Monday, July 2, 2007

Cyclists = the greatest endurance athletes?

The 2007 Tour de France will be underway in about a week. Most everybody in this country quit paying attention after Sheryl Crow's boyfriend retired. ;-)

Although this is not a "bike racing" blog (see my friend Geoffrey's "Cycliste Moderne" blog for expert analysis of racing), I'd like to make note of the athleticism of bicyle athletes.

Sure, there are strongmen who could twist a bike racer into a pretzel. But if there is a more awesome display of the endurance type of human strength, I'd like somebody to point it out to me, because I'm not aware.

Consider... the participants in a multi-stage, multi-day race might ride 120 miles during a stage, over harsh terrain, with major altitude changes. (For perspective, think Boise to Stanley.) That in itself is daunting enough... but then they get up the next morning and do it again, day after day. It's a fantastic feat of strength, endurance and will power.

David Perry, the author of Bike Cult has tried to quantify it. He says:

Power is measured in watts or horsepower (746 watts = one hp). Power output can be estimated from measurements of heart rate and oxygen intake.

The average person can produce roughly 75 watts (0.1 horsepower) for several hours, and 225 watts (0.3 hp) for efforts up to a few minutes. A physically fit cyclist can generate about 375 watts (0.5 hp) for several minutes, and 525 watts (0.7 hp) for 1 minute. Top racing cyclists can produce 375 watts at a steady-state aerobic pace for several hours, 750 watts (1.0 hp) for up to ten minutes, and over 1500 watts (2.0 hp) for flat-out sprints up to about ten seconds.

In a one-hour ride, an average person on a touring bike going twelve kilometers [greenbelt speed] burns about 120 calories to produce 33 watts (0.05 hp), while a top racing cyclist can go 50 to 55 kilometers, burning 2150 calories (at 40 calories per kilometer) to produce about 575 watts (0.77 hp)

Another crazy feat of bicyclist endurance is the RAAM (Race Across America). It happens each year, in June. According to the website, "This is not a stage race like the Tour de France, where each day a set distance is covered. In RAAM the gun fires somewhere on the West Coast (Oceanside, CA in 2006) and the finishing line is over 3000 miles away, on the other side of the continent."

Each contestant chooses when to go and when to stop. Many will cover 300+ miles in a day, riding 20+ hours a day.

The "solo" record was set by Jonathan Boyer in 2006, who averaged 12.63mph, in covering 3043 miles in 10 days, 52 minutes.

Is there a greater feat of human strength and endurance?

(I've attached some photos I harvested off the web during the 2005 Tour. I wish I could give credit where credit is due; they are awesome. Click on any to see a larger view.)

No comments: