What is cadence?
Cadence can be described simply as your pedaling speed. It is measured in Revolutions Per Minute, or RPM. This is the number of times your legs complete full circles in 60 seconds of riding.
To put into context, you can consider anything under 90 RPM to be a low cadence, and 90+ RPM to be high cadence.
What are cadence sensors?
As the name suggests, cadence sensors measure and record a cyclist’s cadence. They attach to the bike and can be either a stand-alone unit, work as part of a system with other sensors (speed, distance, heart rate and other metrics) or be in a combined/all in one sensor which measures these metrics together.
Why should I monitor my cadence?
Cadence varies between riders and even the same rider will vary their cadence in a given situation. There is no “one size fits all” perfect cadence. If you are a powerful cyclist, you may naturally ride with a lower cadence, relying greater on your muscular system, while a smaller cyclist may rely on the aerobic system, with a higher cadence. Elite cyclists can maintain a much higher cadence than the average cyclists, due to having better aerobic systems.
However, ever since Lance Armstrong won his Tour de France titles with notably higher spinning than his rivals, cadence has been a focus of attention. Generally, it is understood that a higher cadence causes less fatigue; because of the easy gear, it will produce less strain on your muscles, specifically your quads, and more effort on your heart and lungs. However, your heart and lungs can take the repeated punishment for long periods of time (and they recovery quickly after hard efforts,) while your muscles fatigue relatively quickly, and do not recover as fast. So over a long ride; faster cadence should induce less fatigue.
Reduce stress on body
A lower cadence puts greater stress on your body, as more force must be applied for a rotation. The knee joint takes the bulk of this stress. The knee is a complex joint, and over time this stress can aggravate cartilage and connective tissue. For anybody with issues with their joints, particularly the knee and ankle it is recommended to have a higher cadence anyway to help manage the condition. Cycling is a great choice for low-impact exercise. By also using a cadence sensor, individuals can monitor and adjust their approach to help manage any underlying issues.
This reduced stress load from higher cadence, in turn, reduces the risk of injury. Emphasis moves over to the aerobic system, which lessens the chance of muscular strains and tears. A muscle injury not only ruins a ride but can take time to fully recover. Thus, higher cadence can benefit cyclists of all ability, keeping them cycling all year round, injury free.
Knowing your cadence can be a vital training tool. For cyclists looking to improve their performance, there are specific training programmes and drills that stipulate the cadence rate. For example, a common exercise is to cycle 10 minutes as normal, 10 minutes at high (100+RPM), 10 minutes normal…and on. This puts greater stress on your aerobic system, designed improve your fitness and stamina. Conversely, doing low cadence drills increases the strength in your legs, which can help a cyclist recover and last through a long season of racing. A drill for this is to cycle at low cadence (-50RPM) for as long as possible. With growing use of cadence sensors, there is a growing availability of cadence specific training guides online. This means you are sure to find one that aids your fitness goals. These programmes and drills are almost impossible to do with having a cadence sensor.
Types of Cadence Sensors
There is a variety of types of sensors, so let’s explore designs and features:
Magnetic and wired
These traditional cadence sensors comprise a unit that mounts to the non-drive side chain stay and measures cadence via a crank arm mounted magnet. A speed sensor may also be included, with a magnet on a wheel spoke. These sensors connect via a wire to a small cycle computer of the stem of the bicycle. Usually, these are all brought together as a set. These systems can still be purchased, and have the advantage of being comparatively cheaper. The disadvantage is that wires look messy and can be snagged by accident and the magnets can be dislodged from riding over bumps.
Magnetic and wireless
There are now wireless sensors on the market, which use the same magnetic setup but the sensors wirelessly transmit to each other. Via radio or Bluetooth. These can be harder to set up, but remove the need for messy wires.
The latest offerings are sensors which are wireless and magnet-less. These utilize a small accelerometer pod that is mounted on the crank arm using. This, in turn, communicates with a computer either via radio or Bluetooth. While more expensive, they are less likely to be knocked and go wrong. There are also ‘power meters’ cadence sensors where the sensor is embedded in a whole bike part – either a crankset or pedal. These are expensive and used mainly by professionals.
Mix and match: sensors and display
All wireless cadence sensors will need a cycle computer to connect with to display readings. Confusingly, unlike traditional wired sensor systems, wireless systems parts can be purchased individually and interchanged. This is through the wireless software ‘ANT+’ or ‘Bluetooth Smart’. We won’t go into detail, but simply, they are similar to Bluetooth but specific for sensor data. All sensors that state ANT+ enabled should pair with all displays that are also ANT+. Same for Bluetooth Smart. But ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart devices are not compatible. It is also worth mentioning, that many GPS cycle computers come enabled. Therefore, these computers could display cadence sensor data. Today, even many Android mobile phones are enabled and thus can display live sensor data. If you go down this wireless route, look out for the ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart sign on the box, and ask a retailer about the compatibility of items.
By taking steps to improve your cadence, your health and performance will improve right along with it.
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