Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 23 - Power Meters

Training with a power meter isn’t for everyone. Some people just want to go out and ride. They don’t want to have a lot of structure. They want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it. They like going by feel. After the ride, they have no desire to go back and look at how the ride went — they know whether it was hard or easy and they don’t need a number to justify their workout.

Then there’s the other group of people who enjoy having a little more structured approach. They like to track their progress in charts and spreadsheets. They like being able to see exactly how well they rode today compared to last week. They start their training rides with a plan and enjoy executing the plan with precision. This is the group that power meters typically appeal to. 

Training with a power meter doesn’t automatically make you faster. It’s all about how you use it. I enjoy being able to know my threshold, and do a 20 or 30 minute interval according to how hard I should be able to go. I like being  able to pace those intervals with my power meter to make sure I don’t go out too hard and blow to pieces after a few minutes, or start to slack off around the halfway point, which seems to be my natural tendency. I like being able to pace myself for time trials so I can finish with the absolute highest average wattage I’m capable of, or pacing my bike in a tri to make sure I save enough in the tank for a good run split (ok…I’m still dialing this one in). I like being able to monitor my training load compared to the same time the previous year to make sure I’m putting in the work at the right time to build fitness just in time for race season and not too early or too late.

There’s plenty of stuff about training with power on the internet already. I’m not going to go into detail. If you want to learn more, check out posts by Andrew (Andy) Coggan, Hunter Allen (, or Alex Simmons ( Those guys are way more knowledgeable about training with power than I am, so it’s much better if I send you there way than try to tell you myself. 

Between Sarah and I, we have experience with 4 different types of power meters. One is on our CycleOps Powersync trainer I talked about last week. It’s a great unit, but obviously only works for training indoors, which is a huge limitation. 

We both used CycleOps PowerTaps for years. PowerTap has been around for a long time, and are known to be accurate, reliable, easy to use, and affordable. My PowerTap kind of reminds me of a Garmin 500. It just works. There might be nicer options, but from a functionality standpoint, the PowerTap is a solid unit. So why did I switch? The main reason is because my new bike (like most new bikes) is 11 speed, and my PowerTap hub was too old to be 11-speed compatible. The newer PowerTap hubs are. If it wasn’t for this, I would use my PowerTap for a few more years. Since I had to get a new power meter, I decided to go with something crank-based instead so that I have power during racing and training. Since I train on different wheels than I race on, I was only able to measure power during training and not racing. I could have laced a power tap into my race wheels, but then I’d have to train on them all the time. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but for those of you with only 1 set of wheels, the PowerTap is a really nice option. 

My decision was between Stages and Quarq.

The Stages power meters are VERY affordable. The strain gauge is built into your left crank arm, so that’s the only part you need to change. The unit doesn’t add much weight. You can use it with any wheels you want. Stages is a bit frowned upon by some power snobs because they don’t think it is accurate enough. The stages unit just measures your left leg power and doubles it. If your left leg is pushing harder than your right leg, your number will artificially be too high. If your left leg is putting down less torque than the right leg, then your number will artificially be lower than it should be. For the level of accuracy I need, this doesn’t matter much at all. It might not be accurate enough for you to read differences in your cda (aerodynamic drag) between a 700x23 tire vs 700x25 like you could with an SRM, Quarq, or PowerTap, but I’ll leave that testing to the experts. For doing intervals based on power, knowing your FTP, monitoring training load, etc the Stages seems to be accurate enough. It’s cool that it support Bluetooth AND ANT+ so you can use your phone to access the PM or your Garmin. Updating firmware is a piece of cake. This is the unit Sarah uses. We had some problems with it losing connection to her garmin for a few months, but they recently sent us a new unit after all of the troubleshooting they had us do didn’t fix it. I think we just had a bad unit. It doesn’t seem to be a common issue with Stages at all. I know many people who use them without any problem at all. If it wasn’t for the 4-6 week wait to get one, I probably would have gone this direction too.

Instead, I chose Quarq. I only have one ride on it, so it’s a little too early for me to give a big review. Quarq is a product of SRAM, and if you ever dealt with SRAM you know that their customer service is second to none. It’s amazing. SRAM has replaced many things for me, no questions asked. Whenever I can support SRAM, I try to. The Quarq was quite a bit more expensive than the Stages, but the availability was great (Schlegel’s was able to order mine and get it in within a week) and I’ve read really great things about the Quarq. They have a few different models available. I went with the Riken. It’s quite a bit less expensive than the Red or the Elsa. It doesn’t give you your right or left foot balance, but I didn’t really want that anyway. I don’t see much benefit in it. Even if my right leg was 5% weaker than my left foot, I’d rather spend time making both stronger than risk losing strength in one to try and build strength in the other. Just my 2 cents on that. 

A lot of people seem to like the Garmin pedals too. I haven’t tried them. I don’t see much benefit in them over a stages or quarq. People talk about how easy they are to swap. You still need to take both pedals off and torque them at the correct specs or else you risk them being inaccurate (and I don’t have a torque wrench in the size I need). My quarq is held on with one bolt. Since my road bike and TT bike accept GXP bottom brackets, it’s probably a 3 minute swap at most to go between my road and TT bikes. The Stages might even be easier to change than the quarq, especially if you already have the same drive side crank on all your bikes. Plus, it’s a little weird that the Garmin team uses SRM power meters instead of the ones made by their title sponsor. Perhaps they are getting paid good money to do that, but it’s very odd marketing move to me. I’m not trying to diss on the Garmin pedals. I have teammates that absolutely love them. One is Bob, and he’s super particular about equipment. If they weren’t great, he wouldn’t use them. I’m just saying that for me, the benefits of the garmin weren’t high enough for me to justify the added expense. 

I’ve never used an SRM, but like the Garmin pedals, the benefits don’t seem to justify the cost. The Power2max gets great reviews too, but I don’t personally know anyone using it, so I can’t give an honest opinion of that PM either. I’ve seen the pioneer on a few bikes, but it just seems like a lot of money to spend on the “new kid on the block.” Again, I don’t need lab-grade accuracy for what I do. 

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