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Powermeter: what it is, how it works, how to choose it

Powermeter: what it is, how it works, how to choose it

Let's start from the simplest question but also the most important one to get into the discussion…

What is a bike powermeter?

Until the beginning of the 1980s, with the advent of "modern" cycling, no suitable method had been found to verify performance on a bicycle in training or in competitions, we still relied on laboratory tests. This forced the athletes to be divided between the data of their real performance on the bike and those of the ergometer in the laboratory. With these laboratory tests it was not possible to determine how the performance of an athlete in training or in competition could change; in fact, these tests exclusively represented a snapshot of the athlete's current state at the time of the laboratory test itself.


Who invented the bike potentiometer?

In 1986 the German medical engineer Ulrich Schoberer, after many attempts and experiments, succeeded in the enterprise of measuring for the first time the power of an athlete outside a laboratory in training / competition conditions.

Since then, the use of pedaling power meters has begun in professional cycling, both in training and in managing the pace of the race. Even the amateur world is moving in this direction with the advent of products that are increasingly within everyone's reach.

How does a cycling power meter work?

A cycling power meter is a device that measures the power output of the cyclist.

And how to measure the power on the bike? The power meters base their technology on the principle of the extensometer, a measuring instrument which detects deformations. Mechanical power is measured through the deformation of a body subjected to stress. The constant deformation of these calibrated parts allows the system to measure the force torque (in N.m).

Angular velocity measurement depends on the component in which the power meter is integrated. So in the crankset or in the pedals it corresponds to the pedaling cadence while in the hub it corresponds to the rotation speed of the rear wheel.

What types of power meters are there?

You can find a power meter in almost every component of your bicycle: hub, crankset, cranks, pedals, crankset axle or chainrings.
Each choice has advantages and disadvantages, let's see them together:

1. Power meter in crankset:

It was the first potentiometer system to be presented, it is one of the most widespread and approved on the market but also the most expensive. This model measures the force near the pressure point. Advances in this area allow for improved fit, compatibility, component weight, energy optimization and strength. With the new latest generation electronic groupsets on the market there is also a hybrid product: the system directly integrated into the chainrings allows you to use your own crankset by integrating the chainrings with a competitive price.

2. Crank Arm with Power Meter:

Sold as the most affordable, it may be less accurate in some cases if the power meter is only on the left crank arm, however the power generated by each leg can be different. One may be stronger and the other more tired (eg 48 / 52% ratio) or vice versa and this phenomenon may become more pronounced with fatigue. The ratio also varies depending on the type of effort (flat/hill) and cadence. Thus, a sensor that measures only the left leg obtains the final value by multiplying the measurement obtained by two without taking into account these possible variations.

3. Hub power meter

The rear hub power meter is one of the first to be scientifically approved. It's useful when using multiple bikes because it moves easily from one to another. Some teams have used it to gauge the potential of riders. The disadvantage is that with this system the wheel is tied to a single profile with no possibility of being able to change it.

4. Pedals with power meter

This power meter has several advantages: the measurement is made as close as possible to the power created by the cyclist and the system allows you to measure each leg (left/right). The dissociated measurement allows you to precisely analyze pedaling. The cyclist can thus work on pedaling and improve technique. The pedal axle gauge can be moved easily and quickly on all bikes and is suitable for those with several bikes.

How to train with bike power meter?

Training with the power meter is now an increasingly common habit even among amateurs.
To start a journey with the various power meters, it is essential to use a test to evaluate the cyclist's "engine" together with a trainer, to have a starting point from which to work and to create a training plan.

The test must be carried out using your own power meter (or if you use the same product as the preparer) in order to avoid scoring errors. Each meter is "calibrated" by the manufacturer according to its own standard, so doing a test with two different products could also give very different results and compromise training. The power meter provides a large amount of data and to optimize your workouts it is essential to know how to read this data and, above all, to know which personal references to rely on.

How to use the power meter: advice for beginners?

1- The first thing to do is calculate the FTP (functional threshold power) and hence the reference work zones. Furthermore, the average wattage expressed in a climb or during a workout makes little sense if it is not parameterized with the athlete's weight. Tackling a 20' climb at 300 watts has a different value for an athlete weighing 60 kg and one weighing 80 kg.

2 - To make your power meter work at its best, it is advisable to take some precautions.

  • First you need to carry out regular calibration. The best thing would be to calibrate the instrument at the beginning of each workout or alternatively at least once a week, in order to always have maximum precision. The calibration mode varies from instrument to instrument, but usually always takes a few seconds.
  • Another very important aspect, as with all electronic "devices", is to periodically check for the availability of updates, capable of improving the functionality of the bike powermeter and solving any "bugs". Each power meter usually has its own management app where updates can be checked and installed.

3 - Anyone approaching the power meter for the first time could also start using the 10-second average power. Power is practically impossible to manage as it is subject to too sudden variations, even by tens of watts. The most correct value to display on your cycle computer to train without going crazy is that of the average power over 3 seconds. In practice it is the average power value expressed in the last 3 seconds and is much more stable than the instantaneous power. If it is true that power is a more precise and objective value, it is important, at least sometimes, to "cross" power data with cardio data.

The best power meters for bikes

Today the market has a great variety of potentiometers, but at Ciclimattio you can find the right expertise to choose the meter that's right for you!
Among the power meters inserted in the crankset, SRM Origin PM9 is the flagship product, the best, most expensive and most scientific system. These products are the direct heirs of the first prototypes of the 80s, those chosen by many professionals to evaluate their performance.
As for the measurement in the pedals, we cannot fail to mention the Favero Assioma Duo and the Garmin Rally.

Finally, even important manufacturers such as Shimano and SRAM insert bicycle potentiometers in the groups they launch on the market.

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