Bike cadence for triathletes: why it matters and how to find your optimum pedalling efficiency

Nik Cook explains how to find the perfect bike cadence for you that will allow you to pedal at optimum efficiency, and then do a strong run on the back of it

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What’s a good bike cadence?

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ advice for bike cadence. We all have a different blend of muscle fibres, varying sporting backgrounds and wildly ranging levels of conditioning.

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Although for many triathletes, a faster 90-100rpm cadence is effective, others, such as Caroline Steffen, do very well riding in the 70-80rpm range.  

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How do you find the right bike cadence?

You need to find what works best for you – and that means experimenting. Ride at various cadences to see what yields the best speeds for you and how it leaves your legs feeling. Judge the effect of different cadences on heart rate and, if you’ve access to a power meter, this can be an incredibly effective tool for determining your optimal cadence. 

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Bricks 

As you experiment on the bike, make sure you also experiment off it to discover how different riding cadences affect how your legs feel when you run. With trial and error, you’ll be able to find a cadence range that’s the ideal blend for you for both.

Triathlete in brick training

Make sure your cycling is fluid

No matter what the cadence, a fluid pedal stroke will leave your legs fresher for the run. Use single-leg drills, high-cadence work, track cycling and mountain biking to develop a more even and efficient pedal stroke. 

Don’t forget gearing

Once you’ve established the cadence that works best for you, make sure you’ve got the gearing that allows you to maintain it, whatever the course. And definitely avoid getting sucked into the machismo nonsense of having to run 53/39t upfront and 11-23t at the rear. Having the biggest gearing doesn’t win races. Consider a ‘pro compact’ 52/36t or even a ‘full compact’ 50/34t and a wider spread cassette. 

And pacing

Once you’ve worked out your optimal cadence and linked it to either heart rate, power or both, apply unwavering discipline to pacing your bike leg on race day. This will have a greater effect on your run performance than anything else, especially in long-course racing.

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(Images: Jonny Gawler)