RPM VS High Gear


not sure if this is something that has already been discussed in the other posts … sorry if this is duplicate

I wanted to get your take on whether one (especially newbies like me) would be better off working on getting a better/higher rpm or is it ok to ride in high gear … at the moment i am trying to get back some fitness…and i have noticed that trying to stay in high rpm - i am running out of breath very quickly…

But from what i read - high rpm is a better strategy for rides and health in the long term…

And what does high rpm refer to … is 70-80 rpm high enough for rookie riders like me… i know there are lots of riders on zwift doing 100+ rpm … but i find it very difficult to keep at 100rpm …

your thoughts pls

Switch back and forth and develop power and aerobic fitness. Higher cadence is easier on the knees long term. For me a cadence of 90 is about all I find useful. When I am grinding I never go below 60. I shoot for 80 rpm and usually end up in the mid-low 70s. In some pack dynamics I find high cadence works and other times it doesn’t.

high rpm (>80) hits the cardiovascular system (heart & lungs) more than legs.
low rpm (<80) hits the legs more than the cardiovascular system.

you are better off riding at whatever feels most comfortable to you - however - saying that - it is good to also train at a wide variety of cadences to make sure you get balanced growth - if you only ever ride in your comfort zone you will struggle in any rides which don’t let you do that due to gearing/pacing etc.

i don’t think there are many people that will ride at 100+ rpm for any sustained length of time - it can be useful for a short burst (i.e. 1-5mins - especially on a climb) but you will get gassed fast + it will knacker ur joints :stuck_out_tongue:


You are asking the right sort of question. :grin:

Riding at a high rpm (±100 rpm) is indeed inefficient in the way the body uses oxygen. However (and this is a massive oversimplification) that doesn’t really matter to most cyclists because we don’t need to carry oxygen around with us. We just suck it into our lungs from the atmosphere. If we run short, we just rest up for a minute or two, and pull some more in from the inexhaustable supply that blankets our planet.

OK: Back to your question. As you develop your aerobic fitness, you will fairly soon be able to pedal at higher cadences without becoming winded. And as you do that, you will notice that the muscles that power your pedal strokes find it much easier to do a lot of small efforts quickly, rather than a few hard efforts slowly.

What the ideal cadence is varies between individuals. And due to variations in grade and other factors, most cyclists will need to be able to produce power at a range of different speeds.

So: My advice would be to experiment. If you are currently pedalling along at 75 rpm, try shifting down a couple of cogs, and see what it feels like at 85 rpm. Think about which cadence you’d prefer to maintain for an hour or ninety minutes. Chances are the higher cadence is ultimately going to feel better.

@avid_dk, @benjones @Andrew_Henderson

guys thanks for your comments and advice… i havent done many rides been on zwift around 2month - but past 4 weeks have been trying to ride a bit more frequently.

i note that my strava stats shows that most of my rides average 55-60 rpm … and max at arund 71rpm…

So I did a test today shifted down to some easier gears and tried to increase the rpm to what i can keep for a while … on flat roads well not much elevation - i found that i am ok with a rpm of 70-75 … did the richmond UCI course today - and was ok with that cadence for best part of the ride …but then it was quite difficult to keep that on the climb… first 2 climb dropped to 60-65 … last climb i.e last 1km - dropped to 40-50 - started getting some cramp had to stop for couple of seconds and then continue …

Checking my strava now - says average cadence of 72rpm so thats good - and max cadence of 93rpm… i didnt know i can go above 90rpm :slight_smile:

I normally ride at around 2min30 secs per km at the moment … in most rides … did the UCI in 48mins for 16km … but did first km in 4mins while trying to play around with the cadence to find one which feels comfortable… and last 2 km was tough … seems to have run out juice :sweat_smile: :sweat_smile:

so maybe my next target should be to work on increasing my cadence to 70-80 …and then see if can go even more

Thanks a lot for your comments

As someone else wrote, a higher cadence taxes cardiovascular endurance more, lower one taxes muscular endurance more. Since you can’t use muscular endurance much if you don’t have cardio endurance to back it up - most of the time, you’ll hear the recommendation to spin early in the season. In other words, emphasize higher cadence while building your base, and move to lower cadence in some drills later on.

To increase your average cadence, you need to spend some time above that target cadence.

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A great question and one that has no clear answer as each individual is different. As already noted, it is good to have many different techniques in your tool kit for as many riding scenarios as possible.

When i first started cycling 9 years ago i was a bit of a grinder. I would pretty much only use the big chain ring and muscle up out of the saddle when required.

My first trip to play on some mountains soon made me change my style. Now i am most comfortable at around 90-95 cadence, and i just completed ToW Stage 3 at average of 94rpm and a max of 114rpm!!

There are plenty of places in Zwift to play with cadence during free rides, just pick somewhere flat. Much like any other interval try and hit your target high cadence for a certain time and then relax. Rinse, repeat as required. The ultimate goal will be to increase the interval time and reduce the rest time until you are riding at your target cadence.


That’s a classic drill - constant power (so either on the flat or in erg mode in a sweet-spot interval workout), increase your cadence over your ‘natural’ one by 5-10 rpm, to a level you can maintain for 3-4 mins at least. Do 4 mins there, return to "natural’ for a minute, back up, and so on.

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for comparison, I am predominantly fast-twitch (sprinter), I find it most comfortable to cycle at 85-90rpm on flats, because as soon as I drop below 80rpm, I start using my fast-twitch muscles which generate an insane amount of lactate and my legs start burning up real fast :slight_smile:
so by cycling at 85-90rpm, I’m taxing my cardiovascular system, but keeping my legs fresh for when I really need them.

on climbs, I can either spin it out at 90-95rpm in an easy gear, or drop it down a gear or 2, get out the saddle, and grind it out. I find riding out of the saddle at ~60rpm lets you generate more power, but is less efficient in the long run, so any hill that’s >1min I tend to ride seated for majority of it.

if you are doing 40-60rpm SEATED, I’ve got no idea how that is possible :smiley: but several of my friends are slow-twitch athletes, and for some weird reason they seem to prefer grinding it out rather than spinning like crazy like me :slight_smile: i just can’t do it, burns my legs out SUPER fast as soon as rpm drops below 80 (even at slow speed)… so gotta save it for when it’s really needed…

my theory is that slow-twitch riders can grind it out cos their fast-twitch muscles aren’t so well developed, so they don’t generate anywhere near as much lactate when accessing them. their muscles are super efficient, but lack top-end power.

@Benjones -40-50 rpm during the last bit of climbing because had run out of juice and feeling some cramp i suppose… but I realise that i could have drop down gears… :thinking:
I dont understand where the cramp came from - dehydration or just fatigue from more spinning? I did the Volcano climb on lower cadence-higher gears but no cramp - I normally have a 500ml bottle of water and around 300ml of juice+water which i keep with me on my zwift rides… so in terms of fluid intake it was the same…

From the contribution of every one in this post i understand that there are so many parameters… one can go crazy about it… and you would think its just about getting on a bike and ride… no no no sir… :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: but i guess in a way it makes it more interesting…now its not going to be about just riding …its going to be about testing different cadence on similar courses to see which one works best …

One of the main takeaway from this thread for me …is that spinning will give the cardio a good workout… so I would maybe concentrate on this for now … until i get back some fitness…

I am tempted to go for one of the workout/training plans that is already available on zwift- but I think it will be best to wait for the TOW to finish… tomorrow i am doing the Stage 3 - Rookie Ride - will try to concentrate on dropping down some gear and spin like crazy … :wink: @BenJones

I would add, don’t put water in your water bottles, put water and electrolytes.
You can use commercial products, Gatorade etc or put a 1/2 yep of salt (Na) and 1/2 yep of salt substitute (K) plus 5-7 tsp of sugar. Flavor to taste but I like lemon juice.
The whole thing tastes like salty lemonade.

ok just a quick note on my TOW stage 3 - Rookie Ride - where I have tried to keep the 70-80rpm cadence - but unfortunately according to my strava - for this ride my average cadence was 69rpm … i think the climb took its toll… and in some sections i noticed that whether i go crazy with the spinning or relax on the spinning the rpm wasnt changing a lot - i mean … i would have expected the rpm to increase by a lot - maybe its the trainer that needs some recalibrating … or maybe i was in too low gears - some more experimentation is required.

But i got the same cramp issue again on this ride - i noticed that the cramp is coming up a bit more since i have started increasing the cadence… i will put that down to fatigue and some muscles not upto scratch yet… and the cramp is only in the calf muscle right foot …

We are currently in lockdown here- maybe another visit to the bike shop required - and some refitting to be done…

There was another parameter which I didnt pay too much attention - i have been riding with clipless for around 2weeks now - have never ridden clipless before - and actually never gone clipless on the road - i am taking the opportunity with indoor riding to get acquainted.

I think i should be ok for TOW Stage 4 - might get some cramp - but be able to get thru the finish line…however TOW Stage 5 - Mountain 8 Course - is going to be very difficult- and it includes a trip to the radio tower … I am going to try get rid of Stage 4 as soon as Tuesday …and then give myself some training time on Mountain 8

Any tips in terms of Cadence for riding Mountain 8 is most welcomed

If you aimed for a cadence of 70-80 rpm and you ended up with 69, then I’d say you did pretty well. :grin:

It sounds to me like you are doing the right things. The Rookie Ride and TOW are perfect for someone just starting out. Don’t worry too much about cramps and other (minor) discomforts. That’s just your body getting used to being on the bike. There isn’t a cyclist out there that hasn’t gone through a certain amount of pain. (Not that we are masochists…)

Cramps can be caused by all sorts of different things. Overuse, dehydration, or sometimes just keeping in one position too long can cause muscles to cramp up. When I first started doing Zwift, I’d get sore glutes simply because I wasn’t used to sitting in the saddle for an entire ride. I’d frequently be getting out for traffic lights and other traffic. Try and keep hydrated - the advice about having some electrolytes in your water is spot on.

The Mountain 8 route is pretty tough. It takes you up the Reverse Epic KOM climb, and then for bonus pleasure, it takes you up another 150 meters of climbing over one kilometre of snow-packed road to reach the notorious Radio Tower. That’s an average 15% gradient, which if you encountered it in the real world would be pretty challenging for most cyclists, especially beginners. Fortunately Zwift has a handy “climbing difficulty” setting which can take the sting out of very steep climbs. Fully explaining Zwift’s “climbing difficulty” is a bit complicated. But as a tip to a new rider I’d not try climbing steep climbs with the difficulty set much about 50% or so. Spend some time ascending 7% - 10% - 15% grades, and see how much pedal force is required before upping the difficulty setting.

For the balance of the ride, I’d recommend maintaining a cadence that feels comfortable to you. Real world cyclists vary their cadence with terrain, and how they are feeling, and other factors. Obviously there are descents where you can coast. It’s not unknown for Zwifters doing very long rides to actually hop off their bikes descending Alpe du Zwift or the Epic KOM to take a bathroom break - all the while their avatar is speeding down the switchback turns at 80km/hr+.

Roy, I looked back to see what kind of trainer you have but didn’t see it.
Cadence can be incorrect unless you have a separate cadence sensor.
My Road Machine with InRide 3 is just 7-8 rpm off all the time.
It doesn’t really affect anything so I let it go.
Still, the rpm still will vary so if yours is not changing, there is a prob with the set up.
Is your power changing?

hi guys

did the TOW stage 4 rookie ride on tuesday - and strava seems to suggest that the average cadence for this stage was 69 rpm … with a max cadence at around 82rpm …

before the ride i was checking my shoes and cleats and realised that the one on the right side was positioned a bit off center however just a couple of mm … so i tried to center it …and it seems to have done the trick - cause normally at this cadence and the elevation i am in for some cramp …but managed to get thru the 30km - and 1hr30mins ride without cramps- although i could feel the cramp starting to come up near the end - but managed to finish before it did…

so my question is - is it possible that the cleat position (even if was off by couple of millimetres only)… cause cramp?.. really sorry if this is a silly question - i am very new to clipless pedal :slight_smile:

And to stay -relevant to the title of this post- i note that on some gears even if you increase the amount of pedaling the rpm does not shift a lot - but the power does increase a bit… so in those cases its better to go up one more gears …but then when the gear becomes a bit harder its difficult to keep the cadence - well at least for me…
Have you experienced this …where you are pedalling like crazy - but not much diffrence in terms of output…

@Tim_Camden_C - my setup is a Tacx Flux S Smart trainer …and yes when the rpm was not changing the power was increasing not by much,… I havent managed to get my HRM belt working - because of some bluetooth issues. … I have a mountain bike set up on the trainer - I dont have a road bike yet… but would it make any difference - i mean whether i have a mountain bike on the trainer or a road bike?

I think i will need to work a bit more on the climbs and trying to sustain a higher rpm … as on the climbs at themoment the rpm drops to 40 … once the TOW stage 5 is out of the way - I will look for a trainingplan on zwift.

cramp is more likely to be caused by inadequete fuelling (hydration) strategy rather than cleat position, but adjusting cleat position affects a whole tonne of stuff as to how your leg muscle is used, I would say it would be more likely that changing position would cause cramp rather than fix it, unless the original set-up was terrible. search on youtube for tonnes of guides.

honestly m8 sounds like your cadence sensor is probably a bit iffy, what are you using and are you sure it is working correctly? might be worth buying a new one and whacking it on, they aren’t all that expensive :wink:
for example, spinning “like crazy” should probably be 100+ rpm, and anything below 60rpm = you should be out of the saddle, so if you are busting out 40rpm seated either a) ur cadence sensor is busted or b) ur a legit beast :)))
how come you can’t just change into an easier gear for hills to bring the cadence up…?
p.s. if ur running 100% trainer difficulty, turn that shizzle down asap to like 25% or so, sounds like it’s set too high for you at the moment, making hills too hard.

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Hi guys

just a quick update which i think is due- managed to complete the Last stage of the TOW - hourray… but not without pain - however from all the different tips and advice i got from the forum … i went in my zwift settings and lowered the trainer intensity - now when i completed the Stage 5 - my strava says an average of around 70rpm which is what i was looking for - of course that means it took ages to complete the Stage 5 - but at least managed to keep the cadence… especially with the Climb.

I think there are two issues here that needs sorting out- i think my trainer not outputting the exact or not reflecting the actual effort cause in some cases however faster i try to pedal - the rpm and speed does not seems to be move a lot - even if i go a bit higher gear … so more effort being put in but not reflected on screen… maybe will need to try with an ANT+ dongle - at the moment using bluetooth.

And 2nd i think the most likely - although i feel a bit better than when i started zwifting around 2months ago… there is a huge work to be done to get proper fitness … i will now check and maybe go for one of the beginner training plan out there in Zwift and see if that make any difference…and hopefully get some more watts in.

Thanks a lot for all those who contributed tothis post - it has been of great help to me and a great source of motivation …

Ride on