Power meters are the most exciting cycling revolution since shifting brake levers and carbon frames. They are the only way a rider can obtain an objective, reliable measurement of their cycling output power and intensity.
Power (P) = force (pressure on your pedals) x velocity (cadence)
There is only 2 ways to improve your power production, to pedal harder or pedal faster. Power meters are an essential tool to measure both variables and improve your power production.
“Imagine training in a gym where you can’t see how much weight you’re lifting. You can’t see numbers, or even how many plates you have on the bar. I think it would be a rare lifter who could maximize gains in that environment. Riding outdoors without a power meter is like training in a numberless gym. Yes, there are other metrics of intensity, but they are distorted and skewed by numerous environmental, physiological, and dynamic factors. So, for me, the power meter has ‘put numbers on the plates,’ with all that entails in feedback” – Jens Kurt Heycke
Once your baseline numbers are set up
- Your Power training zones are established
- Intervals are based on power instead of speed and heart rate
- Longer rides have a goal power output based on ride time and distance
- Recovery rides have a power limit. Beyond that it’s not recovery or training either
A Power meter would let you
- Measure all forces against you in any ride under any conditions
- Identify strengths and weaknesses on your style of riding
- Create an effective Yearly Training Plan with a progressive overload
- Track the total amount of time in each power zone
- Measure accurately training load on every ride, every week, every month
- Stop a workout early to recover, especially intervals
- Analyze your performance without any guess-work
- Use training rides to constantly track and update improvement
- Manipulate your taper to produce the best possible results
- Perfect pacing whatever the distance you are planning on riding or racing
- Compare your ride / race with ANY other ride objectively
- Compare your efforts to any other riders in the world (W/kg)
Traditional cycling computers were first invented in the 80s. They measured only speed and cadence. So factors like wind and gradients were unmeasurable, providing no real feedback of the effort needed to accomplish a particular ride.
Heart rate measurements became commonplace a few years later. Now cyclists could measure their effort as well as their output. However, heart rate has a lag with respect to muscular effort and is highly susceptible to temperature, stress, fatigue, caffeine intake, time of day, and sleep amongst many other factors. Since perceived exertion can be highly variable with cyclists, heart rate proves to be a limited tool for the performance cyclist.
Power meters are now the standard equipment for the performance cyclist. They track wattage (power output), provide an instantaneous response (no lag), and take into account all opposing forces such as wind, gradient, drafting, aerodynamic drag, rider weight, bike weight, friction and many more.
Example #1 – 10km Time Trial
You ride a 10km TT. Your time is 15:10, your HR is 176 bpm. A month later you ride the same 10km TT. Your time is 15:40, your HR is 175 bpm. Based on your performance and your measurements you would guess you wasted a month of training: Your heart rate was about the same, but your speed was lower and you took 30 seconds longer. What you didn’t know was that the first day there was NO wind, temperature was 18 C, and your average power was 305 W. The second time there was a minimal 5 kph head wind, temperature was 23 C (hotter), and you still produced 317 W average. With a Power meter you would know you improved 12 W (3.9%) over the course of a month and did so riding in hotter weather conditions. Fantastic!
Example #2 – Measuring short efforts
You ride 10×30 sec intervals on the trainer and your goal is to ride at 50% harder than your 10km TT pace. With a Heart rate monitor this goal would be nearly impossible. As muscles start pushing on every interval tales time for your heart to realize that blood supply needs to be increased. By the end of the 30 sec your heart rate is still climbing but you are done your interval. How hard did you go? Could you have gone any harder? Should you have gone easier? Can you last the 10 intervals? When heart rate drifts up with every rep, how do you know if the last interval was done as hard all the other ones? These questions can be all answered with a Power meter. Response is instantaneous; the power output is objective regardless of cadence, speed, different trainer, heart rate drift. Your effort is should be your 10km TT power X 1.5. That number doesn’t drift.
Example #3 – Long efforts
Once you have gathered enough data, judging your maximal effort for set periods of time is quite easy. Your Peak Power chart would show your best performances over a set period of time. Based on data we can determine a pace that you can hold anywhere from 5 seconds to 6 hours. You won’t go too hard, only to explode spectacularly; you won’t ride too easy and wonder if you had more in the tank; you’ll pick a pace perfectly suited to your ability. Riders without Power meters typically go out too hard in the beginning or up even the smallest of grades; they create additional damage to their muscles by surging unnecessarily, and also lose time coasting downhill.