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Bike Cadence: Techniques to Improve Cycle Efficiency

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Have you ever seen the top cyclists in action? If you have, you must have noticed as to how easily, smoothly and efficiently they glide along the road and how their legs move in a steady motion. Now, a huge part of this is the cadence. But, what is the meaning of Cadence in the bicycle? Well, bike cadence refers to the speed at which the pedals are being turned. Quite similar to that of an engine, your cadence is usually broken into RPM (Revolutions per Minute).

If we talk in a more detailed way, your stroke would basically be half of the revolution while on the other hand; cadence is that stroke’s repetition about 200 times. To measure it, all you need to do is pedal and then keep counting the number of revolutions that you make in a minute. This might seem a lot easier. But, in an ideal situation, you won’t be cycling for just a minute. You would have to cycle for a much longer duration. If you put in an effort to train and improve your bike cadence, you would be able to improve your cycling efficiency. This means that you would be able to pedal faster and for a much longer time.

Why Do You Need to Improve your Cadence?

Less amount of strain or force is put on your muscles with every stroke when you pedal faster. In such situations, you are going to be riding in a lower gear and you, therefore, employ your slow-twitch muscles. These muscles are resistant to fatigue, help in burning fat for the fuel and can recover pretty quickly. 

Lower cadence when cycling on a higher gear can be more exhausting for the muscs. In this case, fast-twitch muscles are employed. These muscles fatigue quite quickly, burn glycogen for fuel and takes a much longer time to recover. In such cases, muscle strength won’t last for a much longer time and graduallely, you would start feeling the burn faster as compared to when cycling at a higher cadence. 

The most common misconception that people usually have is that when they pedal faster, it can be harder for their cardiovascular system to cope up. However, that isn’t true as the cardiovascular system is highly efficient and doesn’t take much time to recover. The only thing that limits it is the amount of oxygen that it is getting at a given time. 

Therefore, this implies that a higher cadence can lead to an increase in the blood flow in the muscles. As there is an increased blood flow, there would be more amount of oxygen in the blood and thereby a more efficient aerobic performance. 

Bike Cadence
Bike Cadence- Effective Way to Improve Cycling Performance

How to Count Pedal Cadence

The easiest way to know your pedal cadence would be with the help of the bicycle computers. These computers usually have sensors which usually go somewhere near the crank and can easily count cadence for you.

However, if you do not have one of those, you can still measure your cadence easily by counting the number of times that your knee rises within a 30-second interval. Simply double this number and you would get your revolutions per minute. This might not be as accurate as that of a computer but you can still work with it. 

Bike Cadence
Find out Your Cadence

What’s The Ideal Cadence for a Cyclist?

Now there’s no definite number to explain that but, somewhere around 88-95 rpm should be the goal that you would want to aim for. This would help you in making the most out of your slow-twitch muscles and avoid leg fatigue. It has been noted that most of the cycling cadence for beginners must be around 50- 60 rpm while the advanced and professional cyclists can pedal to approximately 80 to 100 rpm

One thing that you need to understand is the fact that attaining the optimal cycling cadence is not something that you can achieve overnight. It takes a lot of practice, effort, and patience. For instance, let’s assume that you have been cycling at around 70 rpm for a few months. Now, to up to 80 rpm, it definitely isn’t an easy task. Your body has adapted to the current cadence and changing it would require work of all your body systems like muscular, neural, metabolic, cardiovascular etc. 

Ways to Improve Cadence

To be honest, there isn’t anything as a perfect cadence. However, cadence is an essential part of cycling and therefore needs to be worked on. You might be a serious rider or just a recreational rider but with practicing to ride at a higher cadence, you would become much more efficient with your riding. However, this in any way doesn’t mean pedalling in the same gear. As a rider, you must adjust your gear when you get on so that it is way easier to keep your RPM’S stable. 

Now, the very first step towards improving your cadence is to determine your cadence! This is an easy but not an accurate way to determine the cadence- In 30 seconds, count, how many times your left knee comes up during the ride. Once you determine the count, increase it! this way you can improve your cadence. 

But, how is that going to help? When you are pedalling at a much higher cadence which is beyond your usual norm, you are basically training your brain to send signals in a pattern that is required by your muscles so as to contract quickly. Now when you hit the usual numbers, it won’t seem as hard to you. You can check the drills to improve the cadence efficiency. 

Ways to Improve Cadence
Focus on your Pedal

Drills to Improve Cycling Efficiency and Pedal Cadence

Listed below are a few bike cadence drills that you can adopt so as to improve your efficiency. 

1. Spin-Ups 

The first step would be to find a moderately sized climb that has a gradual descent. Now choose a middle gear and begin pedalling at a speed which you feel you can keep up without feeling exhausted. When you are going down, do not change the gear but slowly let your cadence rise. Focus on keeping a uniform pedal stroke. 

Remember to not push harder as compared to how you are pulling them through the bottom or top of the stroke. Also, your hips should remain on the saddles square without bouncing or rocking the torso. Repeat this for about 4 to 5 times at regular intervals.

As you begin to feel comfortable with the drill, start with a higher cadence. Ensure that you are putting in an even amount of pressure for the rotation of the pedal stroke.  

Spin Ups
Drill for Every Cyclist

2. Cadence Intervals

During your intervals, you would be turning over comparatively small gears. Your goal here should be to keep the cadence approximately 10 to 15 rpm above your usual cadence. Ride at this new cadence for about 5 minutes and then return to your normal bike cadence. Try doing this several times during your ride. Build up to 3 * 15 minutes with about five-minute recovery time. 

If you have a speedometer with yourself, keep a check on that and try to maintain your speed when you are shifting to a higher cadence. This would give your joints and muscles a break from those big gears. 

Bike Cadence
Switch from High to Low Cadence 

3. Single Leg Pedaling on Trainer

For this, you would need an indoor cycling trainer. With one of your foot resting on the trainer’s frame or on a box placed next to the bike and with the other leg clipped onto the pedal, shift to an easy gear and begin to pedal. Keep pedalling for approximately 20 to 30 seconds or until you begin to feel exhausted. 

Now repeat the same with your other leg. Begin with five repetitions of each leg and then gradually when the drill seems to be easier, increase this duration. If you cannot do so, try with both your feet clipped on to the pedal. Now, slowly try using just one leg and let the other one rest even though it is clipped in.

This is a great drill to improve your pedalling efficiency. Towards the beginning, you might feel a bit awkward. You might have several spots in one revolution wherein you would feel that not enough power is being generated. These are referred to as dead spots and are basically the reason as to why this drill allows you to pedal in full circles. 

Livingit Tip
Keep alternating between legs. This way the drill would seem a lot easier to you. 

Bike Cadence
Train to Improve your Cadence

Factors to Consider in Cadence Selection - Cycling Cadence Tips

Listed below are a few factors and tips that would help you to improve your efficiency and succeed. 

  • You Won’t Get Too Far With Spinning Faster 

When you are just starting out, you might believe that a faster cadence is better. Well, yes that is true. If you are applying a constant force on the pedals and pedal with more RPMs, you would definitely go faster.

However, is it really that simple?

If it were that simple anyone could get fast on the bike in no time. Cycling isn’t just about cadence. If you just bounce on the saddle with high RPMs and no resistance, you might be able to burn calories but this in no way would help you in improving your performance. 

  • Low Cadence vs. High Cadence 

As mentioned above, a low cadence would require high force which means employing more of the fast-twitch muscle. On the other hand, a higher cadence means lower force and using more of the slow-twitch muscles.

Now, a higher cadence might put a bit more stress on your cardiovascular system while when cycling at a lower cadence, your muscular system might feel fatigued. Lower cadence might not put stress on the cardiovascular system but would take up much of your muscle strength. This way you wouldn’t be able to cycle for a much longer time period. 

Is Higher Cadence Better? 

Let’s find out the high cadence cycling benefits.

When your cadence is higher, your legs would act as a much effective blood pumping system. The output of the heart would also increase if a faster cadence is hit. You can also monitor heart rate easily while cycling. Higher cadence will pump up your cardiovascular system and respiratory system. Also, due to easy gear, higher cadence will have less pressure on your muscles. Another bonus point of higher cadence is that your knees wouldn't be strained! If you have weak knees then always prefer higher cadence with low gear. 

To be honest, here, it depends on your overall cycling skills and not just your cadence. Bike cadence is definitely a crucial thing but cannot be the only factor to consider when it comes to cycling. Your best performance might be achieved when you are cycling on a normal range let's say about 80-90 RPM. This, however, might not be possible when you are cycling with a higher cadence.

Faster Bike Cadence
Higher Cadence Benefits

External Reasons for Low Cadence

If your cadence is below the normal range and you have done everything to improve it and have yet not been able to succeed, there are high chances that some external factors might be responsible for it. 

1. Appropriate Crank Length

When you are putting in an effort to improve your cadence, the crank length must also be considered. In case you have the wrong size, a change in the crank can turn out to be beneficial. It would increase your efficiency and cadence by opening up your hip so as that you can relax. This way you would be able to use up more up more of your glute muscles and hence cycle better. 

2. Proper Gearing 

The importance of proper gears cannot be ignored. When you are cycling in different terrains, the strength required would be different and this needs appropriate gears. The best option would be to go through a list of options of all the gears available. This way you would be able to choose which gear would be most suitable for you. 

3. Proper Fit 

Similar to the gears, proper fit of the clothing and other accessories is also important. In case you have an improper fit, your body angles would force you in a certain way which might not be suitable for cycling. Also, with improper fit, you would feel uncomfortable and your focus would be on that instead of cycling. Hence, when purchasing, make sure that they fit you perfectly. 

Summing Up 

Practice is what is going to make you perfect. You cannot just practice for a day and expect your bike cadence to improve overnight. This is not magic and the professional cyclists have spent years practising. Focus on your training so as to develop speed at the cadence that you hope to race at. 

Also, bring in proper gear on the day of the race. By following all of the above-mentioned drills and tips, you would surely be able to become more efficient with your cadence and would be able to succeed as well. 

When machine and muscle connect extraordinary things happen!

Have you tried any other drill that seemed to have worked well for improving cadence? If yes, do feel free to share them with us. 

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