Pedalling and cadence, two things talked about more than coffee and cake, how much did that cost/ weigh or your latest strava KOM scalp.
One of the hardest things to teach yourself on a bike is a fluid spin of the pedals; it’s not achieved overnight, but by practice. To some it comes naturally to others it takes a bit of hard graft and concentration, but nail it and it will allow you to conserve energy on the flats and on long climbs. You can always tell an experienced cyclist by their pedalling style. No mashing the pedals, weaving of the bike to and fro as they turn the cranks but a nice smooth style, their knees are tucked in, upper body is still, pushing down on the pedal stroke and maximising the power at the 3 o’clock position, when the cranks are both parallel to the ground, this is the most beneficial for forward movement. Don’t do that pulling up, scraping your shoe stroke as it jeopardises power transfer and can actually slow you down.
HOW TO IDENTIFY IF YOU ARE PEDALLING INEFICIENTLY
Firstly start with how you are riding on the bike. Pick a flat straight road or use a turbo trainer, put the bike in a comfortable gear, nothing too big and start to ride. Relax and start to understand what is going on. If you are rocking the hips left and right then look at your saddle height. Ankle, knee, foot arch and even back pain can be causes of poor pedalling technique but they are also linked to other possible issues like poor cleat alignment, riding on the hoods all the time and a general poor bike set up, which can be eradicated by getting a decent bike fit to set your bike correctly. Do it once in your life and you take the data to any future bike you set up. Also look at crank length. If you have the wrong size and are thus reaching each pedal stroke, a crank change could increase your cadence and efficiency by opening your hip to relax you engaging more of your glutes.
AVERAGE, TOE DIPPER OR HEEL DROPPER
There are three main types of pedalling style but which if any performs better?
The Average: - The most common way people pedal, with the foot almost looking flat on the pedal stroke with a slight heel dip on the down stroke.
Toe Dipper: - This style points their toe even under load and on the down stroke, the degree to which the toe is lower than the heel varies greatly between people.
Heel Dropper: - A lot of heel drop between 12 and 6 with slight rise after the 6 position. Some though not all heel droppers use a lot of ankle movement
Which is best? There is no proven improved efficiency in any of the three it’s simply a matter of rider style so don’t get beat up that your colleague dips his toe and you dip your heel. In the grand scheme of things it is not important.
RIGHT GEARS RIGHT CADENCE
Gears allow us to keep our cadence comfortable. Try cycling in a number of different gear combinations of hi and low gears and try to maintain a smooth stroke even if it means your cadence drops to 40rpm or below. Preparation for the road ahead is paramount “shift early” “shift often” “shift smart” goes the saying and it’s a good rule to go by. On the approach to a climb, you should be in your comfort-zone gear. When your cadence starts to slow, ease the pressure off the pedals slightly and shift into an easier gear. Remember, shifting in the front means a big resistance change; rear shifts are for fine-tuning your cadence. If you need to stand, shift up a cog or two in the rear; the slightly harder gear will allow a smooth transition. Shift between these sitting and standing gears as you make your way up the climb.
Likewise if you are in a race and the sprint is imminent the last thing you want to do is cluck down the block letting everyone know of your intention and most probably ending up over-geared anyway. So prepare with a smooth gear change maintaining smooth cadence.
SO WHATS THE IDEAL CADENCE?
There is no such thing as an ideal cadence although the normal range is between 80-100rpm as there are a number of factors to consider with regards cadence selection.
With many people trying to emulate Chris Froome and his particular riding style, your best cycling performance may be achieved on a range of “normal” (commonly cited as 80–100 RPM) as opposed to always pushing for higher cadences. The truth is, Froomy is just a better cyclist overall, and one who happens to prefer a higher cadence riding style.
Your personal physical make up and general comfort will determine your preferred cadence and of course changes in the road will impact this too. If you train at different cadences then this will not only improve your fitness but will help you find the optimal cadence for you
If you are training with power then you will know or will have worked out that the same watts or thereabouts can be achieved within a range of 60 -100RPM. A higher cadence engages slow twitch muscles saving the fast twitch ones that you need for sprinting and climbing. Pedalling with a higher cadence also generates decreased muscle tension and blood vessel compression allowing blood to flow to the muscles with oxygen and carry waste products away easier.
Cycling in a higher cadence places more pressure on your heart which of course will raise your heart rate. Being able to pedal in a high cadence takes time not only to learn but also for your body to adjust to a new way of riding – it’s not going to happen overnight.
In short, work on what works best for you and nail your technique. Don’t try to copy a style, emulate the Pros or endeavour to fix something that probably already works ok. Next time you are out on your bike spend some time thinking about how effect you are on your bike and how you are actually turning those pedals it’s going to do a hell of a lot to improve your ability and performance.
WORKOUTS TO IMPROVE YOUR CADENCE
8 x 30 second spin-ups to maximum rpm with 3 minutes easy pedalling between each drill is a great cadence workout.
Spin-ups drills can be added to any warm-up and cool-down
In a very easy gear with light resistance, over 30 seconds, slowly increase your cadence to the maximum rpm you can pedal smoothly.
Focus on a quiet relaxed upper body and a fast smooth pedal stroke. If you lose form and bounce, lower the cadence, regain form then hold it. Keep the gearing easy, resistance light and your heart rate low to focus on leg speed.
HIGH CADENCE DRILLS
Throughout a workout insert high-cadence intervals of a few minutes each. During each of these intervals increase your cadence to a level which is just slightly uncomfortable and then maintain it for the length of the interval. Use a low (easy) gear. Recover between the intervals for several minutes while pedalling at your normal cadence. Over the course of several weeks extend the duration of each interval and the combined interval time for the workout.