Cycling training and riding concepts: which of them were worth it?

I’ve hacked this sport of cycling for seven years now, and over the years I’ve picked up a wealth of knowledge about how one should proceed riding their bike – either for best training effect, to maximize efficiency, or for climbing long slopes up mountains. Today I take a look back and try to judge just how effective they were for my own kind of riding.


My personal cycling journey mirrors the beginnings of the Global Cycling Network (GCN) pretty closely, as both got their start in 2013. It was from them that I got the philosophy of pedaling a high cadence of about 90 RPM to help fight off muscular fatigue, and shift the burden to the cardiovascular system. This helped instill in me the habit of constantly turning the pedals smoothly, which became a cornerstone of my riding style especially on a small-wheeled folding bike.

It wasn’t until I got a proper cadence sensor a few years later that I realized what I considered my “high cadence pedaling” was actually mid-pack, at around 80 RPM. Granted, GCN does mention that one’s most efficient cadence is largely self-selected, and it takes quite a bit more discipline and effort for me to keep spinning the cranks at 90-100 RPM.

As I got further along with more serious training, however, I found that I wasn’t even maintaining my supposedly most efficient 80 RPM pedaling cadence most times, either. Instead, I noticed I gravitated more towards 68-75 RPM, especially on longer time-trial efforts on flats and very gentle slopes where maintaining a steady power output over the duration is more important. A number of triathletes and time trial riders subscribe to this philosophy, I noticed. As long as I am outputting steady power output, and I am doing so comfortably and without overloading my knees, I find that turning the pedals at a fairly middling cadence isn’t such a big deal. It may even be more efficient than spinning higher cadences for the same power output, as there is a lot less wasted motion.


The areas where keeping as high a pedaling cadence as you can makes the most amount of sense for me are long climbs. Disgraced as he is by doping scandals, Lance Armstrong was on to a winner with this particular tactic. Even then, by “high cadence” I don’t necessarily mean 90 RPM either. As I said earlier, there are countless other riders that are more comfortable than me with turning such high cadences, even uphill.

For my own riding, though, I seem to climb best if I stay within 65-80 RPM, using the gearing I have on hand to keep my effort at a sustainable level. I rarely go below this cadence range unless I am out of the saddle, stomping at least two cogs harder. Prolonged climbing efforts are a delicate balancing act, juggling the effort between your legs and your cardio, shifting the loading around different muscles in your legs.


As I’ve discussed before, your functional threshold power (FTP) is generally regarded as the highest power output you can sustain for a fixed time duration; most folks set this at one hour.

From experience, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking one should ride at least 100%-FTP efforts all the time, however, especially if you have a power meter aboard your bike. All FTP means is you can reliably expect to sustain this power output for that time. If your current activity requires you to last longer than this, you might want to dial down the watts so you can stand a chance of finishing. There is absolutely no shame in going 70-80% of your FTP up a climb, or even less, especially if it means the overall effort becomes more sustainable; you will have enough left in the tank and in your legs to finish strongly.

When it boils down to it, I’ve realized FTP is nothing more than an aid or benchmark for a particular cyclist, specifically meant for training purposes, and meant to be a litmus test of your potential ability. It’s not meant to be bragged about or put on a pedestal, and you are not necessarily defined by your FTP.

Besides, I’ve found the surest way of consistently increasing your FTP is to ride as much as you can just under it. Mine went up 40 W over four months doing exactly this. That also means making more gains is a matter of diminishing returns, though.


As a bike commuter, I committed this offense a little too frequently for my own good. While it may feel good pushing your physical limits every time you bike-commute, this is also a pretty easy way to give your heart too much of a good thing, in the form of exercise-induced cardiomegaly. If your rides are consistently pushing your heart rate too close to your maximal heart rate (normally computed as 220 – your age in years), thickening of your heart muscle walls and general enlarging of the heart may become a side effect. Depending on which cardiologist you talk to, this can be normal for endurance athletes…or it could hide signs of something more sinister.

I would advise investing in a heart rate monitor if you are a serious cyclist. Or at least consider it. That way, you can keep tabs on how hard your ticker is working and what its condition is. If you’re above 95% of your maximal heart rate, I’d strongly suggest backing off, easing up on the effort, and relaxing more to get it down.


I did not get a power meter of my own until I snapped up my friend’s Wahoo KICKR SNAP earlier this year.

In hindsight, I really should have gotten one much earlier. I have to say this was one of the best things I bought for improving the quality of my training. Coupled with pretty good instruction, available largely for free on the Internet (very sensitive bullshit filter required), a reliable and consistent power meter can give your training some real, irrefutable direction.

In my defense, good power meters have never been more accessible than they are now. They still cost quite a bit of coin, and they’re not worth much on their own without a compatible head unit/computer to display their readouts (so the expense of a power meter is really for two pieces of equipment, for most newbies), but they fully deserve the price of, say, a brand new wheelset, groupset, or other upgrade item.

As mentioned, the only power meter I have in my possession is my Wahoo KICKR SNAP indoor trainer – which means that I don’t have one aboard any of my bikes as of this writing. I can understand people who’d rather not run one while riding outdoors and just rely on feel, but I also recognize a power meter’s effectiveness as a pacing tool or gauge of one’s effort, especially on long climbs. You’ll have to be the judge of whether this benefit deserves the cash outlay.

I’d like to hear from you. Which training techniques or riding concepts held as conventional wisdom have you tried, and which have held up to real life scrutiny?

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