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  1. #1
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    Cadence question

    Coming from a road background where higher cadence (90+) is common for endurance events. Is it the same for mtb endurance events? Understand mtb will have much more short burst grinds, but overall do riders use a higher cadence?

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    I like around 80-85, it is what works good for me....
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    I try to, it seems most critical for me on climbs and flats. I have to mentally "scream" at myself sometimes to stay in an easier gear and pedal faster, but when I do, it seems to keep me fresher and faster. 90 miles in I probably won't be turning 90rpm, but I'll try to keep my cadence up as much as I can on the previous climbs and sections where I can.
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    Biggest factor for me is the trail. If the trail is smooth I stay around 90 but that just isn't possible even with only a slightly rough trail. The more rocky or rooted the trail the lower my cadence seems to get.

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    Most people who do both spin slightly slower on MTB. Usually the cranks are slightly longer, and the rough terrain makes spinning tricky. But as Dave points out, if you have a smooth section spin away if you feel like it!

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    I kind of think everybody has a personal optimum cadence, and man, your body is going to find it in a 100 miler mtb race!

    I tried and tried years back two different times to raise mine (thanks Lance, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen).

    It just never stuck. 82 seems to be the number. Interesting note: When I have a BIG day of windsurfing -- which uses your leg and core muscles a lot in a power mode -- my cadence always goes up the next day. The lower rpm, higher torque stuff is missing!
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    I think the low 80's is my comfort zone. I try on trainerroad to follow along with the high rpm drills and increasing overall cadence, but anything over 90 feels like I'm working really hard aerobically for the wattage produced.

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    fwiw, I tend to "spin" early (90-95rpm) as the idea (no clue if it's actually supported by "SCIENCE!!!") is to rely on the aerobic system as long as possible before heading towards slightly anaerobic / lower cadences as ya get tired.

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    Also recently read this article on running cadence....

    https://www.outsideonline.com/237797...unning-cadence

    I'm wondering if it doesn't have some crossover to cycling. Basically it doesn't really matter and there's a huge amount of variability within the top runners in the world. So long as you run a lot a lot, your body's going to settle in a cadence that works best for it.

  10. #10
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    I agree with most here that your body will tend to find its optimal cadence (within reason). However, when comparing road vs mtn cadence, I think there is something that has been mentioned but needs further explanation. On the mtn bike, especially in the more technical stuff, your cadence is part of your strategy & technique to getting through these areas. You have to time your pedal stroke, power output, body english, actual speed of fwd momentum, etc...with the needed cadence to best pull of the (series?) of move(s). This is something you almost NEVER have to do on a road bike.

    When I watch a more newbie MTB'r go through a technical section in an overly spinnie gear, they are not making enough fwd progress with each pedal stroke to propel them over & past the object. This becomes even doubly true when the objects are linked together (possibly for many yards or further). Similar can be said for techie climbing too. Choosing a taller gear (lower cadence) in these moments can allow you to not 'spin out' on roots, rocks, ledges and such. As someone who tends to be more of a spinner, over the years I've learned to adjust my cadence to the terrain and needs that are presented.

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    If you are used to higher cadence then for the most part use it. Only when tackling technical sections will you need a lower cadence to maintain traction and power over obstacles. I run 90-100 rpms for all smooth trails and non technical climbs.

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    Your average cadence is going to be 5-10 RPM lower for an MTB race because of more cornering and terrain, but on pedally sections there's no reason why it shouldn't be the same as road, about 90.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CnDrt View Post
    Coming from a road background where higher cadence (90+) is common for endurance events. Is it the same for mtb endurance events? Understand mtb will have much more short burst grinds, but overall do riders use a higher cadence?
    Agree with above comments, adding my 2 cents. My last 5 XC races in 2018 lasting between 1:20-1:50 my average cadences (which includes coasting) were 89, 95, 87, 89, and 88. On the trainer my natural cadence falls in the upper 90s but I feel comfortable between 95-105 rpms. I make sure to mix in lower cadence ranges on the trainer to mimic MTB outdoors and ensure I have various cadence tools should I need them on the trail.
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    Lot's of good info here...
    Since we are in the Endurance Forum, I run easier gearing on my Endurance Race bikes so that I am able to spin more and save the legs. The easier gears also help for later in the race when you are running out of steam and still need to get over some climbs.

    You only have so many matches, pushing a lower cadence in harder gears, harder efforts, etc etc... all comes at a cost that will usually come due before the end of an Endurance Race! Spin to win!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timon View Post
    Also recently read this article on running cadence....

    https://www.outsideonline.com/237797...unning-cadence

    I'm wondering if it doesn't have some crossover to cycling. Basically it doesn't really matter and there's a huge amount of variability within the top runners in the world. So long as you run a lot a lot, your body's going to settle in a cadence that works best for it.
    Came here to say something along these lines. Your body is going to select what is most efficient for itself. Good luck trying to fight it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by CBaron View Post
    I agree with most here that your body will tend to find its optimal cadence (within reason). However, when comparing road vs mtn cadence, I think there is something that has been mentioned but needs further explanation. On the mtn bike, especially in the more technical stuff, your cadence is part of your strategy & technique to getting through these areas. You have to time your pedal stroke, power output, body english, actual speed of fwd momentum, etc...with the needed cadence to best pull of the (series?) of move(s). This is something you almost NEVER have to do on a road bike.

    When I watch a more newbie MTB'r go through a technical section in an overly spinnie gear, they are not making enough fwd progress with each pedal stroke to propel them over & past the object. This becomes even doubly true when the objects are linked together (possibly for many yards or further). Similar can be said for techie climbing too. Choosing a taller gear (lower cadence) in these moments can allow you to not 'spin out' on roots, rocks, ledges and such. As someone who tends to be more of a spinner, over the years I've learned to adjust my cadence to the terrain and needs that are presented.

    Later,
    CJB
    This was something I really had to work on to learn/in-learn coming to MTB from road riding. On the road you tend to find a gear to "spin" through tough sections but on the MTB it works against you with that approach. I have yet to put a cadence sensor on my MTB and don't know that I will any time soon and just ride by feel.

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    Agree. Ride what feels comfortable. My cadence is much lower than most on here. I've tried 'spinning' .. just doesn't work well for me.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by CBaron View Post
    I agree with most here that your body will tend to find its optimal cadence (within reason). However, when comparing road vs mtn cadence, I think there is something that has been mentioned but needs further explanation.
    I agree with what CBaron had to say as well, and have one more difference between road and mountain bike racing to note. In road racing, having a higher cadence is important for responding to accelerations that can happen at any time. If you're lugging along at 60 rpm, you're not going to be able to jump and stay on the wheel if that happens -- and it happens a lot. Of course you can't be spinning at too high a rate or you can't respond to a sudden increase in pace very well if you're spun out. Time trialing on the road is often done at a lower cadence than during a road race or crit as the power application is more even. Lance Armstrong was a notable exception, spinning as fast during a time trial as if we was in the field in a road race. So in my view, road racing and mtb racing are different animals when it comes to cadence.
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    Quote Originally Posted by AF2NR View Post
    This was something I really had to work on to learn/in-learn coming to MTB from road riding. On the road you tend to find a gear to "spin" through tough sections but on the MTB it works against you with that approach. I have yet to put a cadence sensor on my MTB and don't know that I will any time soon and just ride by feel.

    Just to add some more to the discussion....

    This whole concept became much more evident many years ago when I tried to become a dedicated full-time SS'er. I found that my 'needed' SS gear ratio greatly affected my ability to ride through chunky technical terrain (which we have a lot of here). Being a bit of a spinner, if I had too tall or short of a SS gear, it would mess up my ability in the deeply techie stuff. when trying to stay 'on top of' the gear, I'd end up moving fwd too fast and it messed up my timing. Then if I lugged the gear, it would flat-out wear me out. It was very frustrating and part of the reason I moved back to a geared setup.

    -CJB

  20. #20
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    I’ve a cadence question for the experienced. What if any bearing does limb length have on average cadence? My therory is longer legs are more apt to turn a lower cadence due to the lever arm being longer. Just a hypothesis. What do you guys think?

  21. #21
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    It has more to do with how you train. Leg length ratio to crank length also plays a roll.
    6'4" and spin 100+ when putting the power down on the road with 175 cranks. Even higher on my indoor trainer with 172.5 cranks.

    I train both 140ish rpm and 60rpm. Spin your absolute max cadance for 1 minute and then 90 will feel slow.
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  22. #22
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    Train for the cadence you want. I'm 6'2" with long femurs and spin just touch over 100 rpm average on my road bike, above 85 on my mountain bike.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbrownmxr View Post
    I’ve a cadence question for the experienced. What if any bearing does limb length have on average cadence? My therory is longer legs are more apt to turn a lower cadence due to the lever arm being longer. Just a hypothesis. What do you guys think?
    This isn't just a theory, it's been part of studies. That said, it's also a reason for longer cranks so that you get the equivalent spin. In other words, drawing a larger circle at a lower RPM ends up being equivalent, rather than to the disadvantage of the longer-legged rider.

    I can average 90rpm in long road races and rides with 180mm cranks, and spin intervals holding 120rpm, no problem. However I've actually worked to lower my cadence a little--82rpm average for XC races at last check. Other riders notice that I bounce in the saddle a little, despite a good bike fit.

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    I found this “science” for some papers written on the topic for runners. So longer cranks ought be better for the longer legged folks. Makes sense to me. For me I can’t go much higher than about 97 rpm before my form goes to shit. I like 75-85 myself. My inseam is about 35 or so.




    Quote Originally Posted by chomxxo View Post
    This isn't just a theory, it's been part of studies. That said, it's also a reason for longer cranks so that you get the equivalent spin. In other words, drawing a larger circle at a lower RPM ends up being equivalent, rather than to the disadvantage of the longer-legged rider.

    I can average 90rpm in long road races and rides with 180mm cranks, and spin intervals holding 120rpm, no problem. However I've actually worked to lower my cadence a little--82rpm average for XC races at last check. Other riders notice that I bounce in the saddle a little, despite a good bike fit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chomxxo View Post
    This isn't just a theory, it's been part of studies.
    Can you provide the citations? I'm interested in this stuff and have been for a long time and I've not come across such studies -- probably just searching with the wrong key words.

    The interwebs are rife with pundits assuming that longer legs deserve longer crank arms, but no one (that I've ever seen) has demonstrated that to be true with actual experimental evidence. To the contrary, the best research I've found is that shorter crankarms have an advantage in races(Eur J Appl Physiol (2010) 108:177–182). I expect the empirically determined answer to jbrownmxr's query about longer legs going with slower cadence would be that there's no more correlation to leg length than waist circumference or any other single physiological parameter. And the cool thing is it largely doesn't seem to matter in endurance mtb racing -- road racing I'd argue that an appropriate cadence is required to adjust to the demands of riding in a peloton.

    Also, there was a recent Outside Online article noting that recent research hasn't validated the "all elite runners have a turnover of ~180 steps per minute". Which is a shame cause I bought into that years ago and increased my cadence through diligent effort. Even though I run at that step rate, I'm sure not an elite runner...
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    I searched for leg length and cadence. This brought me to this article on running which looks at leg length and stride. In it is mentioned the Froude number and the study of stride in animals.

    How limb length affects running cadence – Sweat Science

    McNeil Alexander's Analysis of Animal Running

    I’m a internal combustion guy. As such I know when crank length increases generally so too does torque at lower rpm. I realize this is apples to oranges, but , I can’t help but think the longer lever arm would necessitate lower rpm for its optimal operation.

    I don’t know, my legs are long, they seem to prefer to turn slow. Food for discussion, but, nothing scientific here.

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    I prefer to turn slower and find myself doing it, but when I force myself to turn faster, I notice an increase in my performance. The hard part is forcing myself to do it all the time or as much as possible, but I can and it does make a difference.
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    My colleague published an article about crank length in mountain bikers a while ago:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19771448

    But in terms of picking a cadence for a race, just go with whatever suits you. Mountain bikers inherently have difficulty sustaining high power outputs at high cadence, which is probably due to the fact that we normally only have to sustain high power outputs on climbs [with low cadence].

    If you're thinking of cadence in terms of training, mountain bikers have a good opportunity. Just do the odd hard day on the road and the other on the trails. You will pretty much cover all your bases. And of course, riding "easy" on trails is a pretty tough job
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    I think the ideal cadence for longer crankarms would be proportionally slower than for shorter ones but not everyone with long legs uses long crankarms. In other words I think crankarm length influences ideal cadence but not leg length.

    As far as ideal cadence goes I believe that's somewhat individual but generally cadence gets lower as the ground gets rougher whether on the road or trail so mountain bikers usually have a bit slower cadence than their roadie counterparts.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptor View Post
    Can you provide the citations? I'm interested in this stuff and have been for a long time and I've not come across such studies -- probably just searching with the wrong key words.

    The interwebs are rife with pundits assuming that longer legs deserve longer crank arms, but no one (that I've ever seen) has demonstrated that to be true with actual experimental evidence. To the contrary, the best research I've found is that shorter crankarms have an advantage in races(Eur J Appl Physiol (2010) 108:177–182). I expect the empirically determined answer to jbrownmxr's query about longer legs going with slower cadence would be that there's no more correlation to leg length than waist circumference or any other single physiological parameter. And the cool thing is it largely doesn't seem to matter in endurance mtb racing -- road racing I'd argue that an appropriate cadence is required to adjust to the demands of riding in a peloton.

    Also, there was a recent Outside Online article noting that recent research hasn't validated the "all elite runners have a turnover of ~180 steps per minute". Which is a shame cause I bought into that years ago and increased my cadence through diligent effort. Even though I run at that step rate, I'm sure not an elite runner...
    Sorry for the delay, all work and no play making me a dull boy. Correcting that starting today.

    Here's a study that I'd like to take further. It shows that not only are there cranks that are too long, there are cranks that are too short. With the 20% of leg length ratio established, it also testifies to the fact that maybe the average guy really should use 165s (32" inseam), whereas for a guy my size (37" inseam), 180s are "spinny." That's really what I'd like to illustrate, what a huge difference in fit and perceived spin there can be.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11417428


    Add to it the fact that a smaller guy naturally is going to have faster legs, and a larger guy is going to naturally put out greater total watts, and it's clear that a bigger guy should turn larger cranks at a lower RPM, and vice-versa.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chomxxo View Post

    Add to it the fact that a smaller guy naturally is going to have faster legs, and a larger guy is going to naturally put out greater total watts, and it's clear that a bigger guy should turn larger cranks at a lower RPM, and vice-versa.
    There isn't really anything in this part that holds any truth. The type of muscle fiber someone has and how good their cardio is will play a much bigger part in whether someone should spin or mash than how long their legs are.

    A short guy who used to be a body builder will have poor cardio but tons of power in his legs. He'd most likely ride further and faster at a low cadence. Tall guys don't necessarily have strong legs, weak legs can't generate much force on the pedals. So wattage would need to be made up with a higher cadence and less force but you'd need good cardio to deal with the higher cadence. Neither of these even address whether they have predominantly fast twitch or slow twitch muscle fibers.

    Crank length is just a personal fit. Get what works for you.

  32. #32
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    Long cranks is also a flexibility issue.
    Power wise the 180mm cranks on my Kona Unit were sweet.
    But I couldn't spin >110 comfortably.
    On 175's I can.

    And on a single speed, you need to

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fajita Dave View Post
    There isn't really anything in this part that holds any truth. The type of muscle fiber someone has and how good their cardio is will play a much bigger part in whether someone should spin or mash than how long their legs are.

    A short guy who used to be a body builder will have poor cardio but tons of power in his legs. He'd most likely ride further and faster at a low cadence. Tall guys don't necessarily have strong legs, weak legs can't generate much force on the pedals. So wattage would need to be made up with a higher cadence and less force but you'd need good cardio to deal with the higher cadence. Neither of these even address whether they have predominantly fast twitch or slow twitch muscle fibers.

    Crank length is just a personal fit. Get what works for you.

    Didn't mean to cause personal offense, lol, but it is not just "truth" but fact. On average, taller people (longer legs) put out more absolute watts than shorter people. Of course there are outliers, but guess how tall the hour record holder, and arguably highest FTP in the world is? Of course, it's all about watts/kg, which is why he had to literally emaciate himself to win the Tour De France.

    Whenever I see "it's a matter of personal preference," I cringe. I know someone has just taken a shortcut to thinking, in lieu of making a definitive argument, passively accepting that they don't really know, but they tend to disbelieve. So be it, but I'm not going to repeat myself endlessly.

    Perceived flex on 180mm cranks is as absurd an observation as Tom Boonen riding 165s. And even single-speeders should know that cranks are a fit issue and you should adjust your gearing, not crank size, for spin.

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by chomxxo View Post
    Of course there are outliers, but guess how tall the hour record holder, and arguably highest FTP in the world is? Of course, it's all about watts/kg, which is why he had to literally emaciate himself to win the Tour De France.

    Bradley Wiggans used 172.5 crankarms. And what about former hour record holders? Chris Boardman was 5'9", Graham Obree was 5'10".


    I've never heard of a correlation between height and power, I always thought it had more to do with weight. Track sprinters are monsters!
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    Quote Originally Posted by TTUB View Post
    Lot's of good info here...
    Since we are in the Endurance Forum, I run easier gearing on my Endurance Race bikes so that I am able to spin more and save the legs. The easier gears also help for later in the race when you are running out of steam and still need to get over some climbs.

    You only have so many matches, pushing a lower cadence in harder gears, harder efforts, etc etc... all comes at a cost that will usually come due before the end of an Endurance Race! Spin to win!
    That’s what I do on endurance events (same strategy).

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    Quote Originally Posted by j102 View Post
    That’s what I do on endurance events (same strategy).
    Yeah, the "you only have so many matches" part is so true...
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    Its interesting to see the conversation take a turn in a new direction. Its also good to see if remain basically civilized too. Its part of why I like to hand out here.

    I don't have a personal dog in this hunt. But I do have a long time riding buddy who attended a crank arm length study here in the human performance lab at the University of TX many years back. It may have been more than 15 yrs ago, therefore I cannot recall the exact protocols that they used or tested with. I do know he had to go in multiple times and perform test with crank arm lengths ranging from 120-205mm. He himself was interested in the results and kept in touch with the tester and when the data had been accumulated, by buddy said the conclusions where:
    -results were inconclusive with the subjects when riding crank arm lengths that were in "the normal" range of what was commonly available.
    -the changes in data really began to appear once the crank range of use began to get "way out there"
    -Conclusion was that one should use what "felt" best because the subjects had strong opinions on "feel"....but their feelings didn't match data figures.

    Now, like I said, I don't recall exactly what they were testing for (power, efficiency, etc..), and the above is from memory, but I distinctly remember the conversation I had with him and the conclusion that was presented to him. YMMV.

    Later,
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