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  1. #1
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    Speed vs. Cadence. Vs. Power

    Hello,

    I am new to biking and have so far just been "riding." I have a computer that gives me basic information (MPH, Distance, etc.) but I haven't paid too much attention to it. I want to start training for a triathlon which will have a 35k bike, but I have no idea if I should be paying more attention to cadence, speed, or just how my legs feel. Some people have told me I need to get a cadence computer, some people say that cadence isn't that important and I should get a heart monitor, and some people say I should get a power meter (this is out of the question due to cost).

    What are your opinions, I would like to be competitive in the bike, and don't want to burn my legs out riding in the wrong gear.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    You don't need a cadence sensor. use the stopwatch function on your computer. Count one leg's rpms for 6 seconds and add a zero for your cadence. Anywhere from 80-100 rpms is good. There's a lot of individual variation with regard to cadence, but 80-100 covers anyone interested in performance.

    Cadence will drop on hills to as low as 60-70rpm, however.

  3. #3
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    You don't NEED anything but all are helpful. Cadence is very good to have. Keeps you spinning and not mashing. Save your legs for when you really need them.

    Heart rate gives you a clue as to how hard you are working and what is sustainable.

    Power is the best. I guess. Not willing to make that outlay yet.

  4. #4
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    It might be helpful to have a general and very simplified understanding of the relationships:

    A rider generates power (watts) by pushing down with a certain force (Newtons) on the pedals AND turning the cranks at a certain cadence (rpm). The notion of a 90 cadence being "good" rest on the fact that sustainable power is generated best by blending the right cadence with the right pedal force, with "right" meaning proper for a certain rider under certain conditions.

    The beauty of the power meter is that it takes out the guesswork. As a beginner, you blend pedal force and cadence in several ways until you find out which blend has you make the most sustainable power under certain conditions. The heart rate monitor gave you a measure of your physical effort, but was unreliable as a tool with which to gauge actual power (which really means speed) at the rear wheel.

    One other thing to remember: In cycling,the range of power output over various times is huge. A rider may be able to generate 1,200 watt for 10 seconds, hold 400 watt for no more than 2 minutes, be able to stay at 250 watt for one hour and cruise all day at 150 watt. These numbers are just pulled out of my, well, head, so they just serve as an illustration. For a relatively flat 35 km event, you need to generate the amount of power you can hold for about 60 minutes.
    Last edited by wim; 05-08-2014 at 04:50 AM.

  5. #5
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    I fall on the side that cadence is important enough that you should have that function on your computer. As was stated above, cadence tends to drop on climbs - just when monitoring is important - and I don't picture too many riders wanting to count off at that point in time.

    One thing to note is if cadence drops to the range of 60-70, I would suggest the rider consider lower gearing on their bike. Even taking into consideration variances in an individuals riding style, IME most Ortho docs recommend keeping above 70. I've had knee issues, so generally keep in the low 90's range.

  6. #6
    wim
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    Quote Originally Posted by PJ352 View Post
    One thing to note is if cadence drops to the range of 60-70, I would suggest the rider consider lower gearing on their bike.
    I agree with this, but would say that on extremely steep climbs it's simply not possible for some riders to always ride at a higher cadence AND maintain a reasonable racing speed. Obviously, this is of no concern to someone who wants to climb steep hills most efficiently, not the fastest way possible.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter P. View Post
    You don't need a cadence sensor. use the stopwatch function on your computer. Count one leg's rpms for 6 seconds and add a zero for your cadence. Anywhere from 80-100 rpms is good. There's a lot of individual variation with regard to cadence, but 80-100 covers anyone interested in performance.

    Cadence will drop on hills to as low as 60-70rpm, however.
    If you're concerned enough to spend time hitting buttons and counting, I'd say get a cadence sensor! That just sounds like it'd ruin rides!

    Anyway, to the OP, I'd get a HRM and a cadence sensor. Being new to the sport, it's useful to have those two metrics available to help with your technique as you ride. A lot of newbs tend to grind a harder gear than is appropriate and hit the bottom of climbs too hard and gas out before the top.

    Those are just two quick examples that come to mind of common issues that HR and cadence can help you see. Plus, if you're really into improving performance, they're quite useful. HR isn't a perfect metric of exertion due to cardiac drift and a ton of mitigating factors that can cause your BPM to be a little high or low over what is expected on a day to day basis, but it's about as good as you can get without adding power to the mix.

    If you're in the market for a computer that'll get you all those features, I'd go ahead and pick up a Garmin Edge 510 bundle or a Forerunner 310 bundle (a little more tri-friendly). It'll be well worth it from a training standpoint as it will allow you to upload all your data post-ride and analyze your performance. Plus, if you do add power down the line, they'll work with any ANT+ meter.

  8. #8
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    As a Newb, when you're riding hard (which I hope isn't all the time) just ride hard. If it feels like you're pedalling too slow, you are. If it feel like you're pedalling too fast, you are.

    My Physiotherapist, when I tell her about how my training is going, will often ask "What cadence are you pedalling at?" and my reply is always "The correct one for me at that moment" and I'll go on to explain that I have no idea what number is attached to it, just that it feels the best for what I'm going at the time. But then I started racing 5 decades ago so I have a bit of experience.

    So as a newb, experiment. If you're doing 60-90 rpm uphill, 75-100 on the flats and 90-110 downhill (all thereabouts) then you're ok. If you're doing 110 uphill, 60 downhill, 60 or 110 on the flat you're not ok.
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  9. #9
    wim
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike T. View Post
    As a Newb, when you're riding hard (which I hope isn't all the time) just ride hard. If it feels like you're pedalling too slow, you are. If it feel like you're pedalling too fast, you are.
    Completely agree with that - - you don't need a cadence meter. It does help a beginner to know what 90 rpm or so feels like. But for that, all you need is a ticking watch and the ability to multiply (crank revolutions in 15 seconds x 4 = cadence). After making that determination a few times, you'll know.

    There's even a problem associated with cadence meters: it tends to make some beginner develop the silly habit of riding by cadence ("always ride at 90 rpm"). That's like always driving your car at 3,000 rpm even though lower or higher rpms would be much better for speed and/ or efficiency in a particular instance.

  10. #10
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    Since you're OP references increasing performance, two other areas worth noting are fit and smoothing the pedal stroke. Both can affect efficiency on the bike, so would be worth a look.

    Here's a vid I like on pedaling technique.

    VIDEO: Pedaling Technique

    And another on cadence:

    Cycling Cadence

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by wim View Post
    Completely agree with that - - you don't need a cadence meter. It does help a beginner to know what 90 rpm or so feels like. But for that, all you need is a ticking watch and the ability to multiply (crank revolutions in 15 seconds x 4 = cadence). There's even a problem associated with cadence meters: it tends to make some beginner develop the silly habit of riding by cadence ("always ride at 90 rpm"). That's like always driving your car at 3,000 rpm even though lower or higher rpms would be better.
    Yup you got it. I counted mine once over five months of roller-riding this winter - in response to another "cadence" question here at RBR. It was 92. But that's just a number invented by humans. It's just relative - relative to 60 and 110rpm. But without this human-made label, it was the correct cadence for me at the time.

    Yes, the newbs can get a feel for cadence by doing your test - count for 15 secs and multiply by 4. Compare to my make-shift list above. Then commit to memory. Work on either side of it, depending on the circumstance or need. It's good enough and probably dead right.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guod View Post
    If you're concerned enough to spend time hitting buttons and counting, I'd say get a cadence sensor! That just sounds like it'd ruin rides!
    Actually, it's easy and doesn't ruin anything, because you don't have to do it very often. You just need to learn how various cadences feel (just like learning the tempo of a song). I occasionally count cadence on a quiet stretch of road (doing it for 15 or 20 seconds gets you more accuracy than shorter intervals). I get a feel for how 70, 80, 100, 110 feel, and I remember it. Occasional re-calibration of the internal metronome is all that's necessary.

    Anyway, precise numbers aren't necessary. The point is to find the cadences that work for YOU in different situations. That takes some attention and thought, but not necessarily looking at numbers.

    One further point: for the vast majority of new road riders, the important cadence advice boils down to one word: "faster." Most newbies tend to gear high and turn slow. Shift down and learn to spin faster, and you'll generally improve. When you get comfortable at a given cadence, shift down and turn even faster. Eventually you'll find your personal comfort zone.
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  13. #13
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    What other people said.

    If you're thinking about cadence, HR, and racing I'd maybe recommend something like the Garmin 500. You can get cadence and HR, set up the display to have up to 8 things per screen, as well as upload your workouts to track progress. The 500 can also handle a power meter if you get that somewhere down the line.

  14. #14
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    I generally agree that cadence can be learned without a cadence function on a computer. However, having a cadence function will make it easier to see when someone is STARTING to slow their cadence. A constant measure will show more variation, and immediately show it. Intermittent measures will show you have slowed, but not that you are starting to slow. So for faster learning, and quick feedback, a cadence function is useful to those trying to lock in a certain cadence as their "norm".
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  15. #15
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    [QUOTE=bgit;4618503]
    What are your opinions, I would like to be competitive in the bike, and don't want to burn my legs out riding in the wrong gear.
    Thanks![/QUOTE
    As you are doing a triathlon it will be you and the bike, beating/matching your best time. The best way to do this is with consistency, the best way to have some consistency is to have real-time data to look at. Cycling computers that have both HRM/Cadence sensors are readily available at reasonable prices.

  16. #16
    wim
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    Quote Originally Posted by QuiQuaeQuod View Post
    However, having a cadence function will make it easier to see when someone is STARTING to slow their cadence.
    This is certainly true. But if speed is important, you need to be careful in how you react to that indication. If, for example, you're just barely hanging on to a group at a cadence of 90 and putting out close to 300 watt, shifting to the next larger cog on a wide-range cassette when you see your cadence drop to 88 will almost certainly have you come off the back. I've alluded to this in an earlier post ("riding by cadence").
    Last edited by wim; 05-09-2014 at 05:05 AM.

  17. #17
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    I use the Wahoo Blue heart rate monitor and the Wahoo Speed and Cadence monitor. I like to see my pedal cadence and the heart rate data is great for target zones. I pay little attention to speed as I am not racing. I would be interested in power but the monitors/cranks are too expensive for my exercise riding.

  18. #18
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    So I'm new as well and this is what I've learned. I find the cadence sensor on my simple bike computer (Sigma 1609 wireless with cadence) the most useful thing going in learning how to ride. It is the secondary function that is always displayed when I'm riding. Everything else is for stops or afterwards.

    I kind of knew that faster is better, but it has really been beaten into me in the past few months of actually learning. In fact, when I'm getting tired, the trap I try to avoid is to let my cadence fall (below 90 in my case.) If I do, I shift, and I'll gradually recover my speed. Often, as I'm learning about my abilities - or probably more importantly, getting a little inspired with one of my mental games - after a few minutes, I can shift back into the higher gear and keep humming along in the mid 90s.

    I imagine once I've been doing this for a bunch of years, the display of my cadence will matter less. For me though, I like the training wheels aspect though. It also keeps my brain from fooling me ("Yeah, you're pedaling just fine, no worries...") I'm also trying to "learn" the gearing of my bike, and this helps I think. At some point I'm hoping it all becomes intuitive, but right now I'm kind of thinking about gearing and cadence as I'm riding, so more info is better. Hopefully to shorten the time it takes that get past the thinking all the time about it phase.

  19. #19
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    I started riding a year ago and at that time I purchased a heart rate and cadence computer. At that time I feel it was quite useful as I didn't know what I was doing or my level of effort. It helped me establish what pedalling speeds I'm comfortable with as I became more comfortable spinning faster.

    Now, I don't really need the heart rate and cadence sensor as I know based upon how it feels when spinning how fast I'm going and how fast I should spin up a climb.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NJBiker72 View Post
    You don't NEED anything but all are helpful. Cadence is very good to have. Keeps you spinning and not mashing. Save your legs for when you really need them.

    Heart rate gives you a clue as to how hard you are working and what is sustainable.

    Power is the best. I guess. Not willing to make that outlay yet.
    +1.

    Instant feedback on numbers we're concerned about is the point of having a bike computer. Early on it was cadence I was most concerned with, now it's HR - 1X2 and below and I'm (generally) good for a while.

    And it's overkill for my NEEDS, but I've loved having a Garmin 510. Cadence is still in the lower left hand corner, but HR is #2 in a big box.

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    I appreciate this thread is over 4 years old but Ive got a good way of explaining speed vs cadence vs power vs gear selection. From my experiences of using a power meter for a year and a half now and a cadence sensor ever since I started cycling.

    From my own experiences speed on a bicycle is completely irrelevant. Because it's affected by so many variables like wind, gradient, drafting behind someone else and even a smooth road surface. You think you are cycling fast but it's not until you look at a power meter that you realise, its not you but the tailwind and slight downhill gradient !! Some Strava segments here are a measure of who had the biggest tailwind on their ride.
    A power meter is not affected by any of these variables, it just measures your output and nothing else. So an effort of 200 watts is 200 watts, no matter if you're cycling downwind or into wind or uphill. You'll see that when you're cycling uphill or into wind even though you think you are going really slow, in fact you are still cycling way harder compared to being fast on the flat.

    So I no longer look at speed to gauge how well Im cycling, but look at what my power is. Power is the true measure of your effort.

    The best way to use a power meter is... every 6 to 8 weeks take a 20 minute ride where you are cycling flat-out max effort. This will tell you what power you're capable of doing, your 100% (called FTP). Then on all of your next rides you can compare whatever your current power reading is shown on your Garmin to that FTP figure. So while you are cycling you can see if you're taking it easy and resting (less than 55% of your FTP), cycling at an endurance effort (55% to 75% of your FTP), tempo (76% to 90% of your FTP) or a very high hard high intensity effort (short term power over 100% of your FTP !! For example a 10 second sprint).

    Note that your power meter doesn't even need to show an accurate number, as you are just comparing whatever is on the readout to whatever it was on your max effort FTP. So you powermeter can under-read by 5 watts, as long as it always under-reads by 5 watts.

    A power meter can be handy for pacing yourself on a long endurance ride, or at the other end of the scale, if you're doing a time trial competition. By keeping your power output within your desired % zone regardless of the rolling hills or wind. For example when Im on a long ride I will keep my power low % so that I dont burn out. Or when Im cycling up convex shaped hills fast as I can, I can actually see my power drop off as the gradient flattens out at the top, so I will get back on the "gas" to keep my power up.

    More advanced uses of a power meter will be knowing how long you can sustain certain power outputs for. For example I could do 612 watts for 10 seconds, 524 watts for 30 seconds, 376 watts for a minute, 288 watts for 5 minutes, 249 watts for 20 minutes, 237 watts for an hour.
    If you are doing a 10 mile TT you'll know exactly how hard to pedal because you know what power you can sustain over those 10 miles. For example you'll aim to hold an average of 220 watts for the entire duration of the course (or segment) regardless of terrain.
    Other uses include interval training programmes. Holding relatively high power outputs for certain lengths of time before resting at relatively low power.
    Certain software can analyse your power meter to measure how hard your workout was, changes in your fitness and fatigue.

    Cadence... In my opinion cadence is the sweet spot of how fast you are rotating the cranks. Some people have a natural cadence they like to spin at. For some reason I naturally end up doing 100 rpm.
    By using a cadence sensor, throughout a ride if my rpm drops too low ( below 90rpm ) I change into an easier gear and if my cadence rises to high ( over 105 rpm ) I change into a harder gear. If I were to plot my cadence on a graph it should be a flat line regardless of gradient or wind.
    If your cadence drops too low, then you are using brute force to turn the pedals and will end up tiring your legs out. A higher cadence uses more aerobic cardio capacity than brute leg strength.
    Note that your cadence will only be as good as the size of your gearing. So if you have a small 25 tooth cassette and a big chain ring it would be impossible to spin up a mountain with a high cadence. While a 28 tooth or 32 tooth cassette with a compact chainring will enable you to spin up any mountain with a higher cadence. Some bike snobs look down on compact chain rings and big cassettes but they have never beaten Chris Froome or Alberto Contador up a mountain and the bike snobs could suffer from knee stress injuries later in life due to years of grinding.

    Whats the relationship between power - cadence - gear selection? If you are spinning at 90 rpm and your the power is relatively on the low side then you are in a too easy gear, so you are hardly putting any effort in relative to your own ability. If you change to a harder gear then you will have to pedal with more power to sustain that cadence of 90 rpm. I suppose you will find a gear where you end up spinning at 90 rpm at the power you want to maintain.
    In the cassette size example that I wrote above, the rider with a 25 tooth cassette would have "run out of gears" up a hill climb, where the rider can no longer sustain a cadence of 90 rpm at the max power they can output. So their cadence will noticeably drop to a very low figure.

    I hardly ever look at heart rate as its something I have little control over. It just does its own thing in the background. I just accept my heart rate is going to be sky high when climbing. While a power meter is an instantaneous measure (in fact I set my Garmin to display 3 seconds average power or 10 seconds average power, to smooth the reading out, otherwise it updates / fluctuates too fast) and I seem to have more control over power than heart rate. Heart rate is much slower to respond to any changes and then its affected by external factors like caffeine, fatigue, how Im feeling that day or how scary the traffic is.
    Last edited by BennyC; 06-21-2018 at 05:40 PM.

  22. #22
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    BennyC check this article out. It's old but, gives some interesting insight on some of the topics your interested in. Article HERE.

    Been doing this a while...Power is the only direct indicator of what's going on and king for interval and pacing. But, HR is so good as a indirect CV indicator which should not be ignored on long endurance events and or even how many matches you have and recovery between matches. HR for recovery and fatigue is king.

    Cadence for me is a feel thing and I use it in conjunction with power to get the most out of whatever effort I'm trying to maximize. I also monitor speed the same and use it in conjunction with cadence and power to maximize performance usually in a race etc...

    Sometimes, actually often, I ride with no numbers. Most of my easy or longer rides are by feel. I do peak at something once in a while but, it's good to learn not to be a slave to all of this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by woodys737 View Post
    BennyC check this article out. It's old but, gives some interesting insight on some of the topics your interested in. Article HERE.

    Been doing this a while...Power is the only direct indicator of what's going on and king for interval and pacing. But, HR is so good as a indirect CV indicator which should not be ignored on long endurance events and or even how many matches you have and recovery between matches. HR for recovery and fatigue is king.

    Cadence for me is a feel thing and I use it in conjunction with power to get the most out of whatever effort I'm trying to maximize. I also monitor speed the same and use it in conjunction with cadence and power to maximize performance usually in a race etc...

    Sometimes, actually often, I ride with no numbers. Most of my easy or longer rides are by feel. I do peak at something once in a while but, it's good to learn not to be a slave to all of this.
    So this FTP is the new buzzword replacing "lactate threshold?" That's old language for maximum sustainable power possible, given the rider's conditioning, how fast his recovery times are at the top of climbs, and how much carbo loading and rest he got the day before. LT is quickly quantifiable by heart rate. At a certain point, the legs are demanding more energy than they're getting, HR increases into anaerobic using finite glycogen stored in the fast twitch fiber, and rider has to back off below AT to recover. A well trained rider can recover just below AT, while lesser mortals must go slower to recover from these excursions beyond the cardiovascular system's ability to fuel.

    Of course you got guys like Mark Cavendish or Bernard Hinault, with great fast twitch capabilities, but they don't generally go on these insane breakaways 100 miles from the finish. They saved their energies for the sprints at the end. Then there are guys like Froome, Gianni Bugno, or Marco Patani, lightweight guys with high aerobic capacity, whose sprints were merely icing on the cake.

    HR may not give an absolute measurement of power, but it sure is a reliable measurement of how much power the body can deliver at a given moment, the bottom line. Heart rate is a delayed response and it stays high during recovery, but nonetheless has a proportional relationship to power, whether measured in speed over a given course, or torque on the cranks, watts.

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    Bernard Hinault was not a sprinter, but one of the best time trialists and climbers.....
    Except that, good posting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fredrico View Post
    So this FTP is the new buzzword replacing "lactate threshold?" That's old language for maximum sustainable power possible, given the rider's conditioning, how fast his recovery times are at the top of climbs, and how much carbo loading and rest he got the day before. LT is quickly quantifiable by heart rate. At a certain point, the legs are demanding more energy than they're getting, HR increases into anaerobic using finite glycogen stored in the fast twitch fiber, and rider has to back off below AT to recover. A well trained rider can recover just below AT, while lesser mortals must go slower to recover from these excursions beyond the cardiovascular system's ability to fuel.

    Of course you got guys like Mark Cavendish or Bernard Hinault, with great fast twitch capabilities, but they don't generally go on these insane breakaways 100 miles from the finish. They saved their energies for the sprints at the end. Then there are guys like Froome, Gianni Bugno, or Marco Patani, lightweight guys with high aerobic capacity, whose sprints were merely icing on the cake.

    HR may not give an absolute measurement of power, but it sure is a reliable measurement of how much power the body can deliver at a given moment, the bottom line. Heart rate is a delayed response and it stays high during recovery, but nonetheless has a proportional relationship to power, whether measured in speed over a given course, or torque on the cranks, watts.
    No not to my knowledge. I wouldn't have thought to characterize FTP as a buzzword simply because it's nothing new. Now that there are so many power meters on the market and relatively cheap we are starting to see new riders ride with power very early in their career so-to-speak. I happen to think this is a mistake but, I've made every mistake in the book twice so who am I to judge?

    If used properly to train the three energy systems, IMO there are certain applications where a HR monitor can give you better information and some where a power meter is superior. Neither are required to train a particular system. But for many of us they take some of the guess work out. For some they can add more uncertainty.

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