QUESTION: I’ve been uploading my rides to Strava for a while now and it gives me estimated wattage, but it’s unclear to me if those numbers are any good or not compared to other riders. I’m doing ok with my times on some local segments, but what’s a good average wattage cycling in general? — Kenneth M
ANSWER: It’s unfortunately a little bit more complicated than giving you a simple wattage number, because wattage depends a lot on rider weight. A bigger rider can put out more watts than a smaller rider, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be riding faster — because it takes more watts to propel his heavier bodyweight.
A more useful way to compare “apples to apples” is to look at watts per kilogram (w/kg). That’s how much wattage you are generating for each kilogram of your body weight. If you consider those numbers, you can compare to someone who is heavier or lighter than you and see who is generating the most power by weight.
Power to weight ratio is very important in cycling, as it is in running. A lighter cyclist who can put out raw high wattage numbers is going to go a lot faster. This is why cyclists sometimes get obsessed with buying lighter cycling equipment.
But losing weight can make just as big or a bigger difference to your power to weight ratio. It’s near impossible to drop 10 pounds from your bike weight, but might be reasonable to lose that much weight from your body safely.
This Bicycling article examines the Strava results of a bunch of pro riders who have uploaded their rides and made them public. The article claims that a typical fit cyclist might be able to crank out 250 to 300 watts as an average for a 20 minute FTP (functional threshold point) test, while the pros usually average 400 watts. But this is misleading, because how much do those pros weigh, and how much does the “average cyclist” weigh?
A much more accurate way to look at it is this chart from Data Cranker, which shows the average watts per kilogram (W/kg) that cyclists at different abilities typically can maintain for time periods of 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 60 minutes.
That chart shows that a Cat 5 (lowest category) racer might be able to maintain between 2.4 to 2.9 w/kg over a 60 minute period, while an international pro could maintain a dramatically higher 5.6 w/kg or perhaps higher. If both the Cat 5 cyclist and the pro weighed 70 kilos (154 pounds), then the Cat 5 cyclist would put out an average 203 watts and the international pro would put out an average of 392 watts during a one hour period. The pro is putting out almost twice the wattage!
Do you own a smart trainer? If so, you can get an even better idea of how your wattage compares by looking at the racing category data from Zwift. Here are the categories that they recommend you race based on your FTP data and watts per kilogram.
The Zwift C category (next from the bottom) says that you should be able to ride at the level between 2.5 to 3.1 w/kg. If you want to succeed in the A category, you’ll need to be able to hit 4.0 w/kg or better. If you ride better than 6 w/kg on Zwift for any extended period in a race, they generally suspect cheating and filter you out of race results.
Rick Schultz says
As the coach states, there is a lot more to it than how simple it seems on the surface. W/KG means more when climbing. For example, my daughter raced for 1 year, went from women’s cat 4 to cat 2. At somewhere around 105 lbs, her FTP was 226w, low compared to a 190 lb male who can push out 300w. During group rides, she would draft on the flats/straights but when the hills came, with a W/KG at 4.21 (she’s right up there as an elite cat 1 female), she would accelerate away from the 190 lb guy at double the speed he could maintain in the hills.
Taking it to the next step, let’s ask the coach what a power profile is. This will tell you what type of phenotype and athlete you are, where your strengths and weaknesses are and how to train correctly. As a USAC cycling coach, we are trained to work with cyclists to get the best out of them.
So, what is a power profile and how do I get one and use it to get some gains in performance?
Yes, power to weight ratio is key. One way to increase power to weight strength is to ride with a heavier bike during training and a lighter bike during racing. There are various ways to add weight for training. One such way is to attach a weight like the one from rockbarcycling.
w/kg is only meaningful as a measurement for lighter riders with low body fat. I am surprised that amateurs keep taking it seriously. besides, there is a reason there are nearly no pros at 190+lbs – endurance cycling is biased in favor of light people.
it doesn’t bias riders with lower body fat, it biases anyone who has to climb. The only time that w/kg is useless is if you’re only riding perfectly flat (like a crit) – then you’re probably better off just throwing down loads of power. Anytime the gradient pitches up, w/kg will be, by far, the most important number
Is it passable to calculate average pawer without pawer meter
Malcolm Farrelle says
You can estimate power without a power meter using this calculator….. https://www.gribble.org/cycling/power_v_speed.html
Ross Madgwick says
I was thinking on my ride this morning that the easiest way to go faster would be to get some anti gravity – i.e. negative mass. I’m a 93 kg Grand Master.
Kerry Irons says
Let’s be clear: watts/kg is what matters when climbing, but on the flats it’s pretty much just watts. Yes, a 100 kg rider will have a bigger profile into the wind, but if they have the same watts/kg as a 50 kg rider, they will blow away the lighter rider on the flats. These two hypothetical riders would probably be even on a climb but no comparison on a flat road.
W/kg matters significantly also on the flats. It matters more on the climbs.
Derek Someda says
entirely correct. Power in cars determines top speed not lbs/hp. Most people simplify this because they can weigh easily and many apps or meters can measure power. Your aero drag (cdxsurface area)/power determines speed in a time trial. Aero is a much more difficult meaurement. Statements above, such as pro power/weight makes you a lot faster is untrue.in 4 of 5 scenarios. Consider these 3 other examples vs just uphill. A light 130lb pro climber cannot usually outsprint the heavier sprinters because ultimate power is less and top speed will favor ultimate power not powewr/weight. If one did a straight net downhill stage race it would favor the heavy rider. A time trial over a course with no NET elevation change(every race that is not a stage w different start and end location) will favor the heavy rider. The stronger the wind the more it will favor the heavier rider. This assumes same power/weight and fitness. I used to race and these are my excuses for being so slow at 106 lbs in time trials in windy Hawaii. My brother weighed 160 and I could never keep up on flats even though he was 5 inches taller. Ex aerospace Engineer. Aero conquers all and weight is only a small 2nd order effect on speed for closed couses. (almost every race situation due to logistics of transport riders back to start). Wife and I ride tandem mtn bike 2inch 26 inch cross tread tires and go downhill (6 percent grade) faster than all aero single bikes but we have poor power/weight and get caught uphill but then on the flats we do okay.
Ah I learned something new today that big is good in a headwind kinda discouraging for a little guy living in windy northern Scotland. With short stubby legs broad shoulders and a huge head! Might explain why headwinds absolutely kill me. That said, I still have the advantage on hills and we got plenty of those. And with the 250W e bike my 65KG self should rocket past 100KG peers on the hills.
Ralph Barone says
What counts on the hills is W/kg. What counts on the flats is W/sq m of frontal area.
Doug Stiebler says
The easiest way for most riders, even pros, to increase the power to weight ratio (Watts/kg) and thus ride faster, is to lose body fat Increasing muscle mass also helps, but it is much easier and quicker to lose body fat. For an endurance rider, training slow twitch fibers, which includes increasing the number and size of mitochondria, is most important. For a sprinter, increasing fast twitch fibers is more important. There are endless ways to enable these changes through training; well beyond this discussion.
Ralph Barone is mostly correct about W/kg and W/sq m of frontal area. Generally, taller riders have less frontal area relative to power; resulting in greater W/sq m. However, there are exceptions to how this affects ITT performance. For example: Remco Evenepoel, (19 yrs, 67 inches tall, 134 lbs) was second to Rohan Dennis (29 yrs, 72 inches, 156 lbs) in the World ITT championships.
This article should have started by saying that Strava power estimates are very inaccurate.
The only meaningful way to use power for cycling is use a power meter.
Erlend Sæteren says
I think Strava power estimate gets to high when you carry high speed into a short climb, and gets more accurate if you start a climb at climbspeed or if the climb is so long that climbspeed dominates.
David L says
Probably the most important aspect of Kenneth M question is he asked is what’s a good average wattage cycling in general? It has already been stated there’s a lot that goes into that answer and one crucial question is what is his age? A guy in his 60’s (as I am) is not going to have as much power as someone in their 30’s or 40’s. I’m not nearly as strong a rider now as twenty years ago and I ride and train a lot. That’s why sporting events have age groups. So my suggestion is if your an older guy trying to keep up with a younger group, find a group closer to your age or get an ebike. That’s what I’m doing. I still ride and train on my regular bike and I still enjoy doing longer and faster rides with my local cycling shop rides of which I get droped especially during the really hot and humid days. With my ebike I can still enjoy what I’ve always loved.
JIM TAYLOR says
That’s awesome! I’m with you! I’m 60 and just got an Ebike but still do my training on a normal bike. .
Roger Phelps says
I suppose an ebike will help on hills but in most places they are limited to 25kph or just over 15 mph so no help on the flat.
I’m 71 since NOV. I have a few bikes. You name it MTB’s ,TT, RD’s, GRAV, BENT . I enjoy the variety . I trailed unintentionally an e-bike couple riding my aero bike i admit. At a higher than normal cadence they were done @ 8 miles later. They politely signaled me to past. I thanked them for helping me.
I’m looking at buying a new smart trainer and have found that power accuracy ranges between 0.5 and 2.5% for a lot of the top trainers. I was just wondering how big a difference this would make to an accurate FTP reading?
It would make between 0.5 and 2.5% difference in your FTP reading.
Actually, it will not really matter as long as you train with the same setup. Eventually, if you do get a Powermeter the real value will show up, and then you will be able to modify accordingly your power in order to train withthe correct value.
Well, the question is specific to accuracy of the FTP reading, not the accuracy of the implementation of the FTP reading. But I agree, and good point. However, I just wish to clarify. Smart trainers are power meters, and power meters on bikes aren’t necessarily any more accurate. However, there is a difference between trainer FTP and real life FTP, because real life, your body can move around more, and engage muscles in a different way to some extent. This is well documented, and although not well understood, typically people find greater FTP out on the road when compared to on a trainer. For me, as traditionally more of a mountain biker, I think it makes even more of a difference because I would move my body around on the MTB a lot more than I do on my road bike. So the FTP from trainer to bike to bike can all be quite different. In addition, I find I am much more useful on the trainer in the evenings compared to mornings. My point being, the accuracy of the FTP test based on measurement error of the device is well less important than all of these other considerations. Which brings back to your point; as long as you keep the measurement method consistent, and understand the differences from device to bike to time of day, etc.
Andy McCormick says
W/Kg is key. And good form. And a properly fit bike. Too many riders obsess about FTP, and max output potential –but the metric doesn’t translate well to performance or competitive endurance estimates by itself. Look at everything. Go global!
And then there is Mathieu van der Poel
Erlend Sæteren says
I like to look at the watt-estimations form younger and lighter riders on Strava. I am 59 years, 104 kg heavy and not close to their speed. The watt is somewhat closer. It gives me satisfaction when i see my watt is not much behind very fast riders and I think its a sign that says I can partially close the gap when I get lighter. I am not a skilled biker, and do not dare fast cornering, but I like to push my limits. Sometimes Strava says my watt is above 500 in a 40 second climb, This is probably wrong, because I carried speed from descent, 330watt is strong for me when starting a climb in low speed.
It’s interesting but only useful to brag. what really matters is improvement. Measure, set a goal, train and repeat.
I’m an avid cyclist weekend warrior ( mtb, gravel and road). Usually and consistently put out 3.50-3.60 watts/kg. I weigh 137 lbs (using a Quarq Q power meter and HRM). TBH, I’m not much of a numbers guy, but it’s interesting to know this number for me as I do a lot of climbing. I really don’t know if my w/kg is good or just okay for my fitness level and age (48).
Cathal Kenneally says
I’m 15 stone and suffer from COPD but I don’t let it stop from riding. According to my Garmin Edge 530 my FTP is 200 watts but I don’t use a power meter on any of my bikes. I have a Wahoo smart trainer for winter training and it gives me satisfaction because you read power data from it, even though I don’t use Zwift. I am thinking of investing in power pedals. I struggle climbing hills obviously but that’s to do with my weight as well as my condition. I find that cycling improves my breathing so I can’t complain.
It’s low impact, as costly as you want it to be but most of all it’s enjoyable.
Doggo McBride says
At 49 I can manage 2.5 w/kg over an hour. Might be able to push it higher but I don’t do any formal training right now, I just ride.
I think the question what a „good wattage“ would be is irrelevant for recreational riders. Still, I do use power pedals on my bike, as they allow me to better control my power output and not get wasted too early, or just train way too hard all the time. When not doing any specific workout, I try to stay within 70-90% of my FTP and I find a 30 second and 5 minute average quite usful to monitor this. I am not interested in competition with others, just with myself. I am rewarding myself with the improvements I may be able to achieve. in fitness and eventually health in the long run.