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August 18, 2021

Are Cycling Power Meters Worth it?

In the natural evolution of road cycling there comes the stage when it is time to invest in a power meter. This usually comes after you get the hang of a bike computer and want to push to that next level of performance. Riding on a daily or weekly basis will gradually make you a better rider but there is a point at which you hit a ceiling. This is where targeted training plans with the help of a cycling power meter come in. In this blog, we are going to answer some of the burning questions surrounding this nifty bit of tech.

What is a power meter?

It seems only right to start by explaining what bike power meters are and how they work. Quite simply, these small devices measure a rider’s power output – but there’s a lot more to them than just that. They can be installed via the rear wheel hub, as a specific pair of pedals, in the chainring or in the crank arm itself. The device uses a strain gauge to measure the forces being applied through the pedals. They then measure this force and combine it with a few other metrics to calculate your power.

To understand specifically what they measure there is a handy equation. Even if you’re a math-phobe it is important to understand it. The equation is power = force x distance/time. It may sound confusing at first but essentially the force is how hard you are pushing on the pedals and the distance/time is how fast you are turning the cranks and for how long. This results in your cycling power number and most meters will come with software that helps you visualize the data in a handy graph or sector-by-sector breakdowns when you connect to a third-party system like Strava or TrainingPeaks.

The data points they provide are:

  • Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – highest sustainable cycling power output for an hour. Helps you to understand training zones.
  • Normalized power – works out when you are pedaling and free-wheeling to give you a more accurate average power reading over the course of a ride.
  • Intensity Factor (IF) – normalized power divided by your FTP results in the intensity of a ride.
  • Efficiency factor – When in connection with a heart rate monitor it is the normalized power from the power meter divided by the average heart rate. Gives you a data point on improvements to your aerobic fitness.

What is the purpose of a cycling power meter?

The purpose of a bike power meter is to give you real-time data so that you can judge how you are riding. This is more accurate than just watching your cadence, heart rate and speed because with these metrics there is a bit of lag involved, especially when climbing. Cycling power meters, on the other hand, give you results instantaneously which means you can accurately see metrics like if you are in the correct zone.

Training in the correct zone is very useful when doing training sessions both on the road and indoors on a platform like Zwift where you might be doing quite short but intense bursts of effort. The bike power meter’s purpose in these scenarios is to help you pace yourself more accurately. This in turn, when scaled up to a competition, allows you to work out a strategy based on your ride data and not just blindly trust in your own raw power and will. Intrinsic motivation does go a long way but when combined with reliable tactics and pacing your performance improvement can be substantial.

Will a bike power meter improve my cycling?

When used diligently, a bike power meter absolutely can improve you as a cyclist. Due to the fact that you can measure and improve upon your cycling performance, they can help you unlock your inner biking ability. They can make you faster on the bike and improve your stamina more than any other piece of training kit and can be an incredible tool in ride and race planning. This is because you can see how you will perform on a certain length of climb, during repeated sprint intervals or in a race against the clock. It’s like studying for a test. You wouldn’t go into an exam, pitch or meeting without prior understanding, so why go into a bike race the same way?

However, it is not as simple as saying that just using a bike power meter will make you a better cyclist overnight. Although they do have their benefits, you can’t simply just slap a device in your crank and expect to be leading the pack the next week. A lot goes into becoming a better cyclist of which using a power meter is just one pillar. When used in combination with a good riding mentality, a training plan, work ethic, nutrition and bike skills, you will quickly see improvements in your fitness, ability and speed.

Should I ride with a power meter?

If you are serious about riding, racing and improving your level of performance, riding with a bike power meter is a must. Using a power meter will make your training truly count no matter how long or short the session, and will track your improvements in fitness or injury recovery. You can be more efficient on the bike when following a structured plan and collecting and tracking data prevents you from guessing whether you are doing the right thing or not.

The gains witnessed simply by tracking progress can push you as a rider and improve your motivation. Instead of cutting a session short or sitting up too early in an interval, a bike power meter pushes you to dig deep and reach the next zone. Lastly, you improve as a rider when you understand your strengths and weaknesses. The data from a power meter can show you your weaknesses whether it be climbing, sprinting, time trials, or something you’ve concocted. You can then tweak your training to work on those specific skills.

However, this doesn’t mean you should always focus on the power meter and stare robotically at your stem every ride. Although the device is incredibly useful for training, it is important to remember not to get too married to cycling tech accessories so as not to forget the beauty of the sport. It is perfectly fine to take a day off analyzing training plans, graphs and spreadsheets and having a long day in the saddle where you enjoy your surroundings, nature, or someone else’s company.

Are cycling power meters worth it?

For riders who are looking to go that extra step and searching for ways to get real-time data about their performance, power meters are absolutely worth it. Unfortunately, one thing that is routinely said about power meters is that they are rather expensive. This is because it is a specialized piece of kit that is often hand-built and comes packed with small and expensive working parts.

Significant development goes into making the strain gauges and most of the inner workings of a power meter are custom made, hence the close to four-figure price. They are worth it though as they are by far the most effective training tool you can buy provided you plan on making use of that data. By understanding what we have detailed above in terms of race planning, training and pacing we can see that the inference and changes that you can make to your riding thanks to accurate data feedback are well worth the initial cost.

Our top power meter selections

The power meters we stock at NOMAD are pedal based devices and we favour the Garmin power meters for the simplicity they offer in getting set up and switching between bikes.

 

GARMIN Rally RK200 – $1,429.99

GARMIN Rally RK200 power meter

At just 326 grams, these Garmin pedals are super light and have undergone rigorous tests to ensure reliability and accurate readings. They provide advanced metrics so that you can tailor your training around the data points the power meter provides. It shows you where in the pedal stroke you are producing the most power, tracks your effectiveness when riding in and out of the saddle and quickly connects with third-party apps. It is compatible with KEO cleats.

GARMIN Rally RS100 – $849.99

GARMIN Rally RS100 Power Pedals

The Garmin power meters all work in much the same way with different cleat compatibility. The 100 series of Garmin Rally pedals offer many of the same data points, but limit measurement to one side to make the cost more manageable.

When used correctly and in addition to a training plan, a bike power meter can transform your riding. When it comes to the question of worth, these are quite expensive pieces of kit, but the long-term rewards will far outweigh the short-term costs if you are prepared to do the leg work. By following the data, understanding their value, and tweaking your regimes you can get quicker on the bike with a cycling power meter.

If you need more convincing before investing, talk to a ride partner or friend who may already use a bike power meter and ask how it has benefited their cycling. No more aimless training sessions, it’s time to knuckle down and ride with purpose and achieve your goals with the help of a bike power meter. Of course, if you have any questions you can reach out to us at hello@nomadfrontiers.ca.

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