How to Count Your Cadence

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One fundamental aspect of cycling is pedaling. But there’s more than pedaling than just pedaling – you need to pedal correctly, at the correct speed. That speed is known as your pedal cadence, and it’s measured in RPM – revolutions per minute.

In other words, cadence is how many pedal strokes you complete in one minute. It has been all the rage since Lance Armstrong won seven Tours de France with his signature fast cadence of 90-120 rpm. (Beating rivals such as Jan Ullrich, who pushed big gears with a slower cadence.)

You don’t need to pedal at 120 rpm to win races, but you should experiment with different cadences to see what is right for you.

To do that, you’ll need to count your cadence so you know what it is! The most common method is to count your pedal strokes while timing yourself with a stop watch (which is built into most cyclocomputers.)

Counting Your Cadence

Here’s how to do it:

Part #1: Counting Your Foot

The basis of counting your cadence is counting each pedal stroke. Since both feet need to complete one revolution to equal one full pedal stroke, you will only count one foot.

What I do is count each time my left foot hits the 6 o’clock part of the stroke.

Part #2: Timing

You will be counting your cadence for a short period of time. I usually do 15 or 20 seconds.

So I watch my stopwatch until it hits a good time such as 5:15. Then I count each time my left foot goes around, stopping once the watch says 5:30.

Part #3: Calculating Your Cadence

Now you should have two numbers. One is the number of seconds, and the other is the number of strokes you completed in that time period.

The goal is to calculate how many strokes you would have completed in 60 seconds. So if you counted for 15 seconds, you’ll multiply that number by 4 (since 15 seconds times 4 equals 60 seconds.) If you counted for 20 seconds, multiply strokes by 3.

That will give you your cadence, or RPM.

Example:

Let’s say you did 20 pedal strokes in 15 seconds. You’ll multiply 20×4 to get your cadence. That gives you a cadence of 80 rpm.

You could also count for 20 seconds. Let’s say you did 30 pedal strokes in 20 seconds. You multiply 30×3 for your cadence, which turns out to be 90 rpm.

That test is fairly accurate, but not perfect. It’s good enough for testing purposes, but sometimes you will consciously pedal faster while you’re counting, but then slow down afterward.

A Cyclocomputer with Cadence Option

The other way to measure your cadence, which is much easier, is to get a cyclocomputer that measures cadence. The computer does all the work for you!

With this option, you have a magnet on your crankarm and a sensor on your chainstay. The computer then counts your cadence for you in real time, just like it does with wheel speed.

It’s easy, but it does cost a little bit more, and it also requires another magnet attached to your bike.

If that’s what you want, here are two computers with cadence that are worth checking out:

I used the Cat Eye Strada on a friend’s bike, and it was neat to watch the cadence. It really opened my eyes, because my cadence would regularly drop down to 80-85 even when I thought I was pedaling 90-95 rpm!

If you want to avoid wires, you might look at the VDO C3 DS Wireless Cyclocomputer w/ Wireless Cadence.

Or… go all out with the Garmin Edge 305 (you can add cadence as an optional kit.)

Whatever way you go, the important point is to get an idea of what your cadence is!

Photo credit: colinedwards99

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4 Comments so far

  1. john on September 23rd, 2008

    ONE DAY ONLY.
    john.
    P.S Counting one Foot!

  2. free on August 10th, 2013

    that’s how i do it, and its easy after awhile, you can feel how hard your working, and your in a rhythm anyhow. breathing, stroking

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