Monday, February 1, 2016

Should I Ride with a Power Meter?

by Nicolas Theopold

Disclaimer: I work for power2max, manufacturers of power meters, but the views here are my own.

As the season winds down and the training days get shorter we have time to think about next season’s goals and to look into the gear we want to get. It’s a good time to ask yourself, “Should I be riding with a power meter?” I have used a power meter for the last five years, so my answer is of course: absolutely!

Putting a shiny new power meter on your bike won’t give you instant Sebastian Kienle legs, but a good power meter is a great tool to help you progress as an athlete and to execute a race plan. The prices of power meters have also down dramatically over the past few years, making them ever more accessible. ANT+ compatible bike computers, like the Garmin EDGE series, have made it easy to save files and to upload them to ever more comfortable platforms like Training Peaks, Garmin Connect or Strava. We are now at a point where using a power meter is no longer the privilege of professional athletes and has become accessible.

What a power meter can do for you
A power meter can make you a smarter rider. Cycling, unlike swimming or running, is a sport in which it’s difficult to know if you made progress or not. In swimming, you know you got better if your best time over 100 yards was 2 minutes last year and it’s 1:30 this year. In cycling average speed is not a reliable measure: group riding, hills, wind, and road surface all make a big difference. A ride with an average speed of 15mph may be much harder than another ride done at 20mph. With a reliable and precise power meter, this uncertainty is gone. You will see how hard you are working, no matter what the conditions.

When I started riding with power I noticed that I had a tendency to go too hard on hills, but was not holding power well on flat sections. When the road pointed up I would go “into the red” before realizing I was going too hard as my heart rate rose and my breath became short. Once I started riding with power I started even out my effort -- slower on hills and harder on the flats.

In long course racing, like ironman, the pacing benefits of a power meter are especially great. When we race an ironman we are usually at our peak fitness and well rested. The power we can hold for the whole race feels way too easy during the first hour on the bike. Herein lies the danger. You will see many athletes storm out of T1, only to fade later on the bike, or, if they are very fit, on the run. By setting a power target for the bike and sticking to it you will give yourself the best chance of having a great race. Instead of keeping a constant perceived effort you will keep a more constant pace and it will feel like you are gradually working harder and harder as the day goes on. The benefits of riding with power don’t stop at pacing, though. Seeing your wattage whilst you ride makes it very easy to control your training. Especially on short intervals it’s extremely difficult to measure your effort by heart rate, as heart rate takes too long to respond.

A power meter also makes it easy to keep track of what you are doing in your training: simply download the ride file to your favorite software and you immediately get the vital stats of what you did in training: work done, intensities, duration, and so on. Using this information you, or your coach, can track the progress you made over a training block and can easily decide when it’s time to ease up and recover.

What next?
If you are interested in starting to ride with power you will want to choose the right tool for the job. The power meter market has become rich and varied, with plenty of options to choose from. In the next article I will share some thoughts on how you should choose your power meter.

Until then, keep the rubber side down and the watts up.

Nicolas is a long time Endurance Corner team member. Like many, he has followed the Kona dream and has now also made his passion his job. Nicolas works with for power2max power meters and contributes to Endurance Corner on power meters related topics.
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