Your Peloton Screen – Resistance, Cadence and Output

Or… what do all those numbers mean?

In this post, I’ll explain what all those numbers are at the bottom of your Peloton bike’s screen. I’m going to skip the FTP and heart rate numbers… if there’s enough interest I’ll make a post about them in the future. You can use the contact form on this site to give me your feedback.

Why am I doing this? Partly to show off, I suppose. Partly to share my zeal for the Peloton bike. And partly to draw attention to my fundraising for homeless animals. If you like this post, please consider a donation to Main Line Animal Rescue. Thanks!

Before I begin, a little disclaimer: I am not a Peloton employee, spokesperson or programmer. I am a computer programmer (for whatever that’s worth), and a total nerd. If I had any inside information into Peloton I would also have agreed in the past not to disclose or discuss it.

THE PELOTON DATA DISPLAY

Peloton Screen Image

Understanding the various numbers on your Peloton bike display is key to understanding how well you’re doing. You really can’t compare your numbers to someone else for various reasons (which I’ll skip over here), but you absolutely can compare your numbers to your own past numbers (assuming you’re on the same bike, because bikes vary a great deal.)

Since you’re reading this post, I’ll skip over the part where I tell you why I think it’s important to understand these numbers, and instead dive right in. I’ll go through the numbers in rows, left-to-right within each row.

CADENCE (the big number on the left)

Cadence is how fast the pedals are turning. It’s not a measurement of how fast the wheel is turning (which is irrelevant.) A cadence of 90 rpm means that you’re turning the crank in a full 360° circle 90 times in one minute. Cadence in Peloton classes will never go over 120 (their lawyers don’t want you tipping over the bike!) or under 50 or so. (As an aside, in real world biking my cadence rarely tops 120rpm)

BEST CADENCE

Best cadence is how fast you were turning the crank at the instant you were fastest. It is not a particularly useful metric (IMHO), so it’s shown smaller than the current cadence.

AVG CADENCE

Average cadence is your average cadence over the entire ride. This number gives you a good idea about how fast you’re pedaling (more on the speed metric below). Note that some rides, such as interval rides, will have a higher average cadence that others (such as climb rides). Cadence by itself is not really a measure of fitness, but on the real road it’s good to be able to pedal fast, and as you spend more time on the Peloton bike you’ll probably see your average cadence increase across similar rides. The Peloton screen also sometimes shows green or red triangles to show if your average cadence is rising or falling over time (not over the entire ride, but rather the past few seconds).

OUTPUT (the big number in the center)

The “Output” calculation indicates how hard you’re working at the moment. It’s computed based on your cadence and your resistance (described below) and is measured in watts. Output is a measure of power, not work. Those two things may sound like the same thing, but they’re definitely not. When we speak of power, we’re talking about how hard you’re working at any given moment. When we talk about work, we are talking about how much you’ve done, total.

Output, here, is measured in watts, and is an instantaneous measure of how hard you’re working. To see how much work you’ve done since you got on the bike, you have to look lower on the display. In the world of Peloton, work is what determines where you are on the leaderboard, and is reflected in Total Output. We’ll get to that (or just click the link and be done with all this preamble).

BEST OUTPUT and AVG OUTPUT

Just as with cadence, the screen shows you the peak and average power over the ride. Peak power might give you bragging rights in your family, but it’s not very meaningful for the Peloton rider. Average output is directly related to your leaderboard, but it’s easier to use Total Output for that purpose (the relationship between the two is detailed in the Total Output section below). As with average cadence, the screen will show green or red triangles to show you how your average output is rising or falling over the short term.

Your average output predicts your total output. I’ve published a chart showing the relationship between wattage and output that you can use to see if you’re on track to meet your output goal.

RESISTANCE

This is probably the least scientific metric on the board. Resistance reflects how hard it is to turn the crank. It is measured in percent, with 100% being the maximum. Theoretically, you should not be able to pedal at 100% resistance, but due to the magic of badly calibrated bikes, some people can put up huge output numbers doing just that. As I said before, you can track your progress over time, but you need to be on the same bike to do it (and the reason being the wildly varying resistance of each bike).

From a practical perspective, it’s pretty simple. A larger resistance for a given cadence requires more power, and that is reflected in the output numbers.

BEST RESISTANCE and AVG RESISTANCE

Similar to best and average cadence and output. Not much more to be said about this. Fun fact: if you push down on the big orange knob to stop your bike, you’ll also see your “best resistance” turn to 100.

Before I go on to the bottom row, let me plug my fundraiser. On October 6th, 2018, I (along with some friends, including #CrunchyFrog and #SaucyDawg) am riding in the Main Line Animal Rescue Gran Fondo, and raising money for that animal shelter. I’m a volunteer there, and I can tell you it’s a terrific organization. Learn how a little of your money can help homeless dogs, cats, bunnies and other critters at www.TeamK9Buddy.org. The link will open in a new window so you can do that right now and then come back and finish reading here. Thanks. OK, back to the explainer…

SPEED

This number reflects an approximate speed over land if you were riding a road bike. You will see that it’s not merely a reflection of your cadence, but rather a combination of cadence and resistance. Just as you could put your road bike into a high (easy) gear and pedal your butt off without going too fast, or switch to a low (difficult) gear and go much faster while pedaling slowly, the speed metric here takes resistance into account. It’s approximate. (Anecdotally, many road riders (including yours truly) report that the Peloton’s reported speed –and, by extension, distance, are a little higher than expected.)

Although I have not nailed down the exact formula to my satisfaction yet, I’ve spent more than a little time contemplating and investigating how the peloton bike calculates speed.

DISTANCE

Shown in miles, and is a computed field reflecting speed x time. Straightforward, but only as accurate as your speed measurement.

TOTAL OUTPUT

Finally! This is the number that determines your leaderboard status. If there is a metric to track over time, it’s this one. Total output is the Peloton measurement of how much work you have done on your ride.

HOW PELOTON CALCULATES OUTPUT

Where the big Output number in the middle of the screen shows your power at a moment in time, Total Output shows work. Work is power x time. Let’s dig into this (warning: arithmetic ahead!) …

Your Total Output is shown in kilojoules. A kilojoule (“kj”) is 1000 joules. A joule is one watt in one second. So if you pedal consistently and have an average output of 100 watts, you will do 100 joules in one second.

100 watts x 1 second = 100 joules

A little simple arithmetic shows that you’ll do 1kj of work in ten seconds pedaling with 100 watts of power:

100 watts x 10 seconds = 1000 joules = 1 kilojoule (also written 1kj)

Double your power to 200 watts, and you’ll get that 1kj in only five seconds:

200 watts x 5 seconds = 1000 joules = 1 kj

So, you see, the work you do (the kj) is directly related to how hard you’re working (your wattage, computed by your cadence and resistance) and how long you are working. Your Total Output number is shown here and also on the leaderboard, and this is what determines your position there. (Note that the leaderboard value may lag just a bit from the number on the bottom of the screen, but that’s just because the leaderboard is refreshed less often).

CALORIES

Of course you want to know how many calories you’re burning! Well, good luck figuring this one out. There is a special sauce here known only to the Peloton programmers, but they have told us that it includes (and I quote them): your age, height, weight, gender, and heart rate (if you use a heart rate monitor).

If you were a Pelotoner before October 2017, you’ll remember the good old days when you could burn massive numbers of calories on the bike. The problem was that the Peloton calorie counter didn’t agree with people’s fit bits, Apple watches, etc., and Peloton felt compelled to change their secret formula to bring their numbers more in line. How accurate is it? I have no idea.

One important thing to know about calories is that your body weight is one of the factors in the calculation, so if you lose more than a couple of pounds while using the bike, you have to periodically go into your profile and update your weight there.

So, that’s it! Everything you wanted to know about all those numbers on the bottom of your Peloton screen. Before I go, let me plead one more time: I know a bunch of dogs and cats (Cooper, the dog in this photo, is one) that could really use your help. Go to TeamK9Buddy.org and make a donation.

Thanks, keep Pelotoning, and throw me a high-five if you see me out there!

— Your friend, #LeftShark

UPDATE: By request, I’ve added a little information about Metabolic Equivalents, or METs, for those who are trying to figure out how many METs they’re getting out of their rides. I’ve also started on a journey to uncover how the Peloton bike calculates speed.

14 thoughts on “Your Peloton Screen – Resistance, Cadence and Output”

  1. Pingback: How does the Peloton bike calculate average speed?

  2. Thank u thank u for all of this amazing info. I m still in need of one answer. What do I need to do to increase output. If I do what the instructor tells me and stay in the ranges of cadence and resistance – of course at the top end of those ranges , why am I not closer to the top on the leaderboard??

    1. Hi, Suzanne. Unless you’re doing Power Zone rides, you will have to adjust the cadence and/or resistance to suit your needs. When an instructor says “80 cadence, 40 resistance”, obviously that’s something that’s going to be easy for some people and pretty much impossible for others. As you ride more, you’ll learn how to modify those numbers to suit your level. My recommendation is to always try to match the cadence that’s given (even if it seems too fast — you’ll get faster!) because it often matches the beat of the music. You may need to do a bit more or less resistance to get the workout you need. Or check out Power Zone training … in that scheme, you take a test at the beginning to determine your fitness level, and then on the rides you are given a “zone” to ride in rather than an absolute resistance number to match. The bike keeps track of your zones based on how you did in the test. There’s a whole intro to power zone course on the bike you can check out to learn more.

    1. Cadence is cadence, and I think just about any bike that has a display will give you that. As for resistance, the Peloton bikes don’t to a terrific job of matching each other, let alone somebody else’s bike. I’d suggest you try a power zone ride. At the start of those rides, Matt or Denis will talk to you about finding your zones and determining what resistance each corresponds to. On the PZ rides they never talk about resistance in terms of Peloton numbers, so you should be able to follow on a bike that has a totally difference reference system for resistance. Good luck.

  3. Question. On my overview screen after a ride i see my activity on distance , time , and calories. I have noticed that these numbers will down by my next ride. I’ve contacted Peloton support and they asked me if I have calibrated my bike. I don’t think its a calibration issue. What do you think? This dosen’t seem normal. I would appreciate any input. Thank you.

  4. I notice at 42(R)/83(C) the output reads out 206. My bike at 40(R)/80(C) reads 65 output while 3 of my friends with bikes read 110 output avg at 40(R)/80(C). I bought my bike in fall od 2016 and ended up getting it replaced in early 2017 because of a faulty crank. My numbers dropped 30-35% once I got the new bike. I have contacted Peloton but they claim there is no way to standardize the bikes and that they are all within a specific range. They did send me a calibration kit but nothing has changed. So why are my numbers so much lower than other bikes? Peloton customer service claims Output/Watts is based on height and weight but I have read to the contrary in many places. IF we all ride at 40/100 or 45/80 we should all get similar outputs. Height and weights would only tie in at other metrics?
    I guess you could say I could just ride against myself but then I could have just bought a Schwinn and not spent the money on a connected bike that I could have fun with my friends on.

  5. Hi Brygs,

    Thank you for the great article. My friend and I are going back and forth about our FTP test results. How is it possible that I had a higher avg watts and total output but lower avg speed and distance? Any help on this would be great! thanks! here are the data sets:
    I had: total output 337kj, distance 8.03mi, avg output 281 watts, avg cadence 77rpm, avg resistance 61% avg speed 24.1mph
    My friend had: total output 334kj, distance 8.06mi, avg output 278 watts, avg cadence 80rpm, avg resistance 59% avg speed 24.2mph

    Thanks again

  6. Pingback: Are broken pedals a problem for Peloton bikes? Is there a Pedalgate?

  7. Why does Peloton not calculate the rider’s place on the leaderboard based upon watts per kilogram like many other platforms? wouldn’t this give a more accurate indicator of performance than raw calorific burn?

    1. I can’t speak for Peloton, but one thing that came to mind reading your question is that Peloton definitely makes an effort to downplay the (potentially) competitive potential of the platform. You very rarely hear an instructor challenge you to try to pass the person above you on the leaderboard. Competition is antithetical to the atmosphere they’re trying to create, and maybe that’s why there aren’t more ways to compare your performance to others’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *