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Cycling is considered one of the most rewarding hobbies a person can have, and it is also an excellent form of training. If you’re one of the many folks who are biking to get fit, then being able to control your gear’s performance and your progress is essential.
The key difference between your cadence and watts is that watts will increase or decrease when you ride, depending on your acceleration and force used. Cadence will tell you the rate that your pedals are turning (RPM) while you’re cycling and helps to focus and improve your speed.
Many cyclists choose to use a power meter for measuring their power output. They’ll add a strain gauge to gather their data and proceed to convert it into digits that are readable. You could also use a cadence sensor to measure your pedal cadence, which obtains RPM and allows you to adjust your performance goals.
Table of Contents
What Are Watts?
Watts is typically used as a unit of measurement (in this case cycling) and can measure your power output during the course of your ride. If you increase the number of watts you’re producing, it will increase your speed, force, and acceleration.
Cadence will tie into the number of watts you output; however, they are not considered to be the same. Watts that is produced is an overall number that relies on the intensity of your cycle, along with the duration of your ride.
What Is Cadence?
Cadence will vary throughout your entire ride and is solely based on the rate at which you turn your bike’s pedals. By focusing on your cadence, you’ll be able to:
- Improve Your Speed
- Reduce Your Race Time
Since indoor cycling is generally performed on a level surface that can allow stationary bikes to simulate uphill or downhill riding, your cadence will typically slow down to somewhere between 50 and 60 RPMs.
If you want to maintain a consistent speed throughout your entire session of distance racing, then keeping a steady cadence will assist with your pacing and help you achieve your desired results.
What Are The Differences Between Cadence and Watts?
People who are new to cycling often confuse the differences between cadence and watts. They often wonder why one person’s cadence is slower than their biking partners. But’s that is just one of the questions individuals wonder about when it comes to cadence and watts.
Here are the main differences between them:
Cadence is considered to be the rate at which a cyclist pedals. You can work on training your cadence and get it to increase, and then over time, you’ll be able to be more efficient when pedalling. This will also assist with your ability to pedal faster and for longer amounts of time.
- When cycling faster, you will be putting less strain or force on your muscles.
- You’ll also be able to use lower gears to bike, which uses a particular muscle group known as ‘slow-twitch.’ These types of muscles have the ability to recover quicker, and they are known to burn fat for fuel and are fatigue resistant.
- There are studies that show the blood flow in your muscles is increased by higher cadence, which leads to a much higher performance aerobically due to your blood getting more oxygen. However, low cadence has the opposite effect and can be harder on your muscles.
Note: There really is no ‘ideal’ cadence; it will vary per individual and is unique to one’s performance.
Watts are used for measuring the rate at which energy is used over time. This is typically based on how hard a cyclist must work to climb uphill. In fact, it can give a decent idea of your work rate at any moment in time. Watts for biking are no different than watts for powering your home.
When it comes to looking at the average watts for cyclists, they aren’t the most reliable performance metric used. This is due to the fact that different individuals will put out varying levels depending on their strength and condition.
However, Watts provides the most accurate measurement of your cycling performance and effort as this measures your power output but also how fast you are turning the pedals.
Note: The best measurement using watts is based on each kilogram of body weight.
Which Provides A More Accurate Measurement of Your Effort?
Many people rely on a cadence to measure their cycling efforts; however, cadence is only a part of the equation for accurate measurements. Things like speed, heart rate, torque monitoring, and power also play an essential role.
Measuring your intensity during cycling can be helpful in:
- Keeping individuals motivated
- Designing of any racing and training programs
- Analysing your perceptions and adjusting your efforts from easy to hard
If you want to get the most accurate measurement of your efforts while cycling, investing in a power meter could be worthwhile, certainly for biking enthusiasts as this will provide an overall look at your real-time performance and measure both cadence and watts at the same time.
For me personally, I use a power meter that I have installed onto my indoor bike that allows me to connect up to apps such as Zwift. This allows me to see all my real-time data instantaneously.
How Can You Measure Your Watts?
One of the most accurate ways to measure your watts when cycling is to use a power meter.
It’s the perfect tool to teach you how to bike more consistently and stronger at the same time. Power meters give you the ability to track, plan, and train with all the focus on your goals and your unique needs as a cyclist.
The best thing about using a power meter is it takes all the guesswork out of the equation. If you’re a beginner, you will be blending cadence and pedal force in multiple ways until you finally figure out which blend gives you the most sustainable power under different conditions.
What Is A Cycling Power Meter Exactly?
A cycling power meter is typically made from a strain gauge that measures torque and calculates your power in watts. It will use your force for pushing the pedals and how fast you can turn the cranks.
There are a variety of different types of power meters that come with various options and vary in price. You can install a power meter in one of the following locations:
- Bottom Bracket
- Rear Hub
- Crank Set
- Chain Ring
In my case and in the picture shown I have the Favero Assioma power meter pedals. These are quick & easy to fit and are incredibly accurate of my cycling performance.
Regardless of where you choose to install your power meter, the info will be displayed instantly in watts on your head unit. It also collects all your data and stores it.
Most people use power meters when cycling to get more accuracy on their own personal stats.
It can provide data that will give you insights into your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll also be able to maximize your training time when using a power meter.
How Can You Measure Your Cadence?
Now, a power meter will also measure your cadence but if you want to maximize your workouts at a more affordable price, you’ll want to get a speed and cadence sensor.
These devices are known for measuring the energy output in the form of RPM (rotations per minute), similar to using a pedometer or speedometer.
However, both a speedometer and a pedometer can not give the accuracy serious cyclist desire and or needs. In fact, if you’re a cyclist that isn’t looking at it as a hobby, then measuring your cadence through the use of a sensor is essential.
A speed and cadence sensor are relatively small and consist of three different devices that are easily mounted onto your bike. First, there is a cadence magnet and spoke magnet that is placed on either side of your electronics pod that was mounted on your bike frame.
The electronics pod will contain two magnet sensors used to capture both the cadence and the speed. Every time the magnet passes this pod, it will register the exact rotation. Its final results are similar to a speedometer but much more accurate.
There are three different types of cadence sensors, which are:
- Speed Only Sensor – Provides the distance and speed of a trip based on your bike’s wheel circumference.
- Cadence Only Sensor – This will only sense the rotations per minute of your crank arm.
- Speed and Cadence Combo – This is considered to be the most popular choice since it is capable of providing both types of data through the combination of both sensors being used.
Tip: We recommend getting the speed and cadence combo since it will give you the most accurate results from both types of sensors.
Most cadence sensors are offered as a separate attachment for your bike; however, some bikes nowadays offer frame-integrated sensors. So make sure you know which type of sensor will work best for your bike.
Keep in mind that if you have frame-integrated sensors, then your bike will allow for the use of a single pod attachment sensor, and your bike’s existing sensor’s wiring will provide all the data needed to the attached pod.
Depending on whether you do cycling as a hobby on a day off or even during your vacations, or if you’re a biking enthusiast will determine how important cadence and watts are to you.
If you’re a beginner and want to take your cycling to the next level, I would highly recommend a power meter. A power meter is going to provide the overall picture of cycling performance measuring your watts output but also your speed and cadence.
However these can be pricier than a speed & cadence sensor but very worthwhile!
Whether you’re using an indoor bike or outdoor bike, I think power meter pedals provide a more accurate representation of your effort.
You can check out our list of the 4 best power meter pedals you can get here!
If budget is a factor of yours and don’t feel you want to invest in something too expensive, then going for the speed and cadence sensors would be a wise decision.
Like I said above, I really benefit from using my power meter pedals along with Zwift however I have also wrote an article on the 6 best cadence sensors you can use along with Zwift here!
In any case, with a power meter or a speed & cadence sensor you won’t find more accurate solutions to measuring your performance that these biking accessories offer.