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Compared: one hill, one ride, this day
- SlingShot

this page last updated: 02/01/2015 10:39:12 PM

It's the warmup. Gary The Bull is beside me spinning up the first slight incline.

I mention Zirra's performance numbers from this same ride the week before, and Gary's head snaps to the side, "What?!! 330 watts... Average?!!"

"Yes, with a 1600 watt max."

He almost crashes.

Finally, we were on a ride with somebody who has a power meter... and a clue.

Gary knew exactly what those numbers meant. Everybody else who was on the ride with Zirra the previous week had not a guess about what they meant, because Zirra was so far behind by the end of the ride they assumed it meant his performance was weak.

Not likely.

For those who have not been training with a power meter: Floyd Landis has reported his typical workout averages 280 watts  with maybe 324 watts for the last two hours.

The next time I got Gary to snap his head and almost crash was when I continued by mentioning Mary's last six mile interval of the Hump a few days earlier.

Gary said politely, "Hmm, yes. 20+ miles an hour. Very nice..."

Then snap, "68? Did you say 68 watts?!"

Even for people who have a power meter and understand the numbers, the reality of people's effort on rides, with the simple physics and simpler mechanics revealed by an objective data source, is still surprising.

Power meters on rides are very new, and the old ways of looking at things are very entrenched.

Did you think you beat Zirra on that ride simply because he was behind you?

Did Mary put in a relatively strong performance simply because she averaged 20+ mph over that last six miles?

People are so accustomed to having absolutely no objective data about their rides, they take for granted their reliance on indices of performance based on magic, puffery, and metaphysics.

"We rode hard and fast, because it felt hard and fast," or "I think, therefore I am," or "It is, because I think it is," and the old standard, "If Bob just rode a little smarter, he could finish with the group."

In any case, on this day's ride with Gary The Bull we finally got a chance to have an objective comparison of two people of differing weights riding next to each other on the same hill. I was giddy with excitement.

In fact I was so giddy, afterwards Gary commented to somebody, "I didn't even know Bob could talk. He's never said more than a dozen words to me total."

Actually I was not talking. I was listening.

I was trying to pry every little bit of information out his head that might have relevance to the 23+ Widder's Hump, and I just wanted to be able to record a simple little comparison.

One hill, on one ride, on this day.


  Mary Gary
Body Weight 124 178
Average watts 189 225
Maximum watts 283 335
Average Cadence 97 75
Max Cadence 143 92
Distance (mi) 1.09 1.077
Time 4.04 4.05

This climb was completed with Mary and Gary talking easily to each other for the entire climb. The effort would have provided a 20+ mph average for the Hump, but most people would think that would be impossible at such an easy effort level.

That's because most people feel the need to overwork several of the earlier hills, then maintain their blow-up for the remainder of the 34.2 mile course.

As for the interval outlined in the table above, it is the hill past the silo that gives the Silence of the Lambs ride its name, and it is rather mild.

However, the hill is long enough and regular enough to make a good test track. That section is just a little over a mile long.

I set up the test by telling Gary, "Mary will start an interval just before the silo. You set your own interval and pace beside her up to the stop sign."

Mary was to go easy holding an average of 175 watts. We wanted to see how many more watts Gary would need to consume over the same incline, at the same pace, for the same time and distance.

The simple comparison table above was culled from several they-blinded-me-with-science charts and graphs derived from two separate measuring systems plus a third party training software.

Mary was riding with a Powertap using two CPU's, because one CPU alone does not show current and average watts at the same time.

Gary was using an SRM. The third party software allowed me to look at his e-mailed numbers.

Here's a screen shot of the basis for the numbers above. Gary's on top, Mary's is behind.

Screenshot of two ways to view the same event: one hill, one ride, this day.

What seems to be still missing in people's understanding of this natural process is the simple fact that watts is watts is watts, and a given average number of watts will equal a very specific speed over a circular course where the finish is the same elevation as the start.

Doing a circuit will assure a wind assist equals out the other side's wind resist, and the downhills make up for the uphills... so long as you keep your watts going.

What's the advantage of this? If you have a given goal speed, you don't have to guess what the effort should be... ever. If you know exactly how hard you can push for how long, you never have to worry about overdoing it... ever.

It is easy to see how the overdone flurry of info in the chartography above aids in hiding the fact that this is a rather simple matter.

The significant numbers are derived easily by understanding the most basic elements of high school classical physics along with kindergarten mechanics. It ain't rocket science.

Gary had one final shock when he realized that Mary had been staying on his wheel toward the end of the ride and that she was using only 40 watts, while he was pushing hard to catch somebody in a breakaway.

He said, "I looked around and couldn't believe Mary was still on my wheel... huh? 40 watts?!! NO WAY."

That serves to point out just how counterintuitive this can be, even for a 9/11 fireman hero who has a permanent problem breathing thanks to his efforts saving human life, plus two marathons under his belt this year before injuring his foot which is now almost recovered enough for us not to be riding with him again.

Gary commented that since he got his power meter, differences in draft and lead still surprise him, "I always knew there was a difference. I just can't get over how big the difference is."

Even somebody with the technology and the understanding of what the numbers mean finds it hard to believe what objective data reveals about the simple facts on the ground.

I often see people "pushing" against perceived effort, instead of accommodating the actual requirement. Doing that is following an old school process that has not yet caught up to the new tools which provide objective reliable repeatable results.

Typically people describe their improvement based on "how hard" their workouts are, rather than how much easier their rides are getting.

Listen up folks, you can continue making things harder and harder for yourself for as long as you like, but it is a process which is not necessarily making you healthier, stronger, or (worse yet) faster. It is just calming you in your belief that you "must" be stronger and healthier and faster, because of how hard you are working.

There's a lot more to speed than power.

We haven't even gotten to the gains that can be had merely by not putting back pressure into your pedal stroke, which might just be an artifact of your overwhelming perception that a given "speed" should feel "hard" to a given degree, and you are going to put it there yourself, if it doesn't come from the outside world.

Using the available tools correctly can provide gains well beyond a mere improvement in strength, or threshold.

Mary's watts for the comparison interval were 189 (well over her 175 watt target for it), because her newly improved movement in her left hip has given her extra watts at the same perceived level of exertion.

In fact she spent the entire interval trying to ease off the effort and lower her watts, but they were just too easy. Think about that folks: a 20+ mph pace, "...just too easy."

Efficiency and awareness is the name of this game, and it is not for everybody.


this page last updated: 02/01/2015 10:39:12 PM

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