Are you a spinner or a masher?
These are two commonly used terms for different styles of riders. Spinners have a high cadence, mashers have a lower cadence.
At this point, if you are new to cycling or triathlon you might not even know what I mean by “cadence”! So let’s back up a bit to help us out.
What is cadence?
Your cycling cadence is the speed at which your pedals turn over. This is defined by how many revolutions a single pedal makes in 60 seconds. And is referenced as “## rpm”. RPM means revolutions per minute.
Different from running, we are only counting one leg, as opposed to both legs.
If your pedal makes 87 revolutions in one minute, then your cadence is 87 rpm.
An easy way to get your rpm count if your computer doesn’t show you (many do) is to count each time one pedal is at the top for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4.
25 revolutions in 15 seconds equals 100 rpm.
Why does cadence matter?
Cadence comes down to which energy system you want to make use of at the time.
Generally, a higher cadence will take more cardiovascular effort (your heart rate and breath will increase) and a lower cadence will take more muscular effort (your legs will start burning quicker).
If you still need legs to run after getting off the bike, it might be wise to push a higher cadence so as to not fatigue your muscles to the point you feel your quads are about to rip off your bones.
In the same respect, if you are at a high cadence just spinning your legs with little forward motion, you probably want to lower your cadence.
What’s the right cadence?
A lot of research has shown a cadence between 85-95 to be the most efficient, especially when it comes to triathlon.
This is also partly because an “optimal” run cadence is in the same zone. To ease your transition from the bike to the run, it’s nice to have a similar cadence on both.
That being said, there are top-level cyclists both in triathlon and cycling who have lower or higher default cadence than the “recommended” 85-95.
We even found as we transitioned to doing our first IRONMAN races our cadence dropped by 10-15 rpm. Not through any intentional effort, but our bodies just learned it was easier to hold that slightly lower rpm for 112 miles, and it became the new default.
The right cadence is not only going to be individual for you, but it’ll also be centered around your race distance.
It’s a lot easier to sustain 100 rpm for a 12 mile race than it is to sustain it for 112 miles. And more beneficial since as you come off the bike in a sprint race you want your cadence to be at top speed, whereas in an IRONMAN, you have time and distance to get your legs under you.
Generally, smaller riders have a higher cadence simply due to their lower muscular build.
So which are you? A spinner or a masher? Or which do you think you need to transition to being as you look at your strengths and race distances?
Remember, both spinners and mashers win races! Ultimately setting your best times and sometimes beating the competition are about you performing your best in your way, not how others do it.