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  • Deena Blacking

Get Better At Going Up Grades #2: Cadence, Gearing & Pacing



In a previous blog on watts, I shared this equation:


Power = force x cadence*

*cadence means leg speed or ‘rotations per minute’ (RPM)


In simple terms, your power output is dynamic. It depends on two things working together:(1) the force you put into the pedals; and

(2) how fast you do it.

For the same power output, you can vary your cadence and force to suit the demands of the terrain.


When you start going uphill, gravity demands that you push your total weight up the hill (bike and bottles included!). As the force demand increases, the cadence slows. Often, people stay in their bigger gears. Sometimes it works; often times, it doesn’t.



(1) Spinning is winning


This is where cadence and gearing are your friends. The easier the gear, the more you can generate power with cadence rather than force.

Faced with a long hill, unsure of how easy or hard it is going to be, your safest bet is to pick a gear that allows you to spin (e.g. around 80 to 90 rpm).

If you can sustain a reasonable cadence at a higher gears, do it! But be warned: don’t make the rookie error of starting out in a big gear and then die a death halfway up the climb. If I had a Euro for every person I overtook as I got closer to the top of a climb, I’d be a very rich cyclist ;-)


(2) Know how to pace yourself


Pacing is key to any endurance effort. Pacing is powered by knowledge. You need to know two things:

(i) The terrain; and

(ii) Yourself!

(i) Know the Terrain

How many turns are there? Where does it kick up? Where does it flatten out? Are there any dead turns or unhelpful cambers? No one wants to get to a steep section in the wrong gear. Everyone wants to know when a relatively flat section coming up.** The internet has given you the power to reccie any hill you plan to climb; use it to your advantage!


**Why? It can offer a slim but vital moment of (relative) recovery. Find out more about this later in the series.

(ii) Know Yourself!

When it comes to getting up a hill, you need to know your limits. Why? Because that’s where you’ll likely be riding. Your power or heart rate training zones can serve as a guide, but they cannot replace the incredible complexity of your brain, body and sensations. As you get to know yourself and how your body responds, you can push your limits further.


But hey! Coach! Spinning didn't get me up that hill last Sunday!

I hear you. As the grade gets steeper, gravity becomes unforgiving, and cadence isn't going to cut it. Time for us to focus on the other half of the power equation – FORCE!


Tune in to the next blog post in this series to find out more about the force (and possibly some Star Wars jokes too...).



Please get in touch if you have any questions, comments or want to find out more!

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