Cycling has a way of corrupting rationale thought.
Boiler broken, household bills, best friend’s wedding present. All secondary considerations when you badly need a new group set, new wheel set, and now a power meter. It never gets quite as bad as having to decide between buying new kit for your bike versus putting food on the table (for your kids!) – or at least it hasn’t yet.
Once the decision has been made to buy a power meter the most important thing is to act rationally and conduct thorough research before adding to basket.
Being the type of rider that will happily sit at the back and let others do the work I thought that I would adopt this approach to selecting the right power meter for me. I found a young Russian bike racer on the Internet and arranged to meet him at Oxford Circus (it's not how it sounds) to talk me through his power meter selection process.
Vlad (not his real name) looked like a racer. His ride looked like a proper racing bike. Aero, the flattened frame hugging the contours of the rear wheel. Slammed, the stem ridiculously long and angled downwards. Deep, the wheels two thick black carbon hoops. This all added up to someone who took their cycling seriously.
Vlad had gone for a Quarq DZero spider-based power meter. He’d read good reviews on the DZero’s predecessors (Elsa and Riken) and liked the promised bottom bracket compatibility, ease of fitting and widely held belief that power meters in or near the crankset and bottom bracket are the most accurate.
With multiple versions available, depending on whether your pairing with SRAM (Quarq’s sister company) or Shimano, the risk of not being able to fit to your bike’s drivetrain are minimal (although best check with a mechanic the intricacies of 110 or 130 Bolt Circle Diameter or BB386/EVO standards).
The DZero also comes as just the spider or with a choice of SRAM or Quarq branded crank arms. All that promise of compatibility comes with the risk of confusion – keep your mechanic’s number on speed dial.
As Vlad began to explain the intricacies of Training Load (a way of quantifying the intensity and volume of a training session) my eyes glazed over, resting on his oval cranks. I’d never seen them before in real life. Bradley Wiggins brought them to mainstream cyclists’ consciousness during the 2011 Tour de France.
Until now I didn't really believe that they existed outside the rarefied atmosphere of the World Tour. To be honest I thought they were an innovation that had quietly slipped away into history as a forgotten Pro-cyclist innovation that didn't trickle down.
Vlad said he’d got them as he wanted to give them a go. See if they had any benefit, gave him an edge in his own racing. I suppose that's the difference, when there is a competitive purpose to your cycling, you're going to look beyond standard Ultegra for an edge. Power meters fit this thinking.
The Dzero is bang up to date with ANT+ or Bluetooth connectivity, pairing to phone or head unit is easy. There’s an app too - the Qalvin smartphone app facilitates firmware updates, calibrations and diagnostics. That’s just the technology you can interact with. Inside the Dzero the technology runs deep too. Quarq have developed a new measurement circuit and improved strain gauges to improve accuracy and consistency. Quarq claim a variance of + / - 1.5%. There are other benefits too, temperature compensation, cadence measurements and ability to monitor right / left power balance (or imbalances).
Vlad was confident that the Dzero had made a difference to his training and racing. The numbers generated made his training program more interesting, more real and helped avoid training stagnation. It was satisfying seeing the numbers move indisputably in the right direction, positively reinforcing the need to commit to training, providing motivation to keep laying down those hard training miles.
He had learnt to plan in training load and to structure training load – which all sounded sadistic but had enabled him to learn how his body responded to intense efforts, to progressively increase training load, and target specific training objectives (learn more about managing and tracking your training load here. He warned that none of this could achieved over the short term but part of a long-term training program.
Whilst racing, the Dzero served further purposes with real time date for pacing and sustaining a specific effort. Vlad was quite clear; a power meter was for riders with structured training programs – structured for the purposes of racing. Not for City Boys, Weekend Warriors or All the Gear / No Idea types (I quietly ticked a number of those cycling stereo-types off in my head).
He did generously concede that a non-competitive rider training for an endurance event could benefit too.
Living with the Dzero has been easy – from fitting through to calibration. Vlad had a mechanic fit the Dzero just to be on the safe side, but it could just as easily be a DIY job. Other than some initial battery life issues he’d not had any problems and the meter readings appeared true and consistent (or at least consistent with itself – which is the most important thing).
As Vlad rode off on his Aero bike I considered what I’d learnt. The oval cranks and slammed stem seemed unnecessary – even if I could force myself in to the enforced aerodynamic riding position I wouldn't be able to maintain it for any duration. Performance benefits minimal. Not all pro-cyclist innovation is good for the mere-mortal cyclist.
Pick your innovations wisely.
The near invisible integral brakes, the wind-cheating flattened frame - even propped up against a table it looked fast – delivering aerodynamic advantages. I could get that cycling-tech. Just get on it and ride. Faster.
But where do power meters land? They’re not a quick fix or silver bullet. You still must work hard, maybe even harder than you’re used to, to extract benefit.
The cold hard conclusion is that power meters are for racers / competitive cyclists, whether during a race to control effort or as part of a well-constructed training program. However, maybe you’re targeting the Etape du Tour or Haute Route and need a seismic shift in your riding. Then a power meter can make sense - as long as you have the complimentary training plan and take the time / effort to understand the numbers and learn from them.
I’m not saying don’t feed your kids, but maybe that new sofa can wait.
Keep Striving – with Strivemax