Why Train with Power?

Is the Price of Power worth it for the Average Joe Athlete

Personal Experience with Power Meters. I’ve now trained with power for 4 years. I first purchased a virtual trainer that provided power during my winter training sessions.  Now, I also have a wheelset made with a PowerTap Hub; and recently purchased a Stages Crank Arm for my road bike.

TACX VR Trainer. As juggling riding and work became a more tenuous balance, winter training sessions turned into a twice weekly occurrence regardless of the season (not something I recommend, unless necessary to meet work hour requirements). I geeked out on the power numbers all winter long attempting to hit arbitrary goals that I read in professional cycling magazines.

“Hey, it says here that Tom Boonen can sprint over 2500 watts! I’m not a professional, but 1,500 watts sure seems feasible. I probably should win a few races if I can do that as well.”

Well, as most are aware that follow cycling, we (including those that did ride in the last 10 years and produce those numbers) can not realistically establish training around wattage numbers tossed around in articles, or on the internet, in the past anymore (which is awesome…cleaner the better).  Either way, watching the numbers sedates the mind while inside and provides a constant feedback that seems to easily fuel a 1.5 hour training block.  I never came close to those numbers, but the constant change in the power meter is much more fascinating than watching a constant heart rate. TACX also makes a set of cycling DVDs that provide the experience of climbing famous routes in the Tour or riding the Classics.  The video quality is great and the indoor setting allows you to concentrate on specific power intervals. From recollection, I believe I own one of the first generations of VR Trainers. I’ve updated the software once for $150 dollars, but now just run a dual-booted Laptop with an old version of Windows to maintain hardware/driver compatibility. I strongly suggest one, but I would advise a Power Tap or similar device first now. Training indoors gets old and it takes a certain mindset to properly push-yourself during interval sessions.  Something that’s much easier to do on the road, even in the dead of winter with a snowmobile suite on.

PowerTap. I then realized I wanted power on the trail, so I purchased a PowerTap. Now, most believe power is quite unreasonable, as did I. But I think there are options for even the penny pincher. I watched E-Bay like a hawk for 4 weeks and ended up purchasing a PowerTap on a 26” trainer rim. The combo was not race worthy and the 29er craze had left the 26” market in its wake—making 26” parts bargain-basement prices. I bought the whole rear wheel for $500. I then used my trusted bike shop to lace the hub to my current Stan’s 29” wheelset for roughly $75 (parts and labor).  So, for roughly $600 I had rear power for my MTB, as opposed to paying $1,200 alone for the hub.

I should add, as a testament to PowerTap, that my hub stopped working late last February 2013 during a wet, muddy training ride. I sent the hub back to PowerTap (with zero documentation from me). They serviced the entire hub, including new axle bearings and their newest G3 technology, for FREE! No questions asked! Our team has no relationship with the company that produces Power Tap.  Let’s just say, I was delighted (Enough so, my brother recently purchased a Power Tap for his road bike). I still use my PowerTap and obtained all of my data from my races over the past three years.  It’s extremely valuable as I can review any race and determine the power I put out.  I can use those numbers to figure out what power zones I need to train in and how much more power I need to gain for my competitive level.

Stages Power-Meter. Now I own a Stages Power Meter for my road bike. Why? Well, I really enjoy training on my road bike since specific interval sets are easier to maintain on the road as opposed to a trail. I also wanted to complete the power profile. Once you get power on one bike, it’s irritating when you ride another and don’t have those numbers. It’s like bitching at your grandma because she slaved in the kitchen making a homemade apple pie, but then forgot to buy whip cream.  You proatter that the apple pie is useless without whip cream.  You completely forget about the value of the apple pie on its own.  The same is with power. I continuously felt like road rides were not structured because I couldn’t see the data and compare it to my mountain bike rides.  This is obviously ridiculous, but ever since I had power on my MTB, I wanted power everywhere (Why can’t we have a HP output on our dash in our cars? I’d love it!)

Nonetheless, Stages has produced the most reasonable power meter to date. I own the Ultegra version. http://www.stagescycling.com/stagespower It’s approximately $800 on Stages’ website. I, however, again went to Ebay. I purchased the same unit that had been used since June for $600 (the posting said lightly, which probably translates to about 500 miles on Ebay). Some might not think that saving $200 is worth it, and I don’t have the complete answer yet. I’ve only had it since the beginning of December. I was suspicious myself as why someone would sell it so soon, but I took my chances. I’ve currently used it 6 times and it works like a charm. I would also add that the $200 saved will buy me a new cassette and chain for my road bike or mountain bike (I haven’t decided which yet), or a new pair of shoes, or a new set of road brakes (off E-Bay of course), or half of my trip to Tennessee every Spring.  It really does add up and you shouldn’t overestimate the value of $200 unless you already drive a Maseratti. But were that true, you’re an idiot for reading this blog.  You can actually afford real advice.  As for the rest of you that pinch pennies like me out of necessity, I strongly recommend this power meter at the moment.  When Spring hits and I can get out on the road, I’ll report back. I’m convinced that swapping this meter around on my other bikes has some additional benefits I’ve not yet explored.

So, I filled you in the power meters I currently own and use, but understand there are several other options. I know pedal power meters are being developed and sold, plus the gold standard of the SRM crank power meter continues to be a mainstay in the market. I think they are all great options and I think everyone should consider getting power.

Why Power? I convinced you to start reading this blog because of my initial question. After rambling on about other shit, I’ll return to why in later articles. But I do believe the following provides a great start for why you should buy a power meter:

  • Provides accurate target numbers to train towards

  • Provides accurate numbers to compare from race to race

  • Years of power data is irreplaceable

  • It limits pacing from heart rate, when drift can mess up the target range at the end of the race

  • It provides great pacing numbers

STAY TUNED AS I TACKLE POWER TRAINING IN 2014.

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