Power Meters and the Benefits They Cause
It is nice to have the site up and running again! I am also glad to have made the move to Austin, TX. Since moving here two months ago for work, I have been able to see interesting landmarks and natural beauties. I am thrilled that I can begin coaching again, and as a part of that, I want to start blogging. This means that I will be giving words of wisdom, my personal thoughts on products, ideas for training, and answers to any questions that you may have. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns please let me know.
Power meters are a great training tool to own. In my opinion, it is a must-have item. Throughout my growth with the sport, I have seen many variations. When working at a bike shop I could count the multiple times I was asked, “Which is the best option?” Honestly, if you ask a hundred different people you will get an array of answers. Whichever option you choose: pedal, crank, or hub, I hope that you do choose to add power to your arsenal of training products.
“Who should get a power meter?” you may ask. If you routinely ride bicycles, competitively or recreationally, I could only imagine that you want to see improvement. Power meters, if used properly, can be a valuable tool. The most efficient way to use a power meter is to look at the data and be able to understand it. It is similar to checking your bank account, if you do not look at it you will not know where you stand. There are several sources of information available that will teach you how to understand the data being presented. The most recognizable would have to be Joe Friel’s, Power Meter Handbook. It is beneficial to understand this information, but what if you do not have the time or energy to understand the material?
What value is information without it being understandable? This would be similar to you getting a CAT scan and trying to decipher it. Okay, maybe it is not that complicated, but it is important to have either a friend or coach that can track your progress for you. The data that a power meter will give at the very least is: power, cadence, and speed. These seem like simple concepts, but when you combine them they can become confusing. Anyone that has practice with these metrics is usually acceptable at discovering where a rider stands in their performance. Ultimately, the rider is the only one that can make improvements to these numbers. Now that you have a firm background into power meters, which one should you choose?
There are currently three major types on the market and a few minor ones that seem to be very reliable. One of the older and more tried and true options is hub based. This is seen mainly throughout PowerTap, PT. PT’s newest and most reasonably priced hubs are the G3. The most popular, and one of the more accurate options is crank based. There are many different crank based options out there, but for our purposes we will consider: Quarq, Pioneer, and the PT C-1. The newest option that is growing dramatically is pedal based. The two major options in the market are Garmin Vector 2 and PT P1. These are the most reasonably priced in this option and are available at many local bike shops. There are other options out there that do an amazing job, these just have the best price points, and seem to be the most accurate. With that being said, stages and SRM are the other two big power meters on the market, but most shops do not have access to them. Okay, now that we have that out of the way which one is best for you?
When someone comes to me for the first consultation to start training, one of the first questions is, what kind of accessories do you have that can help your training regimen? If their answer is along the lines of, “I’ve never used power because it is too expensive,” I let them know about hub based power meters. The PT G3 hub is the latest option, with over a decade of refinement, working with power meters. PT hubs have come a long way; I remember the first PT hub my dad had was a wired option that was a little on the heavy side. Now the hubs come in slightly heavier than an average hub, and connect to practically everything through Bluetooth and ANT+. This versatility and the price point of $600 for the hub (about $800 with spokes, rim and labor from your LBS) make it an exceptional starter option. It can be transferred between bikes with a little bit of mechanic work and peace of mind. I personally have ridden a G3 hub for three years now and have only had to replace the battery in the hub a few times. The biggest drawback to this option is also one of its highlights. This is the fact that it is laced (spoked) in a wheel. Most people will lace it on a training wheel. This is normally an aluminum rim that is sometimes heavier and often less aerodynamic. This is not a problem if you are a recreational rider, but racers have a different task at hand compared to just capturing data. If you are planning on racing, this may not be ideal unless you want to lace the hub into a nicer rim, or you would like to purchase two sets of PT hubs. Hub based power is just as accurate and a great way to get into using power, but what if you are a little more seasoned in how power works?
Most racers that I meet who are looking for power go to crank based power meters. Why wouldn’t they? Crank based options have most of the standards that all power meters follow. The three that I will discuss are: Quarq Dfour ($1180), Pioneer ($1000), and Power Tap C1 ($700). The Quarq option is great because they have made installment much easier than it has been in the past. There used to be magnets that needed to be lined up, and if the person assembling them did not know how to align them correctly, you would only end up with a $1500 normal crankset. The lowering of their price seems to be due to the surge in options that have surfaced in the last few years. Pioneer makes a great system that measures power at certain angles of your pedal stroke, and shows it to you in real time. The biggest drawback to this option is that to be able to see this information, you must purchase their computer, which adds another $300. Another major selling point is being able to use your current cranks, if they are Shimano and FSA, along with a few other brands they are adding. The final option, the PT C1 is by far the best priced option in this category. They are also the newest kids on the block though. PT has just recently pursued alternate options in power, moving from the tried and true hub, to now implementing crank and pedal based systems. These systems are ANT+ compatible. Pioneer does use their own signal for their computer, and PT and Quarq are Bluetooth compatible. The main advantage of the PT C1 is the versatility of this product, if your other bikes use the same bottom bracket. One downside is seen if you have multiple bikes that you ride in different conditions. If you have a road bike that you take on weekend rides and have a tri bike for your lunch break rides, this option may not be the best for you.
So, let’s say you are the individual that has a plethora of bikes at your disposal and you have a different ride for each day of the week. The best option for you would have to be the pedal based system. The two major ones on the market are; Garmin Vector 2 ($600 for single legged $1000 for dual legged) and the PT P1 ($1200). The Garmin Vector 2 does come in two options, which is great. If you do get the single and want to upgrade to dual it is $500. The Vector 2, like the Pioneer crank system, takes measurements from different angles of your pedal stroke. This data does not get shown to you at real time, but it is a nice feature to have so you know which part of your pedal stroke you should focus on training in the future. How does a single legged system come up with power if it is only measuring one force? The way that most companies accomplish this is by averaging the power from your leg that is being measured and doubling that number. For example, if your right leg pushes out 150 watts for three seconds, you are putting 300 watts of power total. Therefore, it is nice to have dual sided power when you can, either on crank or pedal. The other pedal system is the PT P1. Again, this is a fairly new system that PT has started to use, which is seemingly working well for its’ users. The biggest advantage for either option in the pedal based systems, is the ease of changing it from one bike to another. If you have a full stable of bikes this may be the best option, but if you have a beater road bike for the offseason, and a tri bike or a race bike for in season, these may not be the choice for you.
Power is important. It will help you reach the goals that you have set for yourself, if used correctly. This is just a brief description of each of these power meters, and I am happy to dig deeper into each one if there is a demand for it. I will continue to add to this blog as time goes on, so keep an eye out to see if a topic that sparks your interest comes up. Let me know what you would like to hear about next. Finally, the best advice I can give as far as which one is best for you is this: Go talk to your local bike shop, your friend that got you into the sport, the coach that you trust in making decisions that will help your performance. These people want to see you succeed in this sport. The further you get into it, the more you will visit the shop, and hopefully end up bringing a six-pack to your favorite mechanic as a tip. The rides will gradually get easier for you as you hit the road with with your friends, and they will ask you questions such as, “How in the world did you just kick our butts, and you just started?” Your coach will be pleased, because they can say with a smile, “I told you this was possible.” Everyone wants to see you succeed, and more importantly they want to see you finish strong!