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.
(or “Is Mountain Biking Harder Than Road Cycling?”)
To be good at anything you do, you have to have a clear purpose, therefore training has to have purpose. In mountain biking, that purpose is to improve your ability to power through and recover from the frequent hard efforts required by riding off-road. Training with a power meter will enable you to become stronger, faster, and fitter, which – when combined with superior technical skills, will make you an almost lethal mountain biker. Having a tool to measure, analyze, monitor and manage your training and racing will prepare you for known challenges and even ones that are unexpected, like wet sand and mud.
Like they say in the video, every mountain biker wants to get fitter, ride faster, and to make it easier. But the truth is, it’s never going to get easier, but if you follow the four steps listed below, you just get better.
Measure – most power meters are designed to calculate power and cadence, which are indicators of your fitness. Many power meters also measure pedal smoothness and torque effectiveness, which indicate how efficiently you pedal or, put another way, how much energy you are wasting if your pedal stroke isn’t optimized. The data that’s collected by a power meter is then exported to a .fit file, which can be read by a variety of applications specifically intended to crunch sport-performance data*. Or, you can simply email your .fit file to your coach, who can interpret your data to help you reach and hold you accountable to your goals.
Analyze – Once you’ve measured your performance – or collected data, you can analyze your data to see where your strengths and weaknesses are with respect to you as a rider, your bike, and influential circumstances (environmental, physical, technical, tactical, and psychological).
Monitor – You can leverage your data to track – or monitor – your performance, which is subject to training intensity, pacing, stress, nutrition, overtraining, and fatigue.
Manage – Your accumulated data tells you how to monitor your performance in the moment; now you can set long-term goals and manage your performance to achieve those goals.
“Training with a power meter is like having an onboard coach and test lab that gives you constant diagnostic feedback with which to make adjustments to your biomechanics on the bike, and to prevent injuries,” said Hicham Mar, elite cycling coach at the American Sport Training Center. “Your data is an honest account of your output, no matter if it’s windy, hot, or steep, and of your energy levels – how many calories you are burning and how many you need to consume to maintain your pace. This is especially important in mountain biking because riding terrain varies so dramatically from one area to another, that the only way to control the variables is to know how much power you’re capable of sustaining.”
Perception and “riding by feel” are not accurate indicators of sport performance and, while technical prowess can be a temporary substitute for fitness in mountain biking, improved output is the ultimate advantage to outperforming your rivals but more importantly, yourself. To be a better rider than you were yesterday, or the day before, understanding how you can improve will help you become a smarter cyclist.
*ROTOR has partnered with TrainingPeaks.com, which has provided a 4-week training plan plus 30 days of TrainingPeaks Premium to owners of INpower and 2INpower, (home.trainingpeaks.com/ROTOR)
This post published courtesy of Training Peaks. For more articles, please visit TrainingPeaks.com/blog
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