If you want to improve your performance on the bike, measuring power is one of the most accurate ways to monitor your riding and make gains. Here’s some simple guidance to help you get started with power measurement.
What is a power meter?
A power meter is a device fitted to a bike that measures the power output of a rider. Depending on the device, a range of information can be measured, including left and right power balance, power delivery through the pedal stroke, torque and cadence. Power meters record data in real time and transfer it to a head unit to give the cyclist an immediate view of power output. This data can also be transferred to and then analysed within one of the many software platforms developed for this purpose.
How exactly will it help to make a rider faster?
Power meters are used by professional riders around the world, however amateurs have a lot to gain from using a power meter. Amateurs tend to have less hours per week to dedicate to training, so maximising the efficiency of that precious time on the bike is essential. If you have accurate power training zones, even a 20 to 30 minute workout can be effective and beneficial.
For example, if you are tackling a mountainous sportive in the Alps, a power meter will allow you to train for and also accurately pace those long climbs. This can be especially useful for the newcomer where it’s not possible to accurately ride on feel alone, which can lead to overdoing it on the early climbs due to excitement and event day atmosphere. By being able to ration your energy in this way, your overall ride performance and enjoyment of the day will improve.
What do I need to consider when choosing the right power meter for me?
When it comes to power measurement, repeatability and accuracy are key and unless you’re certain that you can compare your data from one ride to next, a power meter offers little guidance. The repeatability and accuracy offered is not the same across the market. If you bought a cheap set of bathroom scales, with time they would become less reliable as the working parts were stressed and deformed every time you stepped on them. With a power meter, there are similar concerns, so be careful when making your choice.
Power meters are available as single or double sided. Single sided power meters record one side and simply double the measurement, which means it is always an approximation. A dual sided power meter allows you to accurately isolate those pedalling imbalances and address related issues in your bike set-up, technique or physiology.
Other elements to consider include battery life, frame compatibility and ease of maintenance.
How do I get started?
Once you’ve made sure that the power meter is fitted correctly, then the first thing to do is to establish your training zones. Perform a fitness test to give you a baseline figure to work from. One of the most widely used tests for this purpose is the Functional Threshold Power (FTP). This test will provide the required data to demonstrably increase your performance over time. Once you’ve established your baseline, the next step is to set your objectives – what do you want to achieve? You can then breakdown your overall goal into weekly or monthly targets to help keep you motivated.