While waiting for it to warm up, I asked Rick G to share his thoughts on using a power meter.  And of course, I am always willing to share my thoughts.  AFAIK he and I are the only ones in the SOBs with a meter.  He has had his for about a year.  I have had mine for about a month.  If you are interested, read on.  If not, Saturday looks like it should be warm enough and the snow melted enough to get outside again.  Hope to see you.

Rick G – Thoughts on Using a Power Meter

I have the Powertap P1 Pedals with dual sided measurement. Powertap also sells the pedals with single sided measurement. I got the dual sided pedals because I have a left knee that has had many operations and I was hoping to find out the strength in the left leg versus the right. Bob indicated he has a 55/45 L/R balance. Mine is the opposite 45/55 L/R balance. All I found out is my left knee is weaker which I already knew. How to make that leg stronger I have not figured out.

I got the pedals a little over a year ago and have mainly been watching the numbers. I plan on using the pedals to establish a base fitness level and get a little faster. I’ll start this training after the first of the year. One problem with training is that if you want to get faster you also have to go a bit slower to build up your base so that your body is able to burn fat as well as carbs when you are cycling in an aerobic manner. This info came from a book – “Base Building for Cyclists” by Thomas Chapple. I’m never going to be a sprinter so endurance is what I am after. Group rides don’t work very well for doing this so this kind of training does need to be done separately from the group rides.

Using heart rate as a guide for perceived output never worked for me. What I have found when using power is that it is easier to track your exertion level (at least for me). To work out the power zones I did an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test on my trainer. You input the number (FTP) that you get into software or into your cycling computer and it establishes the power zones. What I used the pedals for this year was to no longer aim for distance as a measurement of what to shoot for when training for a ride. For instance, in training for a century ride I used to aim for 75 to 80 as my longest ride and figured I could go the extra distance to finish the century. I now shoot for an IF (Intensity Factor) and using a chart in a book I have aim for a finishing time and use the chart to determine a TSS (Training Stress Score). You don’t need to figure your intensity factor as modern Garmin and Wahoo cycling computers do that for you. So I use the TSS as a guide to the output necessary for a predetermined century finishing time. Using this method, I was able to do an under six hour century for the first time.

By the way the Wahoo Element Bolt has little lights that can show you what zone you are in. When you see red you know you are going hard and you can’t sustain that output for long. Yellow indicates moderate output and green indicates you are in the zone – below or right at FTP.

I use Training Peaks as the software. An annual subscription for the software is $119. It might be cheaper to use WKO (also from Training Peaks) since it is a standalone product and you only pay once. But I just don’t care for the interface being a mac guy. I’ve tried Golden Cheetah too and I don’t like its interface either. With a Garmin or Wahoo computer you can automatically upload the results to Strava, Training Peaks, Ride with GPS, etc.

I think the simplest guide to power is “The Power Meter Handbook” by Joe Friel. If you are thinking of getting a power meter this is a good purchase.

Bottom line for me is I think I’m faster and more powerful now just watching the numbers and paying attention to which power zone I am in.

Would I recommend power meters – for me or others like me yes. There is a learning curve to figuring it all out and each person will have to decide for themselves if putting in the time and seriously training is something they would like to do.

Intensity Factor (IF)– the ratio of a rider’s normalized power to Functional Threshold Power (FTP). An indicator of how challenging the workout was in terms of intensity only.
Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – The highest mean maximal power a rider can sustain for 60 minutes.
Training Stress Score (TSS) – The workload of a training session based on intensity and duration.

Bob B – Power Meter Thoughts and Opinions.

I got my power meter about a month ago and have used it regularly since, both indoors and out.  It is a pedal based power meter similar to Rick Gs.  Both use Look cleats so if that bothers you, then a pedal based meter is not for you cause I’m pretty sure all pedal meters are Look cleat based.

Mine is a Favero Assioma Duo, there are sensors in both the R and L pedals so you get an independent measurement of power from both legs, rather than a single sensor which is then doubled.  In my case I tend to see 55/45 L/R balance so doubling the L side would be a bit off.  Possibly due to the new R hip?  I got it from Clever Training via DC Rainmaker’s blog.  If you don’t know who DC Rainmaker is or have never read his blog then I am going to say that you are not enough of a gearhead to benefit from a power meter.  There are occasional sales so you can save 15% or so if you watch for one.

The thing works and seems to produce accurate readings.  It displays power, L/R balance, and L/R pedal smoothness on my speedo (Wahoo Elemnt) although I still don’t really understand what the smoothness is supposed to mean.  (And there are a seemingly endless set of other numbers that can be displayed, such as 20 sec averages, etc.)  I got the pedal based meter in order to easily move it from inside trainer bike to outside bike, since I have two.  Also in my case, my wife can also use it, although she is not a gearhead and is much less enthused than me.

The pedals install easily, they use a 8 or 10 mm hex and I can move them between bikes in about 3 minutes.  Once on a bike you pedal around for a few seconds to a minute, then stop, unclip, and run a brief calibration, and then just ride.  The calibration takes like 15 seconds.

Out on the road, or the trainer, you can easily see your power numbers although they don’t help you go uphill any faster.  You do get a feel for what sort of power you can maintain for a long period and so you can modulate your effort to try to maintain that level without any guessing.  The power number is instantaneous, as opposed to heart rate, which lags.  And it compensates for wind, terrain, drafting, etc.  When you are doing 200w (which is hard BTW) you are doing 200w.

So now what do you do with this information.  Just looking at the numbers is not much help.  This is where gearhead gets even more intense.  In order to know what to do with this information you need to download it into a software package for analysis.  The free one is called Golden Cheetah.  There is also Training Peaks who have WKO for something like $100 a year?  And after uploading your rides to this software, you have to look at various graphs and try to interpret what it all means.  That is going to take several Utube videos and books such as “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” by Allen and Coggan to understand.  Coggan is kind of the god of power meter training.

Here is a sample of one graph from Golden Cheetah for one ride, last Saturday’s group ride.

Pretty straightforward huh.  The top red line is “stress” showing basically what you already know, when you are climbing a hill you get stressed and when you stop or descend you recover.  Didn’t really need to spend a ton of money to learn that.  The yellow is power.  The grey is terrain.  The purple is L/R balance.  When the grey is flat that means we are stopped.  The harder you climb, the more you get stressed, the longer it takes to recover.  You can see toward the end that I was working pretty hard on Dinosaur where the power numbers are higher and the stress keeps going down.  If this sort of thing has you turned on right now, then you are a candidate.  If your eyes are glazed over then not so much.

You can also view data from days, weeks, & months worth of rides and combined with information from the book, you can attempt to understand your overall level of fitness and whether you are peaking for a particular event.  I don’t have enough data yet, nor enough working knowledge from the book and the videos to make any sort of assessment.  If anyone is interested, then I can update things after more time passes.

Riding outdoors with this thing is somewhat illuminating but I think riding on the trainer is where any sort of actual improvement will occur.  I use a series of videos called Sufferfest ($10/month) that have workouts with targeted cadence, heart rate, and power.  The video tells you what cadence and power to ride at and for how long, e.g. an interval.  Each workout video is supposed to help with a certain type of training – speed, racing, climbing, endurance, etc.  I can’t say that it works since I don’t have a double blind study to compare, but at our age I’m not sure how much  improvement is possible, maybe just maintaining is the goal.  Using the Sufferfest videos is more fun than staring at the wall, that’s for sure.  They also have training plans included, each a 10 week program to get ready for something.  And you can ride the videos with estimated power, which I have found is 15% – 20% high (200w estimated is way easier than 200w from the pedals).

One thing to note, most of the training plans and power based stuff in the literature is targeted at racers, not old folks in lycra.  I can’t claim to have made an exhaustive search, but so far I have not found anything that targets us old folk as far as a training program. (If you know of something, post a comment.)  However, if you are nerdy enough and willing to train indoors (or train outdoors, rather than just riding, but that takes even more discipline) then you might get some benefit from a power meter.  Otherwise it gives you some data you don’t get while riding without one but you’ll have to determine if it is worth the cost.

If you have experience with a power meter, or just want to chime in, feel free to post a comment.  We’ll respond.

If you read down to here, then treat yourself to a beer.  You deserve it.

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