A power meter is a piece of equipment that attaches to your bike and has the ability to measure your power output in watts produced as you pedal. While this data can be helpful in improving performance, not all cyclists are sold on whether a power meter is worth the investment.
To help you decide, let’s take a look at a few of the ways a power meter can help you during training and racing to become a better cyclist and improve your performance.
YOU’LL HAVE MORE DATA TO ANALYZE
Heart rate monitors and GPS cycling computers can be important pieces of equipment to own as a cyclist to measure performance. To get a better picture of your individual fitness, a power meter can provide additional information such as the number of watts you are producing as you pedal, the total amount of work performed during a workout (kilojoules) and the overall intensity of a given ride.
In addition to other basic data like distance, speed and cadence, a power meter also helps you determine your power-based training zones, allowing you to fine-tune your workouts and set goals for each of your weekly workouts more easily. The data you receive is also extremely accurate and isn’t skewed by external factors like wind or terrain.
IT MAKES IT EASIER TO PACE YOURSELF
Pacing yourself accurately during a workout or race can be a challenge, especially during high-intensity efforts or on long, difficult rides. While a heart rate monitor can help you determine how your body is responding to an effort, it isn’t always the best option for pacing because it is affected by variables such as stress, hydration and temperature.
Ideally, a heart rate monitor is used in conjunction with a power meter to help you maintain a consistent effort or work rate during your ride. When the number of watts you are producing goes up or down from your intended pace, a power meter makes it easy to respond by increasing or decreasing your effort.
IT’LL BE EASIER TO WORK ON STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Investing in a power meter can be a good way to help you understand what your weaknesses are as a cyclist. For instance, maybe your power numbers are high for a 30-minute time trial, but fade during longer efforts such as a 60-minute time trial. Maybe your power fades on long climbs, but is high on short, punchy climbs. Knowing your weak spots by analyzing data can help you develop a plan to improve on these areas and develop workouts accordingly.
A power meter can also help you determine your strengths, such as whether or not you are able to produce more power at certain cadences. Making these determinations strictly by looking at miles per hour isn’t accurate since these numbers can be influenced by external factors. But if your wattage is significantly higher when you ride at 80 rpm as opposed to when you try to ride at a 100 rpm, it can help you recognize you are better suited to riding at a lower rpm. This can also help you tailor your training program, create better racing tactics, and choose events that allow you to better showcase your strengths as a cyclist.
YOUR WORKOUTS WILL HAVE MORE PURPOSE
Whether you want to increase your endurance or improve your lactate threshold, determining your training zones and designing your workouts to have specific goals improves your overall performance as a cyclist.
To do so, you can perform a 20-minute field test to determine your functional threshold power (FTP). Based on these results, you’ll be able to train or race in power-based zones. This helps to maximize training time and allows you to easily adapt your workouts to changes in your fitness level as your training plan progresses.
YOU CAN IMPROVE YOUR POSITION ON THE BIKE
Altering your position on the bike can improve your aerodynamics and overall comfort on the bike. Using a power meter is one way you can measure whether seat height, seat fore/aft position, stem length or other changes to your position have a direct effect on your speed and overall efficiency.
This can be determined by completing a field test. For example, after riding for 15 minutes at 18 miles per hour and noting your average wattage, make the needed adjustments to your bike. Re-ride the same route for an additional 15 minutes at 18 miles per hour. If your wattage is lower on the second ride, the changes you’ve made may have helped your overall efficiency on the road. If not, it may be an indication additional changes need to be made.