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For the last couple of years or more I've tried to religiously stick at 90rpm or higher as it seemed 'the' way to ride. I started it as I had niggling knee injury and less torque seemed appropriate so up went the cadence and in came 165mm cranks.

Anyway a few months ago I read something saying high cadence may be wasteful and started riding by feel in legs again and basically ignoring the bike computer. My knee didn't give me any grief last year so I assumed it was sorted and it still seems to be despite dropping cadence by a least 10-15rpm.

The big surprise this year is I've been setting loads of PRs which given my age I thought I'd never see again and most of them have been without bike computer at all. My backside also appear to have grown somewhat more muscular as well?

Are well all spinning for no reason? Is a bit of grinding good for you? 

16 comments

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IanEdward [326 posts] 1 month ago
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I'm torn, I've started spinning more for the same reasons as you. Recently had a 2hr coaching session and the coach confirmed that spinning a higher cadence was better in race situations as you could recover quicker from attacks etc. than if you were pushing a higher gear.

On the flip side, I'm pretty sure I can generate a higher heart rate for the same power/speed by spinning a higher cadence, which makes sense as the weight of your legs doesn't change even if you're pushing a lighter gear, and you still have to spin the legs! I guess depending on your riding there's a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.

 

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mattsccm [425 posts] 1 month ago
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Legend has it that twiddling is better for dodgy knees. Not for me. I need some load to stop mine hurting.

 

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srchar [1540 posts] 1 month ago
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I'm not sure why you'd ride at a cadence that keeps a bike computer happy, rather than what feels most comforable to you.

If riding at >90rpm brings you no benefit, then I suppose by definition, you are "spinning for no reason".

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ridiculouscyclist [27 posts] 1 month ago
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When I ride some workouts on Zwift, it instructs me to ride at 90rpm or upwards etc. I've tried it, it's ridiculous, I just can't keep my legs moving at that speed for very long. I know it's supposed to exercise your cardiovascular system rather than overloading muscles, but I'm much more comfortable when I'm grinding slightly lower cadences. Whatever speed or wattage I'm doing I very rarely get above 75-80 rpm.

 

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kil0ran [1647 posts] 1 month ago
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I can't maintain 90rpm, don't have the cardiovascular fitness to do that. I can push decently hard at lower cadences, particularly as a larger rider.

Have to say it feels like 90rpm+ is for the pros riding 6 hour plus days. As with Matt I always feel I have to have a decent amount of resistance/load on my legs as without that I'm just not stable on the bike and that must in turn lead to efficiency losses.

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Griff500 [433 posts] 1 month ago
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Good post. Like yourself, I have often been irritated by recommendations that we should all be aiming to ride at cadence "x", and telling me my bike is too highly geared, so I spent a bit of time reading up on the subject. There are quite a few medical papers suggesting that a lot of people ride at too high a cadence, but it is very individual, having a lot to do with personal muscle and neurological structure. The important thing to remember is that a lower cadence does not necessarily mean you are any less fit, or any slower, than somebody who rides at a higher cadence. My regular cycling buddy rides at around 90, yet I beat him up big climbs every time with my average in the seventies. Sure, I can spin the pedals at 100rpm, but I am not putting much force through them. A recent new member of my group I note cycles at less than 60 and beats us all!

A number of factors come into it. Generally higher cadence puts less strain on joints, so worth considering for anyone with knee or hip problems. A couple of the studies I have read talk about the peak muscular efficiency point and the peak neurological efficiency point. From memory, a number of students studied showed a maximum muscular efficiency, the point at which the muscle makes best use of oxygen, in the low 70s. The same group had a maximum neurological efficiency, the point at which muscle use is most effectively coordinated, and often the point at which people feel most comfortable, in the 80s. This suggested that a cadence of 90 is not the best place for this particular group to be from either a muscular or neurological perspective. The optimum point for any idividual is likely to be some compromise between what your joints are comfortable with, where your muscles work best, and where your neuro works best.

For those who have cycled 8 hours a day since their early teens, their muscles have a much more highly developed capillary structure, and apparently their muscular efficiency peaks at a higher rate.  In my case, my early days were spent cross country running and mounatineering, which I guess explains why my muscles are happier generating  power at a low cadence .

 

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CygnusX1 [1190 posts] 1 month ago
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ridiculouscyclist wrote:

When I ride some workouts on Zwift, it instructs me to ride at 90rpm or upwards etc. I've tried it, it's ridiculous, I just can't keep my legs moving at that speed for very long. I know it's supposed to exercise your cardiovascular system rather than overloading muscles, but I'm much more comfortable when I'm grinding slightly lower cadences. Whatever speed or wattage I'm doing I very rarely get above 75-80 rpm.

I have the opposite problem, when it tells me to ride at 60-70rpm in the recovery phases of interval training, I can't pedal that slowly. Maybe I need to up the resisitance (my gearing is fixed, as I have my single-speed installed semi-permanently in the turbo).

On the road, my cadence is between 85-95 in a typical leisure ride, although it does drop lower on climbs.

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fixation80 [74 posts] 1 month ago
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Good post. I learned a big lesson when returning to club riding as a vet. I joined in on a ride with the fast mile eaters and we hadn't got out town before I was struggling. A gradient had me dropping gears and the lower my gear went the more I struggled, I just couldn't maintain a quick cadence, for me it was the equivalent to sprinting. I soon realised that I was better able to keep up when I got a gear akin to my old days of cycling fixed gear. I stuck the bike in a gear of around 68" and it was straight away more comfortable, in fact I stayed in the same gear the rest of the ride and survived.

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Awavey [618 posts] 1 month ago
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This is going to be like the fluids thread isnt it it's all down to personal biomechanics & preference  2 I'm happier spinning at higher cadence than grinding, my knees arent in the best shape, so less than 60 hurts & i average about 85 now and tbf the more I spin the more the average creeps up steadily, I can do 100 but not sustained for long,and only when clipped in,I've maxed out at 120. But whenever I pass people on sportives and more so at the back end of rides as I tend to be spinning more then, I'm always higher cadence than they are, which to me shows you can grind if that's what suits your style, but my spinning isnt necessarily the slower way to ride.

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HLaB [267 posts] 1 month ago
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I dont know if its right or not but indoors I follow cadence instructions (which varies between 70 and 140 rpm) but outdoors I just ride at my natural cadence (its only 75-85rpm average, 90rpm on the flat and the ocaisional high cadence sprints and low cadence climbs) it seems to be working on the Strava PRs front and touch wood the injury front.  I really need to find out if it works on a Open TT but for now post op I'm happy with that.

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Simon E [3813 posts] 1 month ago
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From what I've read, lower and higher cadences place different demands on your muscles and cardiovascular system. I don't think one is 'better' than the other but working on each can improve your fitness. These articles aren't definitive but do discuss some of the factors:

https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/why-amateurs-shouldnt-try-to-pedal...

https://cyclingtips.com/2016/02/what-is-the-ideal-cadence/

https://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/4604/cyclist-guide-cadence

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JohnnyRemo [314 posts] 1 month ago
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Almost all male World Hour Record rides ever were done at an average of 101-105rpm. The only exceptions  are Jaques Anquetil and Graeme Obree who both averaged 93rpm (assuming their reported gear ratios were correct) The cadence hasn't changed - just the ratios have gone up (Campenaerts rode 61x14 - 101.5rpm)

One of Obree's main training methods was riding up a steady hill in a huge gear. He called it "weight-training on a bike." He also used to "spin-out" on a rusty old static bike in his back yard.

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CXR94Di2 [2693 posts] 1 month ago
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Riding with a high cadence has certain benefits for reduced fatigue on longer rides. But as the OP suggests as we age our cardiovascular peak is somewhat lower and more power can be gained from a lower cadence-wary of knee issues.

Ive been riding a 71" single speed which makes me spin on the flats, but requires me to stand for hills or into headwind to maintain speed. Ive got stronger, more muscle mass from riding a single speed.
Ive also moved my saddle back so my knee is just behind pedal spindle allowing me to push more over 10-2pm employing more glute muscle
I tend to spin for alpine climbs and long rides where speed is not the major factor 90+ rpm. I will ride around 70rpm for TTs or racing along in a group to keep my HR down in a lower zone.

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peted76 [1535 posts] 1 month ago
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JohnnyRemo wrote:

Almost all male World Hour Record rides ever were done at an average of 101-105rpm. The only exceptions  are Jaques Anquetil and Graeme Obree who both averaged 93rpm (assuming their reported gear ratios were correct) The cadence hasn't changed - just the ratios have gone up (Campenaerts rode 61x14 - 101.5rpm)

That is not normal and misleading for everyone on this thread (unless you're a pro). Riding at such high cadences for such a long time is not usual. 

 

This article stuck a chord earlier this year.. 

https://road.cc/content/feature/256654-cadence-just-how-fast-should-you-...

 

Anecdotally, the classiest looking riders I've seen/know just tap out a constant low rhythm between 70-80. 

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Griff500 [433 posts] 1 month ago
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CXR94Di2 wrote:

Riding with a high cadence has certain benefits for reduced fatigue on longer rides.

In your case, perhaps, and that's fine. But it's not the same for everybody (Read some of the posts above eg one said:"I just can't keep my legs moving that speed for very long", and I can relate to that). The best way to avoid muscle fatigue is to cycle at a rate that is efficient, so you burn resources slower, and as per my earlier post, this is different for all of us, for all sorts of reasons.  This is backed up by a number of medical papers, here is one of the most recent:

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/high-cadence-cycling-offers-no-benefit-to-ama...

All of this suggests that generalised statements such as what cadence to ride, and how to gear a bike, are unhelpful. At the end of the day, only an individual rider can determine his best cadence..

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Organon [325 posts] 1 month ago
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I guess it is matter of 'feel.' You do have to be pushing the cranks to a certain extent and will feel the 'bite' at your ideal cadence. If you are literally spinning in high cadence then you aren't applying enough force and will not go as fast as you can. I do see the odd person bimbling down the street in a really low gear, legs whirling and their arse bobbing up and down, not very much energy actually going into moving forward. If you are going faster on a slightly lower cadence then keep doing that. I have actually learned to use a higher cadence over the years, but still remind myself that pushing  is alright as well.