Watts for Free

In the road cycling community, innovation creates new levels of efficiency. A fundamental measurement for cyclist is the number of watts (power) it takes to reach a specific speed. The ultimate goal is to use the least amount of watts to reach the highest speed, since more power requires more energy. If a rider cycles at an average power of 200 watts over 162 kilometers (100 mile century), then any strategy to reduce their power and maintain the same speed or achieve a higher speed while maintaining the same power gets discussed. Riding in a group and benefiting from the inherent draft is a highly practiced strategy. Done correctly, one can achieve a 30% reduction in power output on the right terrain. First lesson, when the conditions are correct and we work together we are faster as a group than as an individual.

Over a decade ago, the idea of ‘marginal gains’ was added to the cycling lexicon. Teams started seeking minor changes and additions that resulted in micro impacts on an athlete’s performance. When bundled together, a measurable net positive was evident. Strategies included, taking personal mattresses to multi-week races like the Tour de France so an athlete slept on their bed each night. Mobile kitchens and chefs were hired to prepare the athlete’s breakfast and dinner, allowing for individual dietary restrictions and meals that met the extraordinary caloric needs of a tour cyclist. Food is ready when the cyclists required, not when the hotel’s restaurant has time.

Some marginal gains strategies were beyond the capabilities of citizen cyclist to put into practice but others were easier to adopt. Cycling kits went from loose fitting two piece lycra jersey and shorts to one piece tailored sprint suits that were far more aerodynamic. Cycling helmet design evolved from a priority for ventilation to speed. Socks, shoe covers, width of handle bars, and even the bearings in the rear derailleur pulleys redesigned. These equipment updates were not required but some were almost free.

The question becomes, if we know something is faster, do we adopt it into our practice? As a professional cyclist, not evolving to capture ‘free watts’ is detrimental to long-term career opportunities. For the amateur, the selection of ‘free watts’ is personal preference.

What are known practices that would make our enterprises more effective but we choose not to adopt? Are these changes aligned with our values or do we value traditions over change? Are we comfortable with our results or are we seeking greater impact? Where does our Magnetic North (purpose, vision, mission, values) point when we consider new opportunities?

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