I love to ride my bike — on any given day you can find me trying to sneak in a ride between clients. While riding, the one thing I love to see are other cyclists, bicycles should take over the world!!!
The other thing I wish for is for everyone on a bike to be comfortable and completely enjoying their ride. Even today, I saw a woman on a bike and she was trekking along however she was slugging her gears and literally fighting with her bike. Not wanting to impose myself during someone’s “chi” I of course did not mention a thing. So, I am going to use my blog to do it in hopes that others will read it and perhaps add some tools to their riding tool boxes.
I will start off by saying that there are definitely times when you want to be in a massive gear when you are specifically training in a big gear to develop power or perhaps needing to do it at a specific time to overcome a hill, an opponent or something of the like. However, most of the time it is very appropriate to use your gears and to use the heck out of them to modulate for the terrain, wind, etc.
Maintaining a certain cadence or revolutions per minute (how many times one leg makes a complete circle in a minute) are vital not only to overcoming inertia but to helping your body process the energy that it takes to make the legs move the crank arms around. Cycling is about efficiency, riding at a higher cadence enables the body to not use all of your glycogen that is stored while still being able to not max out your intake of oxygen. So how do we become more efficient? Use your gears!!!
Unfortunately, to really enjoy cycling and being on a bike, some adaptation needs to occur. Since walking is usually done at a cadence of around 60rpm, that easily transfers onto the bicycle. However pedaling at this speed for your average ride is exhausting and will make your ride in about 10- 20 mins highly uncomfortable and exhausting. This is because riding with such a low cadence and pushing the gear that is comfortable at that pace (which is usually too big of a gear for the terrain) exhausts your storage of glycogen which cannot be replaced in a rapid manner. The better way is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and lower your gear making it easier so that you can start to arrive around a cadence of 90rpms or even a little higher. Oxygen can become a limiting factor only at extremely high intensity efforts and full maximum power. In a regular situation, you should easily be able to intake oxygen and not run out which makes you more efficient. The reason is that the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) the fuel for your muscles, that is produced with oxygen creates 18 times more ATP molecules than the ATP that is produced without oxygen and just glycogen. When you are in a bigger gear and using much more force you are using more glycogen.
Of course all of this is not going to happen over night but with incremental work and utilizing all of the wonderful gears that most bicycles have in modern times, your body will learn to be more efficient on the bike and therefore your experience will be more enjoyable.
I know that we unconsciously feel that when we start to go slower we should work harder but really you should lighten the gear and spin your legs more. Besides the above, this lighter force gets more oxygen in the blood stream which then helps clear the lactate from the blood. So really it is a win win.
The above is a simplified explanation of the chemical processes that happen in the body while riding but hopefully it will help newer riders realize the importance of a higher cadence. As you become more physically capable on the bike then the world opens up to play with the above system to focus on different areas depending on your needs, the type of terrain you like to ride or, if you want to race or do specific group rides. First things first, help your body get used to a faster leg speed and then the sky is the limit and hopefully you will not feel so frustrated and exhausted on your bike. After all, the beauty of cycling is when you and the bike become one, the wind is in your face and it feels like you are flying.
[If you do not have a bicycle computer that reads cadence just count how many times your right leg comes up in 10 seconds and multiply that by 6]