Should I get a power meter?

by rnarito   April 19, 2014  

I'm new to road cycling (10 months and going strong!) I've read quite a bit about how power meters can really help you improve, but here's the deal. I'll be 54 this year and have no intention of competing (the occasional sportive notwithstanding), how much will this help me? I'm somewhat financially stable, so the cost is not that big an issue for me. Can someone out there give a good enough reason to take the plunge? Many thanks!Smile

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Most of fast riders don't have a powermeter.
Almost all slow riders simply don't ride enough.
Wink

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [172 posts]
21st April 2014 - 22:38

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Surely spending £600 on a powermeter (e.g. Stages) isn't as extravagant as £200-300 on a glorified cycle computer with a GPS function...

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [172 posts]
21st April 2014 - 22:44

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If you enjoy specific training then yes, get one. I got some Vectors recently and not only do I rather sadly like looking at the data, It is a massive difference to training on HR. Instead of waiting for your HR to catch up you can hit the numbers straight away and get more from each session. Go for it.

posted by bailey19 [7 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 9:46

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This is a fun argument, isn't it?

I'd love a power meter, but it's a lot of cash to drop. If I had the disposable income, right now, I'd probably go for it. Why not? Riding bikes for me is as much about seeing how fast I can go as it is enjoying the view. Fast fast pretty things fast. Riding bikes is ace. Graphs are ace. Going fast is ace. Sunlight and birdsong and all the good stuff is ace.
I don't think you miss out on much when climbing if you're looking at your power output. Most of the time I'm concentrating hard on my breathing, gearing and maintaining cadence on the climbs, not the scenery.

posted by bashthebox [619 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 12:16

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I've got one and can't recommend it enough.

Despite common misconceptions, the powertap hubs are *extremely* good value for money, you can pick up a g3 second hand for about 300 nowdays. Mine has proven more stable, and accurate, than the other half's Rotor & Quark metres.

I've a bit of a gammy heart, with a max rate of around 228, so training from HR wasn't doing my any favours, I wasn't getting any fitter.

If you want to step things up, then there is no reason why you shouldn't buy one other than the cost, but then that is *your* decision to make, no one elses.

There are always arguments for and against, one of the girls here (current junior british champion) apparently doesn't even use a HRM - that's how she trains and she's done well out of it. If it were me, I'd still be pootling around at 13mph with a gut hanging out of my bibs.

PMs are cool as they give you that scientific base, if you're into that then it's extremely handy. They're good if you're training a lot (if, like me you're doing more than 12 hours a week) then you can spot very early warning signs that you need to alter what you're doing, I can usually spot overtraining before I feel it, same with colds and flus.

One warning I will give is that if you use one, try not to look at it too much. I've found myself purposefully dropping back in races because I've looked down and realised I've been sat at over my threshold. I don't look at this screen now unless I'm on the turbo doing specifics. Same with hillclimbs and timetrials - your legs are still in charge, the numbers are only there to help.

Merlin Cycles women's race team ~ http://www.merlincycles.com
Manx nerd peddler ~ http://mooleur.blogspot.com

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posted by mooleur [542 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 12:26

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Ride for another year or so. Then ask yourself do I need a powermeter?

If you still want one, then go for it. If not, sit back and enjoy the ride.

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [279 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 12:32

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"Don't buy upgrades, ride up grades"

said a bloke who knows.

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posted by Simon E [1909 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 13:23

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No!

Grizzerly

posted by Grizzerly [115 posts]
22nd April 2014 - 17:58

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Tell you what, if you pay me £1k I will send you an email after every ride that tells you that you aren't powerful enough.

posted by surly_by_name [137 posts]
23rd April 2014 - 10:16

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All summed up nicely I think.

My only comment is that whilst HR is not as accurate, or immediate as power, it is still a very valid training tool, and not something that should simply be dismissed.

A power meter does open up the opportunities for a whole host of training sessions that are difficult to replicate with a HRM or RPE.

Ideally you'll use both... one is a measurement of the efforts you are making, the other is measuring your response to those efforts...

Personally I'd love a power meter... can't afford one though.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [211 posts]
23rd April 2014 - 16:18

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Yes of course you should get one. It's new after all. For the same reason you should have Di2 Shifters and an 11 speed set up.

That was sarcasm BTW. If you are only going to ride an occasional Sportive it would be like buying a Hummer to get the weekly shopping.

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posted by Angelfishsolo [104 posts]
25th April 2014 - 21:19

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Besides "money" there is also installation, calibration, other maintenance, breakdown, and miscellaneous worry. That doesn't mean it is not worth it.

FYI, going steadily uphill (>5%?) if you know your VAM and your rider+bike weight, you can easily calculate your watts (wind factor and road surface effects become less significant going uphill). So if you have a garmin showing slope=7% and speed=14 kph, your VAM is then 7 x 14 x 10 = 980 meters per hour.

This web site will help you figure your watts per (grade*speed):

http://www.gribble.org/cycling/power_v_speed.html

Charlie Horse

posted by ch [99 posts]
25th April 2014 - 22:21

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Power meters, I hate em, some love em. Either way it's a lot of money to drop so why not borrow one or have a go on a WattBike before deciding if it's for you?

posted by drfabulous0 [273 posts]
26th April 2014 - 20:42

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No doubt that PMs are useful. The issue with HRMs is that your heart may get stronger or weaker, and so your HR zones may change. PM basically give you the actual output so that it takes some of the guess work out of your training.

What you seem to suggest from your post is that you're new to cycling and that you're not currently cycling competitively, so I would say that a PM is unnecessary for you. If you want to train and compete at a later date get one then. Forget what people say about spoiling your ride. You normally only check data after a ride.

If you haven't got a turbo trainer already many of these come with computers that work out your power (Tacx Flow and Tacx Bushido). These are not nesscessarily accurate, and are based on a simple formula, but as a poster above has mentioned calculating a rough power output is fairly simple. You could see how you go with that.

If I was in your position and had money to burn, perhaps get yourself a better wheelset or cycle a classic European route and see if it drives you on to more cycling.

I would also recommend a Garmin 810 or something as a way of increasing your enjoyment....to be later used with a PM if you get one. It opens up the roads as once you plot a route you can cycle confidently down roads you may only ever ride once, instead of constantly checking your route details.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1085 posts]
27th April 2014 - 9:04

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drfabulous0 wrote:
Power meters, I hate em, some love em. Either way it's a lot of money to drop so why not borrow one or have a go on a WattBike before deciding if it's for you?

I don't think that's really the best way to decide. If you just borrow one or have a couple of goes on a bike with power then all you're doing is seeing some extra numbers a few times. It's looking at a power meter as an expensive toy, not how you might use it to improve performance, or what it would take to do that.

I'm not saying that the poster should get a power meter. As has been said several times, it depends on his objectives and I would emphasise that the user needs to put something into it if it is to be anything more than a computer add-on.

But my point is you have to do a bit of work to understand the data and use the power meter effectively and I don't think you would appreciate that by just skimming the surface.

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posted by abudhabiChris [499 posts]
27th April 2014 - 10:04

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10 months?
Hilarious, as are the justifications above; cycling really is the new golf.

Buy a bike with mudguards, buy a decent waterproof, set a target of miles per week or per month and ride your bike.

posted by crikey [106 posts]
27th April 2014 - 10:30

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It depends.
Are you going to enter races (I include sportives in this; others may not!) - then it could be worthwhile.
If not then it's probably not worth it. Just don't hope that Strava's 'estimates' will fill the void!
I got my PT2.4 SL+ on ebay, including a matching front wheel, for less than a set of decent new wheels. I don't always use it but have found my use on the increase.
Never broken it. Nice to meet you Wink

posted by ficklewhippet [36 posts]
27th April 2014 - 11:02

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surly_by_name wrote:
Tell you what, if you pay me £1k I will send you an email after every ride that tells you that you aren't powerful enough.

Like having an accountant to tell you how poor you are

posted by lolol [114 posts]
27th April 2014 - 12:18

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crikey wrote:

Buy a bike with mudguards, buy a decent waterproof.

If that doesn't answer your question, OP, then I don't know what will.

posted by Nick T [762 posts]
27th April 2014 - 13:11

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Nick T wrote:
crikey wrote:

Buy a bike with mudguards, buy a decent waterproof.

If that doesn't answer your question, OP, then I don't know what will.

Something helpful ?

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posted by fukawitribe [296 posts]
27th April 2014 - 16:08

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I should have put /sarcasm in front of my post.

posted by Nick T [762 posts]
27th April 2014 - 16:34

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Old-school power measurement: ride the same hill once or twice a week, go hard, and time your ascent. You could even keep a log of the times if you need charts to look at.

Sure, you could use a £500 electronic gizmo or a mathematical formula, but time-to-the-top over a set course is really as good a metric as any for the amateur cyclist to track (and improve) their performance.

posted by chokofingrz [254 posts]
27th April 2014 - 19:43

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chokofingrz wrote:
Old-school power measurement: ride the same hill once or twice a week, go hard, and time your ascent. You could even keep a log of the times if you need charts to look at.

Sure, you could use a £500 electronic gizmo or a mathematical formula, but time-to-the-top over a set course is really as good a metric as any for the amateur cyclist to track (and improve) their performance.

It really isn't. This assumes conditions each time you hit that hill are exactly the same. A power meter removes this ambiguity. The idea that an amateur cyclist can't benefit from a power meter is a myth that some in the road cycling world need to get over.

On a different note, the one thing I really admire about the triathlon community is there is none of this old road racing world dogmatic thinking to be found. An aversion to new technology is a peculiarity of the road racing scene, the tri guys seem far more receptive to innovation. I guess they are not bogged down in the "Merckx only needed [insert remark about number of gears/weight of bike/etc here]" as road riders are.

posted by giobox [240 posts]
28th April 2014 - 7:36

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I agree. But the triathlon community has even higher barriers to entry than cycling because you have to be able to afford a wetsuit and a bike - generally this means higher disposable income and ergo the ability to splash the cash on what some call an extravagance. The cost of a wetsuit might equate to the cost of a bike to some.

Affordability really is at heart of some of these comments. No one needs a HRM or PM, but they certainly can help.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1085 posts]
28th April 2014 - 8:59

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BBB wrote:
I'm somewhat financially stable, so the cost is not that big an issue for me

This is really the only important bit. If you can afford it, buy it. Every real man needs a new gadget occasionally. It's what separates us from the beasts.

Violence is not the answer, but it will do until we find out what is.

posted by TheHound [46 posts]
28th April 2014 - 11:36

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Not really. You can do a pool-based tri in a tri suit, or in your swimmers and change into bike/run kit, for the princely sum of £30. As I am on Monday.

posted by ficklewhippet [36 posts]
29th April 2014 - 13:40

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I've been riding bikes for 2 decades either mountain bikes or road bikes. Earlier this year I took the plunge and bought a powertap pair of wheels, my first power meter. I have never raced other than a handful of TTs, and maybe I will try a race if I feel I won't get crushed by the regular racers.

So my motivation was curiosity, and to get more focused on my training. At the end of the day it's your money so you can spend it on what you want!

I have found it very useful so let me answer those here saying they have no point and you should just go ride more, or time yourself up hills, or look at your HR etc.

The main benefit I've found is in real time, during the ride. You can see in front of your eyes your power vary as you pedal. Sound obvious?

Since having a power meter I've learned:

Tiny changes in your riding position make big differences to your power. You can get big increases from improving your bike setup.
What you subjectively perceive as pushing hard at any point bears little relation to your actual output. To a degree this is also true of HR if you are for example too cold, or fatigued, or pedalling inefficiently.
Seated vs standing power outputs may be nothing like what you expect.
Whether you are getting better power from lower or higher cadence.
Which part of the pedal stroke to focus on to generate the most power.

I didn't expect any of this beforehand, I thought I would just be able to do more effective training! But the above has transformed my performance just through position and pedalling technique improvements.

For me I've felt it's been worthwhile, and I'm surprised the above list doesn't get more of a mention in power meter discussions.

posted by Streamliner [3 posts]
29th April 2014 - 16:43

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Great post! Have to agree although much better coming from as experienced a rider as yourself Streamliner.

Especially agree with position, after bike fits I've seen my power increase (especially when climbing) by a surprising amount.

Merlin Cycles women's race team ~ http://www.merlincycles.com
Manx nerd peddler ~ http://mooleur.blogspot.com

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posted by mooleur [542 posts]
29th April 2014 - 17:21

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Streamliner wrote:

For me I've felt it's been worthwhile, and I'm surprised the above list doesn't get more of a mention in power meter discussions.

Because all the naysayers are people who can't/won't stump up the cash, and think any technological advancement is 'unpure'.

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posted by glynr36 [278 posts]
29th April 2014 - 17:36

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glynr36 wrote:
Streamliner wrote:

For me I've felt it's been worthwhile, and I'm surprised the above list doesn't get more of a mention in power meter discussions.

Because all the naysayers are people who can't/won't stump up the cash, and think any technological advancement is 'unpure'.

I have no objection to technological advancement. I could but I won't stump up the cash.

I know that I won't use a powermeter - I usually can't be bothered to attach my Garmin (and when I turn it on I tend to find I have failed to recharge it) let alone analyse the data it produces, so my chances of using even part of the functionality of a power meter are pretty low. And the last thing I need is another thing to fix (or even calibrate) on my bike - I've got a long enough list of brakes that need recabling/whels that need truing/tubs that need gluing as it is thanks.

posted by surly_by_name [137 posts]
29th April 2014 - 18:01

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