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Cadence is the speed of your pedalling; a high cadence uses a high number of revolutions per minute. Similarly, a low cadence uses high gears that are spun slowly.

Developing a smooth, fast pedalling motion is a main goal of early season and beginner training. Beginners tend to pedal slowly, at about 60 revolutions per minute, and although it minimises the rider's oxygen consumption, it is inefficient in terms of glycogen consumption, which is the actual bottleneck. This slow, inefficient pedalling style is what experienced riders deride as the hallmark of a "push-push" rider. The lungs of a reasonably fit person deliver much more oxygen to the doorstep of your cells than they can take in and use.

Experienced roadies pedal at about 90-95 RPM, and use their gears to maintain this cadence. When sprinting, one gears down and pedals at cadences of up to 120 RPM. This is less efficient, like riding out of the saddle, but gives the rider access to much more power output. The benchmark of an excellent sprinter is being smooth up to 180 RPM.

Being smooth at high cadence is indeed the key. Using fixed gear, track bikes or rollers for early-season training is an widely recognized as an excellent idea, mainly because it develops a smooth cadence. One author recommends balancing a book on his head while spinning rapidly on a stationary bike. Try warming up with high cadences of 100 or more to get blood flowing to your muscles and to improve your smoothness and technique.

At 120 rpm you will notice that the ride becomes very bumpy and choppy. This corresponds to the natural resonance frequency of the human body; if you pedal faster and get up to 135 rpm, it will smooth out completely.

Using proper cadence will help you avoid exhaustion on those big climbs. For more information on climbing see our page on road climbing
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