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The Perfect Road Bike Cadence – Explained

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With the right knowledge behind you, road bike riders can get the very best out of your cycling cadence. This will help you optimize the power exerted on the pedals, and also your stamina.

But what is the perfect cadence for road bikes?

For most riders, the best cadence for road cycling is somewhere around 80-90RPM. Many beginner cyclists will use a lower cadence than this, at around 60RPM, and competitive or professional cyclists may be pushing 110-120RPM.

There are a lot of factors at play in finding the perfect cadence for you.

In this article, I’ll look at exactly how cadence works, how to find the perfect cadence for you, how to train, how to improve…and so much more!

Road bike cadence

What is Cadence?

Before I get into the details of road bike cadence, I need to clarify what cadence is.

Cycling cadence counts as the speed at which you turn the cycle’s pedals. It is expressed in terms of revolutions per minute (rpm), and it is measured on bikes using inexpensive sensors.

With experience, cyclists can make their cadence consistently high. To do this, they follow smooth and coordinated patterns for respective terrains and routes.

If you manage to pick the right revolution speed, you’d just be able to accomplish everything with ease.

From riding resistance to power distribution, cycling cadence can influence it all.

Why is Cadence Important?

Cadence plays a vital role in the amount of power that goes into your pedals.

In fact, power is defined as a product of the strength you push your pedals at (torque) and the speed at which you turn them (cadence).

If you don’t distribute your cadence with efficiency, it could strain your muscles. Meanwhile, if you can maintain a higher speed for long periods, this would lower the load on your cardiovascular system.

Different builds can have respective reactions to cadence too.

For example, more muscular riders might feel more comfortable at a lower cadence. Whereas light-weight riders would want to push lower gears at higher speeds.

There have also been experiments on this topic. These illustrate that faster speeds at lower cadences lead to muscle soreness and strains.

So, in these cases, you’d prefer achieving the same cycling rate at faster cadences but less load.

Yet, in contrast, having a revolution speed that’s too fast can cause your pelvis to rock, lowering efficiency and tiring you out.

Beginner road cyclists
Beginners will often start at somewhere around 60RPM, but that goal of 80-90RPM is what you’re eventually aiming towards

What Cadence Works for Cycling?

As brushed upon earlier, different physiques and preferences contribute to different cadences.

But, if we’re considering general terms, I’d say a good cadence would be about 80 to 100 rpm. Beginner cyclists may prefer a slower speed of about 60 to 85 rpm, and more experienced riders would average at about 80 to 95.

It is also possible to reach even higher cadences of 95 to 120 rpm. However, these are usually used in accelerations, high-power sprints, or high-intensity cycling.

These different cadences would all require individual physiological demands for your body. The rule of thumb is that lower cadences would exert more force in each pedal stroke, increasing the burden on your muscular system and fast-twitch muscle fibers.

On the other hand, higher cadences would entail more force per pedal stroke. As stated earlier, this shifts the load onto your cardiovascular system and slow-twitching muscles.

Here is a simple table of the average cadence for different types of road cyclists:

Type of CyclistAverage Cadence RPM

How do We Measure Cadence?

One of the easiest ways to measure cadence is to count the times your leg goes up and down in a minute.

Also, there are more accurate recording methods, such as cadence sensors.

These sensors are attached to the left side of your bike’s chainstay.

And they can come with a magnet attached to your crank arm that passes through the sensor. This would record the times the magnet passes the sensor, and it will send a corresponding signal each time to your bike’s system. This creates a history of your cadence, which can be analyzed to mark your progress.

Power meters can also measure your cadence. These would send data to your computer, and they come with an integrated sensor to top it off.

What’s the Optimal Road Biking Cadence?

Since cadence mostly depends on physique and ability, there’s no specific cadence for just road biking. This optimal cadence would change based on your experience.

On average, I would say 60 rpm works for most people getting started. But, it can vary according to your skill level.

In particular, for beginners, I recommend dedicating a few weeks to becoming comfortable with your bike.

You need to discover a cadence that works for you. Upon gaining more experience, you would eventually learn to pedal faster but still at agreeable speeds.

Since cadence depends on your leg strength, I recommend starting off at a slow 50 rpm. You can increase with time and experience.

Your end goal should be to maintain a steady 80 to 90 pedal strokes per minute.

Would your Gears Influence your Cadence?

Gears help change the force needed to push your pedals. You can go for a higher gear ratio for slow pedaling, whereas a lower gear ratio would benefit the speedsters.

With smaller gears, you would have to undergo about three revolutions to travel the same distance as one revolution on a gear set.

This would require less strength. And if utilized correctly, this can create much more efficient pedal strokes.

However, if your gear ratio is too low, you’d spin too fast. This would just make you lose coordination and waste your energy.

Meanwhile, higher gear ratios imply that, with more force, you’d travel more per pedal stroke.

If you’re working out and want to put a lot of effort into your pedaling, you’d get exhausted quickly at higher gear ratios.

This is because it requires a degree of muscle strength to maintain more sizable gears over longer distances. Plus, it’s a lot riskier when considering the likelihood of injury.

woman cyclist on road - road bike cadence
Learning how to use your gears optimally is vital in getting a cadence that is right for you

Is it Worth Training at Different Cadences?

In short, yes. If you want to master multiple disciplines, you need to become more adaptable.

Whether you’re dealing with corner accelerations or steep climbs, these moments can be fatiguing if you’re not prepared to face them.

And, the only way to get used to them is through practice and experience. You need to acclimate yourself to various cadences that can help you be prepared for diverse cycling conditions.

Likewise, cadence drills are also a common practice among many cycling enthusiasts. They help improve your overall cycling quality and efficiency.

In fact, it has been indicated that professionals are most efficient when maintaining a high cadence. This is due to their fluid movement patterns and form obtained from continuous practice.

Hand-eye Coordination and Co-Contraction

To get the smooth and coordinated motion of an experienced cyclist, you’d need to achieve complete synchronization of multiple systems. These all need to communicate harmoniously.

In fact, you can think of neuromuscular coordination as an orchestra with numerous instruments. Each of these would work together to produce a cohesive piece of music.

This cooperation does not just occur by chance.

You should know that the music would always sound incoherent and clumsy at first. But, with time and practice, it can become a perfect sound.

In other words, your body needs high cadence to communicate the relaxation and contraction of your muscles.

These have a rhythm that needs to be mastered for everything to work in sync. And this increase in neuromuscular communication has to be accomplished through something known as co-contraction.

Co-contraction is a process that involves two muscle sets surrounded by flexors, extensors, and joints. It occurs upon the simultaneous activation of all these muscle groups.

For instance, a co-contraction would occur upon flexing your tricep (elbow extensor) and bicep (elbow flexor) simultaneously. Though these muscles are contracting, this doesn’t mean your lower arm would move.

If we relate this process to cycling pedal strokes, you should understand that your muscles would not function alone.

For example, leg muscles, quads, and hamstrings work together to allow smooth movement.

The quadriceps lengthen to force into your pedals while your hamstrings shorten to influence a pulling movement. This contrasting movement is known as co-contraction.

And, if done independently, the motion would just be jerky and stiff.

How do you Improve your Cycling Cadence?

Now that you understand the value of cycling cadence, it’s worth discussing how you can improve.

As I already mentioned, the simplest way to develop your revolution speed is just through regular practice. This can be done with cadence drills or base exercises.

I suggest dividing these drills in-between cycling sessions at any time during your seasons.

On the same note, you should remember that your goal is only to develop a good form; you should never use cadence drills for producing higher pedaling power.

And, you need to incorporate this low-stake riding into your steady-state work. This is so that they don’t compromise your overall ability toward your cycling target.

That said, the following are a few cycling cadence drills for road bikes you might want to try:

Single-Leg Focus

Developing your leg power is a crucial requirement for effective cycling cadence. As a result, single-leg focus drills are the best ways to increase your ability and provide ample power for your entire pedal stroke.

In this exercise, you need to devote 90 seconds of individual attention to each leg.

You can do this by closely observing your foot pulling across the bottom, lifting your knee, and subsequently kicking the pedal over the top. Follow each pedal through like this. And, after at least a minute, you can switch legs.

Kick and pull

This drill would help maintain tension during the weakest parts of your pedal stroke: the bottom and top quadrants.

You can do this by lightly kicking your toes in the front of your shoes while your knee approaches the center of motion. You should then pull your heels into the back of your shoes to kick and pull.

Focus on only kicking for about 30 to 60 seconds and then pulling for a further 30 to 60 seconds.

Afterward, you should kick and pull simultaneously for another 30 to 60 seconds.

Strength Endurance

Lower cadence drills are great for strength building.

You can use two 15-minute blocks of 89-90 percent of your functional threshold power (FTP).

And to ensure a developed high power cadence, you should do this at about 50 to 60 rpm. You can also rest between each block for about 10 to 15 minutes or until full recovery.

High-speed sprints

If you live around relatively empty roads, high-speed sprints may be the way to go. This cadence drill just involves sprinting safely through a downhill section of a road.

Preferably, you should do this while in medium gear and at an average speed of 15 to 20 mph.

Though it might be accompanied by slight resistance, this movement would help you reach a cadence of about 90 rpm. Upon doing so, you can sprint for further 20 seconds.

And, if you end up spinning out your gear, I recommend just using a bigger gear for next time. Also, to ensure efficiency, you should rest for about five minutes between sprints and complete around 5 to 8 sets.

You can also partake in high-speed sprints while sitting or standing. However, seated accelerations would prove to be more valuable during races.

Standing up and speeding is a clear giveaway that you’re accelerating. So, if you’re able to rev up your cadence while maintaining a calm upper body, you can zoom past your competitors without others realizing it.

Final thoughts

At the end of it all, if done right, cadence is something that can optimize every aspect of your journey.

Whether you want to get into elite-level cycling or partake for fun, cadence teaches you how to conserve energy when you need it the most. Especially for road bikes, cadence helps balance speed and efficiency.

And the only way to perfect the cadence for your riding purposes is to go out there and experience it yourself. You need to be familiarized with your bike and your abilities.

You also need to get involved with cadence drills for further improvement. In short, you just need to go out there and start your cadence training journey. So, good luck and happy cycling!