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How fast to pedal during the bike leg is a contentious a topic like what seat tube angle your bike should have, or whether to go with a disc or spokes. Each rider has an optimal cadence based on both style and physiology, and this is OK. Your natural cadence can be changed with repetition in training, but I don't see much benefit for triathletes unless your original style is way out of range. Ultimately the choice should be based on what makes you go fast, while still leaving you with sufficient energy and speed for the run that follows.

My recommendation for finding your optimal cadence is simple; count your stride rate during a run and match it on the bike. For most athletes this is 85 to 93 strides/ pedal strokes per minute, but there are a few exceptions. I've trained with one of the all time top athletes for OD to 1/2 IM distances and he stays at 80-85rpm on the flats, and it matches his slow run (and swim) turnover.

Many athletes who follow bike racing know a certain 7x Tour du France winner pedals(ed) very, very, fast, especially during his time trial efforts. Keep in mind that he was the only pro that pedaled this fast, and if you rode 600-mile weeks for months you too could train your body to do something unique.

Also, consider an athlete's background when you see them excel at a discipline or use a certain distinctive style. As a young bike racer in my late teens all of my races were done with a mandatory gear restriction that forced me to learn to pedal fast. But, as an adult this is not as easy for your physiology to learn. I don't expect to swim head-to-head with athletes who got in the pool at age 7 when I started at 39.

The good news is that athletes who start a new sport later attack it with energy someone who's been doing it for decades can't match. Older athletes also approach a new discipline with control while younger athletes excel because they're impervious to injury (some), and fearless (maybe).

Cadence should vary by terrain. Staying within the 85 to 93 revolutions per minute range applies to a flat road with no wind, but on climbs and into a headwind pedaling more slowly is natural. When you need more power on a climb 75rpm works well, while for a steep stand-up climb you might go as low as 65 for a short stretch. I've kept a high cadence on climbs and it just wore me out with no speed or endurance benefit.

The same slower cadence applies to headwinds, but here it should be higher than climbs, usually about 80rpm works well. Pedaling faster on downhills can help you maintain momentum and is inevitable when you're running out of gear.

In training I'll intentionally over-gear or under-gear at times so I can deal with whatever comes my way on race days. On race day I always choose the gear that gives me optimal cadence for a particular stretch of road.

 
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