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i can't spin effectively on climbs. i find i naturally seek out what ever gear gives me about 60 rpms...and this is how i climb the fastest. on the flats or not so steep climbs i feel more comforable spinning but when it gets steep (>7%) i move back and mash. based on observation, it seems like alot of riders do this. if i gear down and pick up the cadence, my riding partner (reference) starts to pull away. it seems like the rest period i get between mashes is critical so i seek out a cadence where the rest period is enough to sustain the mashes. i've played with this alot and havent been able to increase my cadence without slowing down.
 

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Hills are tough for keeping a good cadence

This is what the guys I ride with do, they ride up a hill and down it twice, starting in the low chainring (the one that yields a higher cadence), then they move the cassette to two harder, til about the 3/4 way, then up the chainring and continue repeating til you are finished. Try to increase the pace slightly each time (by maintaining the initial cadence). This will help you to adapt the cadence you have at lower gears to the higher gears. Can't say this works for sure, but I have done it a few times and it seems to help. Plus it kinda warms you up on the hills rather than just automatically hitting it at your hardest. Hope this helps
Matt
 

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There was a rather extensive discussion on another newsgroup by some fairly knowledgable people regarding this. I don't think anyone could come up with any sort of explanation for why riders tend to "mash" on climbs (and into headwinds) other than speculating that it has something to do with greater loss of momentum with each pedal stroke in these situations.
 

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Humans are about 30% efficient. I.e. most of the energy you expend when riding is wasted as far as riding is concerned-- it goes to your base metabolisim or is wasted as heat. Moving your legs faster means that you waste more energy overall but use less per pedal stroke. So if your cardiovascular system can handle it, you go faster.

If you have strong legs and not so much cardiovascular capacity, you'll go fastest at around 60 rpms, Jan Ullrich style. If your legs are less strong vs your cardiovascular system, you'll go faster at higher rpms.
 

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Dwayne Barry said:
explanation for why riders tend to "mash" on climbs (and into headwinds) other than speculating that it has something to do with greater loss of momentum with each pedal stroke in these situations.

Is this why bikes in Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders have 44/53, or 44/55, rather than regular 39/53?

I've heard something similar to your explanation that riders want to maintain their momentum when they transition from smooth roads onto the cobbles.
 

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ericm979 said:
Humans are about 30% efficient. I.e. most of the energy you expend when riding is wasted as far as riding is concerned-- it goes to your base metabolisim or is wasted as heat. Moving your legs faster means that you waste more energy overall but use less per pedal stroke. So if your cardiovascular system can handle it, you go faster.

If you have strong legs and not so much cardiovascular capacity, you'll go fastest at around 60 rpms, Jan Ullrich style. If your legs are less strong vs your cardiovascular system, you'll go faster at higher rpms.
I don't think this makes much sense. True human muscle is not 100% efficient (actually you see numbers somewhere in ballpark of 23-25% usually), but I don't see how that has anything to do with what follows?

Why is a higher cadence more inefficient, who has demonstrated this? Actually if you look at the exercise physiology literature you usually see just the opposite claim, i.e. lower cadences are more efficient which I believe is an erroneous claim because these claims are usually based on measures of oxygen consumption which ignores the fact that you produce energy non-oxidatively as well.

I'm not sure if anyone has every looked at muscle strength vs. cardiovascular system "strength" (how would one measure this?) in relation to preferred or optimal cadence for power production.
 

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Dwayne Barry said:
Why is a higher cadence more inefficient, who has demonstrated this? Actually if you look at the exercise physiology literature you usually see just the opposite claim, i.e. lower cadences are more efficient which I believe is an erroneous claim because these claims are usually based on measures of oxygen consumption which ignores the fact that you produce energy non-oxidatively as well.
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I wrote it poorly. You just explained it better than I did. I was assuming aerobic (long climbs) only, where anaerobic is only a small portion of the overall energy and can be ignored.. A higher cadence is less efficient in its use of oxygen. If what limits one's long term climbing speed is oxygen uptake and not leg strength or fatigue, then 60 rpms would work best for them.
 

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Choosing a system

dougn said:
i can't spin effectively on climbs. i find i naturally seek out what ever gear gives me about 60 rpms...and this is how i climb the fastest. on the flats or not so steep climbs i feel more comforable spinning but when it gets steep (>7%) i move back and mash. based on observation, it seems like alot of riders do this. if i gear down and pick up the cadence, my riding partner (reference) starts to pull away. it seems like the rest period i get between mashes is critical so i seek out a cadence where the rest period is enough to sustain the mashes. i've played with this alot and havent been able to increase my cadence without slowing down.
Low cadence taxes the mucular system, high cadence taxes the cardiovascular system. If you tire out your muscles, they may take 24-48 hours to recover, whereas your CV system can recover in minutes. Learning to use a higher cadence when climbing requires practice, so if you default to a low cadence, you will not learn how to use the higher cadence. New riders will tell you the same thing about riding on the flats - they feel (and probably are) faster at a low cadence. This is because they have not learned to spin. You have learned to spin on the flats, but you haven't learned to spin when climbing. Your cadence will invariably slow when climbing, but how much it slows is a matter of what you have practiced.
 

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ericm979 said:
I wrote it poorly. You just explained it better than I did. I was assuming aerobic (long climbs) only, where anaerobic is only a small portion of the overall energy and can be ignored.. A higher cadence is less efficient in its use of oxygen. If what limits one's long term climbing speed is oxygen uptake and not leg strength or fatigue, then 60 rpms would work best for them.
Well it's always fatigue at some level that limits performance other than in a sprint from a rested state, right? If you can put out 1200 watts in a 5 second sprint why can't you do that for 10 seconds, a minute, an hour? Clearly your muscles fatigue (i.e. they lose the ability to produce the power that they're capable of producing before they started working).

At the same power a higher cadence vs low cadence probably will use more oxygen, which is energetically more efficient because you derive more ATP when you oxidize glycogen/glucose than if it ends up as lactic acid, and you probably oxidize more fats vs carbs which would spare glycogen.
 

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Kerry Irons said:
Low cadence taxes the mucular system, high cadence taxes the cardiovascular system.
Actually I think that's not really a good way to look at it. It may be relatively true in a sense, but low or high cadences are still primarily relying on the delivery of oxygen and it's use in the muscle to produce power (or not fatigue if you prefer). IOW, low cadences are still a lot, lot, lot more like high cadences than say something that truly taxes the muscular system like weightlifting or sprinting. I think what probably happens is that at low cadences the slow-twitch most oxidative fibres are probably working well below their capacity whereas at higher cadences they work closer to their capacity (since they are contracting more frequently) and this explains the observed increase in oxygen consumption at higher cadences.
 

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Kerry Irons said:
Your cadence will invariably slow when climbing, but how much it slows is a matter of what you have practiced.
...plus it is often limited by your gearing.
 

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True, in any given climb I can up my speed by dropping a gear and starting to mash. However, the biggest improvement i have achieved in racing came as a result of starting to use the highest cadence possible that will not get me dropped from the pack, the difference in recovery time is nothing short of phenomenal; and quick recovery is what racing ability is all about. Even though spinning up a climb makes me hurt more during, in the end I finish much fresher and with enough energy to have good snap in my sprint.
 

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my philosophy

My advice is to focus training on your weaknesses, yet still train your strengths enough to maintain them. If you are most comfortable mashing, force yourself to improve staying seated and spinning at a higher cadence. If you run out of gears to shift down into, either get a triple or practice increasing cadence on gentler hills.

I have always been good at, and thus prefered, standing on climbs in a harder gear to spinning while seated. I forced myself to learn to spin on climbs, and have made monumental improvements. I still prefer standing, but I force myself to stay seated until I can no longer tap out a rhythm at 80+ rpm and run out of gears to shift down to. Then I stand. BTW, I realize that your issue is not a standing vs. sitting issue, it is a spinning vs. mashing issue. I'm just using my standing example as a parallel.

My overall philosophy: I think the trick is to train your weaknesses to plump up your bag of tricks, and then on race day pull out whatever tricks are gonna work best for the given race/situation.
 

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Great advice!

That is very well put! Thanks!
BenWA said:
My advice is to focus training on your weaknesses, yet still train your strengths enough to maintain them. If you are most comfortable mashing, force yourself to improve staying seated and spinning at a higher cadence. If you run out of gears to shift down into, either get a triple or practice increasing cadence on gentler hills.

I have always been good at, and thus prefered, standing on climbs in a harder gear to spinning while seated. I forced myself to learn to spin on climbs, and have made monumental improvements. I still prefer standing, but I force myself to stay seated until I can no longer tap out a rhythm at 80+ rpm and run out of gears to shift down to. Then I stand. BTW, I realize that your issue is not a standing vs. sitting issue, it is a spinning vs. mashing issue. I'm just using my standing example as a parallel.

My overall philosophy: I think the trick is to train your weaknesses to plump up your bag of tricks, and then on race day pull out whatever tricks are gonna work best for the given race/situation.
 

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Actually

Dwayne Barry said:
Actually I think that's not really a good way to look at it. It may be relatively true in a sense, but low or high cadences are still primarily relying on the delivery of oxygen and it's use in the muscle to produce power (or not fatigue if you prefer). IOW, low cadences are still a lot, lot, lot more like high cadences than say something that truly taxes the muscular system like weightlifting or sprinting. I think what probably happens is that at low cadences the slow-twitch most oxidative fibres are probably working well below their capacity whereas at higher cadences they work closer to their capacity (since they are contracting more frequently) and this explains the observed increase in oxygen consumption at higher cadences.
Of course any cycling is dependent on oxygen delivery, but mashing does tax your big leg muscles much more than spinning, and these muscles will take longer to recover compared to spinning and breathing harder (more emphasis on the CV system). A number of coaches are singing this song.
 

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Kerry Irons said:
Of course any cycling is dependent on oxygen delivery, but mashing does tax your big leg muscles much more than spinning, and these muscles will take longer to recover compared to spinning and breathing harder (more emphasis on the CV system). A number of coaches are singing this song.
Coaches say all kinds of things related to physiology that often have no basis in reality :) I would agree at submaximal levels you probably do "tax the legs more" at low cadences not because you're using different muscles but because you're shifting the work load across more motor units and because of the size principle of motor unit recruitment what this means is that more of the fast-twitch, high glycolytic/low oxidative capacity muscle fibers are working while the most oxidative, slow-twitch fibres are working well below their capacity since they are being asked to contract far less frequently. IMO, this is why riders tend to gravitate toward the higher cadences not because it stresses the CV more per se but because it relies more on the motor units/muscle fibres most capable of producing power for a long period of time. So it's not CV system vs. Muscular system it's the highest oxidative motor units (muscle fibers) vs. motor units with less oxidative capacity.

None of which answers the question though of why riders tend to mash on climbs or into head winds? Even under most maximal efforts riders still usually rely on a relatively high cadence to produce power so it remains unclear why one would "choose" this strategy in these specific situations. Are lower cadences better for generating high power, I don't think so? Guys aren't winning world TT championships with 60 rpm efforts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
"If you have strong legs and not so much cardiovascular capacity, you'll go fastest at around 60 rpms, Jan Ullrich style. If your legs are less strong vs your cardiovascular system, you'll go faster at higher rpms."

that's the problem....it should be all about power (watts) ...if you climb fastest at 60 rpms, you should be fastest on the flats at 60 rpms.
 

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dougn said:
"If you have strong legs and not so much cardiovascular capacity, you'll go fastest at around 60 rpms, Jan Ullrich style. If your legs are less strong vs your cardiovascular system, you'll go faster at higher rpms."

that's the problem....it should be all about power (watts) ...if you climb fastest at 60 rpms, you should be fastest on the flats at 60 rpms.
It's not, at least not exclusively. Exactly why this is, I'm not sure, but at least going by percieved effort and how long I can sustain it, my best climbing cadence is around 10-15 rpm less when climbing than it is on the flats. My best headwind cadence is in between. Also subjectively, the efforts are quite different. Headwinds ain't hills.

Also, riding a singlespeed MTB for 2 years seemed to lower my optimum climbing cadence, and may well have improved it on the flats. That may well be in my head, though. Actually, this whole thing may be in my head, but I doubt it. Returning to Jan Ullrich (whose climbing cadence is more like 70-75 rpm, IIRC), I am absolutely sure that he and his coaches have evaluated changing his climbing style. If he's still doing it that way, it's because that's what instrumented testing has shown is best for him.

It's very hard to make blanket statements when it comes to human performance. First, the human body isn't an engine. It's an organism, and one that, in this case, is being asked to do something very, very different from what it evolved to do. Second, our "machines" are all a little different from one another. Those little mechanical differences lead to larger differences when they are applied to riding a bicycle, or doing anything else in the "macro" world.

There's more going on here than a power meter can show. That's not a shot against power meters, BTW. They're very good at measuring power. The error here is in the assumption that you can quantify the system with one measurement. You can't.

--Shannon

--Shannon
 

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tube_ee said:
It's very hard to make blanket statements when it comes to human performance. First, the human body isn't an engine. It's an organism, and one that, in this case, is being asked to do something very, very different from what it evolved to do. Second, our "machines" are all a little different from one another. Those little mechanical differences lead to larger differences when they are applied to riding a bicycle, or doing anything else in the "macro" world.
Just because there is variability between individuals doesn't mean you can't make observations and discover facts related to human performance. While we may not be engines our bodies are made up of the same basic components. E.g. you could probably define a rpm range for sustainable power output that would cover pretty much everyone (lets say 70-110 rpm) simply because there are properties of the neuromuscular system that would inhibit power production at rpms <70 or >110.

Or a better example would be peak power as it relates to rpm due to the force-velocity relationship of muscle and how this relates to power (simply put, you will not produce your highest peak power at low rpms).
 
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I can't figure out why. Simply looking at metabolic processes in muscle tissue one gets the reverse result (at least for sustained climbing).

Type1 muscle fibers, the ones with larger numbers of mitochondria and myoglobin, one is very dependent on the CV system's ability to deliver oxygen, glucogen, glucose and glycerol to the to the muscle cells. As per usual, these muscle fibers produce more energy (18 ATP molecules) per cycle and have the better self sustaining krebs cycle both of which lead to long endurance.

TypeII muscle fibers which have fewer mitochondria and myoglobin, and are more independent of the CV system, but still dependent on glycogen/glucose reserves and produce much less energy per cycles (2ATP+2NADN molecules). TypeII muscle fibers aquire enery in a complex (and less efficient) manner dependent mainly on intra-cellular reactions (hence the lack of dependence on oxygen). Since there is no oxygen, the burst strength of TypeII muscles is high (the are self sufficient for short intervals).

Maybe the answer lies in the different types of myosin chains present in different muscle fibers or, as someone else mentioned; it could be more a matter of macro factors such as leg, pedal and gearing dynamics.

My own experience is that I could get up hills faster if my CV system were more efficient. If I try to spin up a hill too fast, I get winded. If I choose the lower gearing and try to power my way up, I start out faster, but then blow up once muscle fatigue sets in. It's a very interesting question to say the least.
 
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