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OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....(27 posts)

OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....joekm
Oct 1, 2002 5:39 AM
Been riding with the local bike club. In the short time I've been with them, I've gotten significantly faster and I've received a lot of advice on how to improve. One of the most common things I've been hearing is that I should be spinning 80-85 rpm at the crank. A couple have even suggested that I go for 100-105 rpm (what freakish combination of man and sewing machine actually turns that rpm -- really?).

Anyway, my natural spin tends to run between 55-60 rpm and I definately use my hamstrings as well as my quads in the pedal stroke (can thank the rollers for learning how to do that). Recently, I've tried running between 65-75 crank rpm and, while that feels awkwardly fast, it's manageable and I'll probably get used to it over time. My average speed for my lunchtime route appears to be unchanged with the new crank rpm.

Thanks to OLN, I've had the chance to watch the pros and, not all of them seem to be spinning 80+ rpm. On flat ground, a fast spin seems counter-intuitive. I mean, most cars have an overdrive gear to conserve fuel.

So, I guess what I'm asking is this; Is this high rpm thing based upon best available data or is it more because certain pro riders tend to spin fast?
Think about your car...MXL02
Oct 1, 2002 5:52 AM
The power curve of a car engine shows that with increase RPM comes an increase in power, up to a certain point, then the power decreases as the RPMS increase. When needing power for accelerating or climbing, you pop down into a lower gear. But when cruising, you do best at a lower rpm, since this conserves energy and fuel.
Having said that let me give you my own take on it. I believe that a lot of this focus on high spin rates comes from the Chris Carmicheal/Lance Armstrong success with it. But remember, Lance uses this to wipe out the competition in the mountains, ie, he needs max power.

Personally my natural spin is about 82-86 rpm, and goes to about 100 when I am in an acceleration. But this happens naturally for me. If your friends are telling you one thing and you body another, I would, personally, find a coach who could put me on a power meter and test my power rating at different rpms, so you could have a power curve for your own "motor" and know where the best rpms are for you.
re: OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....KEN2
Oct 1, 2002 6:31 AM
I spin on the flats at 96, have for years, long before all the Lance/Chris Carmichael stuff was around. Uphill I spin around 100, downhill maybe 85 or so.

I think it's more related to your ratio of slow/fast twitch fibers. I have a higher amount of slow twitch, thus I can pedal all day with no fatigue but can't win a sprint. Gear mashers tend to be the big-legged guys, i.e. probably more fast-twitch muscle fibers.
I'm not sure...Wayne
Oct 1, 2002 8:47 AM
that bigger muscles = more fast twitch. It's true that fast-twitch motor units are usually larger than slow-twitch motor units. But that doesn't mean someone who has large muscles has a greater percentage of fast twitch fibers rather than just more or bigger fibers all around.
Also, slow-twitch fibers contract plenty fast enough to contract at a very high rpm rate. I'm not sure that fiber type has much to due with sprinting ability. I imagine that it has more to do with muscle size (tendon insertions also?) which contributes to absolute short-term power producing ability or maybe even neuromuscular recruitment issues.
re: OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....Breakfast
Oct 1, 2002 6:53 AM
55-60 rpm is not a spin, it's a mash unless you're climbing a grade that requires pure strength and is steep.

The reason it feels natural is because humans walk at a pace of about 60 steps per minute (per leg).

I think there is sufficient data to support the idea that high rpm spinning allows greater time before muscular fatigue than low rpm cycling which tends to use muscle glycogen at a higher rate. Leg speed is another factor since two pros sprinting in the same top gear will only go the same speed unless one spins the pedals faster. The ability to spin fast gives one greater acceleration in any gear. Training to achieve a higher cadence only serves to make the body more efficient at a higher power output. Of course, the gearing and resistance used in any training program needs to be progressive in order to gain the strength to spin harder gears against greater resistance (hills and wind resistance).
Bkfst - Where are the studies for this?MXL02
Oct 1, 2002 7:43 AM
I don't doubt what you say, I would just like to get more educated on the physiology of this concept. Thanks in advance.
Basic evercise physiology, I'm not your researcher. DIY (nm)Breakfast
Oct 1, 2002 1:40 PM
ThanksMXL02
Oct 1, 2002 6:06 PM
KMA.
uh, isn't overdrive for more power, less fuel efficiency? (nm)KSC
Oct 1, 2002 6:55 AM
you got it backwards...merckx56
Oct 1, 2002 7:07 AM
overdrive is a higher gear ratio (lower numerically) that allows the motor to turn at lower rpm, thus creating higher fuel economy. much 5th in a 5 speed or 6th in a six speed.
the gearing may be so tall that top speed is reached in one gear lower than top gear. in an automatic, the D with the little circle around it is your overdrive gear. it is effectively 4th gear in the automatic tranny. put it in the 3 and that top/overdrive gear goes away. try it at home. you'll see that the car will run at higher rpm on the highway in 3rd than in drive.
no.collinsc
Oct 1, 2002 7:08 AM
In fact, back in the day before every car had 200hp, many cars were faster (top speed wise) in 4th than in 5th because of the way the gear positioned itself in the engines power curves.
uh, isn't overdrive for more power, less fuel efficiency? (nm)joekm
Oct 1, 2002 7:12 AM
No, actually it's the opposite. Power is proportional to torque times RPM. In an overdrive gear, you are giving up available torque in exchange for running a lower RPM and using less power. The downside is that it's easy to fall off the "power band" resulting in having to make a large downshift to get back on.

If this pricinple carries through from internal combustion engines to cyclist. Then it would imply that gear mashers would tend to struggle as hill climbers since they would need to make more of a downshift to get back on the "power band" as opposed to a cyclist running a lower gear and more available torque to begin with.

Of course, we are not internal combustion engines......
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ok, sorry, I was mixed up - (I drive stick!) (nm)KSC
Oct 1, 2002 8:23 AM
your top gear is generally overdrive with a sticklaffeaux
Oct 1, 2002 10:00 AM
Unless you have a 3 or 4 speed tranny, your top gear is overdrive. It will have a gear ratio less than 1:1.
re: OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....fbg111
Oct 1, 2002 7:07 AM
When I started a few months ago I was a masher b/c that's what felt the most natural and comfortable to me. However, a few weeks before my first triathlon, I started working on spinning b/c every triathlete I talked to said spinning is imperative to having fresh running legs when you get off the bike. I found they were right, although it took me several weeks of dedicated spinning before becoming comfortable with it. Initially it felt very tiring, but after building up my endurance I feel I could spin at 80-90 or higher rpm for two or three times my usual riding distance. Haven't tested that out yet (still trying to find a safe century course), but during the triathlon I was passing mashers left and right, even people on high-end tri bikes. Granted, I was riding with the novices and only averaging 21mph, but that was 2mph higher than my training averages. I peaked at the right time, but I also credit my switch to spinning for that.
a few factors:Fez
Oct 1, 2002 7:22 AM
are you pushing yourself hard at 55-60 rpm? you didn't say how fast you or the group was going. for the same gear, if you increased your cadence, then your speed will increase.

are your rides short? do you have hills? if you are having trouble keeping your legs fresh on longer rides, then the faster cadence will help.

if anything, experiment. do some rides high cadence. do some like a masher. use a HRM to find out any differences in speed and HR and see which one is more efficient - i.e. yields faster speed for a given heart rate. and if you do high cadence, see if your legs feel fresher after the ride.
From my training Logjoekm
Oct 1, 2002 7:41 AM
I don't monitor cadence or heart rate when I'm on a group ride because I don't want to risk causing a crash due to my "head being caught in the computer". However, I do an 11.6 mile ride during my lunch breaks over undulating to moderately hilly terrain. My last two such rides were at my normal spin and the new 65-75 rpm spin respectively. The faster spin had a 1/10 mph slower average speed (but I think it was more windy). However, my peak and average heart rate were both lower for the faster spin.

Obviously, two rides is hardly sufficient for making any conclusions but it's worth looking into.

Thanks for your input :)
From my training LogFez
Oct 1, 2002 8:45 AM
Let us know how it works out.

I think you will see a difference on your longer rides. If you have time, do the rides solo and go for distances of 30+ miles.
re: OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....jradford
Oct 1, 2002 7:38 AM
try it this way and it makes the most sense. Lets say you can bench press 200lbs once. Then we put 100lbs on the bar you could lift the bar many times. This goes the same for spinning. If you are in a higher gear you a fatiguing you muscles faster than if you where in a lower gear. you could ride at the same speed if you where spinning at 50 rpm or 90 rpm but I am willing to bet that if you road at both cadences on similar rides you will have more energy left at the end of the 90 rpm ride. The down side is you can spin to fast and fatigue your muscles that way to.

Try spinning at 80 to 90 rpm for a few long rides your legs will thank you.

this is what I ride for cadences
flat 90 to 95 rpm
hills 80 to 85 unless i run out of gears.
Sprints 150 to 200 rpm (yes I can spin at 200 rpm With this skill when you have spun out at you 120 rpm in your biggest gear I will fly buy you in a smaller gear and still be accelerating give it a try it works)
re: OK, maybe I am a gear masher after all....aliensporebomb
Oct 2, 2002 9:35 AM
I believe it's possible to do >150 since when I'm pedaling
at my very fastest it makes my wife laugh out loud. I know
I'm doing really fast pedaling, but have no clue as to the
cadence. I usually only do that for several minutes to bug
her.

It's even faster clipless since once you go really fast sans
clipless it's too easy for your feet to go all over the
place. Clipless is a must for ultra-fast spinning.
It takes timeRay Sachs
Oct 1, 2002 8:56 AM
Everyone has their own range of cadences that they're comfortable in, and not everyone should spin 100-110. Nonetheless, you don't want to stay at 55-60 if you plan on getting faster or more endurance - it won't work well for anything other than fairly short leisure rides. The good news is you probably don't have to work real hard on your spin - it will come with more time in the saddle. As you ride more and get acclimated, you'll naturally do what works best - and mashing at 55-60 rpm just isn't gonna be what works best.

I heard a quote a few years ago that "it takes 5 years to make a cyclist" (Maynard Hershon column I think) - just to develop the muscle memory, base miles, comfort on the bike, handling skills, whatever combination of things that makes riding feel natural and easy. Based on my own experience and some other folks who've been riding a similar amount of time, I believe it. Something happens somewhere around 5-6 years where, without any particular training or specific effort, riding got a lot easier - my cadence (while always rather high) got a lot smoother, my ability to accellerate and improved, as long as I find a rhythm and stay with it I can climb all but the most extreme terrain comfortably (no matter HOW long it takes). I feel much more natural out of the saddle and on the flats I can comfortably hang with folks that are a good bit stronger than I am where I couldn't a year or two ago. Riding is now almost always fun, whereas in the past some days were just a miserable struggle - now my worst days are still ok. I'm not a racer or even a particularly fast club rider, but I feel like something clicked in the past couple of years and I feel like a better cyclist in almost every way now, despite my advancing years. Odd, but cool.

Be patient and ride lots - if you enjoy it enough to put in the miles, it'll come. Oh yeah, toss your computer for the first couple of years - it'll just get you in trouble.

-Ray
This is actually my third major foray into road bikingjoekm
Oct 1, 2002 9:18 AM
This time out, I've already gone about 2 years without a computer. Now I've joined a riding group, bought a new bike and computer, and am trying to improve. I've gone out with our local groups "A" riders once (by accident) and, while I couldn't pull as long as they could, they didn't drop me either. To get to their level, I'm going to have to ride a little faster and climb much better.

In the past, I was all about leg strength (and my legs were pretty strong). Now, I'm investigating other methods.
Good luck - thought you were total beginnner (nm)Ray Sachs
Oct 1, 2002 10:52 AM
I agreelaffeaux
Oct 1, 2002 9:58 AM
I've never thought about it, but I think you're right. At some point things just come natural, and things that used to be difficult or mildly uncomfortable, are now no big deal. Hills that used to be "tough" are now places that I sprint for training. It's more than being in better shape, it's knowing your strength, how to time shifts, and learning what you can do.
There's those F#$%&^G 5 years again!hrv
Oct 1, 2002 6:54 PM
I'm 47 and I just finished year one and have tried some races and realize that no matter how much training I do it's gonna take more years in my legs. Just have to play the waiting game and let the miles/years tick by: no easy path to fitness. Why I waited this long is beyond me, but better late than never.

But for now when I get blown out the back I have an excuse and I'm milking it for all it's worth!

Oh, I just completed some spin-ups and got to 185; goal next year is to spin at 200+ (track racing should help).

ride on,
hrv
Try this linkMcAndrus
Oct 1, 2002 9:04 AM
http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0295.htm. It's an article on the efficiencies of fast cadences.
Interesting......joekm
Oct 1, 2002 9:31 AM
In my previous forays into cycling, I was all about buiding leg strength and explosiveness. My legs were pretty strong but I sucked rocks at climbing. My tendancy to train for strength only in the past my explain my preference for a low cadence.

Thanks for the info, maybe I'll repost in a few months and let everyone know if the new cadence is having any effect.

:)