You are the engine of your bicycle. You pedal to power the movement in
your wheels. you need to maximize the efficiency of your pedal stroke (how far you can travel on your leg strength and endurance). Refueling your body’s engine isn’t as easy as refueling your car’s engine.
Spinning is to cycling what cruise control is to driving. The rate at which
you spin, or rotate your pedals, determines how much fuel you burn. Ideally,
you’ll spin your pedals between 80 to 100 revolutions per minute (rpm), with
a preferred cadence of 90 rpm. A revolution is one complete circle, and the
number of revolutions per minute is called your cadence.
In the 80- to 100-rpm range, your body works at the most aerobically efficient
rate and can continue for extended periods of time without burning quickly
through all its fuel.
Many beginning cyclists believe they go faster if they “mash” on their pedals
in a high gear and a low rpm, meaning their legs push hard on the pedals and
move more slowly around than 80 to 100 rpm. Sure, you’ll go fast, but not
for long. Constantly pedaling in a high gear puts strain on your knees and
requires more of an up-and-down piston-like motion than a smooth circle. All
this will cause you to wear out quickly. Professional bike racers in the Tour de
France operate within a 90- to 100-rpm cadence range for 23 days every July. If
it works for them, it’ll work for you, too.