I have been hearing about power meters for a few years now and when I took the USAT coaching certification clinic, the coach/presenters said that the best way for athletes to train on the bike is using a power meter. So, I finally made the leap and purchased one.
What is a power meter? Power meters do just that – measure power. Some, like the one I have, are integrated into the rear hub. Newer ones are integrated into the crank and even the pedals! There’s even one that uses chain tension and other variables to figure out how much power, you the athlete, are generating.
Typically, athletes use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to determine how hard they are working. Heart rate monitors (HRM) add to that by telling you exactly how many beats per minute your heart is pumping. Well, a power meter knows exactly how much power you are generating on the bike. The idea is that in conjunction with the HRM, the power meter can tell you not only how much power you are generating, but whether or not it’s too much. For example, if you are doing an Ironman triathlon and riding 112 miles, you don’t want to overdo it and end up with no energy for the run. Using the power meter combined with your heart rate, you can determine what your power output should be.
I bought a book on training and racing with power and am finding the first hurdle hard to get over. You basically have to figure our your functional threshold power (FTP) to then determine the power zones.
The power meter I bought is a CycleOps brand Elite+. Mine came as part of a Zipp 808 rear wheel. You can buy the power meter by itself, but unless you know how to build bicycle wheels, it’s not going to do you a lot of good. You can, of course, take the wheel and the power meter to your local bike store and they would install it for you, though I have no idea what they charge for such service. The next thing I bought was the Garmin 301XT fitness watch to act as the head unit. The head unit is the device that receives the data from the power meter. They both use the ANT+ protocol. CycleOps sells head units with their power meters, but it’s extra cost. So as long as I was paying more for the head, I figured I’d get the Garmin because I can use it with swimming and running too. Another benefit is that the Garmin 310XT will get speed and cadence data from the power meter as well.
So, all told, I spent over $2000 to get the power meter, Zipp 808 wheel, and the Garmin 310XT. At this point, I have only used the meter in two or three races and maybe two training rides. There’s not nearly enough data to tell me anything, and I have yet to figure out my FTP or power zones.