Categories: Bicycle Tour Training

Cadence is the Key to Cycling

by Sarah Awe - Thursday, September 4, 2014 A happy cyclist in the Languedoc

Have you ever come back from a ride and thought, “Wow, my legs are toast. Why do people enjoy this?” I know I have. When I was new to road biking I hated it! It was so hard ALL the time. After chatting with my very accomplished cycling friend (Leah Barrett, you may have read some of her previous blogs on ExperiencePlus!), offered to go out for a ride with me and offer a few tips. Leah immediately pointed out that I was working too hard by riding in too large of a gear at a cadence (how quickly the pedal rotates around the crank) that was inefficient.  I thought I needed to be working hard all the time but found out that the best way to survive any sort of distance on a bike is a quick and consistent cadence. In other words – when it comes to cycling, less is more.

Don’t let this be you! A friend thought himself to be a very good cyclist and signed up for a big ride thinking he could power through on strength and fitness alone.  He started out great; fast, powerful and strong.  He was pumping along at about 75 rpm’s for about 50 miles before he got to a long, grinding climb.  His legs were so tired by that point it was impossible for him to complete the climb.  In a word, he “bonked”; let the air out of his tires and called his aunt for a ride stating he had “mechanical” problems.  The great news is that he learned his lesson and has taken a “softer” approach to long rides.

Everyone is different but learning how to be comfortable pedaling 80-100 RPMs (revolutions per minute) is the goal. How do you measure cadence? Most bike computers will have a display for cadence and if yours doesn’t I highly recommend getting one that does. Though you can measure your cadence manually by counting one leg’s pedal stroke for 30 seconds and then doubling it you’ll likely forget to count after the first couple of tries. It is far more effective to have your computer set on cadence and to focus all of your efforts on that number. Ignore how fast you are going and work to maintain a cadence of 80-100 RPMs. If you are able to do this consistently your speed, endurance, and pleasure will improve dramatically I guarantee it.

When do you know to shift? If you are new to cycling focusing on cadence is also an excellent way to know when you need to shift. If you can’t maintain a cadence of 80-100RPMs you need to make it easier to pedal, if you are spinning too quickly you need to shift to a harder gear. If you aren’t quite sure switch gears and give yourself 10 pedal strokes to decide if the new gear is appropriate.

Starting out. Find a flat section of road and try riding at 80-100RPMs for 2 to 5 minutes and then take a break for 1 to 2 minutes.  As your tolerance builds you will be able to shift into a harder gear, and stay at the same cadence.

As cooler weather approaches remember another option for practice is going to a spin class where you can have a more controlled environment to experiment with cadence.  As with most things, take your time and listen to your body as you try this new technique.  Give your body time to adapt and keep challenging yourself.  A few weeks of practicing and your rides will hopefully become more enjoyable and less painful.  Always remember to have fun!

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Sarah Awe - Sarah Awe: As owner and personal trainer at becomefit ( Sarah is able to put into practice her experience and education surrounding health and fitness. She graduated from Florida Tech with a BS in Psychology and from Southern Arkansas University with a MS in Kinesiology. She is also certified by the NSCA as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Sarah believes that living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is a key to success! You can email Sarah at:

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