Wattage Testing For Dorks

11.11.2005 | 8:02 pm

Today, I have some great news, some good news, and some more good news.


Great News

About two years ago, my wife found out she had breast cancer. About a year ago, she finished up her treatment: surgery and chemo. Yesterday afternoon, she got back the results of her 1-year followup appointment.

She’s clean!

Of course, she’s still high risk for the next four years or so, but decreasingly so. I hate to say we’re out of the woods, but it sure feels like it.



Good News

My wife’s actually feeling a little under the weather today, so I took the day off for her to rest and recover, and for me to play with the kids.

Later this afternoon, she’ll probably go to see the new Sense and Sensibility movie with a friend.

Why is this good news? Well, since I’ll be watching the kids, I don’t have to go see Sense and Sensibility, of course: I get brownie points for being a good husband and  I get to avoid a movie I desperately want to not see.


More Good News

The only thing is, I’m not going to have time to write the Fat Cyclist entry I had planned for today. Luckily, yesterday Dug sent me an email talking about finding out what his wattage output is. I think that most cyclists — and especially anyone who has read Lance Armstrong’s War (recommended, by the way) — have wondered what their wattage is, so I was interested in what the test was like.

Plus, Dug’s a good writer, in spite of his churlish nature. And when I asked him nicely, he even cleaned it up, adding proper capitalization and punctuation.

Take it away, Dug.


Wattage Testing For Dorks

When Lance Armstrong won the Alpe de Huez time trial a few years ago, he maintained a sustained wattage output of over 400 watts, for something like 32 minutes. The rest of the top 20 in the elite pro peloton average about 10 percent less. I only mention this as a way of pointing out that you and I both suck. It doesn’t matter how much better than me you are, or how much better than you I am. Comparatively speaking, we all suck. But sometimes we forget. Well, I do anyway.

Last night, I was forcibly reminded.

My wife signed us up for a 4 month winter spin class at her gym. I’ve never been one for structured classes or exercise, but this was something we could do together, and would help me maintain some fitness through the winter. Plus, she has just finished some kind of personal trainer workout/eating program, and she is taking great delight in the fact that her body fat percentage is lower than mine. So I agreed to this spin class, knowing they’d test us for wattage, and I’d be able to lord my wattage numbers over her.

I’m pathetic.

I hate tests. When they made me swim a mile at scout camp, they had to throw me in the lake and guard the dock so I wouldn’t get out of the water; I did the sidestroke, just so they’d have to stand there for entire two hours while I swam. But this wattage test was also something I could email to Fatty, and tell him I had more voltage — or ohms, or amperes, or whatever — than he has.


State of the Art Facility

Kim and I went to the trainer’s house for the test: me with my Cannondale RX2000, Kim with a friend’s Bianchi Pantani special, and our new heart rate monitors (still in the box). They oooh’d and aaaah’d over the Bianchi…until they realized it was borrowed. And too big for Kim. They took Kim downstairs, and put me in the laundry room. They had a trainer set up (next to the dirty clothes hamper), hooked to a laptop (which was resting on the Maytag washing machine).

Really elegant, very professional.

Coach put my bike in the stand, hooked a backup heart rate monitor to my earlobe, and told me to warm up. While I was spinning, he asked if I’d done any racing lately, and I told him I’d done the Snowbird hillclimb in September. Based on my finish time, he guessed I could do about 290 watts. I had no reference for this number, except Lance Armstrong’s numbers on Alpe de Huez, which didn’t really make me feel good.


All Is Vanity

I got set up in the right gear, big ring, about 5 down in the back, and coach told me to spin at 16mph (the laptop on his washing machine in front of me gave the speed). I found myself trying to control the mph minutely, embarrassingly trying to impress the coach with my ability to spin at the exact speed he wanted, and I also attempted to keep my heart rate really low, and still maintain the pace.

He paid no attention at all.

Every 60 seconds, he told me to increase my speed by .5 mph, and would periodically ask me to rate my perceived exertion, which I faked as “very comfortable” every time.

At around 21mph, I found myself looking around for a place to blow my nose. On a typical ride in the canyon, I think I expel several quarts of mucous, but I wasn’t ready to foul his laundry room — yet. Clearl, he had been waiting for this, since he immediately handed me a tissue. I guess all cyclists are alike in this regard.


The Test

When we got to 25mph, I was starting to breathe pretty heavily, and was losing my form on the bike, bobbing and weaving like a dork, my heart rate up around 185. In other words, pretty standard for me. He had me pedal at 25mph for about a minute, and just as I was prepping to up the pace to 25.5mph, he told me to gear down and cool off. I protested that I still had plenty in the tank, that I could go longer, faster. He just smiled, and said, “I’ve done thousands of these, believe me, you’re done.”

“But I haven’t even gotten out of the saddle yet, I can go faster,” I pleaded.

That’s when he explained that he was measuring maximum sustained output, not just maximum output. What you can do for about 15 seconds in a sprint isn’t the kind of fitness being measured in the wattage test. It’s what you can do over a long climb — or into a headwind — that counts.

I felt a little let down, since I’d expected to go so hard I would throw up and fall off the trainer, and need to be resuscitated. I expected drama. I expected to really show how I could push myself into dangerous territory. This was all so…genteel.

Or as genteel as it could be in a laundry room.


For My Next Feat of Strength, I Shall Challenge My Kids to an Arm Wrestling Match

But I got the payoff. Kim came upstairs, and the woman with her was gushing about how well she did (Kim’s never ridden a road bike before: only mountain biking, recreationally), and how great she looked. “Yeah, but what was your wattage?” I asked.

“175. What’s yours?”

“287.” (I snickered, but only to myself—I’m not completely insane.)

“That’s great,” Kim said with a yawn. “Hey, can we get going? I’m a little light-headed; I did the test without using my asthma medication.”

I swear, I could have done 295. I swear.


  1. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 11.11.2005 | 8:10 pm

    Hmmm, I can hold 12-16 mph against a headwind with flat handlebars (no aerobars) for about 11 miles and I’m bonked! That was the last 11 of a 30 miler on varied terrain also! What kind of output does that indicate? Any idea? BTW, headwind was 20 mph, gusting to 30! Body weight 300. Just curious as you appear to know about this a whole lot more than I do! Heart rate peaked at 171.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 11.11.2005 | 8:45 pm

    Oh wow, you used the word "churlish". I’ll have to give you a prize of some sort whenever I manage to dredge up the courage to "ride with Fatty". I might have to throw down with dug, though, to find out who is the more churlish… but I’d hate to give up my email and blog addresses if it turns out that I’m nicer than him. Time to aim for a blood sugar crash!

  3. Comment by tayfuryagci | 11.11.2005 | 9:01 pm

    wattage? what is it french? :) ( french? ewwww )tayfur

  4. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 11.11.2005 | 9:18 pm

    Dug, you poor guy. Your wife scored the fasted slam-dunk I have heard of in months.

  5. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 11.11.2005 | 9:18 pm

    Dug, you poor guy. Your wife scored the fasted slam-dunk I have heard of in months.

  6. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 11.11.2005 | 9:18 pm

    Dug, you poor guy. Your wife scored the fasted slam-dunk I have heard of in months.

  7. Comment by Big Guy on a Bicycle | 11.11.2005 | 9:19 pm

    D@mmit! A triple! Cripes, I hate that server sometimes.

  8. Comment by rich | 11.11.2005 | 9:30 pm

    hmm, so when you take a day off work, you don’t have time to write your blog. That explains a lot fatty.

  9. Comment by Zed | 11.11.2005 | 9:39 pm

    Okay, so I swear there was some formula for calculating your wattage based on ft gained-time passed-distance traveled or something. Does anyone know what that formula is? Just curious.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 11.11.2005 | 9:52 pm

    dug, what Gym?Botched

  11. Comment by Ariane | 11.11.2005 | 9:54 pm

    I have a cyclo-computer-ma-gig that came with my trainer, and supposedly it gives you your wattage. I don’t know whether it’s very accurate or not though, as it hasn’t worked very well ever since I took it into a thunder storm my first time out with it (it has some good days and some bad days… it’s not hard to tell if it’s a good or bad day though, so I keep it around as an odometer. But for example, today was a bad day; it told me that I was going sixty mph, right before resetting itself and then shutting off).

  12. Comment by Unknown | 11.11.2005 | 9:55 pm

    I’m not ashamed to say this since it’s the only thing that my wife and her sister have been talking about for months, but I think that the movie your wife is going to see is Pride and Prejudice (both titles of Jane Austen books). However, I mysteriously scored box seats to a hockey game, so no girly movie for me! :)

  13. Comment by Unknown | 11.11.2005 | 10:19 pm

    Hmm. I improvised a test using a cybex exercycle to test similar facets of my output – lactate threshold, max sustainable output, and HrMax. Warm up at 100 watts for 10 minutes. Increase resistance 25 watts every two minutes thereafter. Note the power output and the Hr where the legs begin to feel a burn – I believe that is the lactate threshhold – for me, 225 watts, 156 Hr. Note the max power you can sustain – for me, between 250 and 325, my legs were burning and getting progressively heavier, but I maintained form and my heartrate didn’t top 156. Max sustainable was probably between 250 and 275. Since the machine was maxed out and my legs were augering in after 4 or 5 minutes at 325 watts, and I still hadn’t gotten HrMax, I stood up in the saddle and sprinted, which got my heart rate up to 186, where it stayed until my legs gave out a minute later. Eureka – we have HrMax. It’s not as precise as the tests a sports MD runs, but the $200+ I saved will buy a lot of beer. Spin classes have been helping me on the hills with out-of-the-saddle climbing, since we spend 30% of every class out of the saddle. I can go indefinitely standing up now on longer, milder climbs. Watch the knees if it’s a non-bicyclist oriented spin class. A lot of aerobics instructors will tell the class to crank up the tension, and then watch with approval as the class bobs and pedal mashes their way through the workout. Which is cool for them, but if you have good form you already are pushing heavy wattage without mashing, and when you crank it up even more, ouch. Your knees will tell you the next morning if you’ve gone too hard. And every day for a week after that. I’ll do one class each week with heavy tension, one with lower tension.

  14. Comment by Unknown | 11.11.2005 | 10:22 pm

    Fatty, congrats to you and the wife. On the odd chance I find myself in church – about even odds with finding myself in a bar, actually, good Irish Catholic boy that I am – I’ll say a prayer.

  15. Comment by Unknown | 11.11.2005 | 11:18 pm

    botched, the gym is the treehouse, in draper. i don’t belong, but i’ve visited, and i can tell you that it’s the nicest gym i’ve ever been in. it feels more like a nice bar with some exercise equipment.

  16. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 11.11.2005 | 11:58 pm

    stormcrowe’ – the answer’s "e, none of the above," right?sanford – how’s your son? sorry, you probably get that a lot.tayfur – actually, "wattage" is only french if you follow it with "wah hah HAH"rich – i never figured you for the scolding schoolmarmish type. waddayaknow.big guy, big guy, big guy – dug deserves everything his wife gives him, plus $2% more.caloi-rider – if you’ve got a good long climb that you know the distance and altitude gain on, as well as how long it takes you to do it, you can use the same process low-phat describes in his blog to approximate your own wattage: http://blogs.msdn.com/ericgu/archive/2005/09/24/473683.aspxjeremy – i’m sure you’re right. in my defense, i cannot tell the difference.al – i’m having a hard time resolving the boulder-chucker with the spin-class attender.

  17. Comment by Jodi | 11.12.2005 | 12:08 am

    fatty – so so super cool amazing news about the missus. She’s suffered enough, what with being yer wife and all…(ba-da-bing)dug – you’re a great writer. For somebody who can’t manage a TiVo, I’m impressed. You may guest write on my blog any day…finally, all your dreams have been fulfilled, no?

  18. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 11.12.2005 | 12:16 am

    a.toad – if i were you, i’d assume that your bike computer is always working properly. if it says you’re going 60, then you’re going 60. if it shuts off, well, it’s time to coast for a bit.

  19. Comment by Unknown | 11.12.2005 | 12:20 am

    Fatty – I’m all out of breath becaue I just did the biggest happy dance for your wife.. and for all of you! GLORIOUS news! Tell her I send her a bazillion huggggggsssssss! Botch is very scientific. I’m going to wait for him to come along and interpret what Al said.Omigawd. I just read it again and I think I understand it! Is there any hope for me now? I’m trying to figure out how I could figure my wattage on this Huffy exercise bike… it’s old… not even electronic but it has the coolest wheel! The timer and odomoter don’t even work, but it does have my alterations and additions that allow me to surf while cycing, or cycle while surfing, so it’s wonderful.

  20. Comment by Unknown | 11.12.2005 | 12:24 am

    Well, shoot… I forgot to even mention that dug’s blog on Fatty’s blog was great. Leave it to Fatty to figure out a way to get that boy blogging!Thanks, dug! Your blog on Fatty’s blog was super! You ought to have a blog yourself! (Now THERE is a new and novel concept, eh?)Hugs,MuMo

  21. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 11.12.2005 | 2:36 am

    I found a watt calculator engine for cycling through google. I’m not sure of the accuracy, but the caloric burn rate matches what tools I have give me! URL is:http://www.kreuzotter.de/english/espeed.htm so use it in good health!

  22. Comment by EricGu | 11.12.2005 | 2:56 am

    Note that my method will only give you your climbing wattage – it will ignore other factors. I’d be really curious how your wattage measurement compares to the wattage that you’d calculate from your last trip up the zoo. Oh, and it’s "Pride and Prejudice", you insensitive neanderthal.

  23. Comment by Unknown | 11.12.2005 | 3:17 am

    MM – sorry. I’ll explain that testing in non-technical terms, so a lay person can understand it. To train better to be a fitter fat rider, I need to use a heart rate monitor. To use the monitor effectively, I have to know how much my heart & lungs can put out. Going slow and steady builds up a good fitness base, and helps you build speed later. But going slow isn’t enough, otherwise I’d be the second coming of Eddie Mercx.. What matters, is keep your heart rate in a slightly elevated, but not too high, nor too low. It’s the Goldilocks’ porridge of training. You don’t want to go too fast, otherwise you don’t build an "aerobic base," and you don’t want to go too slow, otherwise you’ll only be in shape to pedal out to the pub for a pack of crisps and a lager. As a "re-entry" cyclist, 38, and fat as a monk, I need to be able to precisely calibrate my workouts and heartrate to one of five output zones – 1) feeling slight twinges in my chest and a general sense of unease; 2) panting; 3) thinks he’s having a heart attack; 4) left arm has gone numb, mild delusional disorder; and, 5) No officer, I have no idea where the dead fat guy in tight lycra came from, can I have his bike? These five levels are derived in part from Joe Friel’s Racer’s Training Bible, and partly from the consumer warning labels on cigarette packs and chainsaws. Most riding for somebody in my condition – which is to say medium bad – should be in zone 2 and 3, and in the two months or so before racing season starts, should ramp up into the defibrillator zones 4 and 5. It also has to be "periodized," which means that you ride a couple days at numb left arm level, reduce it to panting level for a few days, then try to give yourself a heart attack for a week. After that, you do what’s called a "taper" for the week before a race. I’m not exactly sure how to "taper," but since a taper is a burning torch, I believe the term refers to smoking cigarettes and drinking a lot of grappa, which is how the great Il Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi, used to prepare for his races. That, and amphetamines. I am *so* looking forward to tapering before my first race. To be able to precisely calibrate the suckitude of one’s rides, one has to know how fast one’s heart can go before it starts to smoke and make grinding noises (Heartrate Maximum, or HrMax); how fast it can go while losing cardiac rhythm ever so slightly, with eyes crossed (maximum sustainable power output); and how long one could go on thinking one was having a heart attack but actually riding along steadily and merely suffering the side effects of Gu2O and Hammer Gel on a stomach long soured by bourbon consumption – that’s the the lactic acid threshold. As I understand it, scientists define the lactic acid threshold as that place where elves start to hit you in the lower thigh with broomsticks and two-by-fours with nails in the ends of them. I wouldn’t know, since by the time I reach the lactic acid threshold, I’m usually hallucinating or sobbing uncontrollably. You can tell you are passing the lactic acid threshold for real, twaddle aside, because your legs start to burn, and if you pass it fast and hard enough, you will want to throw up. Basically, lactosis, going too far past the threshold for too long, is how skinny guys feel when I pass them on hills – weak, heavy legged, and nauseous. Actually that’s usually a pre-condition they need to be suffering for me to pass them. But I digress. Ideally you want your long slow training rides to be in the "aerobic zone" a little below the lactic acid threshold level, 70-75% of HrMax or a little more, since when the elves start whacking your legs, your muscles stop thinking about what they are doing, they get all undisciplined, they quit asking your stomach and pie hole for more food, and they start eating each other. Presumably, if it gets bad enough, your legs will actually detach from your body, jam themselves into another rider’s spokes, and when he goes down they will feast on him zombie-style as if they were in that famed horror movie, "Peleton of the Dead," aka Vuelta Espana ‘05. And we wouldn’t want that. Does that clear things up for you MM? And as for you Fatty, it shouldn’t be hard to picture me throwing rocks or in spin class. First off, one side of my family has a lot of Scots in it, and they specialize in sports requiring the throwing of weighty things, like cabers, rocks, and other people in a bar fight. Second, five words: young, spandex, women, nubile, bicycles. It’s like an acrostic word jumble. You figure it out.

  24. Comment by Sue | 11.12.2005 | 6:48 am

    Al–Just ask fatty’s trainer how to properly taper.MuMo–don’t look Al directly in the eyes. . .his letcherous zombie legs might throw a cycle trainer at you.BotchedP.S. Fatty, if you have another insult contest, can I re-enter this comment? I don’t think I’ll ever come up with anything better than that.

  25. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 11.12.2005 | 10:10 am

    So dug, when you take respective body weights into consideration (power to weight and all that), I’ll bet she cleaned you clock, and your watch, and the mule you rode in on. It’s no wonder you don’t have any capital letters in your name.

  26. Comment by Scooter's Mommy | 11.12.2005 | 12:31 pm

    The only hope I have of wattage is making a teeth-cleaning appointment with the dentist! You’ll have to have your wife post how she liked the new Sense & Sensibility movie–I’m curious for a review.

  27. Comment by Unknown | 11.12.2005 | 5:01 pm

    Wattage?Maybe micro-wattage, in my case. When I returned to cycling after many years off, I didn’t realize how much power I had lost. Until the first hill I came to. Reality slap. Hard.My new girlfriend (now Fiance, or She Who Must Be Obeyed) went out for a cruise around the neighborhood, me on my new Rockhopper, her on a rusty old K-Mart mtb piece-o-dung. We live in a hilly town, so no matter which way you go, you eventually have to do some climbing. Well, she headed down first. Ok, I’ll let her pick the route. To make a long boring post less tedious, she went quite a ways down hill. I overtook her, then decided it was time to head back up. First short, block long, not very steep incline left me cooked. It felt like I had just dueled with Lance himself on some TDF climb.So, a switch in tactics was in order. Cut acrossed flat street, then up. Same result. To add insult to injury, SWMBO road away from me with ease. On the last steep climb, I stalled. Luckily she was waaaay ahead on this one.I stopped and walked. When I feebly got to the top, she asked why I was walking. " Dropped the chain when I tried to shift to the big ring. Won’t do that again" as I pretended to mess with to front deraillure. She never suspected a thing, as it was flat the last few blocks home. At least if she did, she never let on.A keeper.The good thing is, my fitness and power have come along way back due to some diligent training and weight loss.Boz

  28. Comment by tayfuryagci | 11.12.2005 | 7:05 pm

    WATTAGE AH HAH HA!I’m still left back at the "Eww is that french?" stuff. :Dtayfur

  29. Comment by Unknown | 11.13.2005 | 8:04 am

    Hey, Al! That was truly enlightening! What scared me before was that I understood the previous explanation the second time I read it, but I did find your explanation up to your usual standard of bushwah combined with bravado and amusement combined with enlightenment. So I’m feeling pretty cool just now and I have a certain smirk and tilt of the chin. Congrats on your big win and your new bike bag, by the way. I don’t know if I said that before, but it was thrilling.This was definitely the whole Maviva!Hugs,MuMo

  30. Comment by Unknown | 11.13.2005 | 9:50 pm

    Fatty – Thanks for your nice comment about my Blog Dictionary, which has now become everyone’s blog dictionary. Yesterday afternoon I read a definition of one word on Space of Grace, I think it was (I gave credit for it) and my brain started going and I could not stop thinking of more words, so I started making the dictionary and then I also couldn’t stop that. And today other people (first BigMike in my email and then more and more in comments) came along to help, so there are now two addendums, and lots more words added to the original. I’m color-coding them in the original so people who have already read it can figure out what’s new.Botched – I laughed my hiney off at your comment about not looking Al in the eyes. Your usual great stuff, eh? LOLOLOL!!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~I have decided to start calling my exercise bike a "trainer" just to be in the "in" crowd… sort of like a groupie. Okay… I guess I AM a groupie… LOL! So if I’m a Fatty Groupie, is that a Froupie? And an ordinary groupie would be a Bloupie? (Stop me before I define again!)Hugs,MuMo

  31. Comment by Unknown | 11.13.2005 | 11:43 pm

    dug..dug..dug. How does she put up with you? 295, indeed!Al–I would ride with you anytime. I have always wondered what baby-head boulders look like going through automobile glass. Hmmm…do you throw stuff at the instructor in spin class? Geez, what would happen if she played some mellow smooth jazz as a warm down and you had to harsh on her for such egrigiousness?I purposely re-programmed my cyclo-computer to read 30% higher than actual in order to ward off old age. I am avidly subscribe to the addage: "you are only as old as your cyclocomputer says you are." I ride alone so as not to disrupt my ruse.

  32. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 11.14.2005 | 12:07 am

    Rocky – you’re only as old as the person you feel. That’s why I married a girl over 5 years younger. It’s probably the only reason I’m not in a high risk heart attack group right now.

  33. Comment by Unknown | 11.14.2005 | 2:04 am

    Rocky, I haven’t dared to mess with the spin instructor. That little 110 pound redhead is in a position to hurt me much worse than I could hurt her. But yeah, if she whipped out the Kenny G after a "hill" workout, I’d take a chance, throw the gloves down and call her out. Some things, you just don’t do. Grover Washington, Luther Vandross, Pink Floyd, maybe even Enigma, fine. But Michael Bolton or John Tesh? I’d have to speak some truth to power there…

  34. Comment by Unknown | 11.14.2005 | 4:24 am

    dug…what does the little woman weigh, anyways? There is that strength-to-weight ratio thingy and a 175 might just put her in the driver’s seat…

  35. Comment by Unknown | 11.14.2005 | 4:44 am

    Al–wouldn’t it suck if, in throwing down your gloves, little miss red head dismounts her spin cycle and proceeds to drop you like a bag of dirt? I went to a couple of spin classes with my wife last year–I don’t know what that pixie was on–pixie dust I reckon, but whatever it was, I want some. Geez, I thought I was going to hurl toe nails after that little workout. And I am quite certain she could take me.Mike–Fatty’s sister is…wait, I can’t go there. She can take me, I am sure, and since she is not amused by my tnedency to use her as material in my feeble attempts at sophomoric humor, she might just have to assert herself. I can’t take that risk. She scares me. Much more than does Fatty.

  36. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 11.14.2005 | 5:34 am

    Rocky – speak your mind. Then take your punishment like a man (cowering in the corner in the foetal position whimpering "I want my mummy").

  37. Comment by Caren | 11.14.2005 | 6:49 pm

    Great news about your wife! A one-year milestone is by no means insignificant! And clearly something to celebrate!BTW – I started participating in the Breast Cancer 3-day (yeah, we walk 60 miles over the course of 3 days, camp out each night, use lots of porta-potties and no it is not an estrogen-fest) event after learning my step-sister had breast cancer. I am a 2-year veteran who has raised over $16.5k to eradicate this disease from our lives! I am planning to walk in Seattle in August 2006! BTW – they have route safety folks riding their bikes (fully motorized by their own legs and engine)! That’s a not too subtle hint that there are other fund raising events that you allow you to ride your bike! Anyway, it would be great to see you along the route or even at a cheering station! Think about it!!!Dug – you should never underestimate the power (output) of a woman!!!Caren.


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