Why would I want a Power Meter?
You know how runners can always compare themselves to themselves by going to a track? How do they tell if they’ve improved? By how fast they ran it! The track is magical because it’s black and white. If you’ve improved, your time is faster. If you haven’t it’s slower. Adjusting for things like altitude (and the odd wind storm) it’s a good bet that you can go anywhere in the world and run about the same time.
For cycling, a power meter is a ‘track’ on your bike. It measures the power you’re putting out and it doesn’t care if it’s cold, hot, windy, rainy, if you’re sick, caffeinated, or tired. On the track the time is the time. With the power meter the wattage is the wattage. In other words, a power meter is objective.
In the past cyclists trained (like so many endurance athletes do) with heart rate monitors which is helpful, but ultimately an indirect measure performance measure (the racer with the highest heart rate doesn’t win) and heart rate is affected by so many other factors like fatigue, food, caffeine, etc. In other words, it’s far from a track.
A power meter’s objectivity allows you to objectively measure improvement over time, access weaknesses and strengths on the bike with precision, perform more specific (and effective) workouts, improve your pacing, dial in your nutrition, and analyze your race performance. The only thing it doesn’t do is pedal for you.
What is power?
Power = Force x Velocity( in this case cadence)
Power (expressed in Watts) the ‘work’ you’re doing expressed in kilojoules (kJs)
Force (How hard you’re pushing the pedals)
Velocity/Cadence (How fast you’re spinning the pedals)
Do I sound like a smart mouth giving you a physics lesson? I’m not. Just remember that there are three ways you can go faster on your bike – pedal harder, pedal faster, or pedal harder AND faster.
When cyclists talk about power they usually say “I was putting out sooooo many watts over there’. When you hear ‘watts’, you know they’re talking about power. Now you know.
How is power measured?
With a power meter! Power meters have been around since the late 80s – Greg Lemond actually trained with one back in his heyday – but it’s only recently that technology has progressed to the point that they’re affordable for most people.
You might wonder which power meter to get and want a recommendation from me. I’ll leave that to an expert called ‘DC Rainmaker’. He’s a gear geek and writes guides about what gear to get. Check out his guide for 2017 here.
Matti Rowe grew up in Wisconsin on the Packers, casserole, and cross country skiing. He took his skinny skis with him to St. Olaf College and spent 4 years traveling the midwest racing circuit while studying biology and exercise physiology. Diploma in hand, he headed West towards the mountains, jumped in his first bike race and has been shaving his legs ever since.