“Power” is easily one of the most talked-about topics in our industry at the moment—either by proponents of measuring power performance or by the rapidly dwindling group of skeptics. More and more cyclists are ready to take their training and performance to the next level, and with the help of an expanding number of power meters available, that next level is now within reach to a larger demographic than ever before.
Train By Numbers
Cyclists of all skill levels and disciplines of the sport are quickly realizing the benefits of training with power and knowing their numbers. By harnessing the data that power meters measure and calculating their wattage outputs, riders are able to track their performance throughout a single ride, a weekend of racing, or an entire season. Knowing key pieces of information such as functional threshold power (FTP) or different training zones can make a noticeable and measurable difference in a training regimen and racing performance.
The biggest benefit of measuring power is that the numbers measured by a power meter aren’t subject to other variables that more common training tools like heart rate monitors are. Power is constant. The ability to set and achieve goals, measure performance in the moment, and know that the most recent race result was that best that could have possibly been achieved has won many people over to the idea of training with power.
A Brief History Of Power
Historically, training with power was reserved only for professional cyclists or those that could afford the astronomical price tags that early power meters carried. Those days are quickly becoming a fleeting memory, however, as measuring power is becoming more attainable then ever before. Additionally, as more brands have developed devices, power meters are now a central part of training plans across all skill levels.
When power meters were first introduced, they were marketed towards those wanting to secure their place at the front of the peloton—be it in their local scene or on the World Tour circuit. With the recent increase in affordability, however, power meters have been opened up to new user groups. From gran fondo riders to cyclocross and gravel junkies to mountain bikers and track racers, it seems that riders from every discipline of cycling are now training more precisely with power. These devices have become so attainable, in fact, that there are even people using them on their fat bikes.
With more brands making power meters now, it’s easier than ever for riders to find something that suits their power measuring needs. In some cases, brands offer power meters across multiple price points, so whether someone is a power novice buying his or her first meter or was an early adopter now looking for the latest and greatest, there will be something that will work for most budgets. Cyclists should keep several factors in mind beyond price when choosing the proper power meter—the biggest consideration being placement, or where the power meter is on the bike. There are a few different areas of the bike that power meters can be placed: rear wheel, crank, and pedal.
When it comes to rear-wheel power meters, PowerTap has been at it for nearly 15 years. PowerTap hubs come in a variety of axle standards and are available in both disc and rim brake options. They can be laced to nearly any rim on the market (PowerTap also offers a front hub so front and rear wheels can match). PowerTap hubs are ANT+ compatible out of the box with the option to swap out the end caps to the Bluetooth Smart cap, which was introduced last year. The ANT+ compatibility means that riders can view data on a number of different head units from a variety of brands, including the matching PowerTap Joule cycling computer. As one of the most affordable options, PowerTap is great for riders that are entering the world of training with power for the first time.
While PowerTap is really the only option for rear wheel power meters, there are a couple different devices on the market that are crank mounted. The Pioneer SG series of power meters is a Shimano-compatible system that utilizes dual strain gauges—one on each crank arm. These gauges measure independent power data from both legs a whopping 12 times with every rotation of the pedals. In addition, Pioneer’s device also measures where the power is being applied in each pedal rotation, the location of the torque, and the force angles of each individual pedal stroke. All of these parameters make Pioneer power meters a great option for a rider that really wants to geek out about data and needs to know more than just wattage output. In addition to the power meter, Pioneer makes a head unit to be used with it. While the meter itself is ANT+ compatible and can be used with a variety of head units, the Pioneer unit is the ideal companion as it can display the wildly detailed data that the Pioneer meter offers.
In the something-for-everybody category of power meters, Quarq offers multiple units across several different price points, from the Riken up to the Elsa. Quarq utilizes the spider of the crank to house the strain gauges and all of the electronics, minimizing weight and maximizing durability and protection from the elements. All Quarq devices are ANT+ compatible and can be used with a variety of head units.
The third common type of power meters is the pedal system. The Vector series from Garmin is one of the newest on the market. The idea behind the Vector is to measure the power where the force is being applied to the bike: at the foot. Launched initially as a dual sensing system, the Vector has been available for just over a year and has made quite an impact on the power meter market. Shortly after the original model came to market, a less expensive, single sensing version—the Vector S—was introduced. Both models are ANT+ compatible and are designed to work best with Garmin Edge series of cycling computers, although they will work with a variety of other ANT+ compatible units. Since Vector pedals can easily be swapped from bike to bike, they are perfect for riders that want to measure their power data on multiple bikes without a lot of hassle.
Putting It All Together
Making use of all of this data might seem like a daunting task to those that are relatively new to training with power. There are several options for organizing power output into usable metrics that a rider can then analyze and incorporate into their training regimen. With the exception of Quarq, all of the brands in this article have their own software systems that enable riders to analyze and utilize the data from their devices (though many play well with third-party components). Quarq is compatible with third-party brands like Strava or Training Peaks, whose robust web-based software provides users with many features not found in the brand’s native software.
As power meter technology continues to advance and more and more devices hit the market, it won’t be uncommon to see more riders using power meters and to overhear more conversations about watts. It’s likely that this trend will continue and power meters will only increase in value, while also adding more features and capabilities.