Cycling Cadence: Pros, Cons, and Finding Your Ideal Pace

Welcome, fellow cycling enthusiasts! You’re on the fast track to ramping up your cycling game. Let’s talk about an often understated hero of the cycling world – cadence. Ever wonder how pros pedal their way to glory? The answer may lie in a surprisingly simple metric: cadence, or RPM. It’s not all about power and endurance; how often you spin that crank matters too! And, it plays a bigger role than you’d think in preventing injuries. Let’s dive into this fascinating world of cycling cadence and unravel its mysteries.

Intriguing data from the cadence measurement of professional cyclists during three-week races reveals a pattern: On flat, long group stages of around 190 km, they average around 90 RPM. However, while climbing ≈15 km mountain passes, their cadence drops to about 70 RPM. What’s the story behind these numbers? Stay tuned, we’ll get you all geared up on this in our upcoming sections. Buckle up, it’s going to be an exciting ride!

What is Cadence in Cycling?

Cadence is the number of pedal revolutions a cyclist completes in one minute. It’s a crucial metric that can be displayed on your cycling computer as real-time or average cadence. Measuring cadence can be done using a cadence sensor, which typically attaches to the left side of the chainstay and tracks the passing of a magnet attached to the crank arm. Alternatively, power meters can measure cadence directly. The choice of cadence largely depends on individual preferences and goals, as well as factors like body weight and training background.

Pros and Cons of a Low Cadence

Riding at a low cadence with high torque can have its advantages. It promotes better motor unit recruitment, allowing for the activation of more muscle fibers within the leg. Strength development work at low cadences can also lead to gains in motor unit recruitment, making more efficient use of the available muscles. However, it’s important to note that low cadences put increased strain on the muscles and joints, potentially leading to stress and injuries. Careful progression and building up gradually are crucial when incorporating low cadence training into your routine.

Pros and Cons of a High Cadence

On the other end of the spectrum, a high cadence can be beneficial for specific scenarios. It can improve performance in longer events and contribute to better cardiovascular conditioning during training sessions. Higher cadences help reduce muscle co-activation, making the pedal stroke more efficient. They also engage the cardiovascular system more intensely, aiding in improved oxygen delivery to the muscles and reducing fatigue during longer rides. In racing situations, maintaining a slightly higher cadence allows for quicker acceleration and helps avoid end-of-the-race fatigue.

Finding Your Ideal Cadence

Determining the ideal cadence is a subjective process that depends on individual factors and goals. Research suggests that for untrained individuals, a cadence of around 60 RPM is generally considered efficient. However, when considering different power outputs and intensities, the optimal cadence can vary. For improving VO2 max or performance at the end of a race, higher cadences around 90 RPM may be more effective. It’s crucial to strike a balance between intensity, efficiency, and personal comfort. Endurance riding often benefits from cadences around 80-90 RPM, while specific strength development workouts may involve lower cadences of 50-60 RPM. As riders age, it’s important to consider bone mineral density and adjust cadences accordingly.

Improving Your Cadence

To enhance your cadence and pedaling technique, it’s beneficial to incorporate a variety of cadences into your training sessions. When aiming to improve pedaling smoothness at higher cadences, exercises such as “rev outs” can be effective. Find a flat section of road, shift into your smallest gear, and spin up as quickly as you can. Over time, you’ll become smoother and generate a higher RPM. Additionally, including longer intervals where you focus on maintaining a cadence between 100-110 RPM can help develop comfort at higher cadences. For strength development at lower cadences, incorporate intervals in a low gear and concentrate on driving down with each pedal stroke.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cadence

Indoor cycling sessions provide an ideal environment for focusing on cadence without distractions. Apps like Zwift offer virtual roads that allow you to choose your preferred cadence throughout the entire session. It’s worth noting that average cadences tend to be higher indoors compared to outdoor riding due to factors like coasting and frequent stops during outdoor rides. However, personal preferences and comfort should guide your choice of cadence, regardless of the training environment.

Crank Length and Cadence

Crank length is another factor that can impact cadence. Shorter cranks require less time to complete a full circle, potentially leading to a higher cadence if power output remains constant. This adjustment can decrease stress on the joints and help alleviate pressure on the hip during the pedal stroke. While crank length can be a valuable parameter to consider for avoiding hip injuries and achieving a more aerodynamic position on the bike, it’s important to explore different options and consult with a professional bike fitter if necessary.


Understanding and optimizing your cycling cadence can significantly enhance your performance on the bike. By experimenting with different cadences, focusing on pedaling technique, and considering individual factors, you can find your ideal pace that maximizes efficiency, power, and overall cycling experience. Remember to always listen to your body, progress gradually, and enjoy the process of discovering your own cadence sweet spot.


a 35-year-old web developer and cycling coach based in Boulder, Colorado. Over the past ten years, my passion for cycling has transformed from a casual hobby into a way of life. As a lover of all things cycling, I am thrilled to share my journey with others who share the same enthusiasm for this incredible sport.