You can afford a bike power meter now. Here’s why you’d want one.
Since power is a true measure of your work rate, measured in watts, the more power you produce, the harder you’re working—regardless of wind, weather, elevation gain, or road conditions. This holds true whether you’re a brand-new triathlete or an experienced vet.
A common misconception is that tools to track power are only really used by advanced athletes. The truth is, whether your goal is to win a race or beat the cutoff, the feedback from a power meter can help you spend your efforts wisely and use each minute training effectively. By using a power meter in the early stages of your triathlon journey—in conjunction with the assistance of an experienced coach—you’ll achieve a better understanding of your strengths and how to best improve areas of weakness.
If your goals include longer races like a 70.3 or 140.6, feedback on power and heart rate during training and racing are incredibly useful. Your power meter tells you how much work you’re doing, and your heart rate tells you how your body is responding to the work. Using heart rate alone can oftentimes be misleading—heart rate can be high or low as a result of outside factors like caffeine intake, lack of sleep, or weather. Power is independent of everything else, it essentially tells you exactly how much force your legs are putting into the bike.
Matt Cole, owner of Podium Multisport and All 3 Sports, recommends pedal-based power meters for athletes new to power and on a budget. Not only can you buy these options as single- or double-sided (they either measure both legs or simply double the measurement from one leg), but you can also easily switch your power measuring device between bikes. While single sided options are less expensive, double-sided setups offer the advantage of powerful form-analyzing tools that check for discrepancies between legs.
“With the Garmin Vector 3 or Power Tap single-sided pedals, you use one or both pedals on a road or TT bike with just a simple pedal wrench on hand to make the switch,” Cole says. The popularity of shorter cranks among many triathletes also makes pedal-based meters an attractive option, since many crank-based meters don’t come in shorter crank options.
Whichever type of device you choose, get started right by setting your zones when you first purchase your meter. Once your zones are dialed in, using power will help you more accurately gauge your effort in training and on race day.
Power to the People
Garmin Vector 35
$600 for a single-sensor set, $1,000 for a dual-sensing pair; Competitivecyclist.com
Advantages: No torque wrench required on Vector 3s, Look-Keo compatible
Disadvantages: Uses those disc-like CR2032 batteries you probably don’t have laying around; 231-pound weight limit
Stages Gen 2 Crank Arms
$530 – $950 for single-side option, $1,300 for new dual-sided option; Competitivecyclist.com
Advantages: Relatively easy to switch from bike to bike. Economical
Disadvantages: Can’t upgrade from single to double leg. In past versions, some athletes had trouble with their head unit receiving signal while in aero
PowerTap P1 Pedals
$530 for a single-sensor set, $800 for a dual-side sensor set; Competitivecyclist.com
Advantages: Easy to use, takes a AAA battery, does not need a torque wrench, no weight limit
Disadvantage: Takes a special cleat that is similar to, but not the same as, a Look Keo cleat