As an absurdly buff track cyclist, German Olympic athlete Robert Forstemann has 29-inch thighs that have helped him win world championships. But are his legs strong enough to toast a slice of bread?
A short video puts him to the test:
Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts student Nathan Grossman, who made the video as a graduation project, wanted to find a new way to make people think about how much energy they actually use.
“I’ve always had an idea about doing something big about oil dependency and energy usage,” Grossman says. “But I thought talking about huge topics like this, you need at least a 58-minute documentary, and it wouldn’t be possible in the shorter format I needed for this project.”
One day at the gym, the idea came to him. “I was riding one of these exercise bikes, and I started to notice that if I really pushed, I could only generate 300 or 400 watts, and then I was very tired,” he says. “So then I went home and I started to look at all the appliances I had, and I realized that most of them used much, much more electricity than what I could power. And then we’re just talking about four seconds. So then this idea of the toaster challenge was born–what if we take some of the strongest athletes in the world and connect them to a toaster?”
When he approached Forstemann with the idea, it turned out that the cyclist had been thinking about energy use himself. “With an Olympic athlete, they train for so many hours a day, and they get a lot of time to think about what they’re doing,” Grossman says. “He said he’s been sitting on his exercise bike viewing these watts for several years, and he always thinks about what could he do with this energy.”
The answer: Not very much. Despite Forstemann’s epic strength, he could barely pedal long enough to slightly brown a piece of bread in the 700 watt toaster. To power a car, the filmmaker calculated that it would take 180 Roberts sprinting at full speed; to fly an airplane, 43,000 Roberts. It’s a visceral way to understand power ratings that are often abstract.
It’s also more fun than typical energy advocacy, and since the video launched, it quickly racked up over a million views. “I think that says a lot about the fact that there is an interest in this topic,” Grossman says. “It’s just that we need to find ways of addressing it that we alight that interest–we need to speak of these questions in a broader and more interesting way.”