Cycling Cadence – What It Is and How to Improve It

Cycling Cadence

Cycling and cadence are two topics that always go hand in hand. We’re sure that, if you usually cycle with a group of fellow cyclists, you must have discussed ideal cadences and optimisation methods with them. If so, keep reading and find some facts that you will be able to use the next time the topic arises. Take note!

What’s pedaling cadence, and what’s its purpose?

Before diving into more specific information, it’s crucial to define what pedaling cadence is. It’s related to speed and power, being the number of pedal strokes performed each minute. In order to measure it, a magnet and a sensor are placed on a crankarm, which will count the revolutions per minute your pedals are making.


Knowing your RPM’s without a context is useless, but when analysed in the context of a route or race, they help you understand your performance better. After Armstrong’s success, a misconception arose – that a higher cadence made legs suffer less and helped build resistance. With his pedal spinning technique, he was able to go from 60 RPM to 90 RPM.

According to his own physician, Michele Ferrari, this way of climbing was a consequence of Armstrong’s muscular status after battling cancer. His heart and lungs behaved normally, but he had lost a lot of muscle mass. By increasing his speed and lowering resistance, he managed to make his effort independent of his legs’ strength.

armstrong pedaling cadence

Cycling : Tour De France 2002 /Armstrong Lance, Montagne, Berg, Mountain, Drapeau Americain, American Flag, Amerikaanse Vlag, Tdf, Ronde Van Frankrijk, (Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

The ideal pedaling cadence

As a consequence of his spinning technique, the ideal number of pedal strokes per minute has been discussed at great length. As you may have deducted from Ferrar’s words, this ideal, magic number will always depend on your fitness and genetics. Some people are better at high-resistance works, while others are stronger.

Laboratory studies have proven that the ideal cycling cadence is directly related to pedaling intensity. Muscles are formed by two kinds of fibers: slow-twitch (or Type I) and fast-twitch (Type II). The former are more resistant and more energy-efficient, whilst the latter are stronger.

When you make a physical effort, and as a consequence of your body behaving in the most efficient way, you always use your slow-twitch fibers; if you make an effort involving strength, you will be using the fast-twitch ones. Whether a pedaling cadence or another suits you, it will depend on your physical condition, as happened with Armstrong. 

In theory, the ideal peak of your pedaling cadence while going uphill will be 70 RPM, and can reach 80 on flat ground. If you can keep your stroke count between 100 and 60 RPM, you will be cycling in the most efficient way possible.

In order to improve your pedaling, you can focus on chainring-cog combinations that are difficult for you. With the help of a bike cadence chart, you will be able to know how much effort you’re putting into pedaling, and adjust your RPM’s to each circumstance, knowing why you’re doing it.

pedaling cadence

How to know your current cadence?

If you’re decided to optimize your performance and want to improve it progressively while training, you need to know your current cadence. This will help you measure your progress and also keep a record of your performance, that will allow you to see if you’re training efficiently.

How to measure your pedaling cadence? With a cadence sensor. It’s an external device that, either through an accelerometer or a magnet placed on your pedal, will send the information it gathers to your cycle computer, mobile phone or smartwatch.


Finally, if you want to get a measure as accurate as possible of your performance – and to improve your pedaling cadence – you can use a home trainer. This is especially advisable if you’re cycling on an MTB, because keeping a constant cadence is almost impossible. However, at home you can try different resistance and effort levels and get a more accurate measurement.

How to improve your pedaling cadence?

Now that you know what pedaling cadence means, why it’s important and how to establish your set-off, you just need to know how to improve it. Workouts and ad hoc exercises are essential. If you follow the advice we are giving you below, you will definitely see results.

1. Adjust your bike properly

It may seem obvious, but a well adjusted bike will help you get better results. When in need, don’t hesitate to bring it to a specialist.

2. Track and record your progress constantly

Remember that progress isn’t always linear. Maybe you get a worse result one week after a good one. Look at your global progress, not the individual numbers.

3. Keep both your legs in mind

In order that your work on cadence is effective, it has to be homogenous. When planning ahead your workouts, remember that you’ll be using both legs.

4. Work out with your whole body

Even though cycling is an activity in which the main effort is carried out by the legs, having a strong torso and arms will improve both your performance and resistance.

5. Pedal actively – and know what you’re doing! 

Instead of thinking of pedaling as drawing circles with your feet, think of each pedal stroke as two semi circles – one forward, pushing the pedal, and one backwards, pulling it. Thus you’ll optimize the effort you make.

Did you know what a cycling cadence was? Are you interested in knowing and improving yours? Although it’s not essential for a good performance, we think that understanding and focusing on it will help you get better results. Follow our advice and you’ll see that, being consistent, you’ll improve. What a great way of enjoying your favourite sport to the fullest!

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