How Can Cadence Help?
Cadence – From Inside a Sports Car
To understand Cadence, place yourself in a sports car. After adjusting the seat so you sit comfortably in the leather racing bucket seat, you stick the key in, start the engine and hear it purr. Press in the clutch and grasp the leather covered shift knob. Press down the gas pedal as you slowly let off the clutch. The wheels start to move and the car takes off. The speedometer needle rises from 0 quickly. The RPM gauge shows the needle rising quickly as well. The needle approaches the red area. Now what?
Exactly, you prepare to shift. The RPM gauge (Revolutions per Minute) on your car measures the engine speed. Likewise in cycling, you can measure your engine speed, it is called Cadence.
What is Cadence?
Cadence measures your RPMs just like the gauge in your car (however, your car will measure them in thousands of revolutions per minutes). The RPM for biking is the number of times one of your legs revolves around as a pedal stroke.
Most efficient Cadence
Just like in a car, you do not want too low RPM or you will not have enough power. On the other hand, you do not want too high RPM or you will hit that “red zone” resulting in too much energy consumption.
Most cyclists have a preferred cadence level that is optimal for them. If you do not already use cadence as a very high factor in your cycling, be willing to experiment. A decent range for an efficient cadence is between 75-100 rpm. If you are on the low end or below this limit you will find yourself using too much strength to turn each pedal stroke. If you are at the high end or above this limit you will find yourself increasing your heart rate too much because you are spinning too fast compared to the wheel rotation.
How to use Cadence
First, cadence is most easily measured by having a cyclocomputer that includes cadence. As mentioned before, try to find a cadence range that is comfortable for you. This should be a range of about 15 rpm inside the efficient cadence range mentioned above (75-100 rpm). Keep in mind that your cadence could go above this limit when sprinting and could very easily go below this range when climbing hills. At that point the most important thing is just getting up the hill, no matter how you do it.
For example, one particular rider has found that his cadence range while training is between 80-92 rpm, however, during a race his range increases slightly to 87-97 rpm. Once again, find the range that works best for you.
Benefits from using Cadence
Just like when driving a stick-shift car, your rpm tells you exactly when to shift. When the cadence gets high, it’s time to shift. When you start going up a hill and the rpm drops, your cadence lets you know when to shift down. This makes it so you are using the correct amount of energy compared to strength. You can ride almost endlessly while in the correct cadence range because your muscles will not tire out as quickly and your energy will not be depleted through anaerobic sprinting. Some riders look almost exclusively at their cadence while cycling. They rarely look at their speed. There are factors like hills and wind that the rider cannot control that will affect their speed, but they can control their cadence and that way they can be riding at optimal performance.
How to increase Cadence
Remember that you don’t really want to increase your cadence, you want to stay in your range. But here are two things to remember:
(1) There are moments when you will want to stay in the same gear and sprint to pass other cyclists or sprint at the finish line. In these cases you do not always need to worry about whether you are still in your cadence range. You need to be able to pedal above 100 rpm (many sprinters can reach 170 rpm). During some of your rides practice sprinting and try to reach a very high cadence level. A simple workout is to do several 30 second sprints with normal cadence in between. These sprint workouts will help build your anaerobic threshold. This simply means that you can sprint longer or more often without your muscles fatiguing while sprinting.
(2) As you build up your endurance, strength, and power, you will be able to ride at a higher gear while staying in the same cadence range (this is like driving in your car at 100 mph in 4th gear, at 6000 rpm instead of driving at 60 mph in 3rd gear, at 6000 rpm).
How can I get my hands on one of these Cadence cyclocomputers?
Fezzari.com offers bike computers for tracking your cycling cadence, which not only measure your cadence, but also measure current speed, average speed, total distance, trip distance and much more.