It may be a little late to add anything to your Christmas list, but if you have some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket a power meter can be a valuable investment in your training.
In my Interbike coverage I talked about some new power meters that were coming out. I recently had a few questions on lower cost options for power and the benefits of training with power so this would be a helpful guide for athletes looking to make that plunge into power training.
Winter training can be hard. The sun sets earlier, the days are colder, and El Nino is bringing a big rain stick. But this is when athletes can make big gains in fitness. Maybe you have downloaded the next big training plan, worked with a coach to set up a winter program, or finally got into the gym to start a strength training program (you really should by the way!). The big question come spring is “am I any faster?” That can be a hard one to answer. Sure we can look at our Strava times for any given segment but how do we really know if there was a bit more tailwind on that section or that your tires weren’t under-inflated that day. That is where the objectivity of a power meter can be incredibly insightful.
Power on the bike is synonymous to weight in the gym. If you go to the gym today and squat 150 pounds and go back a week later and squat 160 pounds than you know you have lifted more weight. The same applies to wattage on the bike. If you do a maximal 20-minute effort at 250 watts today and then do 260 watts for the same 20 minutes next week, then you know you improved and did more work for the same time period. In other words, you got faster! Having an objectifiable measure of performance is extremely valuable when changing or adding new aspects into your training. After all, we are all a sample size of 1 and what may have been shown to work for a group of cyclists many or many not work for you. For example, weight lifting has been shown to be beneficial and can improve performance for a lot of cyclists but power would allow you to quantify how much strength training is really benefiting you.Thankfully, power meters have been coming down in price and at this year’s Interbike trade show we saw lots of lower cost options for those cyclists wanting to make the plunge into power. One brand new product shown was the Powerbeat by Wattteam. It is a user installed, dual sided power meter, that is set to retail for $499. The Powerbeat is compatible with almost any crank on the market including carbon cranks, and is both ANT+ and bluetooth compatible. It features a rechargeable battery with about 40 hours of ride time. The install process is quite interesting given that 4iiii (more on them below) decided on not following through with their original plan of letting users or bike shops do the install. I didn’t get to see the install process first hand but the tools and videos online look to be pretty straight forward. They are set to start shipping near the end of the year so expect to see some real world testing soon. I am hoping this product lives up to its claims as it could be a very affordable way for athletes to get into a dual sided power meter.
Stages has been on the market for a few years now and continues to be a good lower cost entry into the power meter market with their left side crank arm strain gauge system. They essentially use a strain gauge attached to the left side crank arm and then double that power to account for the right leg. While this is not quite as accurate as a dual sided system, Stages has shown to be consistent and reliable allowing athletes to train with power and track changes in fitness with confidence. This year they released a carbon crank option as well as dropped the price on their entry-level units to $529. The carbon crank arm (with an interchangeable bottom bracket spindle for SRAM and FSA) starts at $629 for the crank arm and $70 for the bottom bracket spindle. The carbon products are set to begin shipping this winter or early spring. Full pricing and options are available on their website stagecycling.com.
Along the same concept of the Stages Power meter is the 4iiii Innovations Precision Power meter which is also a strain gauge attached to the left side crank arm. The main difference with the Precision is that you send in your aluminum crank arm (no carbon option yet) and they will install it for you. While this is a minor difference it can result in some cost savings since you don’t need to buy an additional crank arm. The cost of the 4iiii power meter is $399.99 and takes between 2 – 3 weeks turn around to have it installed.
Well known electronics maker Pioneer entered the power meter market a few years ago and has continued to be a very good option for athletes. Their dual sided, 12-point sided analysis power meter is only $1000 if you already own an Ultegra or Durace crankset, and this year they introduced a left side only option that starts at $800 including an Ultegra crank arm. The system can also be upgraded to a dual sided system later for a reduced cost.
Powertap has been making power meters for about as long as most of us have been riding bikes and this year they added a few new options to their time-tested power hubs. New this year was power measuring chain rings and brand new pedals. The Powertap C1 chainrings are only offered in a 110mm 5-bolt spacing as of now. This is somewhat limiting but there are still multiple crank options that are compatible. There is a full list of compatible options on their website. At $699 these enter the market as a good lower cost option for a dual sided power meter. Power tap also released their new P1 pedal system. This is a dual sided pedal based power meter system that has overcome some of the complexities of other pedal based systems. It is literally an install like any other pedal without the need for torque wrenches. It uses AAA batteries with approximately 400 hours of ride time. The cost for the P1 is $1199 which is a bit higher than the other options presented here, but the simplicity of use and dual sided function of the pedals make them a solid bargain.
The power meter market has been growing like crazy and I am sure there are other options I missed on this list. I purposely left off “pseudo” power meters that use wind resistance and body metrics to measure the forces resisting a rider instead of the force created by a rider, or mysterious HR straps that somehow estimate power output. I have found these to not be very reliable and near impossible to use for training and measuring improvement in riders.
Let me know in the comments if there are other systems I missed.