It’s all about the watts

Yesterday I joined local stud Jon Watt for a 2.5-hour road ride. It was all about watts — in more way than one.

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Yellow is power. Green is cadence. Blue is speed. From the CycleOps PowerTap system.

CycleOps PowerTap rear hubs seem like the ultimate training tool. I wrote some promo copy about them on Friday, and when I met Jon for our Sunday ride, he had one. Cool! This system measures your actual wattage — the only true indicator of your power — and lets you upload the data to your computer for rocking chart action.

Our local boy Jon Watt is directly descended from the famous engineer James Watt. In the 1700s James was working with ponies lifting coal out of a coal mine, and he wanted to standardize the power made by these beasts. He found that, on average, a mine pony could lift 22,000 pounds one foot in one minute. He increased that number by 50 percent to get 33,000 foot-pounds, and he called that a horsepower.

So James Watt coined the term howsepower. 63 years after he died, the British Association named the unit of electrical power after him. Hence 100-watt bulbs and PowerTap wattage meters.

How fitting, then, that I continually asked Jon Watt what his current wattage was. Easy cruising was about 200, and carrying speed over a short rise was 300. About 35 miles into our 41-mile adventure, I was getting tired, but I saw an overpass in the distance. “Jon, this is probably a bad idea, but let’s sprint to the top.”

I took off early and gapped Jon. As I started to fizzle, he caught and passed me. We held about 900 watts for 20 seconds or so, and we peaked at about 950 watts.

A horsepower is 746 watts.

Jon fixes a flat high on Mt. Evans, the highest paved road in the U.S. What a tough day — Extreme uphill: Mt. Evans
6 replies
  1. headshot says:

    Sports Science experts at the University of Cape Towns Sports Science Institute have shown that Power Meters offer no discernible advantage over HRM’s for maximising training/performance. Nice info to have at your disposal but ultimately an expensive way to get the same results as a much cheaper HRM. Or so they say…

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Here’s another one:

    Ned Overend doesn’t use either an HRM or a power meter. Same with Brian Lopes. They go by feel. It basically comes down to:

    Ride easy for a long time
    Ride medium for a medium time
    Ride hard for a short time
    Ride very hard for a very short time

    … But gadgets are cool! 🙂

  3. Watt says:

    I agree that power meters are not necessary to be a great rider – but I do think they can be useful, and more useful than HRM’s. Here’s how I use it.

    I’m training for more XC this year. I have some data that Cat 1 road racers as well as pro xc racers can hold about 2.13 times their body weight in watts for 20 minutes. In other words, an average 150 pound pro can hold about 320 watts for about 20 minutes. Power to weight ratio is a really good predicter of race performance. I weigh 172 and can hold about 340 watts for 20 minutes. My goal is to get up to about 360 or 370. Part of my training plan will consist of doing 10 minute intervals at that 360 to 370 watt goal and hopefully watch that 10 minute time gradually increase to 20 minutes as the season goes on.

    This is just one example. I think with the right knowledge in training with power, it can be more valuable than HR. Pretty much every pro road team has changed their training regime to use power combined with HR. Us mountain bikers will soon follow I’m sure.

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