Because I thought I could
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Wash DC Metro
Bikes: November, Trek OCLV, Bianchi Castro Valley commuter
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Easy way to monitor your progress: Pick a stretch of road you ride regularly, preferably with light traffic and no stops so you don't have to worry about interruptions. Time and record how long it takes you to ride it, include notes on how hard you felt you were going and wind conditions. Do this every few weeks, don't expect steady improvement (we all have off days), but do compare over one or more seasons. I use a 5 mile stretch of a local bike trail (2 low traffic road crossings), a hill climb that takes about 5 minutes, and a shorter/steeper climb (2 min). The nearest big-long hills are far enough away that I don't ride them often enough for regular tracking purposes.
You can also do a lot with time vs perceived effort (RPE). So instead of recording: "easy, hard, thought I was going to die by the end", record RPE of say, 5, 8, 9.5. Add a heart rate monitor to get measured and maybe repeatable data on how hard you are working. Add a power meter ($$$), or start with gf83's suggestion - sustained vertical ascent rate (weight of rider and bike and all gear is known) will get you into the ball park (the slower speeds when climbing take most of the aerodynamics out of the picture and simplify the calculation).
Your numbers are not horrible and there is nothing unusual about the range of apparent power numbers you are seeing, even accounting for inaccuracies in the measuring equipment. The folks with high W for 30' may have a lot of the right muscle and aerobic capacity, have many more years of riding and training, are geneticly gifted, riding particularly poorly calibrated bikes, exaggerate, or all of the above. My local Computrainer class (power-meter equpped stationary trainers with computer controlled loads, plus several riders have Powertap wheels or Quarg power-measuring cranks) has several riders with significant power ability (they're also strong on group rides and races, so it's not just an indoor effect). You can also have a different power profile (sustainable watts vs time) by training and body make up. Power/weight (W/kg) is another metric, although a lot of climbers make it up on the weight side. "Training and Racing with a Power Meter"
(Hunter & Coggan) is the bible for this, and Coggan has published tables of typical power-weight ratios at different durations for a variety of ability levels from untrained to world-class. Ignore what the other people are (or say they are) doing. Unless the power data is calibrated and automatically recorded and analyzed, someone saying they were holding 300W for 30', or 500W for 1' is guessing.