Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Still Skeptical About a Power Meter

The geek in me wants one, but he's voted down by the rationalist and the cheapskate.

The rationalist says, "Dude, if you get one you'll waste even more time on the computer than you already do. Magilla Gorilla (famous rbr protagonist) and Chuckie V are correct--better to spend that time training than reading wattage forums and staring at graphs."

And the cheapskate chimes in, "Dude, you've got way more important things to spend $2K on than a toy that is too finicky and will probably break within a year."

Seriously, how exactly is a power meter going to make me a better bike racer?


TreBone said...

duh... because it's cool and everybody's got/wants one!! Just like having 28 in. spinners on my Prius makes me Playa! = )

Gianni said...

I've been signed up for the wattage forum for a week now- those guys are deeply into the mechanics of strain gauges.
Enjoy 50 messages a day?
This ones' for you.

I may get one this year, but mostly want a ergotrainer to test on/ up the madness in the garage...

Although your OSM will do the same thing, I bet.

Just tell everyone you have a OSM, they'll be scrambling to search it on the internet....

Anonymous said...

How will a power meter make you a better racer?

It won't.

Didn't you just make cat1? Did you need numbers to tell you when to go harder or slow down, or when to attack or when to sit back?

As a fellow 42 yo cat1 who barely can stand a speedometer, I try daily to get people to race/train by their own instincts. It's not easy with the neo-geek generation and all the cyber coaches promising better watts, but if there is one thing in the world I do know, it's my inner caveman is almost always right.

--Starr, Orlando, FL

Dave said...

It's not hard to use one properly, you just have to go in with the correct attitude. But you're basic instinct is correct, simply owning a powermeter won't make you any faster or stronger, but it will and can help you train more effectively... the potential uses and benefits aren't really something for a blog comment... but think of it this way... when someone goes into the gym, even if their goal isn't to get huge, they don't simply grab some free weights and go hog wild. Lifting at specific weights and then progress upwards is a very well accepted method, why should this be different in other sports? People already accept Heart Rate in this method, but power numbers are just a clearer picture of what's going on.

TnA said...

Well...I know you've already read the book, because I lent it to you.

To tell the truth, I actually think a power meter is more valuable to someone who is time limited in their training. I don't think that you qualify in that regard. If you've got the time to train like a pro...well, just go do that.

For you, probably the most useful thing you could use it for is figuring out if your fast time up OSM was because you were actually stronger than the last times you did it...or it just happened to be good conditions. That can give you a better handle on how effective your training has been.

Then again, if you ever decided to get serious about your TT'ing, you'd find it invaluable for pacing...especially in the first 5 or so minutes of the effort.

But...like the other comment states, it's hard to argue with the results of a newly-minted, mid-40s Cat 1.

TnA said...

Oh...I forgot to mention, I mostly use mine as basically just an accurate training log. It records what I REALLY did in a session...as opposed to a more generic "how I felt" and a listing of time and/or distance.

It also allows the effective use of impulse-response training load tracking like the "Performance Manager Chart" in CyclingPeaks.

It really all depends on how much of your "inner geek" you wish to indulge :-)

Anonymous said...

You either have talent to be a great bike racer or you don't and a power meter isn't going to make a cat 4 rider a cat 1 rider because they have a power meter.

You have been riding a while now and you know what works for you...and for the looks of it, that has worked out pretty darn well.

Anonymous said...


I think you should get one. That way you wouldn't have room on your handlebars for your GPS unit, which I would pick up on my may through town.


Anonymous said...

My opinion is a blend of all of the above. You've been riding for awhile now and found what works and what doesn't. I believe there is such a thing as technology overload. You may need to look into a custom set of bars that are...say... 50cm wide so you have enough real estate to mount all your gizmos (TNA may be able to steer you in the right direction since he already has them). The fastest TT I ever rode was on a bike I had only ridden twice, had no computer/speedometer/power meter, and I beat one of the fastest TT'ers in SB by 45 seconds on a 32 mile course. It all came down to fitness and perceived exertion. The way I see it, you already possess the tools needed to be a great racer. You've got the time, the skill, and most importantly, you've got the passion. Good lord, I feel like a coach at half time!! I hope that someday I'll have your combination of power to weight.
James Morgan

velogirl said...

do you want a real answer now?

Anonymous said...

You could get a Garmin 705, and I think that'll work with Powertaps.

TnA said...

Allow me to amend my comments.

You ask, "Seriously, how exactly is a power meter going to make me a better bike racer?"

The short answer is...it won't. But, it may help make you a smarter racer/trainer.

It's just a tool...and a good craftsman never blames his tools.

Marco Fanelli said...

Great comments, and I appreciate them all. Even yours Jake and Lorri! :)

I do believe PMs can be useful tools to many riders... I'm just not convinced that I'm one of those who would get much of a benefit. I don't mean this to sound arrogant or pompous, but three decades of bike riding and racing teaches you a lot about how your body responds and adapts to all different kinds of training stresses. Even a dunce like me learns from that kind of feedback.

I'm not saying that there's no room for improvement--far from it--but rather, that the path to get that improvement doesn't require a PM. Instead, what it requires is better discipline and motivation to go out and do the right kinds of training sessions, but balanced with keeping it fun. It's a much more spiritual sort of thing.

I do agree with TnA and Dave that a PM is a tool that can allow more efficient (which is not the same as "smarter") training. If you are time constrained, and if you have the temperament for rigidly structured training, then a PM would be a helpful tool. I don't fall into that camp; too much structure feels like work.

TnA said...

Marco wrote:
"I do agree with TnA and Dave that a PM is a tool that can allow more efficient (which is not the same as "smarter") training."

I think you missed my point. Some of the most valuable training insights I've gathered have come from evaluating what really happened during a race...and then modifying the training appropriately.

THAT'S what I mean by "smarter" ;-)

In the end, it's all just a hobby for most of us (not you Jake!) and the whole point is to have fun. If you think it's going to detract from your fun...don't get one. If you think it'll add to the fun, then get one. It's that simple.

Marco Fanelli said...

TnA- You're right, I didn't realize your meaning, but I am skeptical that the PM would tell me anything actionable from a race that I didn't (or don't) already realize. Racing is so very multi-dimensional and there are always strengths and weaknesses that play into a result, or even a small vignette of a race. Training is about choices. You cannot improve everything to an equal degree. You have to choose, but there is no "right" choice ...just different choices.

...and right now I'm choosing to go do 2-3 hours of sweet-spot climbing, because the rain is coming.

Oh yeah, and gianni, great idea about the OSM power meter. I'll cut you in for 50% of the profits. We can advertise that it Adds no weight to your bike!!! We can also make a special bay-area version: OLH (old la honda)

TnA said...

The OSM power calculation is easy. Your average speed up OSM in meters/sec is basically equivalent to your watts/kg.

Take the speed in m/s and multiply it by your body weight in kg, and "voila!" that's a decent estimate of your average power.

Chester said...

Hey Marco,
VAM. I've been reading about it recently. I guess it was one of Dr Ferrari's contrbutions-- err at least a test or tool that he perfected. I guess it works out to average climbing speed... On he hills It appears to be the measurement...

"In 2000, Pantani attacked Armstrong on Stage 16 of the Tour to Morzine. What to do, what to do? Chase, burn energy by holding the gap, leave him out to fry or say goodbye to the stage? Urban myth has it that Johan Bruyneel phoned Ferrari from the team car.

Ferrari, (according to the myth) walking in the woods at the time, was passed all of the info by Bruyneel, a quick mental calculation and the instruction to "let him hang" came back. The "Postals" sat up, kept their powder dry and Pantani cracked and came back to them. On the figures they had, his VAM was unsustainable. That's what Armstrong insists he was paying for; insight, advice and training plans."

Not sure what if anything that has do with anything related to getting a power meter- I guess Its just a little tid bit of info that I enjoyed reading about. Im not the man to be giving advice. THe pt helps me out cause I can send my work outs to Jason who has helped structure a training program for me based on power. Since I know next to nothing about the sport and training it really helps me to be specific, stay focused, and recieve invaluble input to make sure Im training right!

Marco Fanelli said...


I totally agree that a power meter is a great tool for you. When your FTP reaches 6 W/kg, I want to see the file!

BTW, VAM is just a fancy term used to describe the dominant physics involved with climbing. Power is equal to force multiplied by the velocity (in the direction the force is applied). Use F=m*a and when you climb, "a" is just gravitational acceleration. Thus the power you put out just to climb is that "F" multiplied by the pertinent velocity, which is the rate-of-elevation-change, i.e., how fast you go up. For slopes of ~5%-10%, you probably are also putting out another 30-60 Watts to overcome other things like rolling resistance and some minimal aero drag. (Let's see if TnA can hold back from responding!!)

Also, don't ever mention Ferrari here again! Only half joking on that one... I am more annoyed by all the infrastructure that supports doping at that level, than I am at the riders. They're guilty too, but the doctors and the soigneurs really deserve scorn, in my opinion. (Of course, there's a bunch of apologists out there who will say that those support staff are just keeping the riders safe and healthy whilst they dope...)

TnA said...

Not a chance.

VAM is just a poor proxy for W/kg...and is only useful for comparing climbs of similar grade.

Ferrari's a doofus...on multiple levels.

dblrider said...

Marco - One alternative to the cheapskate (that's me to a T, BTW) - Craigslist. I picked up a PT Pro for $500. Sure, it's not the uber-light SL or wireless, but who am I kidding - I can lose 300g for a lot less than the extra $700 or $1,200 for those...and I'd actually save money because I'd be eating less.

Seriously though - you've obviously found what works for you and have the results to back it up. If I had 20 to 30 hours per week to train, I wouldn't bother with the 'Tap. I'm aiming to make the 3 to 2 leap this season and need to make the most of my 10 to 15 hours of training each week. I'm not saying I'll change much, just try to improve it by looking at what I do right now and filter out the stuff that doesn't help me get stronger or more efficient...