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How Important is Cadence When Pedaling a Mountain Bike?

How Important is Cadence When Pedaling a Mountain Bike?

Introduction – Cadence When Pedaling a Mountain Bike

 Guest Contribution by James Mackie, Pro Mountain Bike

Mountain biking can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to make sure that you are pedaling correctly. Many beginners put too much emphasis on power and forget about cadence.

It’s important to find the right cadence for you, and there are many benefits to having a proper cadence! In this post, we will discuss the top 9 benefits and methods of having a good cadence when mountain biking!

#1 – Defining the role cadence plays

Why is the number of revolutions your foot makes per minute while pedaling important when you’re out on a mountain trail? It is very helpful to find the right cadence for you as it can increase your power output, efficiency, balance, and climbing performance. When you understand the importance of cadence, you will experience better control and get the most out of your rides. The right cadence can also reduce fatigue and risk of injury, improve speed and endurance, and make your mountain biking sessions more fun.

How Important is Cadence When Pedaling a Mountain Bike?

Unlike road riding, no single RPM range is most efficient for mountain bike racing. On trails, you need to be able to spin quickly on steep climbs when you can’t shift gears anymore. You also need to mash slowly sometimes so you don’t accelerate too much, pass other riders, or hit obstacles in corners.

More times than not, the corners, whoops, and obstacles come so suddenly and are spaced so closely together that there’s no time for shifting gears. The best way past those obstacles is by keeping one gear going and varying your pedaling speed accordingly. Staying at a moderate to low pedaling speed is key to staying on course in loose dirt or stones and making it through a rock garden without ruining your pedals.

To improve your off-road skills, learn to be comfortable with various speeds. You’ll also have an advantage over other racers if you’re used to changing pace mid-race; it can help prevent leg fatigue.


#2 – Why is cadence important?

All the points made in the previous section boil down to two main essentials. Nailing cadence makes the sport more fun and gives you better control over your bike. Cadence leads to improved climbing performance since you don’t have to work as hard to reach the top, which means you won’t feel too tired afterward.

A lower cycling cadence usually results in your muscles working harder, while a higher one puts more pressure on your cardiovascular system.

On the other hand, a too-high cadence can make your pelvis rock and reduce pedaling efficiency. This can lead to an inefficient ride, so riding at a cadence appropriate for your fitness level and the terrain you’ll encounter will help you get the most out of your mountain bike ride.

#3- How do you measure cadence?

Measuring cadence on a mountain bike is relatively simple and can be done with a cadence sensor or pedometer. A cadence sensor attaches to the crank or wheel of your mountain bike and measures how often the wheel spins, giving you an accurate reading of your cadence.

While not as accurate, a pedometer will also help measure cadence by keeping track of how many times your foot hits the ground during a ride. This can provide you with an approximate cadence number that you can use as a benchmark on future rides.

What are crank-arm power meters, and why are they important? Crank power meters, which measure cadence as well as power output, are also available but can be expensive. Crank arm power meters measure the cadence and the torque of each pedal stroke, which is useful data for mountain bikers who want to monitor their performance. This information can be used to adjust cadence and power output, helping you maximize your efficiency on the trails.

So when it comes to cadence, there is no one answer. Depending on your fitness level and the terrain you’re riding on, different cadences will work better for different mountain bikers. By understanding cadence, its importance when mountain biking, and the best cadences that work for you under varying conditions, you can ensure that you always get the most out of your rides. With the proper cadence measurement tools, you’ll have a good idea of how well you’re pedaling to optimize performance and ride more efficiently.

You can use a stopwatch to measure your cadence by counting the number of times your leg pushes down on the pedal per minute. To get an accurate measurement, count for 30 seconds and multiply by 2. If that’s too difficult to do while you’re riding, count for 10 seconds and multiply by six instead.

Note: It’s important to remember that cadence isn’t everything

#4 – What is the ideal mountain biking cadence?

The ideal cadence varies from person to person and depends on the terrain. Generally, aiming for a cadence between 80-110 rpm (revolutions per minute) is best. However, you may find that a cadence of 70-90 rpm works better on certain terrain or if you are particularly tired. Experiment with different cadences until you find one that feels comfortable but provides enough power and speed. This will help ensure optimal performance while also reducing your risk of injury. Ultimately, cadence should be tailored to each individual’s riding style, fitness level, and terrain.

While cadence isn’t the only factor affecting mountain biking performance, it is an important baseline to establish and a platform from which successful rides can build.

#5 – Improved Efficiency

By accurately measuring cadence and riding at a cadence best suited to you, the path is open to seeing marked improvements in your mountain biking performance. The result is improved trail efficiency, with less fatigue and faster times. Additionally, cadence can be used to improve balance and control on the bike, which will further assist in maximizing your power output.

#6 – Improved Control

You can improve control over your bike by understanding cadence, using cadence measurement tools, and incorporating cadence-specific drills into your mountain biking workouts. By doing this, you will be able to maintain a steady cadence throughout the ride and ensure that each pedal stroke is as efficient as possible. This will help you navigate technical trails and tight corners with ease.

How Important is Cadence When Pedaling a Mountain Bike?

#7 – Increased Speed & Endurance

Maintaining a consistent cadence throughout each ride allows you to increase your overall speed. This is because cadence helps optimize each pedal stroke’s power output and increases your bike’s efficiency.

It may seem counterintuitive initially, but consistency wins long games, and mountain biking is not about sprinting. Cadence improves efficiency, efficiency promotes stamina, and stamina equals better speed across a long distance. Give it a chance, and you’ll be amazed at the results good cadence management will yield.

#8 – Seven training drills to improve your cadence

  1. Big Gear Tempo Climb: Pick a gear that is hard to pedal and ride it for about 10 minutes. Focus on cadence rather than power output, and keep your cadence consistent throughout the entire duration.
  2. Cadence Intervals: Make sprints with high cadences (120 RPM or more) while maintaining low resistance levels. Increase cadence gradually as you progress in the workout.
  3. Rolling Altitude Climb: Shift into a lower gear as you approach an incline, then increase cadence instead of shifting gears. This helps build cadence endurance and muscle memory to help maintain cadence levels when climbing hills.
  4. Ride with a Metronome: Using a metronome can help you stay consistent with your cadence during long rides. Set the metronome to a cadence you want to maintain, and stay consistent as you ride.
  5. High force accelerations: Accelerating with a higher torque output can help you increase cadence and performance. Try to shift gears quickly and smoothly to maintain cadence as you accelerate. This trains you to continue pedaling at a steady cadence while also increasing your speed. This is especially beneficial when climbing hills or during sprints.
  6. Strength endurance sessions: Incorporating cadence drills into a strength endurance session can help increase cadence, power output, and overall performance. Try cadence-specific drills with high resistance levels to build the muscles necessary for sustaining cadence while climbing or sprinting. By doing this, you will be able to increase your cadence on command and lock in good form when pedaling.
  7. Spin-Ups: Doing cadence-specific drills with low resistance levels can help increase cadence and build muscle endurance. You can ensure that each pedal stroke is powerful yet still efficient enough to keep up with the terrain and conditions. Focus on pedaling quickly and smoothly while keeping your cadence consistent. This will help you become more efficient when accelerating and ensure you utilize your cadence to its fullest potential. Whether a competitive race or a leisurely ride, understanding cadence is a massive part of becoming the best rider.

#9 – More Enjoyable Riding

Ultimately, after shedding all the performance desires, cadence boosts the most important thing in mountain biking, and that’s the enjoyment of each ride. You’ll find a flow that brings a smile when you are dialed in and applying your natural cadence to each ride segment. We guarantee that.


Thank you for taking the time to read this article on cadence and how it can be used to optimize mountain bike performance. We wish you all the best for your next mountain biking adventure! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.

Happy pedaling!

Images: Unsplash/ Ricardo IV Tamayo and

Author Bio

At the tip of Pro Mountain Bike’s spear is James Mackie. Two-wheeled, man-powered transport is more than a hobby or exercise to him, it’s been a way of life since before his age reached double digits.

James refined his riding skills by traversing difficult terrain all over the world, entering his first race at 11 years of age and regularly training alongside national team riders and professionals. Today, he hits the terrain of Southern California and enters Enduro races regularly.