The best power meter is one that measures your fitness on the bike, providing a series of numbers that quantify your performance for your style of riding.
Your choices for power meters has increased while the price has come down on many models. PowerTap, for example, now has power meters in wheel hubs, chain rings, and pedals, all of which are available at Ben’s Cycle and benscycle.com.
Most of these power meters are available through Ben’s Cycle. Call us (414.384.2236) or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Power meters use strain gauges to measure the wattage you produce when you pedal a bike. Power is measured in watts, and power can’t be fooled. Heart rate, another popular measure of training effort, can be affected by fatigue, caffeine, stress, and numerous other things. With power, a watt is a watt – and they don’t lie!
Power is an excellent way to monitor your training and racing if you are serious about cycling. If you are just out riding around, doing coffee shop rides, or are a retro grouch who doesn’t even use a $19 cycling computer, a power meter just isn’t necessary. As soon as you start keeping track of your rides and doing some targeted training, a power meter is the best tool currently available.
The Best Power Meter Depends on Your Riding Needs
First, the best power meter depends on the kind of riding you do.
Second, for most reputable power meters, as long as your wattage is consistent, you’re okay. That means your particular power meter may not be 100 percent accurate – because none are – but as long as it’s accurate with your data, you’ll be able to use it effectively. It’s like a bike pump in many respects: you may not have exactly 85 lbs in your tire, but the 85 lbs on your gauge is what you know and trust, so it’s all good.
Third, the best power meter you choose also depends on price! There are some incredibly expensive power meters that do everything but serve you coffee, and there are some inexpensive ones whose data might not always be consistent or easy to upload.
Fourth, the data produced by a power meter is only as good as your understanding of what it all means. Make sure you take the time to learn the numbers, the TSS, the Bike Score, and other key indicators to get the best out of your training.
How Do You Choose the Best Power Meter for You?
But how do you choose the best power meter among the bewildering amount of choices?
Several top bike product reviewers have weighed in here:
- DC Rainmaker Guide to 2015 Power Meters. This post is the most detailed and unbiased description of different power meters. He offers a honest assessment – after lots of testing – on whether he’d buy the particular model.
- Roadcc also offers a guide to power meters. They provide shorter assessments of a number of power meters.
- Bike Radar provides a more technical guide into the workings of power meters.
Here are Some Personal Reflections on the Best Power Meters
I’ve been fortunate to use three of the most popular power meters on my bikes. There are positives and negatives for each system, so I’ll go through what I’ve used, what others have used and reviewed, and make my recommendations.
Currently, there are three main types of power meters, one kind attaches to the crank spider or crank arm, another is the hub of the rear wheel, and the third is in the pedal.
The best power meter really depends on the kind of riding you do. Most of my hard training and racing happens on my cyclocross bike so I need a power meter that is durable and works with different wheel sets.
The Power Tap Rear Hub
I used a Power Tap meter for several years. The Power Tap is in the rear hub. It provides very accurate and complete data, and it’s moderately expensive, around $1,000 for a wheel with the Power Tap rear hub, depending on the model you choose. If you are primarily a road rider and use only one set of wheels, this is a good meter for you. I race cyclocross, so while I train on the road a lot, I use different wheels for cross races. So I’d get great data while I trained, but not while I raced.
The Quarq Elsa
So I tried the Quarq Elsa, which is mounted in the crank. Again, this is a very accurate meter, and it’s slightly more expensive than the Power Tap. This meter was a little more complicated to get right, especially with the battery essentially needing to get glued to the bike frame. It comes with a strip of metal to attach the battery to the bottom of the bike where the cables are routed, but I found that the battery was often knocked off the metal strip. This meter seems best suited to someone using one particular bike. I installed it on my cross bike so I could get some good data from races, but I was limited to riding that one particular bike. It’s just a little too complicated for me!
Stages Power Meters
I was able to purchase a Stages power meter on a discount so I decided to try it. It is bonded to a left crank arm (non-drive side), so while it is limited to one bike, the crank arm is fairly easy to remove and put on another bike. The Stages is a bit controversial given that it measures only one side of your power output and then doubles it for a final number. However, I find that power data is like a tire pump: no two pumps have exactly the same amount of pressure, but you get used to the pressure in your own pump. That means I didn’t notice any massive data discrepancies between the three, but the Stages has been consistent with itself.
That said, at this stage, I’m going to stick with the Stages. It’s easy to move between bikes, and it’s inexpensive enough that I could conceivably get a second one for the road bike.
At Ben’s Cycle, we work with Quarq, PowerTap (a Wisconsin company), Pioneer, Stages, and the Garmin Vector.
Again, your choice of power meter is largely dependent on your type of riding and racing. Talk to other riders, stop in at Ben’s Cycle and talk with us, and use the reviews we provided. Power meters will inform your training in ways you can’t imagine!