What Is a Good Average Cadence for Cycling?
Table of Contents
When it comes to cycling, there’s a lot to learn. When I first started, I was overwhelmed with information from fellow riders about how I could improve and what they thought was right and wrong. Surprisingly, a lot of the information I got was excellent, but some couldn’t have been more wrong.
One subject that came up a lot was cadence. Some cyclists told me I needed to have a high cadence, while others said low was much better. A decade on, after hundreds of thousands of miles on the bike, sport and fitness qualifications, and lots of time with cycling experts, I now have a much better idea of the correct answer.
In this article, I want to tell you everything you need to know regarding a good average cadence for cycling. We are going to be discussing:
- What Is Cadence?
- How Is Cadence Measured?
- Why Does Cadence Matter?
- What Is A Good Average Cadence?
- What Should My Optimal Cadence Be?
- Cadence Evolution And Training
What Is Cadence?
Cadence refers to action pedal strokes when cycling. A high cadence means you are spinning the pedals a lot while cycling and going through many pedal rotations. A low cadence means you are doing fewer pedal rotations and are grinding away.
What is interesting is that a high cadence doesn’t always mean a high speed compared to a low cadence, that’s where gearing comes into play. Cadence plays an important part in cycling because it has the ability to make you a much more efficient cyclist if used and trained correctly.
How Is Cadence Measured?
Cadence is measured in something we call RPM, this stands for Revolutions Per Minute. This is how many times your foot makes a full rotation of the pedal crank. The best way to understand it is as if your foot is the hand of a clock, and every 12 hours is a single rotation.
Now, you’re probably wondering how to find out cycling cadences. Well, there are two methods.
The first and most simple method is cadence counting. If you have been to a spin class with basic bikes, this is a method that instructors often use to ensure participants are pedaling at the same speed.
You will need some form of timer for this. I use a Garmin or a phone. All you need to do is pick a point of the pedal stroke, say 12 o’clock, and while pedaling each time, you pass the point count. After 60 seconds, the amount of times you have counted is your cadence. Some people go over 30 seconds and double it.
Next, we have a cadence sensor. They cost roughly around $20, allowing you to track your cadence while cycling. This is real-time data and the easiest and fastest way to measure cadence.
They are attached to the inside of the pedal arm of your bike and, through Bluetooth or Ant+, send the data across to either a smartphone or a cycling computer. This means there’s no counting, just the data on your screen ready for you to enjoy.
Why Does Cadence Matter?
Cadence makes a huge difference to your cycling, and many people underestimate the importance of using the data to improve your ability. Pro cyclists are very big on cadence, and every ride is heavily tracked, but why is it important for you?
Also Read: How Many Calories To Eat Per Hour Cycling
You will be a much better cyclist if you have a smooth, efficient cadence. Not only is it better for muscle stimulation, but it also helps generate more power. It’s important to understand that a good pedal stroke comes from momentum, and having a good cadence promotes that an efficient pedal stroke.
Next, we have power generation. There’s a common misconception that a heavy, slow cadence generates the most power when you couldn’t be more wrong. Power equals torque times cadence, so the higher the cadence, the less torque required, which, a lot of the time, can produce more power from the legs.
Another interesting factor to mention is fatigue reduction. As we mentioned before, power equals torque times cadence. Typically, the higher the torque, the more fatigue on the body, so if we can bring more cadence in and have less torque, you can generate the same power but with a big reduction in fatigue.
The correct cadence not only helps with power generation and fatigue reduction but can also offer more cycling ability. Using different cadences in different cycling situations can really help. A good example is high cadence on sharp, steep, off-road climbs to help give grip and heavily reduce the load on the legs.
Knee And Joint Health
As a personal trainer and bike fitter, I am often approached by cyclists who suffer from injuries. One of the most common is knee pain. A lot of the time, it comes down to one of two things. They either need a better fit with the right saddle height or have a super low cadence and are putting too much stress on their joints.
Also Read: How To Improve VO2 Max
What Is a Good Average Cadence?
Cadence is very personal from one cyclist to another, and there will always be a unique personal element to your cadence. We find the best cadences to be between 80 and 100 RPM when it comes to a general average over a ride, but a much bigger range is used and has a purpose.
Generally efficient cycling cadence ranges anywhere from 60 to 120 RPM. It’s important to understand that the average between 80 and 100 RPM is ideal, but using this wider range to better yourself as a cyclist is important.
Understanding Different Cycling Cadences
Different cadences can have very different effects on the body. You can actually train your cycling ability using different cadences to improve yourself as a cyclist. Here’s what you can expect from using different cadences.
60 – 80 RPM
The lower cadence of 60 to 70 RPM range is where you might find yourself if you are on a very steep climb and either standing, leaning your weight in, or sitting and grinding away at the pedals. This range is excellent for building muscle strength and helps generate a lot of power without excessive movement.
80 – 100 RPM
You will find the most natural cadence for many in the next range of 80 to 100 RPM. Here is the place where most people sit between torque and cadence. It’s where most cyclists find the most efficient, smooth pedal motion, and for many a steady cadence.
100 – 120+ RPM
Now we come to 100 to 120 rpm. This is where you will find many people who either want to sprint quickly or produce a high power output with existing torque in the pedals. It’s a good place to get more fluent in a pedal stroke, but it’s too quick for many cyclists, unless you have fast twitch muscle fibers naturally.
Cadences come in a very wide range, but we typically see most people who are experienced cyclists sit between 80 – 100 RPM as an average. It’s not rare for people to be outside this range and still have exceptional pedaling efficiency.
What Should My Optimal Cadence Be?
Many of our amazing readers often ask, “What should my cadence be?” Well, many factors affect it, and it’s a very personal thing. If you want to find your perfect ideal cadence, here’s how I would approach it with a mix of power and comfort.
Power Output Test
An interesting way to find your best cadence could be a power test. You could jump on a smart turbo trainer and go to 80% of your maximum heart rate. Then, go to different cadences for a few minutes and see where the best power comes from. Let your cardiovascular system know where you need to be.
You might find your power to be best at a very low or very high cadence, which, although it might produce you extra power, might not be the best option. It would help if you also considered comfort. You might find 60 RPM too slow and 100 RPM too fast, in that case, you need to adjust for the best of both.
Does Your Cadence Change?
With cadence, it does change over time. We generally see beginner riders start with a very low cadence, 50 – 60 RPM, then over time, when the cycling legs start coming through and the pedaling motion becomes very natural, you see people go up to a higher cadence of 70 – 90 RPM.
Even as a seasoned cyclist, your body will adjust to cadences that it feels the most comfortable and where it feels the most natural. You might have a low cadence while riding endurance in winter and a high cadence in summer while racing. Your body is very good at finding it’s best cycling cadence itself when it cycling performance.
A Final Note
We believe a good average optimal cycling cadence is between 80 – 100 RPM. This is where we see many very efficient cyclists take their cadence, and for most people, it is a very natural place to ride. Your ideal cycling cadence could differ slightly. We highly recommend investing in a cadence sensor to find your most efficient cadence and to give yourself more data.