It had been 7 minutes, and we were still together, climbing fast and furiously. We had been climbing at our limit up this 8% cat 3 about 35 miles into things. The group was smashed behind us, and three of us had gone off the front. With only 90 more seconds until we got to the summit, I knew this had to be the moment to go, to turn the screws, to hit the gas. The only problem was, I felt absolutely terrible. They didn’t look much better though after a quick check, so I looked at my options. We’d been climbing steady at 380 watts for 7 minutes. If I pushed it up to 400 for even a few seconds I could probably get some daylight between us. So I pushed.
There’s something silly about 20 watts. On one hand, it’s menial, tiny, nothing. The difference between 160 and 180 watts is indistinguishable to me (even though it’s an 11% difference). But push 380 to 400 and it’s only a 5% difference and very noticeable. Like the difference between tough and soul crushing.
I cranked it up that extra 20 watts, a fraction of what we were doing, and the cracks formed. One bike length became three, and soon I was 10 seconds up the road. I backed off back down to 380w but the damage had been done. A carefully placed surge, 5% higher for 30 seconds was all it took.
Power Meters are very simply measuring devices of your power output on the bike. Much like the wattage rating on a lightbulb showing how many watts it uses for its particular brightness, power recorded from your pedaling the bike are recorded and displayed in watts. What that gives you then, is a very precise display of your exact effort at any given moment. And that’s the gold that makes you faster.
Data alone can’t make you faster though, it’s about the careful, calculated and educated application of it that makes or breaks your riding. Consider the above story. I knew a few things going into that climb:
- Exactly how many watts I could do for 8.5 minutes. Knowing what numbers you’ve done yesterday, gives you the approximate limits of what you’re capable of tomorrow.
- That a small spike in power could potentially crack someone, or defeat them mentally even if they could actually do the numbers needed.
- Even a 5% increase in power can feel unmatchable if applied at the right moment.
- Precisely how much was too much. Sure I could have stood, hammering blindly on the pedals for 10 seconds at some unknown higher number, but that could have emptied the legs, and left me vulnerable. Knowing from past experience that 400w at that moment would be sustainable for 30 seconds without crushing me completely, gave me the parameters to work with for the attack.
When you’re racing, knowledge is power. Knowing your competitors abilities and weaknesses allows you to apply pressure on those areas. Likewise, knowing your own abilities and weaknesses keeps you from hurting yourself in a way in which you won’t be able to recover.
Now of course, there is plenty of work that needs to be done beforehand to set those power baselines in your head. Training with power allows you to gather that data slowly over time, so that you do know how long you can hold certain numbers, how big of an attack you can put in and sustain, etc. In fact training is THE way in which a power meter makes you faster.
When I head out the door to train, sometimes it’s windy. Other times I’m tired. Often my legs hurt, or I didn’t eat or hydrate perfectly that day; the list goes on. There are plenty of reasons why you may not feel great on a given day. If you use a heart rate monitor you could notice that one day your heart rate is dragging, while the next day it is through the roof for the same type of effort. The body and conditions I ride in are rarely identical from one day to another, but it’s power output capabilities usually are. This then keeps me honest.
If I go out, riding into a headwind, dehydrated, with sore legs, my power shows me exactly how hard I’m pushing, even if it feels impossibly hard. When I’m looking to improve and get faster, knowing where my previous limits are helps me repeat them, and push past them. Sure, having a standard training route to test yourself on regularly is great, but given changing conditions, seasons, traffic, or varying equipment, any number of things could change how fast you go. The power meter though is never influenced by anything but your legs. If you can do 250w for 10 minutes today, next week, try for 260w. If you’re on a group ride and you get dropped on a climb doing 300w this time, next ride make sure you hover around that number.
With exact, numeric limits outlined, you can determine precisely how hard to push yourself to improve while training. Knowing where the limit is keeps you motivated, and makes goals tangible/measurable. With a power meter, you don’t waste time wondering if you’re going hard enough, or too hard. You know. You hit your targets, you find your limits, and you constantly test and push beyond them. The virtual carrot is there, waiting to be overtaken.
Power meters make you faster because they quantify your limits, and dare you to push past them.
Want to look into getting a power meter? Click HERE to find out about different options available.