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What Climbing Cadence is Best for Knees?

By Fred Matheny
Road bike rider logo
Q: I’ve heard that it’s better for knees if you spin a lower gear on climbs rather than mash a big gear. Why is it harder on the knees to pedal at a slower rpm? What about pedaling slowly when out of the saddle? – Jim M

A: Good questions! The important element here isn’t the total time taken to climb the hill, but rather the total load on the knee during any given pedal stroke.

If you ride up the hill in three minutes at 80 rpm, you’ve divided the total work into 240 pieces – or 240 pedal strokes.

It takes the same amount of work to climb the hill in three minutes in a bigger gear at 60 rpm, but the work has been divided into only 180 strokes.

So, there’s more work being done on each pedal stroke when you have a lower cadence in a bigger gear. Which means there’s more stress on the knee on each pedal revolution. Make sense?

Standing up takes stress off most knee problems cyclists are likely to have. It’s a good choice when you’re climbing with someone who is slower and uses lower gears.

It gives you a chance to stretch your legs and take weight off your rear end. It also helps take stress off your lower back.

During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.



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