We’ve all been there – barrelling along on the bike with the wind at your back when you suddenly get overtaken by another athlete pedalling at a lower cadence.
We asked our experts Andy Kirkland and Andy Bullock – a British Cycling Level 3 coach and two-time 220 Coach of the Year, respectively – for their advice on what to do.
“Going much above 100rpm is unlikely to be beneficial”
"Like most triathletes, you want to go faster," says Andy K. "To do that you need to increase power and/or reduce the forces acting to slow you down, such as aerodynamic drag and gravity.
"Cadence fits into the power side of this equation as power = force x cadence. If the riders around you are faster despite pedalling more slowly, they’re probably applying more force to the pedals and using a bigger gear.
"Assuming that your cadence is relatively high, 90rpm or above, I wouldn’t change it. Higher cadences can be less fatiguing and may reduce the likelihood of injury because you generate a lower force per muscle contraction and put less stress on your joints than you would by crunching a big gear.
"Having a relatively high cadence may also help out of T2, especially if it’s close to your running cadence. That said, unless you’re a physiological freak, going much above 100rpm is unlikely to be beneficial.
"Your training history, individual muscle physiology, specific event demands (e.g. drafting/non-drafting, flat/hilly, sprint distance/Ironman) and personal preferences are all factors that will influence your cadence and must be accounted for when providing you with training advice.
"Pedalling technique is also something to consider: How fluid is your action? Are you ‘soft-pedalling’ and how efficient are you? Get a friend to video you riding and compare your style with skilled riders. By doing so, the answers to these questions may become apparent.
"If, however, you can use a bigger gear while maintaining the same cadence, you will go faster, so you could focus your training on progressively developing an ability to do so."
“Think of lifting, flicking and clawing your foot around each stroke”
"The ability to apply greater force to each pedal stroke is an important part of producing increased power on the bike," says Andy B. "You’ll hear that some athletes apply this force simply by stamping on the pedals, while others learn to apply more force all the way around the pedal cycle. The most efficient way of generating power is to apply force at 90° to the crank arm and removing dead weight as the pedal lifts up.
"To aid this process, think of lifting, flicking and clawing your foot around each stroke. Or, if you prefer more visual cues, picture your stroke as lifting your leg up and over a log and pushing down the other side before scraping mud off the sole of your shoe.
"If you want to push more power per pedal stroke then simply add intervals into your bike training involving efforts where you pedal at lower cadences. This can be done either on the flat by using a bigger gear or on hills with gentle inclines.
"Each effort should have a recovery period of one quarter of the work interval. During these lower-cadence intervals fractionally more time is available per pedal cycle to think about applying power smoothly around the pedal stroke.
"You might also consider having a professional bike fitting to find the right balance between aerodynamics and your ability to apply power. This should consider your flexibility, core strength, ability to maintain the given position for the duration of your target race and, importantly for triathlon, how well you’ll be able to run off the bike from this position. These adjustments will offer you the ability to cut through the air with less drag, giving you a faster bike split."
(Images: Jonny Gawler)
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