Cadence on the Bike is Everything

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 by admin

When I bought my first bicycle, the local bike shop guy told me, “Oh, you don’t need a bike computer with cadence, only racers use cadence.” So I just went and rode. I had no clue when or why to shift. To go faster, I figured I just needed to shift into a harder gear and pedal faster.

When I would ride with experienced cyclists, they would tell me my cadence was too low. I had no idea what they were talking about so I just kept riding, mashing my pedals (riding in low cadence) and not worrying about a thing. Then, six months later my knees started hurting when I rode.

It finally got to the point where I couldn’t get on the bike and ride without being in acute pain. During this time, I began reading about riding with high cadence, which is about 90-100 revolutions per minute (RPM), and it sounded important. My theory was that my knees were hurting because my cleat position wasn’t correct (I kept going back getting it looked at) and because my cadence was too low. I decided to stop getting my cleat position adjusted by switching to Speedplays (with a little float on the pedal I felt more confident that my knees and ankles were aligning naturally). Then I bought a bike computer that measures cadence and focused on riding in the 90-100 RPM range.

When I started riding at 90-100 RPM, I was slow. Real slow. It was almost as if I hadn’t been riding a bike for six months. The knees had stopped hurting though, and I was learning when to shift the gears (shift at 80 RPM to make it easier to pedal and shift at 110 RPM to make it harder to pedal). It took a month of feeling uncomfortable on the bike and being slow before things finally clicked and I began to get faster.

Now, whenever I meet a new cyclist who is unsure of when to shift and is riding with low cadence, I ask, “Do you have a cadence meter on your bike computer?” Some do, most do not. I always tell them to spend the money to get one with a cadence sensor and to focus on a cadence of 90-100 RPM while riding. I explain to them that if they focus on high cadence versus mashing the pedals, they won’t burn out their quads as quick. I also point out that they will learn when to shift.

It is my belief that coaches should talk to their athletes about cadence on the bike. As a coach, it is my responsibility to teach my athletes what I know and what I have seen work for myself and other people. My athletes are asked to get a bike computer with a cadence sensor. If an athlete chooses not to use one then that’s their call.

All of the people I have talked to about cadence and who have followed through with my recommendation haven’t regretted it. I haven’t had one person come to me and say, “Karen, keeping high cadence is just plain stupid! I can’t believe I even tried it.”

Instead, I get wonderful messages like this one from a lady in my tri club:

“Hey girl…just a note to tell you thanks for telling me about cadence. My cadence counter has helped me dramatically with changing gears, getting faster, and going uphill. I am still very much a beginner cyclist but it has made ALL the difference in my skills. I am to the point that I can tell what cadence I am in without looking first.”

If you don’t have a cadence sensor – go get one. If you do – use it. Focus on keeping a cadence of 90-100 RPM. Learn your gears and when to shift by using your cadence sensor. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you are in the big ring or small ring, all that matters is cadence.

Cadence is everything.


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