I purchased a used cyclops trainer on ebay which displays a "Watts" measurement. I think this has something to do with power measurement, but I'm curious how I can use this to improve my very new biking skills. As a novice biker, what watts level should I be aiming for? Any advice from the gear-knowledgeable vets on the chain would be greatly appreciated. thanks.
Congratulations, your indoor workouts just got a lot more difficult, but a LOT more efficient.
Yes, "watts" refers to power. There are all sorts of ways to geek out on this measurement, but the short blurb is that it's a direct measurement of the force you put to the rear hub, and therefore is a measurement of how hard you're pedaling, regardless of wind, temperature, steepness of the hill, gearing, etc. Therefore putting out 200w on a trainer should feel the same as 200w at Hains Point should feel the same as 200w on Mt. Weather. Quantifying improvement is easier too, since it's environment-neutral. The common metric when figuring out how strong you are is "FTP" -- use that as a google term and you'll be reading for weeks.
The standard book is "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" by Andrew Coggan. 2nd ed. just came out -- it's well worth the money. Software to analyze data from your trainer (if it has ANT+, which I think it should) is available for purchase (WKO+) or for free (I use SportTracks with free add-ons).
As a novice biker, measuring your Watts is a really good way to measure progress. In your training plan, mark off "test" exercises on regular increments where you do the exact same workout, say an all-out but steady 40 minute ride, and keep track of your average wattage. As merlinkim said, wattage is always the same, so if your output increases from week to week, thats all in the engine (aka you and your legs).
One Horsepower is approximately 746 Watts. Watts and Horsepower are both measures of power output, just like the horsepower rating of your car. In this case you can boost your horsepower through training, making your bike go faster (assuming your weight and everything else remain constant).
So if you can get 250 watts, that's like 1/3 of a horsepower -- about the same as a garbage disposal or a garage door opener.
But let's see a garage door opener swim a mile.
Definitely read "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" if you are curious. By the end of the first chapter, you'll know if it's something you are interested in doing. Basically, the gist is that you can do targeted workouts to improve very specific aspects of your cycling, from sprinting up to long endurance. It's basically like training by heart rate, but the difference is that you can instantly determine changes in power, while your heart rate lags behind the effort you are doing.
If you end up with a power meter on your bike instead of just your trainer, it ends up being a very good tool to pace yourself during tris.
250 watts?!? Please. I can hold 175 during an interval workout, but top out at 200, which would make me the equivalent horsepower of a hand cranked ice cream maker. As always, thanks for all the good advice.