QUESTION: I’m trying to get fitter this season and hopefully ride either a gran fondo or a gravel race and do well. Everything I’m seeing says that you have to increase your wattage to ride faster. What does that mean exactly, and how do I do it? Chris P
RBR ANSWER: Wattage is the measure of how much power you are producing when you pedal your bike. If you increase your wattage, you’ll be able to ride faster because you are producing more power. It’s really just a more specific way of saying increase your fitness, unless you actually measuring your wattage with a power meter.
When I started riding in the late 80s, there wasn’t a lot of sophisticated measuring going on in cycling. Heart rate monitors were rare to non-existent because of the expense, and measuring power outside of a lab wasn’t a thing yet. Riders would train based on perceived exertion, or how hard it “felt” when they were riding. That method still works just fine, by the way!
These days, power meters that accurately measure your wattage are commonplace, and there are a big number of brands to choose from. Even if you don’t have a power meter on your bike, you might have a smart trainer that measures power when you are training indoors.
Keep in mind that what’s considered a good wattage for one rider isn’t necessarily good for a different rider. That’s because it takes more power to propel yourself if you weigh more. A bigger and heavier rider will need to generate more watts to go the same speed as a lighter rider who is riding right next to him.
So when your 6 foot 4 cycling buddy who weighs 230 pounds tells you how he was cranking out 400 watts during that last effort, you don’t necessarily need to be jealous of the raw number if you’re 5 foot 9 and only weigh 150 pounds.
What matters in cycling is the number of watts per kilogram, which takes into account a rider’s weight and size. A 90-kilogram (200-pound) rider will generate roughly twice the power of a 45-kilogram (100-pound) rider to ascend at the same speed. Watts/kilogram (pounds) will be roughly the same.
Now that you know what wattage is, how do you increase it?
The simple answer is that you train and get fitter. As your fitness improves, you’ll become more efficient at generating power on your bike, which means that you’ll be able to ride faster for longer.