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Text Box: Cadence and Gearing

Success in cycling is about minimizing the extreme physical stress created by the duration of the events.  Proper cadence, and the training and gearing to achieve it, is one way to reduce the physical stress on the athlete.  While some coaches dismiss cadence as not important, many others including TDS Coaching actively train with it as a key component.  While some lower cadence, “masher” riders will say, “I am comfortable at my lower cadence”.  Our response at TDS Coaching is: “Could you perform even better and ride stronger, longer?”  Study after study, on preferred and/or optimum cadence; usually include a statement to the effect: “Untrained cyclists generally self-select a lower cadence than highly trained elite cyclists”, indicating the trainability of cadence. Where does you cadence fall in comparison to untrained or highly trained cyclists?   To sidestep the endless hypothetical and theoretical arguments let’s go directly to one of the oldest and most prestigious cycling tests, “The Hour Record”.    
Note: cadence is listed in the far right column

The average record setting cadence is 102.5 rpm.  The hour record is done on a fixed/single geared track bike so all of the gearing choices are made in advance.  The resulting cadences underline the fact that, given the need to go as fast as possible for 1 hour in a single gear combination, 100 years of trial, error and testing have resulted in a very similar cadence.  This 100+ cadence is what world class riders find gives the very best results, ie maximum sustainable power for the duration.

Optimum cadence is affected by such factors as fiber mix, training, duration of event, avg. power of event, individual threshold power, etc., but in trained professional cyclists it falls around 90 rpms for durations of 3-7 hours and longer. This slightly lower cadence is due largely to the variable terrain found in open road cycling, muscular exhaustion in very long events and the inclusion of periods of coasting and deceleration.  In preparing this article I reviewed a number of Tour of California and Tour de France competitor’s files and in all cases they spent 70-75% of their time riding at a cadence between 80-100 rpm.  

Benefit of Higher Cadences
One of the most important benefits of higher cadence for ultra-cycling durations is shown in the following Quadrant Analysis.  Keep in mind: (Power = Force x Rate of application).  
Note in this Quadrant Analysis that 2 data points are selected with almost the same power being produced, 207watts upper left vs. 210watts lower right. The HR is also similar, looking at the cadence you will see the 207 watts of “Power” is being created at a low cadence of 43rpm while the similar 210 watts in the lower right is being created at a cadence of 102rpm.  What does this mean?  If you look at the second to last parameter listed in the data boxes, “Crank torque”, you will see that because the 207 watts is being achieved by a low cadence, (rate of application), it means the “Force” applied must be greater, ie., 406 lb-inch or approximately 34 ft-lbs of force that you must apply to the pedal.  In the lower, higher cadence example, to achieve 210 watts @ 102 rpm only requires the application of 174 lb-in of “Force” or approximately 14.5 ft-lbs per pedal stroke.  Power = Force x Rate of application.