Cyclists pay attention to many different numbers as they evaluate their performance in real time. Among them are distance pedalled, speed, heart rate and power output. Another parameter – one that is often a mystery to newbie cyclists – is pedalling cadence.
What is cadence?
Cadence is defined as the number of revolutions of the crank per minute (rpm). Typical pedalling cadences for trained cyclists range from 85 to 100 rpm. An untrained, recreational cyclist is more likely to pedal at a slower cadence, such as 60 to 70 rpm.
How do I figure out my cadence?
Many bike computers come with sensors that count how many times the cranks go round and display a rider’s cadence. Such sensors are typically mounted on or near the cranks.
But even without a bike computer, you can get a quick estimate of your cadence. Simply pick an interval, such as 30 seconds, and count how many times your legs go around during that period. Then double the number to calculate your cadence.
Why is cadence important?
Power is the product of the force applied to the pedals and cadence. Thus to increase power, you can apply more force to the pedals, pedal faster or do both at the same time. This means that it’s also possible to produce the same amount of power at different cadences – you just have to apply different amounts of force. For example, you can produce a given amount of power by pedalling slowly in a bigger gear or by pedalling faster in a smaller gear.
When you pedal fast in a lower gear, you tend to need less force so it fosters more slow twitch muscle fiber recruitment. The opposite is also true: when you pedal more slowly in a higher gear, you need more force so have to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. Generally speaking, pedalling at lower cadences requires relatively more effort from your muscles whereas pedalling at higher cadences requires relatively more effort from your cardiovascular system.
Every cyclists has different strengths and weaknesses; thus some tend to prefer higher cadences while others prefer lower cadences.
A bit of history
Many cyclists began caring about cadence at the end of the 1990s when Lance Armstrong became famous by winning the Tour de France while pedalling at a conspicuously higher cadence than many of his peers in the pro peloton.
Pros like Armstrong found that pedalling at higher cadences like 100-110 rpm felt more efficient, often helping them with muscular recovery and endurance as well as smoothing out any dead spots in their pedal stroke.
But not every pro goes for super high cadences. Another former Tour de France winner, Jan Ullrich, was famous for his slightly slower pedalling cadence, often in the 80-90 rpm range. When racing side by side with Armstrong, Ullrich appeared to be mashing gears and pedalling slowly.
In the past two decades with the advent of drivetrains including many gear combinations spanning a much larger range, it’s now possible for cyclists to be able to almost always pick the perfect gear to enable them to pedal at their preferred personal cadence, whether they are riding at relatively slower or faster speeds.
Switching from using round chainrings to ROTOR’s Q-Rings is easy, but it does require some initial setup followed by a transition period for full adaptation.
Optimum Chainring Position (OCP) is what allows you to vary the rotational position of a Q-Ring, thereby enabling you to adjust it to the precise point where you deliver maximum power during a single pedal rotation.
ROTOR suggests the following initial OCP setups by discipline:
- Road: Position 3
- Triathlon and TT: Position 4
- MTB: Position 3
Because Q-Rings use leg muscles differently than round chainrings, your muscles will need time to adapt to the new, more efficient way of pedalling. Adaptation is a gradual process covering four stages with each stage taking between one day and one week. Most riders will require at least 10 hours of pedalling time to make the full transition.
In stage 1, you will learn to pedal more efficiently. Pedalling may initially feel different, and you may find yourself turning the pedals at a faster or slower rate than your usual cadence. Don’t worry about any initial jerkiness – it will smooth out over time.
You will start to feel more capable and more powerful in stage 2, and your spin will improve on climbs. Many who suffer knee pain will start to notice it less – assuming their OCP is correctly adjusted.
Stage 3 + 4
Stage 3 will bring improved biomechanical efficiency, which produces a smoother pedal stroke due to fuller activation of muscle groups. You will be creating more power than with round chainrings. If you experience no issues during this stage, you have correctly set your OCP and are onto Stage 4 of adaptation. Those encountering issues should read on for further OCP setting instructions.
If you experience the following symptoms, you are arriving at the max chainring diameter too late because your OCP number is too big, and you should reduce your OCP by one setting:
- You accelerate and sprint easily, but have difficulty maintaining speed.
- You feel pedalling resistance too late in your pedal stroke and/or you are hyperextending your ankle.
- You need a lower cadence to be comfortable.
- Your sit further forward than usual to pedal comfortably.
- You are comfortable pedalling while standing, but not while seated.
- You have new pain at the back of your leg behind your knee.
On the other hand, if your OCP is set too low, you will find yourself arriving at the max chainring diameter too soon during your pedal stroke. You should increase your OCP setting by one if you experience the following:
- You find it easy to maintain a steady speed but have difficulty accelerating and sprinting.
- You feel pedalling resistance too early in your pedal stroke and/or you are hyperflexing your ankle.
- You need a higher cadence to be comfortable.
- You sit further back than usual to pedal comfortably.
- You are comfortable pedalling while seated, but not while standing.
- You have a new pain at the front of your knee.
Once you’ve got your OCP correctly adjusted, it’s time for stage 4 and final adaptation, which comes naturally with more cumulative pedalling time using Q-Rings.
A few final setup notes
Different bikes may need different OCPs – don’t assume you will use the same position on each of your bikes.
Adjacent chainrings in multi-ring setups may require different OCP’s.
Road Q-Rings and QXL have five OCP points while MTB Q-Rings have three OCP points.
If you are using a Micro Adjust Spider (MAS), your number of OCP points is effectively doubled because it reduces the angle between OCP points by 2.5 degrees, thereby offering micro adjustments. In this case, you should adjust your OCP in 1/2-step increments.
This post published courtesy of Training Peaks. For more articles, please visit TrainingPeaks.com/blog
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