The Power Meters Buyer’s Guide–2015 Edition
[Please see my 2016 Edition of the Power Meter Buyers Guide Located here.]
Once again, it’s time for the annual power meter buyer’s guide. It’s mind-boggling how quickly a year has come and gone, and just how many more entrants are now on the scene. Last year at Eurobike and Interbike we saw new brands announced – like 4iiii and WatTeam, and this year we’ve seen those brands start shipping or being on the verge of shipping.
We’ve also seen both new and existing brands dramatically drop the price bar to power meters. For example, Quarq, PowerTap and Power2Max have all substantially cut prices – here’s an entire post on the massive pricing war that’s going on. And yet previously unknown companies have announced products with plans to drop those prices further.
Just to illustrate that, here’s what’s new since last year: 4iiii Precision now shipping, Favero bePRO, PowerTap P1, PowerTap C1, Look dual ANT+/BLE units, Pioneer left-only solution, ROTOR INpower, Ashton Instruments, Dyno Velo, PowerPod
The goal of this post is NOT to give you a final answer that says ‘this is the power meter to buy’. If there’s anything I want to change in the industry it’s the mindset that there is a single perfect power meter for every consumer. Thus, if you ask someone for “the best power meter”, and they give you any answer other than “it depends”, don’t trust that person. That person should be asking you your specific use case, bike placement limitations, and how much you want to spend.
The cycling market has many unique use cases and thus you’ll need to take into consideration your specific requirements. For example, it’d be silly to go out and buy Garmin Vector if you’re looking to put it on a mountain bike. And similarly, it’d be silly to buy a PowerTap hub if you currently have HED H3 wheels, since it wouldn’t fit there.
Note that I’m not going to cover why you’d use a power meter here, nor how to use it. For those, start here with these posts. Instead, I’m just going to focus on the products out in the market today, and those coming down the road.
Finally, remember that power meters tend to be about as fiery as politics and religion. So keep in mind this is just my view. There are certainly other views out there (all wrong of course), but this comes from my perspective of trying out all the products below and hearing feedback from literally hundreds of people per day. There are no doubt edge cases I can’t easily cover in a single readable post, but I think I’ll cover 99% of the people out there. The remaining 1% can consider a donation of gold and/or expensive rocks for my further thoughts.
With that, let’s dive into things.
Power Meter Placement:
Before we start diving into the brands, features and functionality, we should probably talk about placement. The reason being that unlike a bike computer that works on just about every bike on the planet, power meters actually have more limitations than you might think. Some limitations are straight technical (i.e. it won’t fit), and some are preference based (i.e. I don’t like it). In either case, for most people this section will help narrow down the selection a bit.
Let’s just briefly ensure we’ve got everyone on the same page as far as where these things all go, starting with the below photo and using the text after it as a guide.
As you can see above, we’ve got five main areas we see power meters placed today:
1) Rear wheel
2) Crank spider
3) Crank arms
5) Bottom Bracket/Axle (not visible, behind tip of arrow)
There are tangential products on other areas of the bike (like handlebars), but none of those currently on the market actually have strain gauges in them. Thus they are more estimations (albeit some highly accurate) than actual force measurement devices. So for much of this post I’m keeping the focus on what’s known as “direct force power meters” – which are units that measure force via a strain gauge of some sort. And finally, I’m not going to talk about companies that have gone out of business (i.e. Ergomo), or products that haven’t been made in a long while (i.e. Polar chain power meter). Not that I’d recommend either anyway at this point.
Back to my photo-diagram, I want to expand out the crank area a bit and talk specifically to that. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet of which products are where (I’ve added a single-line item for non-direct force options):
Rear Wheel: PowerTap hubs
Crank Spider: Quarq/SRAM, Power2Max, SRM, PowerTap C1
Crank Arms: Rotor, Stages, Pioneer, 4iiii, WatTeam
Pedals: Garmin, PowerTap P1, Polar/Look combo, bePRO Look-only option, Xpedo
Cleats: Brim Brothers
Bottom Bracket: Ashton Instruments, Dyno Velo, ROTOR INpower
Non-direct Force Power Meters: PowerPod, LEO, iBike
In the case of left-only variants of some of those products (Polar/ROTOR/Garmin), it’s still the same placement, just on the left side instead of both sides.
Features & Functionality:
Now that we’ve covered where each unit goes, let’s talk about the features that the power meters on the market have today:
Total Power (Watts): This is the obvious one – every power meter has this today (even estimated ones!). This is simply measuring and transmitting your total power output to a head unit of some type.
ANT+ Support: Another relatively obvious one, the vast majority of power meters on the market today transmit via ANT+ to compatible had units. This allows you to use one of dozens of different head units out there. I’d be very hesitant to choose a non-ANT+ power meter unless you already know which head unit you’re going to pair to it (for example, the Polar V800 or Ambit3).
Bluetooth Smart: Bluetooth Smart (or BLE/BTLE for short) is the less mature option in the power meter market. Right now there’s three units actively on the market with Bluetooth Smart support: Stages, PowerTap, 4iii, and Polar/Look. Some units on the market offer dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart support (Stages, 4iiii, PowerTap P1/C1), while others are dedicated BLE only (Polar/Look), and others yet offer swappable caps (PowerTap G3). I’m a huge fan of what Stages did by going dual as it allows you to buy whatever head unit you’d like on either side of the fence.
Left Only Power Meters: These power meters only measure power from the left side. All of these units then simply double the left power and produce total power. Stages really exploded this category with their left-only power meter, and other vendors followed suit including Garmin (Vector S), Rotor (Rotor LT, ROTOR inPOWER), and Polar (Keo Power Essential). Note that all bottom-bracket power meters are left-only power.
Estimated Left/Right Power: This became all the rage just prior to true left/right units coming out, starting with the SRAM/Quarq RED unit offering left/right power. That platform works by essentially splitting your crank in half and assuming that any power recorded while pulling up is actually coming from the left side, whereas pushing down is from the right side. Thus, an estimation. It’s good, but not perfect. Note that even with true left/right power (below), there’s actually very little in the scientific community around what to do with the data. While you may think that perfect balance would be ideal – that hasn’t been established. And some that have looked into it have found that trying to achieve balance actually lowers your overall output. The only thing folks agree on is that measuring left/right power can be useful for those recovering from single-leg injury. The PowerTap C1, Power2Max units, and all SRAM/Quarq models currently on the market use this method.
Actual or True Left/Right Power: This is limited to units that can measure your power in more than one location. Thus why we see it on pedals, as well as the more expensive crank-arm or pedal based power meters. You can’t measure it directly at the spider, instead you have to measure it upstream of that such as the cranks (ROTOR full system, Infocrank, Pioneer, Watteam, 4iiii), pedals (Garmin, bePRO, Polar/Look, Look alone, Xpedo), or cleats (Brim Brothers)
Pedal Smoothness & Torque Efficiency: These two metrics are available in the high-end power meters which contain true left/right power measurement as well as a supported head unit (most Garmin units, and Navi2Coach).
Cycling Dynamics: This is Garmin’s suite of Garmin Vector specific features that enable data such as platform offset and where in the stroke your power is coming from (power phase), as well as seated and standing position. At this point this isn’t yet available even on Garmin products (coming later this year), so it’s a bit too early for me to make too many judgments. That said, I certainly wouldn’t let it be a major factor in purchasing (I talk more about why within this section). Polar also has a variant of this in some of their new cycling units as well with their own pedals.
Battery Swapping: All but one unit on the market today (SRM) supports battery swapping by yourself. SRM requires you to send it in (but gets way longer battery life in between swaps). The remainder of the units out there today utilize a CR2032 and similar coin-cell batteries. Most get between 200 and 400 hours of run-time before you simply replace the battery. However, some of the newer units like the PowerTap P1 that runs on AAA batteries get a bit less time, as do units such as bePRO and WatTeam that use rechargeable batteries (using micro-USB cables).
Calibration options: All units on the market today support some sort of calibration function, though to what extent is what differs. Some have numerous options (i.e. Quarq with an app allowing you much further access), while others are more black-box (i.e. Stages and Polar). For the most part, your primary concern here is really that some sort of calibration occurs, and that you can trigger it to happen on demand. Beyond that it tends to get to more advanced calibration and torque checking methods. It should be noted that the term calibration can have very specific meanings to different people (technically most people are really doing a zero-offset). But for today’s post I’m going to keep it a bit more generic.
Ok, with all the core power meter features covered, let’s dive into the brands available today.
The On-Market Contenders:
We’ll start with products that you can effectively take home today. They’re in the market, available today for purchase and you can more or less install them today on the bike. They may have slight backorders if you were to order today, but units are shipping to consumers (which is where I draw the line). For the purposes of this section I’m focusing on direct force power meters (DFPM’s), in a later section I’ll cover non-DFPM’s.
Additionally, in the following section after this I’ll cover announced but not yet shipping units that are on the road to market.
Note, this list is arranged in no particular order, you can use the sidebar shortcuts to quickly skip to different products.
PowerTap has been around 15 years – longer than most folks realize actually. Though their popularity has really grown in the past few years, especially in the US. The PowerTap replaces your rear wheel hub, which means that it’s tied into a single wheel. This makes it easy to move between bikes, but also makes it difficult if you have separate training and racing wheels – ultimately costing one of those two situations to lose out on power.
They’ve also introduced a Bluetooth Smart cap last year, enabling you to relatively easily swap from ANT+ to Bluetooth Smart (or back) for about $120US. And they should have new dual ANT+/BLE caps out in early 2016 as well. You can make the change back and forth at home in about 3-4 minutes (I just did it yesterday for a test ride). I’ve been using the dual cap (beta) since this past spring and loving it.
Advantages: Easy install if you buy a wheel set with it pre-installed (my recommendation). Auto-zero while coasting helps keep things in check without you thinking about it. Manual calibration is easy, and swapping out batteries and the electronics pod quick and straight forward. Good customer service.
Disadvantages: Limited to a single wheel, so training vs racing scenarios can be tough. Also limited on things like disc wheels. And if you have multiple bike types where the wheel type changes (i.e. going from triathlon to cross), you may be in the same pickle there.
Would I buy it: Absolutely, and in fact, it’s one of the units that I’ve bought myself as a workhorse in my power meter testing. Based on what I’ve seen, the PowerTap is the closest I get to ‘set it and forget it’ when it comes to power meters on the market today (talking specifically to calibration/offset variance and stability). However, if you’re one that changes wheel sets frequently in your training, I’d be more measured in deciding whether it’s worth not having power somewhere (I don’t think it is). Though, with their recent price cuts, it makes buying two PowerTap’s basically as cheap as buying a single crank-based unit.
Relevant Posts: CycleOps Joule and PowerTap Wheelset In-Depth Review, PowerTap’s new hubs, Bluetooth Smart Trainers, iPad apps, and more, A sneak peek at two new PowerTap products (including high speed data cap)
(Note: CycleOps has renamed its power meter organization to simply be “PowerTap”, and prefers that the company thus be called “PowerTap”. Thus, I’m using that naming.)
Since we’re on PowerTap products already, we’ll continue that trend with the P1 pedals. I’m separating out these three products because they’re so different (different placement, etc…). Versus if a product is simply a slight model change by the same company (i.e. Quarq Riken to Elsa), I’m lumping them together with differences noted in that section.
As for the P1 pedals, they were announced this past spring and started shipping roughly on time this past summer. Since then they’ve been adopted by many people, primarily due to their simplicity and ease of use. They don’t do advanced metrics yet like Garmin’s Cycling Dynamics (though as I’ve noted recently I question the value of that at this point), but they do have total power, left/right power, cadence, and other core metrics. Additionally, they also have dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart transmission.
Advantages: Easiest install of really any power meter out there (except perhaps the PT hub if it’s already in a wheel), no pods or torque wrenches required. Just a simple hex wrench to install and off you go, no settling period required either. Pricing is competitive with other full left/right units currently shipping. I view the AAA battery as an advantage, though a small group of folks sees it as a disadvantage (I love that I can get a replacement anywhere in the world at any tiny little store on a route if need be). Finally, no pods are on the units – so nothing to worry about breaking easily.
Disadvantages: Only a Look-Keo pedal/cleat type, and at that it’s not exactly a Look-Keo pedal (slight differences). Also the battery life is more limited than some other power meters. Finally, some folks are seeing odd bike spike numbers (i.e. 50,000w) on some Garmin head units. Garmin, PowerTap, and ANT+ are all trying to figure it out, as it appears to be a communications snafu rather than a measurement one. I haven’t seen it on my set, fwiw. Either way – it sounds to be an easy firmware fix once they implement it.
Would I buy it: Yes. I’m using it going forward instead of Garmin Vector units, as part of my power meter testing suite. This is primarily because I’m often swapping bikes or travelling with pedals. The past three weeks I’ve travelled with the pedals simply tossed in an old sock and a small hex wrench – easily moving them from bike to bike. Love them.
Relevant Posts: PowerTap P1 Power Meter Pedals In-Depth Review, First rides with the PowerTap P1 Pedals & PowerTap C1 Chainring…and more, PowerTap announces P1 Power Meter Pedals, also PowerTap C1 chainring unit
At the same time that PowerTap introduced their new P1 pedals this past spring, they also announced a new line – the C1 chainring power meter. This unit ships with the chainrings, per the pod you can see attached to the chainrings above. The company started shipping the product about two weeks ago, but I haven’t yet had a chance to get to full in-depth review status.
That said, over the summer I used a prototype that generally faired quite well, with the bugs that I saw being known by PowerTap and addressed prior to shipping the production unit. I just haven’t had a chance to validate that yet, however that should be soon. At this point I wouldn’t have any specific concerns with purchasing a unit given PowerTap’s reputation combined with my generally positive preview testing, but of course I can see why someone might wait.
Advantages: Dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart compatibility, ability to install onto your own compatible crank arms, price, and long battery life.
Disadvantages: Limited chainring compatibility is really the main one, being that the company is only offering certain compatibility options. For many people this won’t be an issue – but it’s worth noting. Like most of the other crank-spider region options (Power2Max/Quarq/etc…), it’s not hard if you know what you’re doing – but might be slightly intimidating to those not as familiar. Fear not, it’s easy for your bike shop though.
Would I buy it: Yes, but keep in mind I haven’t run it through the full gamut of tests yet. Though thus far things look promising. If you find this post a few months down the road you can search around for my in-depth review, and/or drop a note in the comments to remind me to see if anything has changed (and thus accordingly update this section). I kinda put the PowerTap C1, Power2Max and Quarq RIKEN AL all in the same boat: All are great options and all are fairly similar in features (and roughly in the same price range) – simply go with whatever fits your requirements around compatibility best.
Relevant Posts: First rides with the PowerTap P1 Pedals & PowerTap C1 Chainring…and more, PowerTap announces P1 Power Meter Pedals, also PowerTap C1 chainring unit
Power2Max has been on the scene for roughly a little over 4 years now. Since then they’ve repeatedly driven down the costs of power meters in the industry, and gained significant market share in doing so.
The units are typically sold with or without cranks, so you’ll need to add your own, or purchase them from Power2Max pre-installed. They recently dropped their pricing again, with their cheapest unit now at $499 (the Classic), which is frankly really damn impressive and probably the best deal in power meters today. That’s for their Type-S unit (at $610USD), which I published an in-depth review on this past spring.
When I use the Power2Max (like Quarq and PowerTap), I find them among the least finicky and most ‘easy to use’. Day in and day out in testing these units tend to ‘just work’ for me with very little calibration worries.
Advantages: The least expensive crank-based solution on the market today. Solid accuracy with a growing crank set compatibility matrix. Any temperature compensation concerns are long-gone relics of devices years ago.
Disadvantages: There isn’t a method to turn off auto-zero today on units (which is really only an issue for the most advanced of advanced users).
Would I buy it: No problem at all here, as noted above – it’s probably the best deal for a complete (captures all power, not just left) power meter on the market today. I love that they’re well into the ‘just works’ category.
Relevant Posts: The Power2Max Type S Power Meter In-Depth Review, Power2Max drops prices…again. Now $610US, Power2Max releases new Type S line, expands compatibility, Power2Max introduces Type S mountain bike power meter, additional road bike models
It’s funny to think that Garmin Vector has been out over two years now – well into the ‘mature’ product category from a power meter standpoint. In that time they’ve released a new v2 version, added in Cycling Dynamics (to both v1 & v2) and even started including the fabled crowfoot adapter for installation (which still requires a torque wrench, even on Vector 2). Finally, they introduced a Vector S option, which is a left-only unit that can be upgraded down the road to a complete dual-leg system.
While they’ve had some troubles this past summer with a firmware update that’s caused pain for some users, I think they’re out of the woods there with a beta going out two weeks ago that aimed to address that, and then another update planned for this week to (hopefully) finish off getting those with issues back to normal.
Garmin is the only company that offers Cycling Dynamics, which includes all assortment of metrics on your pedaling style. Some of these metrics can be interesting from a bike-fit standpoint, but many don’t yet have a specific training or racing purpose. Sometimes these metrics take time for the greater scientific community to figure out how to use. Unfortunately, Garmin believes that either the system or these metrics warrant a price far higher than it should be. Today it’s at $1,499USD, which is about $400-$500 more than the system is worth.
Advantages: Cycling Dynamics, full left/right power recording, somewhat-portable system between bikes (can be a bit finicky to install though)
Disadvantages: Pedal choice (just Look-compatible), price, and portability isn’t quite what it seems if you travel (you’ll need a torque wrench to really install properly), but within your house it’s really straightforward
Would I buy it: No, not at this price point. Garmin needs to reduce their prices – simple as that. It’s no longer valid to be priced at $1,499 when the P1’s are at $1,199 and have dual ANT+/BLE (Vector is ANT+ only). Further, the P1’s require no pods or finicky installs. On the flip side, the P1’s don’t have Cycling Dynamics. I think a fair price for Vector at this stage is between $999 and $1,099. Note on the Vector S system, I generally would just go with Stages unless you have specific plans to upgrade to a full complete dual-sensing Vector set later on. Otherwise the price there is out of line too.
Relevant Posts: Garmin announces Vector2 (and 2S), also upgrade kit for original Vector owners, Garmin Vector In-Depth Review , Garmin announces Vector S: $899 power meter, also announces Cycling Dynamics,
It’s rare that a company both announces and ships a power meter at essentially the same time – but Favero did just that this past summer. They announced their first power meter, the bePRO and started shipping basically immediately. The unit is similar to Garmin Vector in that it’s a pedal based power meter, but it’s a bit different in that it doesn’t require separate pods be installed – rather it’s all part of a single pedal with directly attached pod design. This gives you full left/right metrics.
While the installation may appear intimidating the first time, you’ll quickly realize it’s pretty easy to do. In my testing I found the accuracy was quite good after a few rides to let it settle, and from that point forward it handled fairly well. The battery life isn’t quite as strong as some of the coin cell powered units, but isn’t too hard to charge in that it uses a simple micro-USB cable.
Advantages: Price – the unit is 749EUR for a dual-leg system or 499EUR for a single-leg system. Accuracy seems to be pretty good too.
Disadvantages: Installation can be kinda finicky at first, and you do need to take their special tools with you if you travel. Also, I’m concerned about wear and tear on the units over a longer period of time.
Would I buy it: At this point I’m on the fence here. I see absolutely no issues with accuracy at all – it’s very solid there after the first few days. However, I continue to be concerned about long term wear of the pods and to a lesser extent how they’ve been handling customer service with a few readers (seeing mixed reactions on an admittedly small pool of riders). I’d be more likely to recommend this to Europeans than people outside of Europe, since all support has to go through Italy, versus local distribution options. This is one where it may be better to wait till December-February to see how things shake out as more people get on the system (it’s very rare that I say that, but it’s just one where a sample size of ‘1’ (me) may not be sufficient).
Relevant Posts: The Favero bePRO Power Meter In-Depth Review
The Polar/Look Power System pedals is almost four years old at this point, though it’s had a few overhauls along the way – most notably now being full Bluetooth Smart compatible, though that basically means that today it’s really only compatible with the Polar V650, M400, and V800 units. I don’t know if the Suunto Ambit3 is compatible with it (as it does support BLE power meters).
Note that there’s been a bit of a relationship status change been Polar and Look, so things are in a wonky state right now. Look is going to be coming out with their own dual ANT+/BLE power meter with a similar design early in 2016, effectively upstaging Polar and leaving them with a pile of sorta unwanted stuff.
Finally, Polar announced a new version last summer, Keo Power Essential, which is a left-only option. In this scenario you just get the left pod and pedal, and then it doubles the power for the right side. This has the same inherent limitations as Stages, but also offers a lower price point than the full Keo dual-pedal system.
Advantages: Pedal based means theoretical portability, system largely ‘just works’ once you get it installed. Appears accurate, but really hard to validate all aspects (i.e. left/right).
Disadvantages: Installation is a bit complex. Not as easy as Vector to move between bikes. Limitations on crank widths/lengths. Only Bluetooth Smart support (not dual ANT+/BLE). Overpriced.
Would I buy it: Definitely not. Aside from being functionally rather limited compared to other power meters, it’s horribly overpriced. As noted in a recent post elsewhere, the price would really have to be solidly sub-$1000 to consider, and even then really only if you were an existing Polar head unit owner (V650/M400/V800).
Relevant Review: LOOK’s new dual ANT+/BLE Power Meter Pedals: A bit more information, Polar Look Keo Power System–Pedal Based Power Meter–In-Depth Review, Polar announces new Keo Power systems, and V800/V650 power meter update plans, and more!
Quarq became the first non-SRM crank-based power meter that was actually affordable. Starting off on straight road bikes they’ve expanded to other areas including track and cross bikes. The unit replaces your existing crank spider and depending on the model is typically sold with specific crank arms attached. You’ll need to ensure your bottom bracket is compatible, but if you shoot the Quarq folks an e-mail I’ve found they can usually help anyone figure that out easily. All Quarq power meters are made in South Dakota (US), along with servicing and shipping from there.
The Quarq Cinqo was actually the first power meter I bought, and what The Girl subsequently purchased as well for her training. I’d been using it without issues for 5 years up until this fall when it appears some water ingest got in the unit causing it some problems. Quarq’s been known for their customer service (overnight return shipments and the like), and swapped out my older Cinqo for the current Riken (I confirmed that’s their normal replacement policy for out of production units). Looking at service feedback I see from others, I continue to hear nothing but good things – especially as they’ve made a number of design changes to newer units to address failings of older units.
Quarq was the first unit to estimate power left/right based on which portion of the stroke you were in. Since then they introduced their ELSA unit, which also includes the same technology. RIKEN was also introduced at the same time as a replacement for the older generation Cinqo units. While RIKEN doesn’t have left/right power, they did gain the ability to swap chainrings without sending it back to the factory.
This past spring Quarq dropped prices again and introduced their Quarq RIKEN AL option, which is a pretty solid deal.
Advantages: Crank-based design means no wheel swap issues. Accuracy on-par with other units. Can swap chain rings without issue. Easy replacement of battery, and can utilize phone apps for further calibration. For me, it has a high ‘just works’ factor. Also, last year’s major firmware update removes need for a magnet on bike.
Disadvantages: Crank arm selection has diminished some with SRAM acquisition (reducing compatibility), and while Spring 2015 pricing updates has made things substantially more competitive, they are still on the higher end of the sale between Power2Max, PowerTap C1, and themselves.
Would I buy it: From the standpoint of “Have I bought it?”, the answer is obviously yes (Cinqo twice, Riken upgrade from Cinqo). From the technical standpoint, I have no issues with either the RIKEN or ELSA units, which I’ve done quite a bit of testing on. All of those units perform as expected technically. And obviously, customer service-wise they’re awesome. I think their Quarq RIKEN AL is where it’s at, if you’re going to be purchasing a new unit from them.
Relevant Reviews: Quarq introduces new $799 RIKEN AL power meter, Quarq/SRAM RED Review, Quarq RIKEN In-Depth Review, Eurobike 2014 Power Meter Roundup: Quarq News
Stages continues to press forward and expand their lineup, most notably over the last 45 days with the addition of carbon crank offerings and re-doing their pod design, which should help with waterproofing issues they saw. Further, they threw down the hammer and dropped pricing to as low as $529USD. And of course, continuing to sponsor Team Sky.
As many know by now, Stages really started the whole left-only trend, in that that it’s attached to your left crank-arm (seen above), and thus is only measuring the left leg power. It simply doubles the left-leg power to get total power. This means if you vary, or vary in certain conditions then the power might not be accurate – or something that you could compare to years from now on different products. They were also the first one to do dual ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart dual broadcasting.
Now while $529USD is a good price, at the same time you do have to consider options for either slightly less (Power2Max) or slightly more (PowerTap/Quarq) that accurately capture your total power.
Advantages: Inexpensive option. Easily moved from bike to bike with a simple Allen/hex wrench. Contains both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ (and dual-broadcasts).
Disadvantages: Left-only approach means simply doubling left-leg power, may not be fully accurate representation of your power (high or lower).
Would I buy it: This is a much more complex question. Technically speaking it’s a well-made unit that accurately measures the left side. From a pricing standpoint it’s tough to recommend the left-only approach with other options in the same price ballpark that fully capture all power. Further, as I’ve collected a tremendous amount of power meter data over the past year with 3-5 power meters concurrently, I’ve started to understand my specific personal left/right balance biases. For most of my riding, there’d be no major issue with Stages. However for longer or higher intensity rides where I might fatigue more, I see some inaccuracies on Stages due to my personal leg differences. You might be the same, or you might be perfectly even. I don’t know.
I know it’s easy to point at Team Sky and simply say “It’s good enough for Froome”, but the reality is we’re talking about sponsored athletes and teams. In the case of Team Sky, for some riders that are/were seeing imbalance issues with Stages compared to SRM they simply have gone with a ‘known percentage offset’ for wattage goals. This is a bit of a throwing the baby out with the bathwater approach though, that numerous folks have proven isn’t terribly accurate. Which isn’t to take away from Team Sky and Stages, more power to them, but rather my point is that it’s not a one-size fits all implementation.
Relevant Review: Stages drops prices, down to $529US, Stages Power announces carbon crank options, talks a bit about dual leg power, Stages Power Meter In-Depth Review Update
Next we’ve got 4iiii Precision. They announced a year ago at Interbike and started shipping this past winter. Their solution is a small pod that could be self-installed onto your own crank arms. While the self-install piece is currently on hold, they are doing installation on your crank arms through the mail.
The unit today is left-only, but they do plan to start shipping a dual left/right setup down the road (more on that later this week). So in many ways the product today is like Stages, just cheaper and whereby you can use your own cranks instead of having to purchase new cranks. Like Stages it’s also dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart.
Advantages: Least-expensive power meter on the market today and actually shipping at sub-$400USD. Can be applied to most cranks (non-carbon). Contains both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ (and dual-broadcasts).
Disadvantages: Left-only approach means simply doubling left-leg power, may not be fully accurate representation of your power (high or lower). Once they release a right-side companion for it, it’s less of a concern.
Would I buy it: Potentially. I had some initial accuracy problems with it on the first units they sent me, due to some aspect of my pedaling technique. They didn’t impact everyone, but just some people. They’ve just given me (on Friday) a new unit which they believe should address those issues I saw. It’s a combination of software and minor hardware tweaks. I’ll be trying that out over the coming weeks and will see how things shake out.
Related posts: A Brief Update on 4iiii Precision Power Meter: Starts shipping this week, 4iiii’s Introduces $399 Power Meter, Precision: My First Ride With It
SRM has been around since the beginning of power meter measurement, and I don’t think there’s anyone that would argue that SRM doesn’t produce great products.
SRM’s strength has always been around data capture reliability, especially on the head units themselves – which they recently rolled out their long-awaited PC8 head unit. From a power meter standpoint however, they are really just as susceptible as any other power meter on the market to adverse events. Which is probably an important point to note: No power meter out there today is perfect. Not even SRM. They all have conditions where they do really well, and conditions where they do less well. It’s understanding those conditions that’s most important. Which doesn’t take away from SRM, but rather simply serves to note that I believe there’s a bit of an urban legend with being the ‘gold standard’. Many of the products in this post can produce just as consistently accurate power as SRM (which again, SRM is good at doing).
While SRM and I have talked about doing a product review, I’m not sure there’s a substantial benefit in me doing one on older products. Perhaps if/when they release either a rechargeable unit (which has been backburnered for at least another year), or if/when they release a newer low-cost power meter that’s in the market.
Advantages: It’s a well established brand with a well understood product. The reliability is generally very good. With ANT+ you can use any head unit you’d like, and aren’t limited to just the SRM head units.
Disadvantages: Expensive. Servicing isn’t as open as other power meters on the market today. If looking at their head unit (not required), the current generation is simply really expensive for what you get.
Would I buy it: I don’t own one, and right now I simply have a hard time seeing the justification of the price over other units on the market today. With the exception of very specific technical use-cases that other power meters can’t fulfill, I feel that for 98% of the market today, there are more budget friendly options that are just as accurate. I don’t subscribe to the “gold-standard” concept, maybe at one historical point, but not in this market.
Relevant Posts: Eurobike 2015 Power Meter Roundup: SRM, First look at new SRM PC8 head unit with WiFi/GPS/ANT+ & Bluetooth, Eurobike 2014 Power Meter Roundup: SRM., Interbike 2014 SRM: Their iOS app, PC8, and their thoughts on low-cost power meters
Pioneer has iterated nicely through two generations of power meters over the last two years, roughly paced at one per year. In the process they’ve dropped the price significantly – now down to $999USD, as well as greatly simplified install and purchasing. They also released a second edition of their head unit and have added some nice incremental features over the past year. And finally, they got busy with pushing out a left-only product line that can also be upgraded to a dual-leg system later. They’re doing well in establishing a clear and trusted brand name.
The Pioneer system is a bit different than most other power meters on the market in that you don’t do the install, rather, you get the kit sent to you fully installed. Additionally, it’s the only unit on the market with true left/right high speed data (starting at 12 samples per second (at 60RPM), faster the higher the cadence). While the 1st generation units received a bunch of undesirable attention due to ziptie usage, the 2nd generation units removed that requirement. It also removed the complex-crazy installation process by going with a process that you ship them your stuff.
The unit has two modes, one for ANT+ and one for private-ANT enabling the higher-analytic pieces noted above. It’s an either/or situation, as it doesn’t do dual. To get that additional data you do need to use their head unit, which while strongly suited for its specific pairing to the power meter, is overall under-featured compared to something like a Garmin Edge. Thus, I’d largely recommend just focusing on the power meter itself unless you have a specific need for the higher end data.
Advantages: Has the highest recording rate of any power meter on the market today, measures left/right power and associated metrics more in-depth than anyone else. A completely pre-set system once it arrives to you. Any choice of chainrings you’d like on the planet. Plus, the $999 complete system price is really very solid.
Disadvantages: For crank arms, you’re someone limited to certain crank sets. There can be a small delay when you send away your own cranks to get it installed (versus buying a pre-installed set).
Would I buy it: I’d consider buying it without the head unit, but it’s tricky in that the limitations of crank/chainring choice are hard to get around. Price wise it’s positioned fairly well at the moment though for what you get.
Relevant Posts: The Pioneer Power Meter System In-Depth Review, Interbike 2015 Power Meter Roundup: Pioneer, Eurobike 2015 Power Meter Roundup: Pioneer
Verve introduced their Infocrank power meter last year, and continues to chug along with incremental updates to the platform and hardware options. This dual crank-based power meter has strain gauges on both crank arms. Additionally of note is that the unit has custom designed crank arms that are specific to Infocrank.
The unit transmits on ANT+, and uses small coin cell-style batteries that you can go ahead and replace as required (no sending in needed). I’ve been testing a unit for…well, an exceedingly long period of time. To date I’ve seen absolutely zero accuracy issues with it – and can validate their claim that you don’t ever need to worry about pressing the ‘calibrate’ function on your head unit. Of course, at the same time, most other power meters are fairly accurate as well – but Infocrank seems to be more hassle-free when it comes to that piece of things.
Advantages: Complete end to end system that’s mostly ‘install and forget’, gets fairly long life on coin cell batteries. The company claims higher levels of accuracy compared to the competition, but I’d say it’s more of a ‘just as accurate’ statement instead. Though the lack of requirement to occasionally manually zero is handy and low-maintenance.
Disadvantages: You’re very limited in crank compatibility (none) because everything is actually built into a custom crank arm. Also, the coin cell batteries are a @#$@# to find in small towns in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday if you happen to run one dead.
Would I buy it: My primary issue here is price – it’s just really expensive for a power meter. Sure, cranks and chainrings are included – but that’s far from justifying the price increase compared to other units that are just as accurate.
Relevant Posts: Eurobike Power Meter 2015 News Roundup: Verve Infocrank, Eurobike Power Meter 2014 News Roundup: Verve Infocrank
ROTOR has been in the power meter market about three years now, and iterated through three different products in that time. The first unit is/was designed to measure both left and right power separately at the end of the crank arms. However despite my trying it quite a bit, I never got the system to accurately display power for me. Most users didn’t have issues, but I’ve heard from a handful of readers who ultimately had the same issues and could never get an answer. While I would agree that others are probably using the system just fine and likely with accurate numbers, I simply can’t get those numbers. Ultimately I can neither recommend it nor not recommend it. From a testing cycle, I gave it every opportunity to work, and ultimately, I delayed numerous other product’s reviews to try and get it to work. I’m just going to be simple about it: I give up.
ROTOR then shipped a left-only unit, the LT lineup, which ostensibly sidestepped the accuracy issues since being left-only sorta negates some elements of accuracy. I didn’t test that since it was merely just one half of the system I already tested.
Finally, last summer they came out with their INpower lineup, which measures power at the bottom bracket, and is also left-only. This is the lineup that they’ve really focused on the most over the last year, in terms of expansion and compatibility.
Advantages: Compatibility with ROTOR cranks and elliptical chainrings. Ability to track additional stroke/balance metrics.
Disadvantages: Limited compatibility with crank sets, couldn’t get it to work myself. The full left/right system is expensive, and the left-only INpower system is also expensive in most markets compared to Stages.
Would I buy it: I don’t think I’d buy the full left-right system, but wouldn’t be opposed to the left-only unit if you were headed down a left-only track. I just think it’s a bit pricey in certain markets (i.e. the US market) compared to Stages or other full-power capturing options.
Relevant Posts: ROTOR announces new INpower power meters, starting at $779US, First look at new ROTOR Power Meter, Eurobike Power Meter Update Post: Quarq, ROTOR, Pioneer, Brim Brothers & Ciclosport
Next, we’ve got power meters that are currently in pending shipping state. This means that as a regular consumer as of the date of this publishing you can’t actually get your hands on one quite yet (though, some do offer pre-order options). Nonetheless, since I’ve been fortunate enough to actually ride most of these, I can offer a bit of perspective on them. Of course, until they do release a final product things could change. Ones that look promising could flop, and others that have challenges could be superstars. We just don’t now.
What we do know however is that nobody in the power meter market has actually hit their projected timelines for initial release of new products (I’m not counting minor variants). Seriously, nobody. Not SRM (new rechargeable model), not Garmin (Vector), nor Polar (Bluetooth edition). Despite what the interwebs would tell you – it’s rather difficult getting a mass produced accurate power meter, regardless of whether you’re a company with hundreds of millions in revenue (Garmin), or a startup (4iiii). Remember that it’s easy getting 95% there in power meter development, it’s the last 5% that can take years (and often does).
Nonetheless, here’s what’s in the pipeline. I’ve roughly ordered them based on a combination of when the company says they’ll ship with when I think they’ll ship.
Watteam broke onto the market last summer (2014) with the announcement of a $499 left/right power meter system. The sensors attach individually to your left/right crank arms, and then have separate communication pods somewhat similar to Garmin Vector. The system is planned to work on both carbon and aluminum cranks, and is a bit less dependent on the flat surface of the back of the crank arm like 4iiii Precision.
This past July I had the chance to spend a week riding the system, and came away fairly satisfied with where things stood. They started accepting pre-orders a month ago, and plan to ship in December (updated date). I think this is definitely a unit to watch going into 2016.
Related Posts: A Preview: A Week Riding the Watteam PowerBeat $499 Power Meter, A chat with the CEO of Watteam and their new $499 power meter: PowerBeat, Watteam’s PowerBeat: A first look at prototype/beta power data
Brim Brothers Zone:
Next up is Brim Brothers Zone, I previewed them a year ago at Interibke. The Zone system is cleat-based, and attaches to the base of your Speedplay compatible cycling shoes. This means that you can quickly move from bike to bike, as long as it’s Speedplay equipped. This is ideal for those with numerous bikes, or who travel and can control the pedal type.
During my preview I ran into some snags, and that in conjunction with a few other items caused them to delay shipping to work on this. I have kept in pretty regular communications with them, and they do continue to make solid progress but don’t have an updated date yet. They are currently priced at $999US a pair, but in my discussions they are obviously aware that if prices continue to trend downwards they may have to adjust pricing accordingly.
Related Posts: Brim Brothers announces Zone power meter production, my first ride impressions
Ashton Instruments made the media rounds at Interbike last year, and then I visited with them again this spring where they demonstrated their bottom bracket based system, which they hope to sell for under $500US next year. These MIT students have the foundation for a potential power meter company and product, and were able to demonstrate it to me both indoors and outdoors. They also have riders on one of the local teams testing out basic prototypes of the platform. Note that the solution will be limited to measuring left-only power.
Ultimately while they’ll no doubt be a player to watch in the future, I certainly wouldn’t make any purchasing decisions today or for the foreseeable future based on their product. It’s simply too far out and with far too many unknowns.
I visited these folks at Interbike a few weeks ago. They’ve got a bottom-bracket region power meter, very similar to what Ashton Instruments is doing. As I noted in the post, I think they have the potential to have a solid product if they can make it a bit more consumer/bike shop friendly. Their pricing will likely be in the same ballpark as the Ashton Instruments option (and targeting the same customers).
Right now they’re saying shipping in early 2016, but I think they’ll need to make some minor tweaks to their designs in order to achieve that. Still, nothing major.
LIMITS came onto the scene this past spring as part of an Indiegogo campaign. The unit sits in between your pedals and your crank arm, offering near unlimited compatibility. It’s priced at sub-$300.
However, I’ve been very skeptical on their timelines, promises and actual status. Many of the updates they’ve given simply don’t jive with their previously published milestones. I e-mailed them again this past weekend on where things stand as part of an upcoming post and hope to get further clarity. Ultimately the concept is completely doable, but I don’t believe their timelines are.
XPEDO THRUST E:
Next we have the perennial party crasher at bike events worldwide, the Xpedo Thrust E. This pedal based unit has been continually shown for a number of years as ‘almost ready’, typically just ‘2-3 months away’. Astoundingly, this year they actually said March 2016 – as opposed to 3 months away. Either way, there were a lot of “maybe’s” said within their discussion. Simply put – I doubt we’ll ever see it ship at this point.
Luck Shoe Power:
This one slipped into the news at Eurobike last year as the first shoe-based power meter. But I didn’t have a chance to catch up with them this year, nor have I heard of anyone else who did either. The power meter sits inside the bottom of the shoe, and will transmit over Bluetooth. Given the lack of details out there about it, I certainly wouldn’t make any purchasing decisions based on it.
Finally, we have a few options that use calculations and black magic to determine your power output. These units don’t actually measure your work effort using strain gauges, but instead rely upon other environmental factors. Thus the name of non-Direct Force Power Meters (DFPM).
PowerPod: I tested this back at Eurobike and came away rather impressed. It’s basically the iBike, but without the head unit – and priced at $299. It transmits on ANT+, but they’ll be offering a dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart option in January. This means that you can pair it to your Garmin via ANT+, or other apps/devices via Bluetooth Smart. The unit attaches to your handlebars using a standard GoPro mount (perfect), and then measures wind speed, acceleration, and incline to determine power. In my testing, it was fairly accurate in normal conditions (i.e. not on the road). Of course, that was limited testing on a prototype system, as the pods plan to ship a bit later this year.
PowerCal: The PowerTap PowerCal (offered in both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart) is a heart-rate strap that also transmits power information. It monitors your heart rate and then uses the rate of change to determine power. While many hard-core power meter users are afraid to even glance at the thing, I found that when you started looking at real-world data, it wasn’t actually all that bad. And in fact, it was far more accurate than you’d expect. In general, I’d recommend this for someone that may be buying a heart rate strap anyway and is interested in power (since you’re basically just spending $50 more, it’s about $99 these days). While there are some apps out there that can attempt to do the same thing, none of them re-transmit back over ANT+, so the data isn’t included on your bike computer. Check out the full review for the limitations on where it works well, and where it’s not so hot.
iBike: I haven’t tested out the iBike in a few years now, however, this is effectively a head unit combined with the PowerPod noted above, which determines your power output. My challenge with the iBike has primarily been the head unit side, and not the power meter side. Compared to the power meters of today, the head unit is just horribly dated. But I think the company is on the right track with the PowerPod and focusing on a solo power meter rather than the full package.
A Quick Note About Buying Used Power Meters:
Everything in this post is talking about new units whereby you are the original owner. So when I talk about costs there, that’s my baseline. With that in mind, there’s nothing wrong with buying used cycling gear. However, in the case of power meters, I’d caution that accuracy is of the utmost importance. After all, if you’re buying an inaccurate/untrusted power meter, you might as well just send me the cash instead and I’ll send you back random numbers.
Thus if you buy a used power meter my only caution would be to spend the money to have the manufacturer validate/test it, this is especially true if you don’t know the source of the unit.
For example, I’d be less concerned if you had a close friend that used a PowerTap for six months and then decided to swap it out for something else due to changing their rear wheel for a disc. In that case you would know if your friend was having issues with it, and the reason behind the sale (new wheels).
Whereas, if you buy randomly from an unknown person you don’t know the history behind it and I’d be inclined to ensure a trusted 3rd party can complete a test on the device to ensure accuracy. In most cases, the best 3rd party to complete that test is the manufacture itself.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, as I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy used. I’m just saying trust…but verify.
So What Should You Buy?
At the end of the day, there’s no single right answer to this question. There’s only ‘best’ answers for a given individual situation. I’ve tried to outline all the major pros and cons of each unit on the market, and in simple language whether or not I’d purchase it (or, purchase it again). I’d probably narrow down first where you plan to place the power meter (i.e. pedals vs crank arm vs etc…), then narrow down a brand. Placement will drive usage (i.e. changing bikes or not).
The landscape will continue to change. As I noted in the above sections, the market is exploding, and thus you’ll continue to see new brands – and we’ll continue to see drops in prices. However, I don’t expect us to see any further drops in prices until at least early next spring (outside of perhaps a rebate or similar, as Garmin often does). Nothing new will hit on the market until then, and thus companies have no reason to shift prices based on speculation of other units. I do however think we’ll continue to see pricing shifts, especially among the higher end units. That’s simply inevitable as more players enter the market and fight for your cash.
Of course, if I haven’t covered something – feel free to plop questions down below. Thanks for reading!