What is Cycling Cadence? – There Are No Stupid Questions

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burningquestions2Jack: I’m a new rider, and I had a friend tell me that I’m not at a good cadence. What does that mean?

Great question, Jack. Here’s a small mystery for new riders, and one that brings up plenty of opinions from experienced riders. If you see some blindingly-patterned lycra demon pedaling down the road, she or he will most likely be spinning at a fairly high cadence, which means that they’re doing less work for more speed. They’ll be pedaling along looking like they’re just easily turning the cranks very quickly.

So what the heck is cadence? Well, in simple terms, it’s the number of pedal revolutions per minute. For optimal efficiency, and to put less fatigue in your legs, you should shoot for a cadence of around 80-100rpm. Many new riders pedal around the 60-70rpm range (whether or not they know it), but experience will teach you that you’ll have a much easier go of it if you choose a gear that lets you pedal within the optimal 80-100 range.

That was a lot of numbers. For someone like me, who studied English and counts by feelings, I learned over several months that my optimal range is about 90–which is a comfortable spin that keeps me from bouncing on the saddle, but doesn’t have me struggling to mash a gear and keep up. As you get more time on the bike, you’ll find that sweet spot, your cadence will most likely go up, and you’ll be able to push bigger gears with less effort.

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There are a few ways to keep track of your cadence during a ride. First, get yourself a good bike computer with cadence sensor. They run anywhere from $35-$500 (well, more than that) depending on the other features you want. Since you’re just starting out, you might try something like this one by Cateye. Of course, if you want more features and a computer that you can grow with, you might consider the Garmin Edge 510 (which is what I use, and it’s not too shabby), but make sure it includes the cadence/HRM bundled sensors.

Before you get yourself a cadence sensor, you can calculate your average in your head by counting how many times one foot hits this top of your pedal stroke for 15 seconds. Then, simply multiply the number of revolutions by 4, and you have a general idea of how fast you’re spinning. This, however, can often be imprecise because you may unconsciously start pedaling faster while you’re counting. But it’s a great way to practice on the trainer–it will help you to get a sense for what a higher cadence feels like, and you can shoot for that feeling on the road.

Happy spinning!

Got a burning question you want answered? Send it over to me, and I’ll answer to the best of my ability. Because it’s important to remember, there are no stupid questions!

About Bek 301 Articles
SLO Cyclist's former chief editor and recovering road snob, Bek made sure everything ran smoothly around here. She was also the one who reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously--unless it involves black socks. Black socks are always serious.

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