Speed at Which a Person Twirls Their Pedals

A cyclist climbing a hill quickly
Spinning the pedals at a high cadence. Chase Jarvis/Getty Images

Ever hear anybody talk about their "cadence" when they ride? Cadence refers to the speed at which a person twirls their pedals when they ride. More technically, cadence is the number of revolutions of the crank per minute; or the rate at which a cyclist is pedalling/turning the pedals. Cadence is related to wheel speed but is a distinct measurement.

The Benefits of a High Cadence

Having a high pedal cadence is a good thing, since (generally speaking) the faster you can spin your pedals, the faster you can go on your bike.

Having a high cadence means you're spinning the pedals as opposed to mashing on them. Higher pedal rpms (revolutions per minute) generally means you can ride longer without getting tired, since the idea is to spin the pedals more quickly at an easier gear, rather than burn through all your leg muscles pounding away in a much more difficult gear.

The Typical Cadence

Cyclists typically have a cadence at which they feel most comfortable, and on bicycles with many gears, it is possible to maintain a preferred cadence at a wide range of speeds. The typical cadence is around 60–80 rpm. 


The work required to move a bike down the road is measured in watts. To define it very simply, Watts = Force x Cadence, or how hard you press on the pedals multiplied by the number of times per minute you apply this force.

For example, take two cyclists who weigh the same, have identical bikes, identical aerodynamics and are riding next to each other at the same speed on a flat road.

Because they are riding the same speed they are performing the same work (riding at the same watts). However, rider No. 1 is mashing at 70 rpm while Rider No. 2 spins at 110 rpm. Rider No. 1's pedaling style dictates that he presses hard on the pedals with each stroke. But he does so less frequently than Rider No.

2, who is pushing lightly on the pedals but much more frequently.

Muscle Use

As far as your cardiovascular system goes, lower-cadence cycling costs less in terms of oxygen consumption but is more taxing on the muscles from a strength perspective. Cycling at a lower cadence recruits more muscle fibers overall as well as more fast-twitch fibers vs. slow-twitch fibers.

Slow-Twitch Fibers:

  • Primarily burn fat for fuel, an almost limitless supply of fuel for even the leanest athlete.
  • Very resistant to fatigue: They are built to go and go, all day.
  • Recover quickly when allowed to rest.

Fast-Twitch Fibers:

  • Burn glycogen for fuel. This glycogen is stored within the muscles and is in relative short supply, about 2000 calories for a well-trained, well-fueled athlete.
  • Fatigue quickly, are NOT built to go all day.
  • Take a long time to recover before they can be used again.

Measuring Cadence

Many cyclocomputers are able to measure cadence, and can show the cadence number to the cyclist on a display that is most often mounted on the bicycle's handlebars.