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Bigger guy. Spinning versus mashing?(48 posts)

Bigger guy. Spinning versus mashing?aet
Oct 26, 2001 6:19 AM
6'0 and about 200. i have been try to spin but i have read that riders that are larger and have bigger muscles can get away with and even benefit by pushing bigger gears at lower cadence, say 80 to 90. but then i read in other places that spinning fast is the way to go period. any thoughts. since it is winter, i'd like to hone my style.
re: Bigger guy. Spinning versus mashing?Js Haiku Shop
Oct 26, 2001 6:32 AM
6'2" 195#.

I've been spinning (90-110 rpm) 'til now, but recently rode a 20 mile rolling club ride in the big ring and small cogs. found that my speed increased over that ride and, despite some leg burners, i was leaving the other guys on hills. interesting.

check this recent post for related info. general consensus seemed to be that, for shorter rides, power (anaerobic-style riding) could certainly sustain higher speeds overall, but for longer/actual endurance rides, spinning (
cool thing was that i'd not been pushing this hard 'til just recently. of course, on shorter rides or at the end of longer ones, i'd shift to the big ring/small cog and eek out a couple miles of hills (it's all relative re: "hills"), grinding at a painfully low cadence cresting. after that ONE session of riding for just over an hour in the bigger gears, i'm now riding at faster average speeds over the same ol' training routes. hmmm.......
re: spin and mashguido
Oct 26, 2001 11:54 AM
Ever tried to climb at 90-110rpm? Your heart rate goes way up, and the legs start to burn. You breathe heavily to keep up the effort, as everything in you says, "Downshift!" But you also know that the minute you downshift, you'll immediately slow down! Off the back! Dropped! That's why everybody uses big gears, so they don't get dropped.

Spinning concentrates the effort on the cardiovascular system while mashing concentrates on the leg muscles. To be strong and fast, you need both.

Lance was burning huge amounts of power going up those mountains. He was able to do it because he trained his aerobic capacity to go 180-200bpm for extended periods of time. Lesser riders, like Ullrich, couldn't maintain Lance's power without backing off the recover. Carmichael says Lance spun up hills to develope power. On a flat that would be like doing an interval in 53-17 at 110 rpm, going 28mph. That's what they're talking about, not just staying in 39-19 pedaling like crazy. To get anything out of spinning you have to put some power into it. After developing a powerful high cadence capability, low gear mashing is easy. As you experienced, spinning made you a powerful masher!
re: spin and mashJon
Oct 26, 2001 1:28 PM
Good point! Spinning a big gear like that elevates VO2 max to the limits of one's genetic
potential. But first you have to train your spin in a small gear just so you develop the necessary
leg speed.
Oct 26, 2001 7:17 PM
Even the pros lose their leg speed after a steady diet of competitive riding. They used to go to 42-19 fixed gears in January to get their leg speed up. You have to re-establish your spin after hard efforts, because its so irresistible to mash when you think you're about to get dropped!
re: Bigger guy. Spinning versus mashing?morey
Oct 26, 2001 6:38 AM
I am 5'10", 200 lbs. A former competive athlete in bodybuilding and powerlifting. I have tried spinning, and I am terrible. I like to ride in the big chain ring, even up hills. I seem to be able to ride much faster this way.
I have been told that spinning is the way to go on longer rides. I have ridden up to 180 miles in the big ring, comfortably. Maybe the big ring is our small ring?
LOL: "maybe big ring is OUR small ring" nmJs Haiku Shop
Oct 26, 2001 6:51 AM
re: Bigger guy. Spinning versus mashing?Softrider
Oct 26, 2001 6:47 AM
I think that it is a matter of personal preference.

I'm a big guy myself, and over the last 2 years have been working on increasing my cadence. I used to ride at 60 - 70 rpm in a big gear all of the time. Now I usually stay in the 80 - 95 range. It has improved my overall performance on the longer rides.

It is certainly something that is good to work on in the winter time when you spend alot of time on the trainer.
re: Bigger guy. Spinning versus mashing?morey
Oct 26, 2001 6:51 AM
I have a pedal cadence of 80-90 even using the big gears.
cubic inches vs. rpmsDog
Oct 26, 2001 6:52 AM
All the drive train knows is pedal pressure (torque - twisting force at the crank) and rpms. That is, how hard is the force, and how quickly (often) is it made?

You can get power at the rear wheel, in a continuum, both ways. Low rpms with high torque, or high rpms with low torque. Gearing allows us to do either.

Think about car motors. A big block motor makes power at the rear wheels typically through low rpms, but taller gearing. The pistons and crank make a lot of torque with each firing, but because of their mass (and other factors), they can't spin very quickly. But, they can still go fast because of gearing. A small motor can't make as much torque with each firing, so if spins faster, firing more often to get the same power (after accounting for gearing) at the rear wheels. Either way is valid. However, typically the smaller, high rpm, motor is lighter and smaller.

If you are a big block, you may very well be more efficient at lower rpms, making more power with each stroke. If you are Marco Pantani (or his size, at least), you may need to spin a little faster so that you compensate for less torque by making it more often (higher rpms). It's only natural.

Of course, if you have both, like Lance, you'll likely win. Make big torque and make it quicker, and you have a great combination.

Keep in mind that our bodies are not machines, though, but rather they are subject to fatigue and are highly variable. Your legs may get tired hammering at low rpms for a while, and then might be much happier picking up the rpms and spinning for a while, then, too. So, I think it is generally good to be able to do both, even if alternating when tired of one or the other.

cubic inches vs. rpmsmorey
Oct 26, 2001 6:57 AM
I have tried spinning at 90+ rpm's, however, this is hard for me to do. Maybe with continued practice I can do this. I actually find myself getting more tired in the spin mode. I had a big-block in my 79 Camaro (500+), I loved it!
It's all relative!Softrider
Oct 26, 2001 7:04 AM
Maybe 90 rpm's is a pretty slow cadence for the little guys, but it's really cranking for us bigger guys.

You just have to do what works for you!
"no replacement for displacement"?Dog
Oct 26, 2001 7:06 AM
Big motors are certainly more fun. Mash and go.

Nonetheless, I did have fun in my 20's zipping around big blocked Mustangs and Pantera's on the race track in my superchared and turbo charged Toyota MR2 running 20 psi of boost. Of course, it blew up twice.

The best way to work on spin, I believe, is on longer gradual downhills, and on the rollers. Rollers will force you to ride smoothly. Haven't tried it, but fixed gear might be good, too. This is something that is learnable or trainable. I used to be a masher, but I can comfortably hold 100 rpms quite a while. You'll have to force yourself to try it more.

cubic inches vs. rpmsJon
Oct 26, 2001 7:07 AM

This summer at the TdF Ullrich said exactly the same thing, but Lance keeps on beating him!
Doug's probably right, you need to do both. Developing higher rpm requires three to four mos.
concentrated practice to effect the necessary neuromuscular adaptation. Just as your superior
strength was developed over years of focussed training, so too is an efficient pedal stroke. However,
not everyone is genetically programmed to be efficient at 110 rpm. 90 - 95 is doable, though, for
anyone, with practice.
ultimately, thoughDog
Oct 26, 2001 7:15 AM
Ultimately, I think it's the air and fuel delivery system that limits the power, not rpms. Lance is that unique individual who has it all, big manifold, big injectors, sufficient displacement, efficient combustion chambers, and high rpms.

ultimately, thoughmorey
Oct 26, 2001 7:18 AM
He must be blueprinted. You cannot beat genetics. Lance does not only have a little of what is needed to be efficient, he has a lot!
ultimately, thoughDog
Oct 26, 2001 7:21 AM
yup, sort of like an F1 motor compared to other pros' Indy Light motors, and our Ford Escorts.

Oct 26, 2001 7:28 AM
upon autopsy, it was discovered, had a heart twice the normal size. Just a gigantic heart, a cardiovascular firehose. And the fact that we can explain some of his performance with biology doesn't make him one bit less magical.
Here lies the answer.John-d
Oct 26, 2001 7:13 AM
I agree. I am not large (67kg) but: to my mind spinning starts at 90 rpm, so, pedal at 90 rpm and select the gear to suit the terrain/wind etc. However match this with your heart monitor. You should know when you go anaerobic so at your threshold in theory they should all come together for max sustainable speed
"Make big torque and make it quicker" wish i'd said that.Largo
Oct 26, 2001 7:07 AM
I like that.
Oct 26, 2001 7:21 AM
summary of the true issues involved. For as long as I can remember, the 'Spin Nazis' have been telling us if we're not pedaling at 90-100 rpm at all moments, we're hopeless. The fact is -- as Doug points out -- there are different appropriate cadences for different body types, different terrain, different bikes, different times of day, different points in the ride, different gradients of fatigue, different TYPES of fatigue, different moods, different phases of the moon, sunspot activity ...

I read somewhere recently that Lon Haldeman may mash a 20 cadence one minute, may spin 160 the next, and his ability to function and function well over a wide spectrum of cadences is one thing that makes him so great.

I believe instead of a slavish, mechanical devotion to spinning uber alles, we should -- out of instinct, experience and attention -- work on identifying and implementing the exact right cadence for each individual moment in the overall gestalt of the ride.
big blocks vs. high revsStarliner
Oct 26, 2001 8:44 AM
Remember that big blocks burn more fuel than the smaller, higher revving engines. They either need a bigger gas tank, or need to refuel more often to keep up.

You really are looking for the most efficient (not the highest or lowest) cadence to maintain your highest speed.

I'm large for a cyclist (6'2" 195lbs) and spend more time working on my spin than my power which I feel is already OK. As others have commented, you'll use/need both depending on riding situation. Maximizing both abilities of leg speed and power is an ongoing riding objective.

Taking the engine analogy further, consider the length of the piston stroke. Short stroke engines can naturally operate at higher rpms than long stroke engines. When Chevy introduced their first V8 engine in 1955, its lightweight, short stroke, high revving, design was revolutionary in a world of heavy, powerful, long stroked engines. That Chevy engine went on to unparalleled competitive success over the years since.

How this relates to cycling: we bigger, longer-legged guys with our longer cranks generally need to work more on pedalling at higher cadences than the smaller, shorter legged guys, in order to neutralize their advantage in leg speed.
Oct 26, 2001 8:54 AM
I read a few years ago that a university study had concluded that the most efficient cadence was a relatively slow one, about 50 to 60 rpms. When you are efficient then you are not producing a lot of power, just enough to keep going.

Again using the car engine analogy, for best gas mileage for a given engine, low revs and slow speeds are the way to go.

Oct 26, 2001 9:05 AM
Zillions of people the world over who use bikes as their primary mode of transportation pedal happily and efficently along at 50-60 rpm. The average kid on his first bike pedals about that. The 'new roadie' will too, at least until the 'real' roadies give him grief about it. The human body seems to want to pedal at that cadence. I believe (intuitively -- no studies to cite) that it's the most 'efficient' cadence for sustained pedaling over distance by a non-athelete interested only in using a bike to get from here to there.

When we talk about the 'efficiency' of cadences much above that, we're talking about athletic efficiency, which is a whole nother kettle of fish. A Malaysian bike commuter on her way home from 16 hours in the sweatshop isn't really too interested in maintaining 23 mph over a 20-mile time trial course. She just wants to get home in the best time with the least strain.
max output vs. plodding alongDog
Oct 26, 2001 9:19 AM
Yes, there is a difference between efficiency at minimal power, and efficiency at the maximum power one can sustain over a given distance. Additionally, over much longer distances, not only fatigue but muscle and joint damage (injury, in a way) has to be considered.

I have found that while mashing at 60-70 rpms can make fine power up a hill or in a time trial for a short time, it takes it's toll on the muscles, joints, and feet. There is more pressure with each stroke. On the other hand, I've found that over much longer distances, centuries and beyond, I suffer much less pain and less wear and tear at higher rpms. Spinning "saves your legs", but does require sufficient oxygen to maintain it. Anyone who has ridden a hilly double century can likely attest to the advantage of spinning up hills in low gears, rather than mashing and wearing out the legs. Of course, there are exceptions.

Still, what is spinning for one may be mashing for another. There is no one way that suits everyone.

I think our discussion in this context is focused upon "how can I get from point A to point B the fastest?", not plodding along at jogging speeds. Generally, I would think that in that context, especially in long distances, a relatively higher cadence will prove faster for most people once they can get used to it. This does not necessarily mean 120 rpms for everyone, though, but just relatively higher for a given person.

'average cadence'scottfree
Oct 26, 2001 9:37 AM
I think we basically agree.

Here's an interesting speculation for those interested in cadence: Most cycling computers have an 'average speed' function, but none that I know of have an 'average cadence' function. I know I check my cadence from time to time during a ride, but when it's over I have no exact figure telling me whether overall it was a fast-cadence ride or a 'mash' ride.

I wonder if even the die-hard spinners might be surprised at how low their average cadence is when all is said and done after a ride with many varables.

(Of course, considering the inflated numbers posted on this board, I'm sure they'd all report average cadence this way: "I was pressed for time, and very tired from just getting over the measles, so I just did a short ride 52 miles at an average speed of 23.4 mph and an average cadence of 120. ;-)
watching the hrm...aet
Oct 26, 2001 7:20 AM
my heart rate flys up when i pedal fast. even if don't feel i am working too hard. i am new to heart rate training so maybe that will ease up. for now, i am pedaling bigger gears and keeping a semi respectable speed.
that is kinda what prompted me to ask this question.
watching the hrm...morey
Oct 26, 2001 7:22 AM
I find the same thing!
Oct 26, 2001 7:24 AM
spinning works the cardiovascular system, mashing uses muscle. You can spin a very light gear at a million rpms, not feel like you're really working your muscles at all, and your heart rate will shoot up.
so, can you train to spin at lower heart rates?aet
Oct 26, 2001 7:26 AM
do you increase cadence gradually or should you just plan to be in a different training zone when spinning?
so, can you train to spin at lower heart rates?scottfree
Oct 26, 2001 7:33 AM
Well, if you never spin 120 you'll never spin 120. I don't know what kind of zone spinning puts you in or where you want to be, but within the parameters of those two things, I think you should spin for at least part of each ride at or around the high-end cadence you're shooting for. But that applies at the low- and mid-ends too. I'm a multi-cadence fan, as my other post here shows.
Old saying....Len J
Oct 26, 2001 11:04 AM
Rest your legs...Spin faster.
Rest your lungs.... Spin slower.

Generally I agree that being able to do both is the ideal. But let me add that spinning is usually a learned behavior. For most people (Lance included), spinning felt awkward the first few times you do it. The secret is to treat it as a learned behavior, just like hill climbing or sprinting or increasing yout LT. There are specific ways to do this. I moved from a cadence of 80 to 90 to one of 95 to 110 by concentrating one ride a week on maintaining a cadence, for the entire ride of 5 rpm higher than normal, did that for a couple of weeks until that new level became my new level & kept going. Just like incrementing miles.

My .02

That's interesting - mine doesn'tMcAndrus
Oct 26, 2001 4:26 PM
I'm also new to the HRM stuff. I've noticed that I can keep a fast cadence with almost no effect on my heart rate. An example would be 95+ rpm on a flat road with a 110 bpm.

As soon as I reach a hill, the heart rate goes up whether I shift to keep up the cadence or let the bpm fall to under 80.

I figured it was a function of leg effort and not of lung effort.

Am I wrong? Or does aet's body react differently than mine? Or might it be road conditions?
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthdzrider
Oct 26, 2001 7:37 AM
Spinning requires a higher level of cardio-vascular fitness than pushing big gears. Until your VO2 max catches up with your strength you are likely to be more efficient at a slower cadence.

If you are really staying between 80 and 90 rpms you come pretty close to my definition of spinning. I'd spend some time on each ride maintaing a real fast cadence over varied terrain so that your legs feel at home spinning even up hill. This will also improve your cardio-vascular fitness.
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthmetonymy3
Oct 26, 2001 8:06 AM
That's it right there. If you've got a buy with big muscles, even if his VO2 max is normal, it is behind, because the muscles are so powerful, and so this guy likes to mash. If you have a scrawny little guy with a high VO2 max, he'll be better spinning really fast. So if a big guy could get his VO2 max up, he could be really great, spinning.
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthaet
Oct 26, 2001 8:28 AM
actually, before i got the hrm, i stayed between 90 to 100 rpm(i worked on that exclusively), then i get the hrm and try to start training in the zones and i had to start mashing a bit to keep my hr where it should be for the workout which got me wondering if the lower cadence was what i needed to do.
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthscottfree
Oct 26, 2001 8:34 AM
How long have you been riding?
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthaet
Oct 26, 2001 8:41 AM
about a year and a half, although i have only ridden with any kind of focus for about 8 mos
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthscottfree
Oct 26, 2001 8:53 AM
Well, you say your heart rate 'flies up' when you spin above 90. If you really want to spin above 90, just do it till you're out of the zone you want to be in, ease off, then pick up again when your HR has dropped. Or use a lower gear, if that will keep your HR from topping out of the zone (standard advice: use the gear that will allow you to spin x cadence without exceeding x heart rate). Generally speaking, as your cardio endurance improves with this regimen, you will over time be able to hold x spin longer without exceeding x HR.

That said, at your size, and especially if you find 80-90 rpms more comfortable, sustainable and efficient, I say listen to your body and follow its lead, Spin Nazis be damned.
re: Cardio vascular fitness vs strengthaet
Oct 26, 2001 10:54 AM
i like you scotfree. and i think i will go that route for now and see where it gets me (80-90, bigger gear).
Great threadWannabe
Oct 26, 2001 11:08 AM
Great thread folks!

"Spin Nazis" HA! Haven't heard that one! That's pretty humorous too!

Just something to add to this thread. When I venture out with my local club, which I started doing this year, I find that I have to really spin to keep up with them. If I were to switch to a bigger gear, I'd get dropped. I was maintaining around 120-125rpm for the really hard stretches (not on hills). I'm 5'7" and 140lbs.

Andy - Wannabe
Great threadmorey
Oct 26, 2001 11:43 AM
This was a very informative thread. 120-125 rpm!!!! I would fly off the bike. 100 would be alot for me. In fact, 80-90 rpm is fast. I use the big ring almost all the time with a cadence about 75-80. I have a best century time of 4:34, which I think is not bad for an over 50. However, I admit I would like to be able to spin those high numbers!
if you could spin those high numbers...aet
Oct 26, 2001 12:18 PM
with the gears you use now, you'd be brutal!!!!!!!!!
Holy Cow!!!Jon
Oct 26, 2001 1:57 PM
If I could do a 4:34 century, I wouldn't worry about my cadence---ever! You'd
make an absolutely EVIL time trialist. One note to you, aet, when I started working
on high cadence spinups, I eventually dropped my heartrate 15 bpm at a given cadence
in a given gear. The reasons are twofold: one, neuromuscular adaptation, and
two, aerobic adaptation. One other thought, if you're riding in a pack at high speed,
maintaining a high cadence makes it easier to adapt to surges and breaks. Just
watch Lance and Jan, respectively, react to attacks. Lance reacts much more quickly.
And now I understand why I want to spinMcAndrus
Oct 26, 2001 4:40 PM
I've been riding forever but I just started riding with the big boys last year. Jon, your post gave me a reason to work on my spin.

I've noticed in a fast moving pack, if I've just come off the front I'll fall back and shift to a bigger gear to slow my cadence and recover while I sit on the back.

As I move back up to the front I'll shift to lower gears and the reason is just what you say; if someone attacks, I can respond in smaller gears much more easily than if I'm still stuck in a big gear. It's just easier to spin up, if you will.

And now I have an incentive to work on my spin this winter.

Excuse me for stating the obvious (my daughter likes to call me "Captain Obvious") but a light just came on in my head.
And now I understand why I want to spinJon
Oct 26, 2001 5:12 PM
Hey Mic,

The next project for you and I is to figure out how to generate 1200 watts in a sprint so we can
hammer Mark and the other animals! Lessons from Morey the Big Gear Maniac?!
Let's see -- Lance + Jan + Erik = ???? wattsMcAndrus
Oct 26, 2001 6:00 PM
I think we'd need the brain transformation machine they used in Young Frankenstein to transfer the doctor's brains to the monster.

Only we'd have to set it on legs instead of brains.
That's the missing piece of the puzzle! (nm)Jon
Oct 26, 2001 6:23 PM