Sam’s bad knee cures Sam of a bad bike habit

I confess. I’m a masher.

I like big gears and slow pedaling.

I’ve written before about my ambivalence with the beast language that gets used to describe my riding style. I’d rather be a lightweight fast pedaling gazelle. But I’m not.

My cycling coach got a call one day from a friend saying his Garmin must be broken because the average cadence on his ride was in the low 80s. He wasn’t going slow. He averaged over 30 km/hr. But he got the speed by pedaling slowly in big gears.

I’m like that too. Yes, I can sprint and then I pedal faster but my usual road ride cadence is slower than that of those with whom I ride.

That’s not how cyclists are supposed to do things.

What’s mashing? What’s the alternative?

See here.

“Pedaling furiously (with a high cadence) on a low gear is called spinning, while pedaling slower (low cadence) on a high gear is called mashing. Both can get you to high speeds — so why do the best cyclists prefer spinning?

The prevailing theory is that spinning is a more efficient use of your strength and energy. Many cyclists revert to mashing, however, because it feels faster. But, not only does mashing produce more lactic acid, it predominantly uses what’s called fast-twitch muscle fibers, which fatigue faster than slow-twitch fibers (used in spinning) [source: Williamson].”

Why do I end up mashing? Partly it’s because I can. I have strong legs and can push big gears. Lots of riders can’t. Uphill it feels like my only option. I weigh a lot so I need the power.

The thing is it’s better to get spinning fast and then increase gears. Keep your cadence high. That’s what I do when I sprint.

When I was riding on the track on a fixed gear bike increasing cadence was the only route to more speed. A cycling coach at the velodrome suggested that when training I put a spinnier, smaller gear on my bike to improve my cadence. It nearly killed me. I had a hard time keeping up with my usual peers but it worked. My cadence improved and when I switched back to my usual gear I got faster.

So what’s happening now? Pushing big gears with slow cadence hurts my knee. Not a big surprise given all that’s going on with my knee. Naturally I’ve been moving into smaller gears and upping my cadence. I lost the cadence sensor on my bike a few years ago. I might just get it back and be deliberate about improving my cadence.

Watch me spin! Whee!

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