Cadence and heart rate

An interesting mini article at the bottom of an interview with Dan Martin in the July 2020 issue of Procycling.  I have heard it said many times before; high cadence riding is most efficient but requires higher levels of oxygen. 

Historically, I was always a “masher” using very big gears, I rode a 88 inch fixed gear around the peak district and my 12 speed had a lowest gear combination of 42 on the front and 19 on the back.  I was regularly out of the saddle using brute strength to power the pedals round.  Years later I was still riding the 52/42 but had moved away from the time trial block to a 12/21T

In 2008 when I got back to cycling after a break, I managed to bend my frame and the costs of repair were massive compared to the option of buying new.  So I bought a cheap Bianchi; this was my first ever aluminium bike and also my first with brake lever shifters.  The main difference, apart from the weight, was the gearing. It had a 38T chainring and a 23T sprocket; this seemed a ridiculously small gear to me at first, but I got used to it. 

In 2012, I bought a new bike which came with a compact (50/36) and a 12/28.  I was going to swap it out to an 11/23, but left it for a few weeks to give it a try.  It did seem a little odd again, but I could pedal uphill while seated, very comfortably and only needed the bottom two gears for serious hills like Winnats Pass. 

Over time, I started to use the lower gears and spin a little more, but I still used to power uphill, generally out of the saddle. 

Then AF hit me.  At first I didn’t know what it was, and the effects were relatively mild; I assumed I was ageing and getting less fit.  Eventually, I found myself with a 30T sprocket and using it more often, although it didn’t really feel comfortable.  Then finally, persistent AF made itself known and my fitness dropped off a cliff.

Three years later and I am back to normal.  I still have the 30T and I am using it regularly on the steeper slopes, I rarely climb standing and I spin rather than mash.  I don’t think this style is inherently any slower than my previous style. 

One interesting point is that spinning is supposed to require a higher level of fitness and more oxygen demand, but I am not sure it is that simple.  When I spin up hill, I can keep my HR low, but when I stand, it rises above 160 almost instantly.  It seems to me that standing and mashing requires more oxygen than sitting and spinning, possibly due to the fact that I am also supporting my bodyweight.

Overall, I think my current style is more efficient and I am working to refine it.

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