Is changing gears to lower RPE cheating?

I was doing an over under workout (palisade) and I did the first 3 in one gear. I did 93 RPM for the unders and 98 for the overs. I noticed I was breathing heavily for the overs and on the verge of cramping.

For the last 2 intervals I lowered my cadence to 90 for the overs and it made a big difference. The workout felt easier which is why I’m wondering if this counter productive?

That’s really normal dude. I have the exact same experience. It’s not counter-productive necessarily to ride in that more comfortable cadence range but if you feel like riding that higher cadence is crucial for your type of riding then maybe consider adding some more cadence drills into warm ups/cool downs. Hopefully you’ll find yourself able to hold those higher cadences without raising you HR so much.

A drill i enjoy is a 30 second cadence pyramid. Start at 90 and at relatively low wattage (zone 1 or 2), add 10rpm every 30 seconds until you start to get ragged, then step it back down every 30 seconds. I can get up to around 140 and it’s amazing how easy 120rpm feels on the way back down.