Cycle power meters used to cost an absolute packet – more than a brand new carbon bike in many cases.
But with each passing year the prices are dropping to levels that we can all afford. These days you needn’t pay more than £500 for a decent one, and the good news is that they’re getting cheaper all the time. As the prices fall it’s worth considering whether you need one and how you might benefit from it.
Here we look at the various options and their affordability. Plus we give you the lowdown on how you can use a power meter to help you race and train smarter.
Six ways to afford the latest technology
Power meters used to cost about £1,500, but at the 2015 Interbike trade show last September there were six new models being showcased, all priced between £325 and £525. There are plenty more in development too, such as the Limits power meter, which was designed in Scotland.
The current price for an early version of the Limits is $249 (around £162) available from the crowd funding site Indiegogo. The final retail version is expected to be $384 (about £249). At this price, a power meter would cost less than a set of training wheels or a wetsuit.
Another option costing about £200 is an indoor turbo trainer that measures power, such as the Tacx Satori (tacx.com). Once you have some form of power measurement, you can use training software such as zwift.com, which enables you to ride in a virtual world with other real-life riders. This opens up a whole raft of training opportunities such as group rides, time trials and power tests.
If £200 still sounds like too much money, there’s an even cheaper option called TrainerRoad (trainerroad.com). It’s a piece of software that converts the speed of most turbo-trainers into a power measurement in watts, which they call “virtual power.”
It enables you to use your tablet or smart phone as a cycling computer, and the software also includes a wide variety of workouts and functions to help you get fit. The price is £7 per month or £65 for a 12 month subscription.
To help you get your head around the ever-growing array of power-training options, we’ve summarised six of the best and most affordable in the orange box. It’s not a comprehensive list of every power meter, but it gives you an idea of some of the cheaper options.
One last tip, if your budget allows we’d recommend you initially invest in a standalone power meter (such as a Stages or Garmin Vector) rather than a turbo trainer that measures power.
Why? A power meter gives you the option to do all your rides and races with power, whereas a turbo trainer restricts you to indoor power measurement only.
Three ways to train smarter with power
Once you’ve trained with a power meter, you’ll never want to go back. Without one it’s nigh on impossible to accurately measure your performances, strengths, weaknesses and training intensities. It’s hard to appreciate all the benefits without experiencing one yourself throughout a season, but take it from us – there are many. Here’s how to utilise the benefits for your training.
1) Know your level
With a power meter you can see exactly how bike fit you are at all times, regardless of variables like weather, terrain, hills, mechanical efficiency or weight. It’s there right in front of you – a simple number that shows the result of all your pain and effort. The reality of these numbers can come as a shock to some people. It’s not uncommon for triathletes to buy a power meter and suddenly realise they are significantly better or worse than they thought.
Sometimes a power meter can help people realise it was their bike or their poor aerodynamics that slowed them down, rather than their legs. Knowing your level at all times keeps you grounded in reality, as well as helping you pinpoint areas for rapid improvement.
2) Test yourself
With a power meter you can perform a simple test that pinpoints your triathlon cycling ability. It’s called a CP20 test and the CP stands for Critical Power. Start off with a 15-20 minute warm up with five 20 second efforts thrown in. Now you’re ready to start the test which involves riding for 20 minutes at the highest sustainable intensity you can manage.
Your cycle computer should give you your average power for the entire test. We’ll discuss ways to use this figure in the next point, but on it’s own it’s a useful benchmark that’s worth re-testing every 10 weeks. This CP20 figure is an even more accurate measure of your ability when viewed alongside your weight (power to weight ratio) and your drag coefficient (power to drag ratio).
You can multiply your CP20 by 95 per cent to get a good estimation of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is approximately what you could maintain for a one hour time-trial.
3) Set your power zones
One of the beauties of a power meter is you can train at specific intensities that mirror the demands of your upcoming races. Before you do this, you need some training zones that are based on the results of your CP20 test, as described in the previous point. Multiply your CP20 result by 95 percent to get your FTP. Then you can use the zones below.
Intensity: 65-80% of FTP.
Benefits: Progressive training at this intensity can improve endurance and boost fat-utilisation. It is similar to Ironman race pace. It is easy enough that you should be able to recover day-to-day from most sessions.
Sample session: Ride three hours in the endurance zone.
Intensity: 86-92% of FTP.
Benefits: This intensity helps boost lactate tolerance, but is light enough that you can recover within 24 hours. It is useful intensity for Ironman 70.3 training.
Sample session: 3x10mins in the sweetspot zone with 60 seconds rest.
Functional Threshold Zone
Intensity: 97-103% of your FTP
Benefits: This intensity is known as FTP (functional threshold power) and equates to your best power output for a one hour time trial. Training at this intensity can boost lactate tolerance and is particularly relevant to Olympic distance triathlons.
You might need a couple of easy days after these workouts.
Sample session: 10, 9, 8mins all in FTP zone, with two minute recoveries.
Intensity: 97-103% of your CP20
Benefits: This is slightly harder than you’d ride in a sprint triathlon, but it is still a relevant training intensity for shorter races.
Sample session: 30mins as 20 seconds in CP20 zone, 40 seconds in your endurance zone.
Intensity: 97-103% of your CP5 (your best power output for a 5 min time trial)
Benefits: CP5 stands for Critical Power 5. You would use this kind of power output (and more) when riding up hills, overtaking or accelerating out of turns.
Sample session: 5x2mins at CP5 with three minute recoveries in your endurance zone.