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Is the need for a high cadence a sign of weakness?(12 posts)

Is the need for a high cadence a sign of weakness?Mr Nick
Nov 26, 2003 4:38 PM
When I was riding with my cousin I realized that I kept a much higher cadence than she did and had to try and keep my spin up to keep pace. When it came to climbing I was at a severe disadvantage because I had a hard time keeping a comfortable cadence with my gearing and she was just able to power up the hills. Should I be working on getting the power to mash up the hills or should I look into increasing my gearing so that I can keep my cadence up? I am thinking that I would like to get lower gearing because when I do climb on my bike as is, my knees become very sore (poor genetics). But since I have never tried a triple or anything lower than my Lemond, I don't know if the lower gears will just cause me to go really slow? Thanks for the input.
re: Is the need for a high cadence a sign of weakness?russw19
Nov 26, 2003 4:50 PM
High cadence is a sign of efficiency. Lance Armstrong rides at an unusually high cadence. On the other hand, lower cadences are often preferred by stronger riders. But you will also fatigue quicker using a low cadence and mashing a gear. Also, higher cadence gives you the ability to wind up a gear faster to set up for an attack, sprint, or climb. In road racing, a higher cadence would be preferred due to its advantages, but for triathletes or time trialists who ride long distances at a steady pace, a lower cadence may be ideal.

That said, most riders ride at too low of a cadence. You should be in the 90 to 110 rpm range. Many cyclists tend to ride in the 50 to 60 range which is hard on your joints in your knees according to physiotherapists. Lance by the way is up in the 120 to 130 range. He and Chris Carmichael swear that is why he climbs so well. For contrast, earlier in his career when he won the Tour, Jan Ullrich was considered a gear masher by most pro cyclist's standards. He rode in the 90 rpm range. As he has gotten older and a little leaner his cadence has also gone up to a more "normal" 110.

Good information... another question...Mr Nick
Nov 26, 2003 5:17 PM
Right now I have a 53/39 with a 12-25 and I have a difficult time keeping my cadence up when climbing. Will increased strength enable me to spin faster with this gearing? Or do I need to lower my gearing to get the cadence that I am comfortable at?
It depends upon the size of the hillshudsonite
Nov 26, 2003 7:43 PM
Hills come in all shapes and sizes. Some hills require lower gearing than what you have, others do not.

If you get stronger, you are going to be able to climb hills easier. If you get lighter, you will be able to climb easier. It all depends upon your age, conditioning, weight and strength.

A 39X25 is good for most hills. But if you get into serious mountains, where the grade is 11+ for 2 miles or more, you are going to be hurting, even if you are in good shape.

A good friend of mine and I went out on Saturday. He is in great shape and is always the fastest in the group. We were out doing 20%+ hills. His lowest gear was 39x27. He almost could not make it home. His body was shot.

So, get stronger and consider a lower gear if the mountains you climb are really tough. The only way to get good at climbing is to climb until your legs hurt like hell.

Have fun climbing
It depends upon the size of the hillsDutchy
Nov 26, 2003 8:25 PM
I have discovered that cadence goes out the window once hills get any steeper than 10%. Even in a 25 or 27 cog it is time to stand and pedal. When standing I just rock at a good rhythm and forget about cadence. I guess most people do the same.


Good information... another question...russw19
Nov 26, 2003 10:21 PM
If you are climbing and need to up your cadence you will most likely need to get out of the saddle for a moment. If you do, just make sure you do it to up your cadence, then sit back down and spin up the hill. If you can, it's more efficient to climb seated than standing, but if you need to, get out of the saddle and add a little power to your climb. Just make sure you sit back down.

Climbing is something that just comes with time. And I am certainly no expert on it being that I now live in Florida, but the more you climb, the better at it you become. I suspect that your cousin just has more experience with it than you. You need to learn to alternate getting out of the saddle, then back in to keep your cadence up... and don't worry if you can't. The point of hills is to get over them... not to get over them with perfect form.

re: Is the need for a high cadence a sign of weakness?CritLover
Nov 26, 2003 9:31 PM
I'm not sure I completely agree with the statement about pedaling efficiency at 110. If that were the case every cyclist would be taught to ride at that cadence. Also, I don't remember Ulrich spinning up any hills this past year- I'd still considered him more of a masher.

Spinning fast is only part of the equation, strength and pedal stroke efficiency are equally as important. I'm no expert, and couldn't say the importance ratio of one to the other, but I consider stroke to be more important for efficiency then cadence.
Remember Miguel Indurain?dzrider
Nov 28, 2003 10:19 AM
He did a good job getting to the tops of mountains without maintaining a really fast cadence. I think that VO2 max per kg is a much better predictor of climbing than either leg strength or cadence. If you want to climb better, improve your aerobic fitness and lose weight.

I also think that looking to Armstrong, or Ulrich, or Indurain for answers about my cycling is as useful as looking to Kobe Bryant for answers about my basketball game.
hills or climbs?Eric_H
Nov 27, 2003 3:20 PM
I think one needs to qualify the hills in question. Are the hills short (1-2 km) and steep (8% and up) or longer and flatter? Because, in my opinion, the two require uniquely different abilities.

The short and steep hills require strength. The fastest way over them is to stand up and power over them, or at least stand up in the steepest sections. These efforts are anaerobic, or at least portions of them are anaerobic. The ability to push a larger gear may help, especially if one is comfortable climbing out of the saddle for extended periods. Therefore strength can be a limiter for novice riders in these situations.

Longer climbs that take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour or more are different. This is the stuff we see in the Tour. Here, the effort is so long that it is primarily aerobic, with sections of anaerobic effort during attacks. To be successful on these climbs, one needs to work on climbing primarily in the saddle, and keeping the cadence reasonably high. What is reasonable? Depends on the rider. To have a cadence like Lance, one needs to spend a lot of time working on pedaling form. Most non-elite riders, and even most elite riders will not climb at 110 rpm. 70-90 is a more reasonable number. On a long climb, aerobic threshold fitness is usually the limiter.
what is the question here?funknuggets
Nov 28, 2003 8:23 AM
If Im not mistaken, it sounds like he is trying to use cadence as a gauge to monitor fitness relative to another rider, which Im not sure is a viable method of measuring fitness or riding style. The fact that Mr. Nick seemed to have a hard time keeping up at all, he looked to gears as the solution or prohibitive factor. If Im not mistaken and this is meant as no slight to Mr. Nick, but I would think that he would be better off doing a variety of things to improve overall cycling fitness so that he can determine his riding style. Whether it be more intervals, hill repeats, spin ups, or TT efforts, I think more structured training and focus will enable him to better ascertain his relative strengths and weaknesses.

I would like to suggest a HR monitor, and to spin some cycles on a trainer pushing the same cadence in different gears, or pushing the same gear with different cadences and work to find an efficient cadence. As the fitness comes, typically the comfort zone with particular cadences increases, but only more quality time in the saddle is going to give him the "ideal". The guy is not Lance and should not likely go out and train at 120, nor is he Jan and need to mash up 16% grades at 55. Shoot for a range between 90 and 110 and work from there.

Time in the saddleLive Steam
Nov 28, 2003 8:07 PM
With more time in the saddle you will find what and what does not work for you. I am constantly amazed, when riding in a "fast group", at the different techniques used to accomplish relatively the same results. I always check other riders gear selections relative to mine at certain speeds and levels of exertion during the ride, just as you did with your cousin. They are all pretty fit people - racers, ex-racers, triathletes, fitness nuts and hacks like me :O) I am generally at the higher limits of cadence. A high cadence, as someone already mentioned, relies more on your cardio/respiratory system and lower bigger gears rely more on strength.

Someone also mentioned the benefits of a high cadence relative to a lower cadence when tactics come into play. When using a higher cadence, you have more options available to you. Dropping to bigger gears and jumping is easier because you will not get bogged down and lose your spin.

Your question somewhat implies that you may feel you are not in the correct gearing combination. This may very well be the case. Proper gear selection and the proper time to shift also come with experience. Many races have been won and lost because of this. You will have to experiment to find your power zone. If you are spinning at a high cadence yet are not able to keep pace, you may very well be in the wrong gear. You may need to drop down a cog or two to gain more power or thrust. I am not an engineer, so I may not explain it properly, but your maximum output in a certain gear at a particular cadence may not provide enough power relative to peddling at a lower cadence in bigger gears. You may need to emulate what your cousin is doing to keep pace or at least feel the differences and the results you need to aspire to. Time and training. There is no easy way :O) Actually you are ahead of the game. Most people have a tougher time learning to keep a high cadence.
re: Is the need for a high cadence a sign of weakness?MShaw
Nov 30, 2003 11:32 PM
I went over to the other day. I was poking around and noticed the section that showed power between two riders going up a hill. I have a friend that weighs MAYBE 135 soaking wet. I weigh somewhere around 180#. If we both maintain 250w going up the same 2km hill, he ends up ahead of me by about 250m at the top. Bastard!

That sound familliar?

There's a couple of things I've become convinced of over the years. One of them is you only get strong enough to push the smallest gear on your bike.

Another is that when I do put smaller gears on my bikes, all I do is go slower for the same amount of effort. My cross bike has a 34/26t low gear. It felt the same (just a little slower) as my 39/23 on my road bikes going up Tamarack (in Carlsbad, CA) to get home.

About the only things you can do are to build strength or lose weight.