Power Meters in Cycling

May 29, 2017 / By Peak & Valley

When the first cycling power meters came into cycling in the early 90’s, they were something of a luxury device. Only the very top professionals had access to them, and even when they became commercially available, they were too expensive for most riders to justify buying one. The power data was analyzed on crude software, and was only really understood by a few sports scientists in the cycling world.

Of course, this has changed a lot in the past years. Nowadays, power meters are affordable and are owned by most committed cyclists, and are becoming close to universal for anyone who competes regularly. Not only that, but cheap access to all sorts of software such as Training Peaks and Golden Cheetah allow even someone with limited sports science knowledge is able to understand how their power data relates to their fitness.

Power meters are an amazing tool to be used in training. They give us an unbiased way to track our performances and how we are improving with training. Its plain physics, our power output combined with our weight and aerodynamics will tell us exactly how fast we will go. The instantaneous feedback from our power meters also allows us to train much more specifically than in the past, where training zones were based off heart rate. Using a power meter effectively is one of the best investments you can make in your training.

However, I want to emphasize that a power meter is a TOOL to be used with training and racing. Too often we become slaves to the power meter, focusing only on what the number displayed on our handlebars is and not enough on how we feel. A skill often overlooked in cycling is the ability to listen to your body’s natural response to an effort, and pace yourself on that. Often, we become obsessed with the power numbers our coach prescribes us in training, or what our training software tells us we should be able to average for a certain time trial or hill climb. There are so many other factors that are often overlooked that can have significance impact on our power output. Is it really hot out? Are you at altitude? Are you in stage 3 of a race or at the end of a hard training block? These examples, among many others, have the ability to impact our performance on that day. Also, there are factors within the power meter itself that can have a large impact. Perhaps you train on different bikes with two different power meters, and they are not calibrated to be exactly the same. Or you forgot to zero offset your power meter at the start of the ride. Given all things that can impact your power output on the day, riding stubbornly to a number on your display can become detrimental to your performance on the day. It can lead us to start our effort too hard and blow up halfway through. Or maybe you are on a great day, and you end up not giving it everything because you have hit the target you set out for.

That is why although power meters are amazing for tracking our performance, it is important to learn how to listen to your body, and become familiar with the sensations when you are pushing your limits. Try training without your power displayed sometimes and listen to what your legs are telling you. Because, when it comes to the race day, group ride or even hard training session, what your power output at the end is does not matter. What matters is that you have put everything you got onto the road, what ever it may be that day.

 

Alex Cataford

Other articles:

Huge scientific study shows inaccuracies of popular power meters –  http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/huge-scientific-study-shows-inaccuracies-popular-power-meters-330322

Is your power meter as accurate as you think it is? – https://cyclingtips.com/2017/04/cyclingtips-podcast-episode-30-power-meter-accurate-think/