In my younger days I honestly couldn’t tell you how I pedaled the bike, I just pushed with my legs and the bike moved, if I got tired I shifted to an easier gear. However more recently, when I was riding my mountain bike regularly I was definitely a “grinder”, that is someone with a low cadence ~70rpm. This certainly worked well for technical single track since there really was never many long straights and with rocks, roots and stumps to avoid there really wasn’t any time to worry or think about it.
When I started riding seriously on the road again last year I just fell into my old mountain biking ways but grinding away on hills was brutal. I began to do a little reading and talking to people and the question arose what was my cadence. The suggestion was to go to an easier gear and spin at around 90-100rpms. This was supposed to have a two fold effect, it’s easier on the leg muscles and thus I should theoretically be able to ride longer.
With my new found suggestions I did just that, hills were a little easier and I found my legs less tired after a climb but I sure was winded! See all that spinning is very aerobic and taxing on the cardiovascular system. It got a little easier every time out but even with my cyclometer/gps programs I really couldn’t say if I was performing better or not.
It wasn’t until someone suggested to me on my group ride last week when I was struggling to stay on the wheel in front of me that I might want to shift up a gear or two. I had gotten so focused on my cadence I completely forgot how to stay with the pack. I’ve only been out a couple of times since that revelation but I stopped watching my cadence, I’m attacking hills harder until the legs burn and then shift to an easier gear until they recover. I don’t seem to have any longevity issues and according to a few Strava segments I’m actually performing better. Honestly it’s like a new found freedom and I think my legs recover faster than my breathing does when I was spinning.