Pedaling Hard Enough? Three Ways to Measure Intensity

In general, the harder you pedal, the more impactful the workout. The table below, developed by Dr. Edward Coyle of the University of Texas at Austin, correlates cycling speed to calories burned. A heavier rider would burn more calories, a smaller rider would burn fewer. Generally, the calories burned will be somewhat lower indoors versus outdoors.


It’s unrealistic to go super-fast all of the time.  Most endurance athletes follow the 80/20 rule.  Developed by Matt Fitzgerald, he preaches 80 percent of training should be done at low intensity and the other 20 percent at high intensity.    Sounds good, but how do you know the difference when pedaling on a bike?

Here are three ways to gauge your effort while riding your Echelon bike:

1. Exercise Zones

In our prior post, we discussed heart rate characteristics of which cyclists should be aware.  [Check out Echelon’s heart rate monitor].  Max heart rate and resting heart rate act as bookends for controlled effort.  Exercise zones, as shown below, are one way to gauge effort.  Unlike other measures, exercise zones also factor in age.  More fit athletes may need to handicap their zones.

Source: Wikipedia

You will need to know your max heart rate to use exercise zones.  We shared this information in last week’s post.

To find your max heart rate, jump on the bike and do a ten-minute warm-up.  Next, every 30 seconds, increase by 15 watts (or 1 mph of speed).  Your max heart rate is the last 30 seconds of work before your watts decrease.

2. Rate of Perceived Exertion

Not a fan of heart rate? then Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is for you.  Swedish scientist Robert Borg created a scale to assist athletes in judging intensity.  Borg’s scale ranges from 1 -20 (often simplified 1 to 10) and describes how hard an effort should feel.


RPE demands honesty.  The great UCLA coach John Wooden remarked, “Never confuse activity with achievement.”  When riding your Echelon bike, be willing to achieve.  Rate of Perceived Exertion helps with that.

3. Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate zones demarcate effort by bookending effort levels.  Based on your maximum heart rate, the zones vary from one (easy) to zone five (maximum effort — greater than 100 percent effort).  It’s important to train in multiple zones.  The range of zones may vary (from one to six, or sometimes seven).

Avoid the dreaded zone three syndrome where you are working hard but not hard enough to force a physical change in your body.  There are times when you should need recovery after a really hard effort and times where you don’t.  Every hard effort should not be the same effort.

Use your maximum and resting heart rate to setup your heart rate training zones.


Knowing your heart rate zones, allow you to ride according to your ability level.  Next time you’re on the Echelon bike, check out one of Randall’s classes.  When you hear him call out a zone, you’ll be able to adjust appropriately.

Author: Dru Cycles