What is Cycling Cadence and How to Improve It?

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Cycling cadence refers to the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) a cyclist’s pedals make. It is a measurement of how fast the rider is pedaling. You can improve your cadence in cycling through specific drills, interval training focusing on cadence, and by gradually increasing your RPM during rides while maintaining good form.

This article will explain what a cadence is, why it matters, and how you can transform your rides from sluggish slogs to effortless glides. We’ll give you practical tips on how to take your cycling experiences to new heights. 

Let’s get right to it!

What Is Cycling Cadence?
Tips for Improving Your Cycling Cadence
Factors That Affect Cycling Cadence
The Importance of Finding Your Optimal Cadence
Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Improve Cadence

What Is Cycling Cadence?

Cycling cadence, in its simplest form, is the number of times your pedals complete a full Revolution Per Minute (RPM). Though It isn’t just about spinning fast, it’s the key to efficient, comfortable, and even quicker rides. 

When improving efficiency, maintaining an optimal cadence allows you to distribute the workload more evenly across your muscles, reducing fatigue risk. It also helps you maximize power transfer to the pedals, ensuring that each pedal stroke effectively propels you forward. Lastly, a consistent cadence enables you to maintain a steady pace, preventing unnecessary energy fluctuations. 

The cadence also affects your power output, energy expenditure, and muscular exhaustion. 

When you pedal at a higher cadence, you typically generate less force with each pedal stroke. However, your overall power output can increase because you’re pedaling more frequently. It can be especially beneficial for endurance rides or when tackling hilly terrain.

Maintaining a higher cadence can also be more efficient regarding energy expenditure because it allows you to distribute the workload across your muscles evenly. It can help prevent early fatigue and conserve energy for longer rides. On the other hand, pedaling at a lower cadence with more force per pedal stroke leads to greater muscular exhaustion and increased energy expenditure.

Essentially, cadence governs how rapidly or slowly you pedal, with increased rotation rates corresponding to quicker pedal movements and decreased rotation rates signifying slower pedal strokes.     

Optimal Cadence Range

  • Generally, a good cadence for most cyclists falls around 90 rpm. This range balances efficiency with power output, allowing you to ride comfortably and effectively.
  • Recreational cyclists typically cycle around 60-80 rpm, which is perfectly normal as they find their rhythm and build leg strength.
  • More advanced or elite cyclists pedal anywhere from 90-110 rpm

Riding at a high cadence (about 85-90 RPM) eases leg and back strain because the workload gets evenly distributed among your leg muscles, such as quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, reducing the strain on them and letting you ride farther and faster. Your heart and lungs also get a workout, which fuels your steady pace, keeping fatigue at bay.  

On the other hand, mashing low gears might seem powerful because it allows you to exert a lot of force on the pedals, but the knees, hips, and back feel the pressure since you have to pedal constantly hard, leading to quicker burnout and shorter rides. You should choose smooth efficiency over brute force – your legs and journey will thank you.   

So, why does finding your optimal cadence matter? Well, we will cover it in the next section.

Tips for Improving Your Cycling Cadence

A smooth, efficient pedaling stroke with a consistent cadence is key to maximizing your cycling performance and reducing fatigue. Here are some tips to help you improve your cycling cadence:

1. Gradually Increase Your Cadence

Start by increasing your usual cadence by 3-5rpm. Feel the rhythm shift as you notice the change in how your legs and body move. Then, hold for five minutes. 

To assess your heart rate and check if the cadence caused any irregularities or changes in your heartbeat, place your fingers on your wrist or neck to feel the rhythmic pulsations of your blood flow. Reduce your cadence if your heart rate increases by over a few beats per minute. Rest, recover, then repeat the climb. 

Remember to focus on maintaining a smooth and consistent pedal stroke without bouncing in the saddle. 

2. Use a Metronome or Cadence Sensor

Metronome or cadence sensors are tools used to help cyclists maintain a consistent pedaling rhythm by measuring their cadence. Utilize these technologies to keep track of your pedal revolutions per minute (RPM). Here is a handy guideline on these tools:

  • Metronomes: These devices provide an audible rhythm that helps you maintain a consistent cadence. You can develop a smooth and efficient pedaling technique by syncing your pedal strokes to the metronome’s beat.
  • Cadence sensors: These sensors are typically attached to your bike and measure your pedal revolutions per minute (RPM). They provide real-time feedback on your cadence, allowing you to monitor and adjust your pedaling speed. 

Cadence sensors can help you find your optimal cadence range, usually between 80-100 RPM for most cyclists. Staying within this range can enhance efficiency, reduce strain on your muscles and joints, and improve overall cycling performance.  

3. Practice High-Cadence Intervals

High-cadence intervals are training sessions where you intentionally ride at a faster pedaling cadence than your usual or comfortable cadence. 

You must incorporate high-cadence intervals into your training sessions (up to 90-110 RPM) for improved muscle efficiency, increased cardiovascular endurance and make higher cadences feel more natural over time.

These intervals can be incorporated into your training plan by alternating between high-cadence intervals and recovery periods. For example, you could ride at a high cadence for a set time (1-2 minutes), followed by a lower cadence and intensity recovery period for 30 seconds to a minute. 

4. Strengthen Your Legs

Boost cycling performance by strengthening leg muscles through squats, lunges, and leg presses. When you perform squats, different muscles are activated to stabilize and drive the movement. The quadriceps work to extend your knees, while the hamstrings and glutes help with hip extension. 

Similarly,  when you perform lunges, each leg is worked individually, which helps to develop balanced strength. The quadriceps and glutes are engaged as you lower into the lunge position, and the hamstrings work to stabilize your movement. With leg presses, you push against a weighted platform using your legs, stimulating muscle growth in the quadriceps.

So, by incorporating squats, lunges, and leg presses in your workout routine, you build mass in your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, which helps maintain a faster pedal pace, enhancing endurance on the bike.  

5. Drill It

Cadence drills are exercises or training sessions focusing on improving your cycling cadence.

And you must first understand Functional Threshold Power(FTP) to incorporate cadence drills into your training. Functional Threshold Power, or FTP, is a crucial metric for cyclists. It is your highest sustainable power output for one hour, measured in watts.

Now that you know what FTP is, you can incorporate the following cadence drills into your training rides.

For Strength

You must ride at 85-90%FTP (Functional Threshold Power) for 10 minutes at a high cadence of 100+ RPM.

It measures your sustainable power output over a sustained period, typically one hour. For a lower cadence drill, you can practice riding for 5 minutes, or 1+ mile, on a steeper road at 50-60 RPM.  

For Leg Speed 

Ride for blocks of 5 minutes, starting at 80 RPM and 106-120% FTP, then increasing by 5 RPM every 30 seconds. At the end of a 5-minute block, you should end up at 125-130 RPM or wherever you can reach.

6. Relax Your Upper Body

Tight shoulders and a hunched back create unnecessary muscle tension, draining energy and reducing power output. A relaxed posture allows your muscles to work fluidly, maximizing every pedal stroke.

You must take breaths and consciously relax your upper body. Focus on your posture and keep your shoulders down. Also, remember to take short breaks during longer rides to shake out your arms, shoulders, and upper back. This can help prevent muscle stiffness and promote relaxation.

7. Seek Professional Coaching

Consider working with a professional coach specializing in cycling technique training. They can provide personalized guidance tailored to improve cadence based on fitness level and goals.

Remember, improving the cycling cadence takes time and practice! Be patient as you work towards finding that perfect balance between speed, endurance, and efficiency. 

Factors That Affect Cycling Cadence

Have you ever ridden along and felt your pedaling rhythm suddenly shift? Your legs kicked up a gear or settled into a slower, smoother cruise. As cyclists, we’ve all experienced this, leaving us curious about why our cadence changes mid-ride. 

Understanding the factors orchestrating your pedaling speed or cadence is vital to reaching peak performance. While effort isn’t the sole driver, a web of underlying factors invisibly shapes how we spin those pedals. Let’s discuss them.

1. Physical Factors

Cycling cadence, the number of revolutions your pedals make per minute (RPM), is influenced by several physical factors. Here are some key ones:

Fitness Level:

Beginner cyclists typically start with lower cadences to build muscle strength and coordination. This lower cadence allows them to generate more power with each pedal stroke and develop the necessary leg muscles. As fitness improves, so does optimal cadence.

Muscle strength:

Stronger legs allow for a more sustainable cadence as your leg muscles generate more force per pedal stroke, letting you spin faster with less effort. Specific leg workouts such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, and plyometric training will build strength to unlock your peak pedaling potential.


Maintaining a high cadence becomes harder as fatigue sets in. This drop in efficiency steals your smooth rhythm, replaced by clunky, energy-guzzling pedal strokes. So, shift down, embrace a slower but sustainable spin, or even take a breather, like a short break or moment to rest to refuel and reconnect your brain and muscles. 

Building endurance through longer, gentler rides will arm you for future battles against fatigue, letting you spin further and faster with every conquered climb.

2. Terrain

The terrain you will be riding on will also influence your cycling cadence. Here’s a breakdown of how:

Flat terrain

On flat ground, there’s no uphill battle against gravity. It allows you to shift into a higher gear, where a high cadence (90-100+ RPM) takes over as the muscle-saving hero. With each shorter, faster pedal stroke, you engage more muscle fibers efficiently, distributing the workload and reducing fatigue. 


Climbing requires more power, naturally lowering cadence(50-60 RPM). Focus on maintaining a comfortable pace and adjust gearing as needed.

Technical terrain 

Uneven surfaces, such as bumps or gravel on the road, call for lower cadences for better control, traction, and power. It could be anywhere from 50-70 RPM. Still, ultimately, the best way to find your ideal cadence is to experiment and see what feels comfortable and allows you to navigate the terrain with control and efficiency.

3. Equipment

Equipment plays a \ significant role in dictating your cycling cadence. Let’s dive deeper into this factor.


A wide range of gears allows you to maintain your desired cadence regardless of the terrain or intensity because more gears equals more options! Pick the gear that lets you pedal at your comfy pace, uphill or downhill, fast or slow.

Examples of different types of gear setups for cadence control:

  • Cassettes: A cassette is an essential component of the drivetrain on a bicycle with gears. It’s located on the rear wheel, attached to the freehub body (the central part where the wheel spins freely when you coast). 

There are different cassette ratios, such as 11/25 and 12/25 for flat riding, while 11/28 or 11/30 cassettes are suitable for hilly courses and suffice in the mountains for some riders. 

For most cyclists, however, the 11/32 and 11/34 cassettes are best suited for steep climbs.

  • Chainrings: A chainring is a toothed gear mounted on the crankset of a bicycle. It works with the cassette (gears on the rear wheel) to provide different gear ratios for climbing, cruising, and everything in between. Standard (52/36) is a classic setup, ideal for high speeds and flat terrain. 

You can opt for a compact (50/34), as the smaller chainring, when paired with big cogs like 28 or 32, makes climbing much easier and faster. 

  • Triple Chainrings: A triple chainring is a crankset setup with three chainrings of different sizes mounted on the front of the bike. It’s like having three mini-bikes in one! 

They’re typically paired with a standard cassette (like one with an 11-25, 12-25, or 11-28 range of sprockets) to offer ultimate gear flexibility. One downside, however, is that they are really heavy.

  • Internal Hubs: An internal hub is a gear system housed within the rear wheel, unlike the traditional derailleur setup where gears hang off the back. It’s like a self-contained transmission for your bike, offering smooth, reliable shifting without external components exposed to damage.
  • Electronic Shifting: Electronic shifting in a bicycle replaces the traditional cables and levers with electronic signals and motors to change gears, offering many perks. It is Instant and helps in precise changes for effortless cadence mastery.

Bike type 

The type of bike you ride also influences your cycling cadence. Road bikes are designed for higher cadences thanks to their lightweight frames, narrow tires, and efficient gearing. They help you maintain speed and conserve energy over long distances.

Mountain bikes, on the other hand, often favor lower cadence due to terrain demands and for better power transfer and control. Their wider tires and sturdier frames provide stability on uneven surfaces, while lower gear ratios make it easier to conquer steep ascents without grinding your legs.

4. Other Factors:

In addition to terrain, equipment, and physical factors, other factors impact your cycling cadence. Some are natural factors like weather, while others are personal preferences. 


Headwinds or cold temperatures, like temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), necessitate lower cadences. Pushing against a headwind creates significant drag, making it harder to maintain speed. A lower cadence allows you to put more power into each pedal stroke, counteracting the wind’s resistance and helping you keep a steady pace.

On the other hand, cold muscles are less efficient and more prone to fatigue. A lower cadence allows your muscles to work at a slightly higher tension with each stroke, generating more power without pushing them too hard.

Personal Preferences 

There’s no one-size-fits-all regarding cadence. The best one is different for everyone and changes depending on your actions. So listen to your body and try different paces on diverse terrain. Shift gears based on what you’re trying to achieve and what the road throws your way.

Some cyclists naturally prefer spinning fast, while others favor higher power with slower leg speed. Find what works best for you.

The Importance of Finding Your Optimal Cadence

Cadence, or the number of pedal revolutions per minute (RPM), directly influences your performance. A steady cadence enhances energy efficiency and boosts power output, resulting in a more comfortable and optimized ride experience.

One crucial reason finding your ideal cadence matters is that it allows you to maximize your power output while minimizing fatigue. You also engage your skeletal muscles efficiently when you pedal at an appropriate cadence.

It helps to distribute the workload evenly between your core muscles like glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles, preventing excessive strain on these muscle groups and helping prevent premature fatigue.

By pedaling at a comfortable rate, you can sustain more extended periods of effort without tiring quickly. It can be especially beneficial during long rides or races where stamina is vital.

Furthermore, finding your ideal cadence aids in injury prevention by reducing unnecessary stress on joints and ligaments, mainly your knees, ankles, and hips. Avoiding high-force efforts caused by low cadences or spinning rapidly with too high a gear can help you decrease the risk of overuse injuries such as knee pain or Achilles tendinopathy.

Moreover, understanding and fine-tuning your preferred cadence improves bike handling skills and balance. With practice and experience at various RPMs, riders become more proficient in adapting their pedaling technique according to changing terrain conditions or race scenarios.

Mistakes to Avoid When Trying to Improve Cadence

When improving your cycling cadence, riders often make a few common mistakes. Avoiding these pitfalls can help you progress more effectively and ride stronger. Let’s get into it.

1. Rapid Change in Cadence

Abruptly boosting your cadence is one of the most common mistakes beginners make. Gradually increasing your leg speed allows your body to adapt and become stronger, while suddenly boosting your cadence can result in muscular strain and exhaustion. You must ease into a higher cadence instead of attempting rapid changes to prevent burnout and injury. 

For instance, If your average cadence is 90 rpm, consider increasing it to 95 rpm (3-5rpm) before striving for greater speeds.

2. Neglecting Proper Gear Selection

Another common error is neglecting proper gear selection. Choosing the correct gear ratio is crucial for maintaining a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. 

If you find yourself constantly spinning out or struggling with heavy resistance, take some time to experiment with different gear setups until you find one that allows you to maintain a consistent cadence without excessive effort. 

Here are some gear setups you can try:

Spinning OutHeavy Resistance
Lower gear ratio: If you’re pedaling like crazy but not going anywhere, a lower gear ratio will give you more “bite” on the pedals. It means you can generate more power with each pedal stroke, making it easier to maintain a comfortable cadence and climb hills. Shift to a smaller chainring in front and/or a larger cassette sprocket in the back to achieve this. For example, going from a 42t to a 40t provides 5% easier gearing in gravel.Higher gear ratio: A higher gear ratio will make things easier if you struggle to push the pedals on flat terrain or slight inclines. This allows you to cover more distance with each pedal stroke, reducing the effort required. Opt for a larger chainring in the front, like a 52-teeth chainring, and/or a smaller cassette sprocket in the back, like an 11-tooth sprocket.
Wider gear range: A wider gear range means having more gears to choose from. It gives you more flexibility to find the perfect gear for any terrain or situation. To achieve this, cassettes with a broader range of tooth counts, like 11-34 or even 11-42, are recommended.Compact crankset: Consider a compact crankset, which typically has 50/34 tooth chainrings compared to a standard 52/36 setup. This gives you lower bottom gear for climbs while offering high enough gearing for fast rolling on flats.

3. Improper Bike Fit

Improper bike fit can also hinder your ability to improve your cadence. A poorly adjusted saddle height or handlebar position can cause discomfort and restrict your range of motion, making it harder to achieve optimal leg turnover.

Consider getting a professional bike fitting or experimenting with small adjustments (mostly with saddle heights and handlebar positions) according to your preference until you find a comfortable and efficient setup.

For example, you’re experiencing discomfort or knee pain while cycling. A bike fitter might recommend adjusting your saddle height to ensure proper leg extension and alignment. They could also suggest tweaking handlebar positions to improve your posture and reduce strain on your upper body.

4. Ignoring Rest and Recovery

Remember the importance of rest and recovery in improving your cycling performance. Overtraining can lead to burnout and decreased pedal efficiency.

Ensure you’re allowing enough time(24-48 hours) for recovery between intense training sessions so your muscles have time to rejuvenate and adapt. 


Master your cadence; master your ride! Unlock hidden power and endurance by finding the perfect pedal rhythm. It’s not just spinning fast; it’s hitting that sweet spot where you glide effortlessly on the road, saving energy for longer rides and intense sprints. 

Play, tweak, train, and listen to your body – your ideal cadence awaits, ready to revolutionize your cycling journey. Remember, cadence mastery is paved with smooth, efficient strokes and a big smile.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does high cadence slow you down?

Recreational cyclists believe that spinning their pedals faster makes them faster. However, research shows spinning your pedals too fast (high cadence) can zap your energy and decrease efficiency. 

2. How do I find out my bike cadence?

Use a stopwatch to track how often your left leg pushes down on the pedal for 30 seconds. Multiply that number by two then you get your cadence. If you’re short on time, a 10-second count multiplied by 6 gives you a quick estimate.

3. Can cadence training benefit triathletes and improve performance?

Yes, cadence training can benefit triathletes by enhancing their neuromuscular coordination, cardiovascular endurance, and overall cycling efficiency, which can positively impact their performance in the triathlon.

4. How can cycling cadence impact the cardiovascular system?

Cycling cadence impacts the cardiovascular system by influencing oxygen delivery and energy expenditure demand. Higher cadences may increase cardiovascular strain, while lower cadences can engage more muscular effort and reduce cardiovascular load.