UKH

Cadence

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.

*ALERT Old Git Reminiscing ALERT*

I've been thinking about cadence, which in my day was not a word any cyclist used, unless they also happened to be a musicologist. 

As I may have mentioned before, I come of a cycling family. My father was a lifelong cyclist (having clocked over 300,000 miles over his lifetime) who had some success in time trials in the 1930s, including winning the North Road 24 hour race a few weeks before war was declared in 1939. My parents met in a cycling club. My cycling experience started in a sidecar (don't see them very often) on Dad's bike, progressed to a seat on Dad's bike, then to a handbuilt juniorback tandem, and at last my own treasured yellow Claud Butler. For my first year or so on a solo bike I had a single freewheel with a gear of about 60" (probably 44 by 19). We didn't live in a very hilly area, but that gear did teach you to pedal. As I got older I was allowed a slightly higher gear, probably finishing with about 65" before I finally got a bike - my gorgeous Carlton with chrome fork ends and chain and seat stays - with 5 speed cassette (as they weren't called in those days) at about 15 years of age.

A bit before that I aspired to do some time trials. I think I was probably 14 when I made my debut. By this time I was doing most of my riding on a single fixed gear (that teaches you to pedal, especially going downhill). I can recall it remarkably clearly. It was a medium gear 25 mile TT on some dual carriageway roads with lots of roundabouts on the northern outskirts of London, St Alban's area. In those days early season medium gear races were common, usually with a maximum gear of 72" (48 by 18) and my time was 1hr 7mins 6secs. It must have been a big deal for me, to remember such details.

Several people noticed, including one Charlie Cole who owned a bike shop in Dunstable - he had an old pennyfarthing attached to wall above the shop. At the time I was riding on steel rim high pressure wheels with wire beaded tyres called Michelin 25s, but most TT riders used sprints and tubs in those days. The next week Charlie turned up on our doorstep and presented me with a pair of 28 spoke track sprints. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. So began my mildly successful TT career, much of which was done on a track bike with single fixed gear, usually 81" or 84", on which I managed to get inside the hour - just - for a handful of 25 mile TTs. At that time I recall competition record was 55 mins and something. Those gear ratios were 48 by 16 and 50 by 16.

If there's anybody still reading, you might be beginning to understand my musings about cadence. If you buy a bike now - say a carbon audax model - it will include what I regard as a preposterously massive gear ratios, typically a top gear of 50 by 11 which is over 120"! When does anyone who isn't a top pro use a gear that big? When I was time trialling a bit later on a 10 speed bike my top gear was about 96", which I rarely used unless riding with a howling tailwind. I can recall doing a 50 mile out-and-back TT on the Bath Road when I reached the turn at 25 miles (going west) in 1hr 11mins but finished up with a time of just outside 2 hours. I don't recall wishing I had a bigger gear than 96" despite doing the second half at about 30 mph.

I am really interested in why this is all so different than what is happening today. When I see today's time triallists on the A590 near home with a cadence of, I'd guess, 40 - 50 per minute I'm wondering why. Is it just fashion? Are better times resulting from this? Is there an optimum cadence for a particular speed, or do different riders have different physiology which dictates these differences? Is there anything in the traditional belief that big gears tire you out more? Is there any research done on whether the human body can react badly to pushing massive gears? I'd be interested if any others on this forum have views on this subject.

 EarlyBird 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Wasn't cadence "souplesse" in the old days?

 Doug 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

If your profile is up to date you're some 12 years older than me, I can remember 'cadence' being a cycling term since the late 70s when I started cycling regularly and I was a commuting/touring cyclist who never raced. Was the word really new then ?

 GrahamD 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

I think part of the answer is that the majority of us simply aren't operating at that performance level and want riding to be as easy as it can be for any given terrain.  I can happily use 50/11 on mildly down hill and am grateful for 34/32 on anything of 10% and above.

In reply to EarlyBird:

> Wasn't cadence "souplesse" in the old days?

Rings a little bell, but don't remember uttering it.

In reply to Doug:

Well, I was talking about late '50s and early '60s.

 ianstevens 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

I'd actually have thought fashion was the other way - spin to win being popularised by a certain multiple grand tour winner over the last decade. So I find it strange that people would be chugging along at 40-50 rpm, which in all honesty, sounds vile. I usually average in the high 80s/low 90s on a road ride, and run a 52/36 and an 11-30 on the back. 52-11 does get used on the downhills... but not much else. On my TT bike I used to run a 55T chain ring with an 11-23 on the back, but never really got much past the middle of the cassette (10 speed), and definitely not down to 55/11! The logic here is that wider angles from bigger gears = less resistance. In reality, I got a good deal on the big ring and it looked cool. Again, my cadence for a TT was around the low-mid 90s. Which brings me back to my original point, albeit somewhat circuitously. Maybe these people doing 40-50 rpm have bought big gears because they look cool, whilst not actually having the legs to push them? Or they just don't know how to use gears properly.    

Post edited at 14:10
 Crazylegs 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

I found this an interesting read - thanks.

How is your general knee health nowadays when walking and cycling?

The reason I ask is that although I've cycled for most of my life, when I significantly increased my daily mileage about 10 years ago, I developed knee pain. I took some advice that I was typically pushing too big a gear with a cadence around 60. I trained myself to spin faster and it seemed to do the trick in that I've never had a recurrence of knee pain.

So, is a higher cadence better for general knee health?

 Yanis Nayu 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

I don't think a cadence of 40-50 in TTs is in vogue.  I tend to have a cadence of 90-100 when going fast; 60-odd when going really slowly.  My biggest gear is 52 x 11 and I use it fairly regularly and can push it upto about 40mph on a slight downhill with the wind behind.

I think the received wisdom is that a slightly lower cadence is better for time trialling and faster for oad racing,  definitely agree with a faster cadence for road racing - it allows you to be much more responsive.

In reply to Yanis Nayu:

I'm probably guessing wrong with the cadence I've observed, but it just looks really slow to me.

In reply to Crazylegs:

That is an interesting story, but of course notoriously difficult to prove what caused something of this sort. But it does seem to make some sense to me. I did have some knee problems when I was TTing in my teens, but looking back on it I suspect it was Osgood-Slatters disease, though I didn't know that existed at the time. As you might guess from my story above, it wasn't very likely to be caused by pushing big gears!

Since then I seem to have been really lucky with knees, because for about 25 years of my adult life I was doing a lot of running for orienteering, did some fell races, ran a marathon. What I never did was much road running - the marathon I ran was off road on Tissington and High Peak Trails. I have taken quite a lot of glucosamine over the last 20 odd years, which may or may not have helped!.

Although this is no more than a gut feeling, I do believe that the higher the cadence the better for the joints and general body health.

In reply to GrahamD:

> I think part of the answer is that the majority of us simply aren't operating at that performance level and want riding to be as easy as it can be for any given terrain.  I can happily use 50/11 on mildly down hill and am grateful for 34/32 on anything of 10% and above.

Interesting observation, though personally I can't see even going down hill how you find such a big gear easier or even comfortable.

In reply to ianstevens:

>  On my TT bike I used to run a 55T chain ring with an 11-23 on the back, but never really got much past the middle of the cassette (10 speed), and definitely not down to 55/11!

I used to have a 5-speed block (as we called them) 14-18 and either 52-50 or 50-48. No doubt you are going quite a bit faster than I was, but I suspect your cadence is quite a bit less than mine was.

"The logic here is that wider angles from bigger gears = less resistance."

I don't understand this. Can you explain?

    

Post edited at 18:01
 Yanis Nayu 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

The chain going round a big ring suffers less resistance than one going round a smaller one.

In reply to Crazylegs:

I e recently started having trouble with the old knees after big rides out. I’ve now swapped out the 11-32 for a 11-40 and spin up the hills rather than grind. I’m only doing 5 or 6 mph on big hills but cadence is still in the 70’s. I’ve found the change a huge help.

In reply to Yanis Nayu:

Thanks for that. Interesting perhaps if looking for marginal gains. Still, the solution is easy - big chainring and big sprockets. You don't have to push big gears to solve it.

In reply to wilkie14c:

> I e recently started having trouble with the old knees after big rides out. I’ve now swapped out the 11-32 for a 11-40 and spin up the hills rather than grind. I’m only doing 5 or 6 mph on big hills but cadence is still in the 70’s. I’ve found the change a huge help.

That's interesting, and pleasing that it improves things for you. Only problem for me would be I'd fall off going at walking pace! My solution is an ebike.... Of which I'm not the least ashamed.

In reply to Rog Wilko:

I have an ebike for my work commute, 2 years old now and 1800+ miles on it. It is fantastic! Battery range has dropped somewhat now and i’ll need a new one soon but hey, 1800 miles at zero cost is not to be sniffed at. (charges at work so costs me nothing)

In reply to wilkie14c:

Definitely the way forward for commuting. Helps you not to arrive at work lathered in sweat, I imagine. Definitely the way forward for older folk, too. Getting yourself totally smashed on hills doesn't do you any good in your 70s.

In reply to Rog Wilko:

Just wondering if anyone else on here knew the saintly Charlie Cole?

 JLS 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

I guess they need those big gears to keep up with today’s traffic on the dual carriageways.  

Some of the kids I see at the track have phenomenal leg speed. I’ve seen cadence on the rollers that I wouldn’t have though possible 200+ rpm. Despite lots of low gear ridding as a kid in the 1980s (60” single free on my commuter) I maxed out at around 120rmp.
 

A couple of years ago I was racing on the track. My leg speed has dropped further with age. Needed 49x14 to keep up on the 30mph laps. 50x14 produced sore knees but I was fine with the 49 ring...

 ianstevens 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Exactly my approach, although I explained it rather poorly. Like it said, was more because I got the chainring cheap than any intended marginal gains (lacking some major gains first and foremost - was doing c. 23 min 10 mile TTs). 

In reply to JLS:

Yes, you won't see low cadence on the track, even in the TTs.

In reply to Rog Wilko:

In my days riding a road bike, I used to turn a high gear, with a low cadence. These days, I'm in a lower gear, with a higher cadence. My legs probably aren't as big or strong.

As for the nature of the term, I'll ask my mate, and his dad, since they've both been cycling all their lives. Or my parents, who cycled everywhere in the youth.

 Toby_W 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog

My wife has lots of pics of herself as a child in a side car on a triplet with her family!  We have two Thorn childback tandems as well and made Grandpas year cycling part or Lejog with him up onto Dartmoor.

i’ve just rebuilt my bike after it was nicked (got the frame back thank goodness) and went for 180 cranks.  Wonderful.  As you might expect my cadence has dropped but increased on hills.  I’ve always had a high cadence, it soaks up gradient changes, currently running 52/36 - 11/28, i don’t do it anymore but flat out sprints need the big gears and you need to practice  the balance so as not to flip the bike out from under you.  I’m a hill climber so I never won any anyway!

 My bike is better than ever thanks to Steve Hoggs website.

Thanks for the interesting post

Toby

Post edited at 22:35
 ClimberEd 15 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

My understanding is that the slower you go ( from 4mins track to /10m TT/25M TT/100M /12Hr TT to give some idea of what I mean from faster to slower) the more efficient a lower cadence is physiologically.

So on the faster events you need to get the most out of yourself and total energy use is less of a limitation. By the time you get to 12hr TT then efficiency is a much bigger part of performance. 

This is, of course, only relevant for constance pace events as it is lot harder to change speed at lower cadences (comes at a much higher energy cost).

Additionally there will be variance between individuals and how they are trained, as you point out riding a single speed will make you far more adaptable. 

 GerM 16 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Riding fixed certainly teaches you a bit about pedalling. I ride fixed a bit, but usually on less hilly rides, not so much because of the uphills (given the right approach I find these surprisingly ok), but because downhills can be hard work, a bit tedious, or downright scary at times. It can be fun just feeling the spin and working with it at times, I ride an easygoing 42x17 which I work out at about 65", designed to be at just over 100rpm at 20mph, I have managed to top 40mph on it, just over 200rpm, it does feel like your legs are about to drop off at those kind of speeds!

I think the answer to why anyone would want such tall gears comes down to those hills, coming down them of course. It means you can still apply power at higher speeds without spinning out. There is a difference I think between keeping up with high cadences, and applying power when spinning this fast. I think I've read somewhere that although high cadences can be efficient for those accustomed to applying power at high spin rates, for those less used to doing this, because the effort is less, cadences of approaching 100rpm can be substantially less efficient for beginners. A maximally efficient cadence does depend very much on the individual rider.
 

The other aspect is the rider's physiology. I have seen efficiency of power transfer with respect to cadence likened to impeadence matching for power transfer. If you push a very tall gear slowly not only does it feel difficult, it is also hard to get much speed up. If you spin too short a gear you just end up spinning out, pedaling really fast, working hard but getting nowhere. The most efficient point is somwhere in the middle, with the actual most efficient cadence being lower for big strong riders, and higher for more lightly built riders generally.

In reply to GerM:

th the actual most efficient cadence being lower for big strong riders, and higher for more lightly built riders generally.

When I used to cycle I could ever spin a high cadence for any length of time, it wore me out fast but I could push a tall gear a day with no problem 

 Dom Connaway 16 Aug 2020
In reply to GerM:

'. I have seen efficiency of power transfer with respect to cadence likened to impeadence matching for power transfer.'

That's a cracking analogy. A bell curve in each case, I believe, so the maths backs up the intuition.

In reply to Toby_W:

> In reply to Rog

> My wife has lots of pics of herself as a child in a side car on a triplet with her family!  We have two Thorn childback tandems as well and made Grandpas year cycling part or Lejog with him up onto Dartmoor.

A triplet with a side car! Love to see that.

In reply to GerM:

> Riding fixed certainly teaches you a bit about pedalling. I ride fixed a bit, but usually on less hilly rides, not so much because of the uphills (given the right approach I find these surprisingly ok), but because downhills can be hard work, a bit tedious, or downright scary at times. 

I can remember feeling rather nervous on fixed going downhill fast because I could imagine it being totally disastrous if I unshipped the chain. It made me very cautious about getting the slack out of the chain and keeping it out. It was more comforting on a bike with proper track ends and chain adjusters.

It can be fun just feeling the spin and working with it at times, I ride an easygoing 42x17 which I work out at about 65", designed to be at just over 100rpm at 20mph, I have managed to top 40mph on it, just over 200rpm, it does feel like your legs are about to drop off at those kind of speeds!

I can't imagine 200 rpm.

 GerM 16 Aug 2020
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Yes track fork ends and chain tensioners make the world of difference, so much more secure and easy to adjust chain tension and wheel alignment. Don't think I've ever unshipped a chain on a fixed wheel, have snapped one though under heavy acceleration at not particularly high speed, it's not much fun.

Spinning such a high cadence is quite different to turning it, there's not a cat in hell's chance I could get anywhere near while actually powering the bike. It becomes a subtle combination of letting your legs go, relaxing in the seat through the hips, and slight impulses to prevent the weight and reluctance of your legs from impeding the movement. Wouldn't want to try keeping it up for any significant length of time though, and having a brake as a bit of a bail out and some semblance of control helps too.

Post edited at 12:53
In reply to GerM:

> Yes track fork ends and chain tensioners make the world of difference, so much more secure and easy to adjust chain tension and wheel alignment. Don't think I've ever unshipped a chain on a fixed wheel, have snapped one though under heavy acceleration at not particularly high speed, it's not much fun.

In all my years of cycling I'd never snapped a chain until about 3 years ago when I accidentally got into a forbidden chainring/sprocket combination. Never knew it was a thing. I guess 11 speed cassettes make it more likely. I wouldn't expect it on a single speed!


This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
Loading Notifications...