Power meters are not “just for racing”. Any rider with virtually any goal can benefit by using a power meter. Simply put, if you want to be more efficient, go faster, ride farther, climb better, suffer less or simply have a more enjoyable experience… a power meter will net you more gains than any other component or product.
Here’s why… Power meters measure the actual effort, not the physiological response to that effort. While your physiological response to expending energy (heart rate) is important, it is affected by too many outside influences to be relied on as your sole means of measuring effort. Things like stress, caffeine, diet, sleep and alcohol all affect heart rate. Additionally, when you stop pedaling, your heart rate takes a while to respond. For example, you’ve just crested a hill and started your descent, your heart rate will not begin to drop immediately. In fact it may still go up. Heart rate is only a physiological response to effort. Measuring actual energy output in real time is far more accurate.
So now we know why power is a more accurate means of measuring energy output. How does one use power measurement to make gains and reach goals? The first thing to do is establish your individual baseline (how fit are you now?), you need to determine your Functional Threshold Power or “FTP”. You need to know at what wattage (what level of energy output) does your body begin to produce more lactic acid than it can remove. At a certain point (your anaerobic threshold) your muscles will produce more lactic acid than your body can manage and you’ll have to stop pedaling in order to recover. Your goal in any case is to raise that threshold, shorten your recovery time and extend the wattage ranges at and below threshold. More power for longer.
There are simple tests and a lot of books for the DIY cyclist and those mostly work ok. There’s a great free Ebook from Training Peaks as well. Your best bet is to work with a coach at least in the beginning to establish accurate zones and a targeted plan. If you’re a century rider, your plan may differ from that of a Triathlete. It’s important to do things correctly in order to realize your goals. So, do yourself a favor and consult a coach.
Yes, we do have coaching certifications and testing equipment, glad you asked! We know power and how to train with it, truth be told, we’re kind of nerds about this stuff so just know that whatever you need, we’ve got you covered in the world of power.
Now, on to equipment. There are a lot of power meters on the market and we have our favorites. We like power meters that fulfil certain needs; accuracy, reliability and comprehensive metrics are most important. Ease of use is right up there too. Crank based power meters are generally the best. They measure power right where it is applied. These include Pioneer (we’re currently riding and loving this one), Quarq and SRM. There are pedal based units from Garmin, powertap and Polar and hub based units from Powertap. Pioneer, Garmin and Quarq are our top three. Pioneer offers more data metrics and is easily the most reliable product and is housed in a Shimano crank. In fact, we can actually send in your compatible Shimano cranks to Pioneer and have the power meter retrofitted. Garmin offers pedals that are fairly easy to swap between bikes while Quarq and SRM offer non Shimano options for those of you riding Sram or Campy. There are others on the market to be sure and we can get all of them but we have favorites for very real reasons.
If you’re curious about power, please give us a shout. We love this stuff and riding with power can help you learn a lot about yourself as a cyclist and certainly can help you enjoy the sport more.