We studied maximal torque-velocity relationships and fatigue during short-term maximal exercise on a constant velocity cycle ergometer in 13 healthy male subjects. Maximum torque showed an inverse linear relationship to crank velocity between 60 and 160 rpm, and a direct relationship to thigh muscle volume measured by computerized tomography. Peak torque per liter thigh muscle volume (PT, N X ml-1) was related to crank velocity (CV, rpm) in the following equation: PT = 61.7 - 0.234 CV (r = 0.99). Peak power output was a parabolic function of crank velocity in individual subjects, but maximal power output was achieved at varying crank velocities in different subjects. Fiber type distribution was measured in the two subjects showing the greatest differences and demonstrated that a high proportion of type II fibers may be one factor associated with a high crank velocity for maximal power output. The decline in average power during 30 s of maximal effort was least at 60 rpm (23.7 +/- 4.6% of initial maximal power) and greatest at 140 rpm (58.7 +/- 6.5%). At 60 rpm the decline in power over 30 s was inversely related to maximal oxygen uptake (ml X min-1 X kg-1) (r = 0.69). Total work performed and plasma lactate concentration 3 min after completion of 30-s maximum effort were similar for each crank velocity.