Mountain bike cadence vs trainer cadence

My average cadence on the trainer is 90+ after a workout. I’ve noticed that my average cadence on an outdoor mountain bike ride is 75+. It’s pretty punchy terrain and feels like uphill in every direction. Littered with short steep climbs.

The time spent in the various zones on the TR power profile outdoors is usually around 20% anaerobic and 20% active recovery, 20% coasting and only around 5% of the time in each of the other zones. My 2 hour ride yesterday had only 6 minutes in sweet spot.

Do you think it would be wise to lower my cadence on my indoor rides in the base phase? Or will my outdoor cadence rise as my training progresses? Currently 2 weeks into SS Base II mid volume after completing SSB mid I and Short Power Build mid vol. I went back to do SS Base II because I overlooked it when I started TR. Or do I wait for the Specialty Phase to sort out the discrepancy between time spent in certain zones and how to train for them?

For clarity, you seem to be asking two different questions, but blended them. I think it is best to address each separately.

1, Cadence:

  • NOTE: Make sure that you are not including zeros in your cadence, on your head unit. With the typical coasting in MTB, this will artificially lower the apparent cadence avg. Set it to not include them to get a more accurate picture of the cadence you use when actually pedaling.
  • Train what you need to use. If you need to handle a particular cadence range in your events, you better be using them in training too.
  • MTB cadence tends to be far more irregular and a wider range compared to most road use.
  • I would consider the intervals you use inside and how they relate to similar efforts outside. Try to employ similar cadence so you aren’t shocking yourself with drastically different approaches inside and outside.
  • In general, always be willing to train your cadence a bit wider (higher and lower) than your expected use. This will keep you more versatile and able to handle those unexpected moments a bit better.

2, Zones and outside workouts:

  • This is a big topic, but I will keep it short here. Training outside introduces more variability compared to inside. This is the biggest sacrifice when moving outside.
  • If you aim to get the most of outside workouts, you need to plan for them and choose your rides carefully. Just ‘riding’ on any terrain will lead to missed targets and workouts.
  • If you intend to follow a training plan, you need to be getting reasonably close to the target power and duration. If you don’t, then you aren’t following the plan.
  • To your question of when to address it, the time is now. Waiting will only lead to wasted workouts that don’t build the fitness you need to progress from phase to phase.

Thanks Chad. Great info.

  1. Cadence.
    I’ll check out the zero setting on my head unit.
    Makes sense to do the above threshold stuff at a lower cadence to better match the demands outside.
  2. Zones
    The outdoor rides seem to be the best way to train for the demands of the outdoor riding. Adding them to the training plan in the proper place, as a substitution for an indoor workout, fills the hole in the indoor workouts.
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  • Keep in mind that VO2 Max and above are often best when done with a quicker cadence in general.
  • They are demanding efforts, and doing them in low cadence will take a very measurable toll on your body and glycogen stores.
  • If the efforts are short-ish (less than 60 seconds) you may be fine. But for longer efforts, I highly recommend considering your gearing selection to allow a quicker spin (90+ rpm) to take less out of your legs that may be needed later.
  • That leads into the “training” vs “riding” ideology.
  • From a purely physiological perspective (body), there is generally more to gain from the control and application of stress via indoor training.
  • From a partly physiological perspective (body), there is still some to be gained, but you add the ability to mix in more technical and live use of the bike in process. This can be a good blend, but you have to accept that it will sacrifice a bit with respect to the body training goal (vs inside).
  • All that is to say that each option has pros/cons where you should consider each, and choose what makes the most sense for your immediate and future needs.

Regarding cadence. I’m experiencing the same. However having fitted a mountainbike to the trainer when I had my wheels straightened on my roadbike I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s mental. When on the roadbike indoors I find it much easier being up at 90-110rpm in cadence but on the MTB with that position it’s much harder getting past 90rpm. My last race I averaged 76rpm on the MTB. Usually it’s somewhere around there up to max. 90rpm. Have never raced on my roadbike so can’t say anything about that but my guess is that I’d be up at around 90rpm+ on that outdoors.