I am not a flier and here is my passport

There is a brouhaha brewing over on Jarvis Island. Seems like in nearly every forum I go to catch up on the happenings with Zwift, I run into this discussion. It is something I’ve noticed, but just didn’t let it get in the way of my experience. The topic is the presence of “fliers”.

A flier is someone who flies around the virtual island at speeds at or above Tour de France winning levels. This can be frustrating for other users because 1) it is hard to ride along with someone that can go that fast, and 2) it takes a good deal of the fun going for the jersey competitions when someone is posting times well above what you can. So, people are looking for ways to minimize the impact of, or better yet eliminate, the fliers.

Check out this related post: EPO – Elevation Protected from Outdoors.

Fliers come in two varieties.

Ignorant. Now, I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. Point is they are just ignorant to the way the system works. Most of these folks are using non-power based trainer or rollers. They probably do not have the right pressure in their tires or have the resistance set improperly on their trainers. This causes an inaccurate reading by the Zwift engine that calculates their power. They are amped to see themselves beating everyone on the island ignorant to the fact that it is all a virtual lie.

Cheater. I’m not sure how many of these folks are out there. My guess is the vast majority of the fliers fall in the ignorant category. However, there could be those who enter incorrect data in order to gain an advantage. For instance, Zwift uses your weight to help determine your power to weight ratio. Basically, the heavier you are, the more power you must produce to go a particular speed. A lighter person is able to reach that same speed with less power.

Things get interesting because a heavier rider can typically produce more power (assuming the same fitness level between the heavier and lighter rider).  So, if the heavier rider lies and puts the weight of the lighter rider as his own, his power to weight ratio goes into pro levels. This becomes especially noticeable on climbs.

Well, it got me to thinking. What is my power to weight ratio? I also had to consider time. You see a rider can sometimes produce very high power to weight ratios, but there is a limit to amount of time he can hold it. So, producing 1000 watts of power is very doable for a number of seconds, but to hold it for several minutes is… well, I wish!

So, I am opening the files to go on record that if you see me on the island riding a bit faster than you, I’m not a cheater, and best I can tell I am not ignorant. Here is my “electronic passport”.

Power Curve

Power Curve

Above is my Power Curve for the last six months. This includes both riding on Zwift and in the real world. I do think that reading above 1600 is bogus and due to a misconfigured power meter. My best high end power numbers in a sprint tops off around 1500 watts. As I have ridden on Zwift — especially with the Kickr trainer — I have a hard time getting over 1200 watts.

As time goes by, the numbers get even more reliable. So, my five minute time is a reasonable 390 watts. You will see that start dropping dramatically to the 30 minute level and then the bottom drops out at a little over an hour when I’m spinning along at 200 watts.

Now, on a given day, my weight fluctuates between 172 and 174 lbs. Today I weighed in at 173 — or 78.5 kg. With these two numbers I am able to determine my power to weight ratio.  So, at five minutes my power to weight ratio would be 4.97. In a sprint — for about 10 seconds — you’ll see a number like 14.02 as my watts per kilogram. Here is how the above chart would convert:

Watts per Kilogram

Watts per Kilogram

This leads us to the factor of time. This is often shown as the number next to “Functional Threshold Power” (FTP). This is the power that you should be able to hold for an hour. However, because most people don’t just go out there and ride that hard for an hour, there are tests you can do that use shorter rides to give you your FTP. Really, this doesn’t necessarily measure your ability as a cyclist. It also doesn’t mean that your test numbers will translate into an hour effort. However, it is a good benchmark to use when setting up a training plan with power.

Strava's Estimated FTP

Strava’s Estimated FTP

Thing is, I haven’t taken one of these tests in over a year. Back when I was racing I got up to 315 watts for my FTP. Last year I barely tipped 300 watts. Since I don’t know what my test results would be now days (nor do I care that much), I just follow along with Strava’s estimated FTP. It tells me that I’m clocking in at 308 watts. Based on how I’m feeling, that seems about on target with past results. However, I doubt seriously I could hold that wattage for 60 minutes. I’m guessing it would be more around 265 to 275 watts.

What does all this mean? Well, I don’t know for sure. That gives me a watts per kilogram of 3.92.

When it comes to Zwift, it means that I can knock out an 8 second Green Jersey sprint consistently and sometimes squeak into the 7 second realm. I can climb the Col d’Zwift in 53 seconds almost every time and on a good day have broken the 50 second barrier. Recently I’ve been focusing on getting my lap times down and this week knocked out a PR of 7:10. Considering my real world abilities that seems to be pretty consistent with reality.

Here is the other thing to consider… after I get that 8 second sprint, you aren’t going to see me knock out the Col d’Zwift in 50 seconds. I can put out some good amounts of wattage for short periods of time, but then my match is burned. If I ever land the triple jersey (getting all three jersey’s on the island) it is because 1) I got each jersey on different laps, and 2) the stronger guys aren’t on the island.

Oh yeah, and because there were no fliers.