Cycling Cadence Guide: How Fast Should You Pedal Your Bike?

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There are a whole host of terms bandied about in the cycling world that you’ll come across. ‘Cycling cadence’ is one you’ll probably hear more than most!

It may not be immediately evident what cycling cadence is, but it’s an essential part of riding a bike – especially if you want to progress and become a more efficient rider.

In this article, we will cover:

  • What Is Cycling Cadence?
  • Why Is Cycling Cadence Important?
  • How To Measure Cadence
  • What’s A Good Cadence For Cycling?
  • What Is A Good Cadence For A Beginner Cyclist?

Ready to learn about smooth and efficient pedaling?

Let’s dive in!

Cycling Cadence

What Is Cycling Cadence?

Cycling cadence is the term we use to describe the rate at which a cyclist is rotating the pedals. You will notice during a group ride that cyclists pedal at very different speeds, and there is nothing wrong with that!

Professional cyclists, like those racing in the Tour de France, have a very high cycling cadence. This is more obvious when you see them riding on a flat road. Their cycling cadence will usually be at around 100 rpm (revolutions per minute) or more.

Most professional cyclists will reduce their cadence when climbing. However, these elite athletes will still be pedaling faster than the average amateur or recreational cyclist. 

An average amateur cyclist will pedal at a much slower cycling cadence. They will usually pedal at around 60 rpm, while fitter amateurs will spin their legs between 80 and 90 rpm along the flats.

But does your cycling cadence matter? As long as you are pedaling along at a decent pace, the speed your pedals are going round at isn’t important, right?

Well, having a better understanding of cycling cadence will help your performance and efficiency in a few ways.

Let’s take a look at the details so you can make progress with your cycling.

Cycling Cadence 2

Why Is Cycling Cadence Important?

Cyclists use cadence as a measurement to determine how much power they are putting into the pedals. Power is calculated by torque (how hard you push the pedals) multiplied by cadence (how fast you pedal).

When you ride with a lower cycling cadence, your muscles are strained more, but your cardiovascular system gets more of a workout when you pedal at a higher cadence.

Your bike’s gears will make a difference to your cycling cadence. The gears allow you to alter the force you put into the pedals with the different ratios available. You have to drop down your gears to increase your cadence and reduce the amount of force required. This makes riding uphill more manageable.

When you select higher gears, you need to pedal harder, but the cadence will be slower. This allows you to ride faster along the flats and downhill.

Muscular cyclists often find riding at a lower cycling cadence more comfortable. On the other hand, a slimmer, less muscley cyclist might prefer riding in a lower gear, at a higher cadence.

One issue with riding fast with a low cadence and high gear is that you are more susceptible to post-ride muscle soreness and muscle strains. With this in mind, you can reach the same speed pedaling at a higher cadence in an easier gear, with less resistance.

However, if your cycling cadence is too fast for your comfort level, you become uncoordinated. Your pelvis can rock from side to side and wastes your energy, so your pedaling is less efficient. This leads to early fatigue and a slower overall speed.

Cycling Cadence 3

How To Measure Cadence

The best way to accurately measure cycling cadence is with a cadence sensor. This is a small electronic device that fits onto your chainstay that reads a magnet that you mount to the inside of your crank.

The data means that you have a record of your cycling cadence for you to analyze, so you can keep tabs on your progress.

If you’ve fitted a power meter to your bike, you can use this to measure your cycling cadence. You may even be lucky enough to have a bike with a built-in cadence sensor, which is becoming increasingly common on new high-end bikes.

What’s A Good Cadence For Cycling?

A good cycling cadence varies between cyclists. It also depends on a few other factors, including where you ride and your bike’s gearing.

So if your question is “what is the most efficient bike cadence?”, unfortunately, there’s no straight answer.

The good news is that most cyclists will naturally fall into their optimal cycling cadence. This may not happen straight away, but you will find that you will develop a range of different cadences as you become more experienced.

Many cyclists with a few miles under their wheels will know what cycling cadence works for them on particular routes. This will have come from lots of experimentation. They will take the terrain and profile of the routes into account to determine the optimum cadence for each ride.

So rather than aiming to increase your cycling cadence, your goal should be to improve it. It is a good idea to vary your cycling cadence during your training sessions. This will improve your cycling technique and allow you to adapt your cadence when you need to.

If you pedal at a high cadence in a lower gear, your neuromuscular system will learn how to make your pedal strokes smoother. On the other hand, if you train at a lower cycling cadence in a higher gear, you’ll see improvements in your strength.

Another way to make your riding technique smoother is to ride on rollers. Rollers turn your bike into a stationary bike, but both wheels are free to roll instead of being fixed.

Cycling Cadence 6

What Is A Good Cadence For A Beginner Cyclist?

If you are a beginner cyclist, you should take a few weeks to get used to your bike and be comfortable with it. At this stage, you should just ride at any cadence that you feel comfortable at.

When you become acclimatized to riding your bike, you’ll want to learn how to ride it more efficiently – especially if you plan on covering longer distances. When you get to this stage, you should start pedaling faster, but at a rate you’re still comfortable with while feeling enough pressure through your pedals.

How fast you can pedal depends on how strong your legs are, and how confident you are as a cyclist. Most beginners’ cycling cadence will be lower than 50 rpm and they may feel uncomfortable going any quicker.

With this in mind, you need to ride regularly to become fitter and build stronger leg muscles. You may also want to incorporate some strength training into your workout schedule. 

You should aim to build your cycling cadence up to 70 rpm or more, and you’ll learn how to pedal more efficiently when you can maintain a cycling cadence of between 80 and 90 rpm. But don’t push yourself too much in the early days; you will need to build up to this!

Experienced cyclists are generally more efficient when they select gears that allow them to stay between 80 and 90 rpm. 

You’ll learn to predict the extra resistance on your pedals as you progress. This is when you don’t have to wait for the resistance to change to know when you need to change gear. When you feel the resistance increase, you change down; if you feel it reduce, you change up, keeping your cadence as consistent as possible.

As you become a better cyclist, you should try to keep your cycling cadence between 80 and 90 rpm for larger portions of your ride. You can increase your speed by shifting into a lower gear and increasing your cadence to ride above 90 rpm. Then select a higher gear while pedaling harder with a cadence above 80 rpm.

This is a great cycling technique that allows you to catch up to the pack or with your riding buddy, or even leave them trailing behind if you’re feeling competitive: “Drop a gear and disappear!”

Cycling Cadence 7

Now You Know All About Cycling Cadence

As you can see, there are a number of variables that determine the optimum cycling cadence. These include your leg strength, fitness, and the terrain you’re riding.

But with some experimentation, experience, and fitness, you can improve your cadence to become a more efficient and smoother cyclist. Over time, you’ll learn how to adapt your cadence to suit the different routes you ride.

Found this article useful? Learn more from the BikeTips experts below!

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One of BikeTips' regular writers, Tom is a mountain biking expert living in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on two wheels or a snowboard! Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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