an easy ride where you’re not working hard and going slower than usual, I wouldn’t attribute too much to the benefits of cadence. Maybe you could have completed the same ride feeling just as fresh pedaling at a slower average speed. Maybe you could have pedaled slower on the flats and pushed it harder on the climbs? Lots of ways to slice the cake, so to speak, but what’s the point?

I mean, it’s unusual to accept *going slower* as a training benefit, right?
Yet many high cadence interval drills are done with relatively low power to train your neuro-muscular coordination to comfortably accept a higher general riding cadence. I find that after a few low power cadence drills (ramping up to 130+ rpm) returning to a normal 85-90 rpm riding cadence feels super easy.

Pros do this kind of cadence training on a regular basis, so they must perceive some benefit. I certainly feel some benefit anyway. The ability to ride comfortably across a wide cadence range has lots of benefits during a long ride over variable terrain.
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Old 01-17-23, 07:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul View Post
I got a new bike with Sram 12 speed. 46/33 crankset and 10-36 cassette gets me up the hills without too much low cadence grinding.
I think that's where I'm heading too. My current bike has Sram 48/35 chainset and 10-33 cassette. Perfect for my local rolling terrain, but it was a bit marginal on a trip to the Alps. I spent a very long time in the 35/33 ratio!
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Old 01-17-23, 07:18 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski View Post
Yet many high cadence interval drills are done with relatively low power to train your neuro-muscular coordination to comfortably accept a higher general riding cadence. I find that after a few low power cadence drills (ramping up to 130+ rpm) returning to a normal 85-90 rpm riding cadence feels super easy.

Pros do this kind of cadence training on a regular basis, so they must perceive some benefit. I certainly feel some benefit anyway. The ability to ride comfortably across a wide cadence range has lots of benefits during a long ride over variable terrain.
Yes, but going slower in that case is a tool (or even byproduct), not the benefit.

In any case, maybe you were writing when I posted my edit saying I’d misunderstood the OP, whose point was that higher cadence helped them extend a ride when tired, which I understand. When muscles are fatigued, lightening the torque load does help.
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Old 01-17-23, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
So have all of you known this high cadence ‘secret’ forever and have been hiding it or was the ‘spin to win’ the secret all along?
Your post is all over the map, so I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “secret.“ But I do believe that the basics were all covered in your other cadence thread, and have been well known for a long time: lower cadences will allow you to put out high torque with lower cardio effort; high cadences allow you to put out higher power with a higher cardio effort. In other words, higher cadences won’t fry your legs as much. I think that’s what you’re feeling.
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Old 01-17-23, 08:27 AM
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They knew about cadence a long time ago. The owners of the Schwinn store where I bought my bikes as a youth and teen in the 70's told me all about it. I just ignored them and was a masher back then. However as I got older, I learned that a good range of cadence was the way to go. And a high cadence is the only way to be fast on the typical range of gearing that we have on road bikes. So getting use to spinning easy gears between 80 - 120 rpm really helped me. No one will be fast mashing away at 60 rpm.
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Old 01-17-23, 08:44 AM
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The internal work of pedaling is a sharply increasing function of cadence. From Formenti’s data it appears to be a cubic function. Anyway, you can assume 0.1 W/kg at 50 rpm, 0.3 W/kg at 70 rpm, 0.6 W/kg at 90 rpm and about 1.0 W/kg at 110 rpm.

So, you will increase your cardio overhead a bit at a higher cadence, but you reduce pedal force for a given speed and also move to a muscle speed that allows slightly higher maximum power.

I will again post this article on cadence which I think does a good job of laying out how to think about standing and seated cadences in a variety of riding situations.

https://cinchcycling.cc/blogs/news/t...ycling-cadence

Hopefully, your cadence may vary. 😊

Otto

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Old 01-17-23, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
OK, so that worked on the trainer but what about real life IRL/OD?

Today I went out for a ‘short’ ride and decided to use high cadences because my legs were still a bit tired from yesterdays trainer session.
You tried something different and you liked it. Congratulations. That's a good outcome.

That said, if everyone were pedaling at roughly the same cadence, power differences will mostly be determined by differences in pedal force.
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Old 01-17-23, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
Yes, but going slower in that case is a tool (or even byproduct), not the benefit.

In any case, maybe you were writing when I posted my edit saying I’d misunderstood the OP, whose point was that higher cadence helped them extend a ride when tired, which I understand. When muscles are fatigued, lightening the torque load does help.
Yeah, I hadn't seen your edit. I think there are several benefits of training to ride a higher cadence above and beyond simply extending your rides. But I guess that is one of them.
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Old 01-17-23, 10:52 AM
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Spinning is winning?
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Old 01-17-23, 11:00 AM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
So have all of you known this high cadence ‘secret’ forever
Yes. I consistently strive for 90+ on flats and hills all the time. Legs feel less sore and I'm able to ride longer distances without becoming fatigued.
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Old 01-17-23, 11:10 AM
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When I worked in a bike shop in the '80s, runners who wanted to transition to triathlons occasionally asked me how to pace themselves on the bike. I told them to figure out their running strides-per-minute pace and respiration rate and then use the bike's gearing to replicate those numbers on the bike.
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Old 01-17-23, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
Your post is all over the map, so I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “secret.“ But I do believe that the basics were all covered in your other cadence thread, and have been well known for a long time: lower cadences will allow you to put out high torque with lower cardio effort; high cadences allow you to put out higher power with a higher cardio effort. In other words, higher cadences won’t fry your legs as much. I think that’s what you’re feeling.
Secret was meant tongue-in-cheek, but is not always best conveyed in text. Should have put a -> after it.

Thanks to all the excellent responses. Amazing at my age to completely change my cadence strategy but it appears I will be happier and be able to do longer distances without wearing myself out so quickly. That’s a great thing. Another great thing was not experiencing any muscle soreness last night or this morning. Call me a convert.

This is the 26 lb beast I rode with 1980s racing gears.



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Old 01-17-23, 12:46 PM
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i've not really had a great benefit with a higher cadence for well planned out rides. It does help extend a gassed out ride or when muscle fatigue gets real restrictive.

Stroke, it's all in how you use it to benefit your riding needs.
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Old 01-17-23, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by rsbob View Post
Amazing at my age to completely change my cadence strategy…
I’ve had a similar experience, although the converse: I’ve been revising my pedaling speed down.

Because I had a series of knee problems for many years, I’d gotten accustomed to exerting light pedal pressure, and consequently would spin a fairly high cadence whenever possible because my knees would otherwise give me great pain. I was seriously entertaining the prospect of knee replacements, it was so bad. Since the last year and half, my knees started cooperating— no more crazy swelling, and gone was the constant pain— and I was able to resume good, consistent training. As fitnessed has returned, I’m delighted to be able to put down power levels at low RPMs which, just a couple of years ago, would have required +90rpm to do. It’s great! This summer, I found myself whizzing around on club rides sometimes pedaling at 75rpm at high Tempo power…just because I could!

It has been particularly nice, because as a heavy rider, I think throwing around my massive legs at high speeds has a pretty impactful cardio cost. It’s nice to be able to drop a few beats— maybe to stay aerobic— while maintaining power level.
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Old 01-17-23, 03:20 PM
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Five and a half decades of riding fixed-gear bikes---I figured that, since I had only sporadic knee discomfort from time to time, I could go on grinding up climbs indefinitely. But "grinding" turned out not to have been merely a metaphor.

I'm just starting to get back to where neither of my knees is bothering me, at least if I'm careful to spin low gears at all times. I wish Chaadster all the best, but I think I'll stick with higher-cadence riding henceforth. Don't care to press my luck.
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