Thursday, November 1, 2007

Dr. J's Tech Talk: Watt You Talkin' 'Bout Nietzsche?

Not many people realize that when Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of "The Will To Power" he was actually talking about cycling. The whole concept ended up getting misconstrued through various false interpretations, but his original point was really just that cyclists are always seeking ways to increase their Power output. In fact, legend has it that Nietzsche was actually one of the first inventors of the SRM power meter.

In Fast Freddie Nietzsche’s own words, he promotes the notion of the Will To Power by stating, "Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength — life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results"

Originally, Nietzsche 's name for this concept was "Discharge Your Strength" but he quickly changed it to "Will To Power" after he started getting some off-color responses and DNA donor inquiries.

Anyway, all "Jens Voigt as Ubermensch" philosophizing aside, Nietzsche helps us in the cycling world to understand the true importance of power and our natural desire to exert it. Interestingly, while I have not been able to locate any data on the German philosopher’s wattage numbers, it is said that his VO2 Max was phenomenal. And his famous nihilist quote “God is dead” was reportedly uttered in triumph after thrashing his training partners in a particularly brutal session of climbing intervals.

But speaking of wattage and power…I thought now would be a good time to put James Watt’s legacy into a greater scientific context so that we may better understand just how weak we all are. The term “Watt” is far simpler to unwrap than “Power” (which has more connotations than you can imagine) so let’s look at what this unit of energy, equal to one joule per second, really is.

An organization that I am involved with manufactures laser systems which have peak pulse powers on the order of >1 Terawatt, so consider this the conclusion to the earlier entry about Time that confirmed how slow we all are. For reference, a Terawatt is equal to 1 trillion watts. As Snoop says, “Don’t get mad…I’m only being real.”

A Few Examples...


60 W – The power of a typical household light bulb.
232 W – Average power output of Floyd Landis during the 2005 Tour de France.
379 W – Average power output of Floyd Landis while placing 6th in the final TT of the 2005 Tour de France.
430 W – Average power output of Ondrej Sosenka while covering a UCI record 30.8 miles in one hour.
745.7 W – 1 Horsepower.

Kilowatt (1 Thousand Watts):

1.39 kW – Per capita average power use in the U.S. in 2003.
1.7 kW - Approximate power output during the final sprint of a typical Tour de France flat stage.
2.378 kW – Average power output for 5 seconds by Manfred Neuscheler on a Bike-Ergometer. 40-200 kW – Approximate range of power output of typical automobiles.

Megawatt (1 Million Watts):

2.5 MW – Peak power output of a Blue Whale.
10.3 MW – Electrical power output of Togo.
190 MW – Peak power of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier.
900 MW – Electrical power output of a CANDU nuclear reactor.

Gigawatt (1 Billion Watts):
1.21 GW – Power needed to run the Flux Capacitor in Back To The Future.
2.074 GW – Peak power generation of Hoover Dam.
3 GW – Approximate peak power of world’s largest nuclear reactor.
12.7 GW – Average electrical power consumption of Norway in 1998.

Terawatt (1 Trillion Watts):

1 TW – Approximate peak power of femtosecond laser pulse.
1.7 TW – Average electrical power consumption of the world in 2001.
3.327 TW – Average total (gas, electricity, etc) power consumption of the U.S. in 2001.
13.5 TW – Average total power consumption of the human world in 2001.
50 to 200 TW – Rate of heat energy released by a hurricane.

Chuckawatt (1 Quadrillion Watts):

1 CW – Average power unleashed by a Chuck Norris round-house kick.

So…now we know a little more about Wattage. I don’t have the schematics for constructing a Wattage Cottage yet but I think I may wait to build one until they produce a power meter for my bike that measures Chuckawatts. So far, Jens Voigt is the only known cyclist with a CW rating and he ripped the bottom brackets out of a dozen Cervelos before they could verify the result.

But that’s a story for another time…


blue squirrel said...

nice to see your back to your ol' ways, you must of gotten out for a good ride.

CaliRado Cyclist said...

Thanks Blue.

Nothing like a Nietzsche/Voigt/Norris trifecta to knock the gloom out.


Ron said...

great post! i think the annual power consumption in the u.s might get close to chuckawatts in the near future, but it won't really reach it... it'll be an asymptote chuckawatts represents the epitome of what we all live and strive for.

biscuits and gravy said...

I used to work in a building with a terrawatt z pinch machine. When they first tested it, they made us evacuate the building. They made up some story about harmful X-rays bombarding us. Now I know they were really worried about Chuck Norris.