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How to improve your cycling cadence

When it comes to becoming a better cyclist, efficiency is key. Seemingly, less effort really is more when finding your ideal cycling cadence. You don’t need to pedal harder for a more efficient ride. 

What is cadence?

Your cadence, or pedalling rate, is the number of revolutions your crank turns per minute (RPM)- so the rate you are turning the pedals. Being able to pedal quickly and efficiently is a skill that’ll see you through many a grand tour stage, or for most of us, smooth out your sportive ride.

Why is it important?

Cadence is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it matters in terms of how fast you can actually ride your bike, especially if you’re a track cyclist. On the track you’re riding without gears, so the only thing you have to rely on is how fast you can turn your legs over. For other disciplines, paying attention to your RPM is still important however, as cadence correlates to the amount of effort needed to keep you at a certain speed. This means, to increase your cadence is to actually increase your overall efficiency.

When you pedal more efficiently, and at a better cadence, you’re likely to find that your ride is actually easier on your body. Riding at a higher cadence (and at a lower gear) actually puts less strain on your muscles, encouraging you to use your cardiovascular system and your slow-twitch muscles. Your slow-twitch muscle fibres burn fat for fuel, recover quickly and are more resistant to fatigue. Pedalling faster also allows more oxygen to flow to the muscles, leading to more oxygen in the blood and better aerobic performance. 

On the other end of the spectrum, riding at a low cadence and high gear is likely to make you feel the burn faster, as it is much harder on the muscles. A slow pedal at a higher gear relies on your fast-twitch muscles which use glycogen for fuel, fatigue quickly and take longer to recover. 

What’s the ideal cadence?

There is no real right or wrong answer to this, and it’s worth noting that it’s important to practice riding at both a fast and slow pace. However, aiming at around 90rpm is a good figure to avoid leg fatigue and make the most of the efficiency of your slow-twitch muscle fibres. Changing your cadence is something that will require months of practice as your body’s energy systems will have adapted to accommodate your current riding speed. However, if you’re looking for some quick results, improving your Pedalling Effectiveness Score on your Wattbike will go a long way in improving your overall pedalling efficiency. 

Tips for improving your cycling cadence

Improving your cadence doesn’t just mean pedalling faster in the same gear, it involves keeping the same leg speed throughout your ride. Adjust your gears to make it easier to do this and you’ll see a huge improvement in your climbing as well as on the flat. 

To measure improvement, you’ll need to know where you already stand. Next time you try your hand at a workout, check your stats on the Wattbike Hub for your RPM, as it displays your cadence in real-time. If you’re using the Wattbike Nucleus or Pro/Trainer you can also use the Wattbike power, cadence and resistance tables to establish the correct power output for a particular workout.

To kickstart your improvement, aim for short, extreme efforts, pedalling way faster than your current RPM. This will help to train your brain to send signals to your muscles fibres, getting them to react more efficiently and contract more rapidly, and therefore making it easier in future training. 

For more tips on becoming a better cyclist, check out these tips for improving your performance with Wattbike data.