Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Comparative Measurements of Maximal Outputs for Cyclists

Below are two  data charts  that both show a wide spectrum of differing abilities of cyclists as athletes with different possible predicted output measurements. Not only do these charts give a snapshot view of the full range of power output of cyclists, but they can be used to help an individual realistically see where they fit into the big picture and help identify what "type" of rider they are (i.e. sprinter, time trialist, pursuit rider, kilo rider, all arounder) 

 The source of my data comes from "Power Profiling"by Andrew Coggan, Ph.D. (data can not be copyrighted, please feel free to copy and share!),  and the Bike Calculator.  A few important points to understand about the first chart (top):  The four data columns of 5 second, 1 minute, 5 minute and FT (aka: functional threshold or lactate threshold, which is the maximal effort that you can sustain for one hour plus), and all maximal expected values for that particular level (pro through non-racer).  Every individual cyclist will produce a measure  for each timed maximal effort that will chart them at different levels for that result.  For example:  a world class sprinter can not also be a world class time trialist. This is because of the physiological make up of individual athletes, where sprinters tend to have higher ratios of fast twitch muscle fibers comparative to slow twitch fibers, which favors time-trialing. 

In other words you may have a category 1 sprint, but a time trial of a category 4 or vice versa.  And that's fine, but it would be very helpful to know your strengths and weakness so that you can race tactically correct.    

To see where you personally stand in the field of competitive cyclists you must know a few data points.  Namely your maximum sprint effort as described below in terms of speed or wattage,  and your 40 kilometer time trial effort in terms of speed, time or wattage, or your 5 minute maximum wattage output or laboratory measured VO2 max. 

Maximal Power Output (W/kg) via Andrew Coggan, Ph.D
Click image to enlarge.
My adjusted data chart with additional estimated maximal cycling outputs
Click image to enlarge.

This makes the first chart very valuable because it not only allows comparisons between all levels, it also  helps an individual to use their scores to identify their natural strengths and weaknesses, and to thereby train and race accordingly.

Understandably, many cyclists do not use watt meters and may not be familiar with what wattage they can generate, especially on a watts/kg scale.   I created a second chart (bottom) as a  variation of the first to show speed produced from these differing outputs and an estimate of VO2 max across the spectrum of abilities.   These 4 other data fields help illustrate the differences between cycling abilities (or levels).

I used the Bike Calculator   to predict a maximum sprint speed and a 40 kilometer time trial time result in minutes and also average speed in mph for that distance for each wattage per level.  Again, I think speed is an easier measurement to understand than wattage. 

From personal experience, I have found the Bike Calculator to be very reliable (within several seconds) for predicting 40k time trial results when using full aero gear (helmet, wheels, and bike).    

Note: For my chart above, I  used the following values,  bicycle weight: 15.5lbs, tires: tubular,  position: aerobar, grade and headwind:   0, distance:  24.85miles (40k), temperature: 75F, elevation: 100ft, and transfer efficiency:  95%. 

In order to produce a sprint number that matched my personal experience, I used results from the "bar end" position on the calculator, rather than the "drops" position because the later produced a much too high speed number.  I'm sure that this is simply because it takes much much longer than a 5 second maximal burst to reach the maximum cruising speed of that wattage.

Instead I found that the "bar ends" position matched very well (within a few 10ths of a mph) to my personal experience of doing 200 meter sprints, with a starting speed of around 20mph and sprinting as if 200 meters was the finish line.  However, it's  noteworthy to mention that the world record for sprinting, the flying 200 meters, is actually 46.7mph (9.572seconds; much faster than the top of my chart's world class level) set by Kevin Sireau from France, set in Moscow, Russia, 30May2009.  Still with that said, I would guesstimate his speed would be closer to my chart numbers with the conditions I have previously described.

The bottom chart also has an estimated VO2 max calculation value for each cycling level.   I used the American College of Sports Medicine formula:

VO2 (L/min) = 0.0108 x power (W) + 0.007 x body mass (kg)
I used the  wattage produced from the 5 minute maximum for my calculation of VO2 (L/min) and then
divided that result by the riders weight in kilograms to produce the result in ml/kg/min, which is a standard comparative measurement of VO2 max.

There are several ways in which my method for calculating VO2 max can produce error.  For example:  an unfit cyclists may only be able to ride for 3-4 minutes at their VO2 max and not 5 minutes, whereas fit riders can ride anaerobically above their VO2 max during a 5 minute effort
(most athletes can sustain a power that would elicit 105-110% of their VO2max for this duration).  The first would give a falsely low number and the second would give a falsely high number.

With that said, I still think that this chart has value for guesstimating one's own VO2 max. The only way to get an accurate measurement is in a laboratory setting and measure oxygen consumption during different work loads.

It is ideal to know your physical abilities and where you stack up against your competitors.  And of course it is desirable to have the physical advantage in a competition, but proper strategy and tactics typically (almost always in fact) trump the physical advantage alone.  To learn more about bicycle racing tactics and strategies, click here.
To learn more about aerodynamics in cycling click here.


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  3. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you. I was wondering if you might post your second chart in Excel in order that I can personalize it to my weight.

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