Cycling is a huge component of triathlon. If you think about it, the three sports that triathlon are comprised of are not shared equally, with cycling being the one where you spend the majority of your time. A lot of people struggle with going from leisure riding to cycling with a purpose and it can be daunting. Others are fine with becoming a cyclist but just go out and ride and don’t really progress. Others know they can work on their cycling skills and reach out to do so.
I was never timid about going from a leisurely rider to a cyclist, but it took me a while to realize I could do more then head out for a few miles at a time to become a stronger cyclist. After a couple of years I made the upgrade from an aluminum road bike to a carbon tri bike, and that did help a lot, but I still needed to put in more work if I really wanted to feel like a powerhouse on the bike with the times to back me up too.
Power meters intrigued me for a long time before I finally got my hands on one. It can be overwhelming to choose one as there are a lot of options on the market and the prices can be a little intimidating. It’s hard to spend upwards, or possibly over, a grand on something that seems foreign and has so many competitors.
The PowerTap Power Meter I received is a hub based power meter, meaning it is built into the back hub of your rear wheel. From there it can measure your power output as you pedal, be it outside on the roads or inside on a trainer.
Once installed on my bike, the first thing I did was get Finley back on the trainer and hop on for an FTP test. FTP is Functional Threshold Power, which is the measure of your maximum power output at threshold, or a pace you can maintain, albeit with effort, for roughly one hour. This is the number you then base your power based workouts off of and you ultimately plan to race at a certain percentage of your FTP.
To find your FTP, warm up well then do a 20 minute all out hard push. The first five minutes should be difficult yet sustainable and the last five should leave you cursing, gasping, and fighting against your body which will want to cave and crash and burn at this point. Your FTP will be 95% of the normalized power reading your power meter gives you for those 20 minutes.
Now I’ve never claimed to be the best or strongest cyclist. I can hold my own in races and generally come in somewhere in the top 50%, but not always by too much depending on the race field. But I’m also not the slowest or weakest cyclist out there by any means either. I tend to come in just above the middle of the pack most of the time, and given how much of triathlon is dedicated to the bike portion, I’d really like to up my game in this area. So color me disappointed when my first FTP test only yielded me a power rating of 125watts.
With FTP you want a big number. The bigger the number, the more power you’re putting out, the faster and more efficient you will be. And 125 watts isn’t exactly an impressive number. And I started trying to put together the mental pieces, like how I managed 17.5 mph average on the bike at a race where the bike course is very technical and hilly, like Ironman 70.3 Syracuse, when I’m only putting out 125 watts.
None the less, I now had concrete data about what kind of cyclist I was, and the only way to get better was to start doing workouts that would have me increasing my power output. I spent a solid month doing at least two power based workouts a week and I fought long and hard through each one, insistent on seeing results. And after a month’s worth of hard work, I got back in the saddle for a follow up FTP test.
And you know what? I averaged 166 watts of power output, a 41 watt increase in just a month’s time. I was pretty happy with that, so I took Finely out for a ride. I did the ride at training ride level of effort, not my race pace, and pleasantly surprised to see myself average 16.6 mph. Not a particularly high number, but good for a training ride. And knowing myself, I can usually carry 2-3mph faster in races than I do in training, meaning I’d be looking at racing in the 18-19 mph range, creeping closer to that 20 mph range I so desperately want to be in.
Now in all fairness to all3sports.com and PowerTap, I did not get to race this season, because I ended up being… pregnant. So I never actually got to put my test results into action in a race, which had my plan for the Flower City Duathlon that I missed due to morning sickness. So to really be able to give an honest and fair review, this is going to be a two part review. This one, as a preliminary review, and I’ll do another around this time again next year once I can train and get in a few races with my PowerTap Power Meter. This will allow me to give a more accurate review of the benefits of a power meter without the hiccup mid data collection.
Some pros of PowerTap Power Meters– Their name sake is regarded as one of the leading power meter companies in the business, and rightfully so. Their products are high quality, durable, and accurate. The company has been around for a while now and they’ve got the power science down pat. They also have amazing customer service and an expanded range of products.
Which brings me to the only con of my power meter. It’s hub based, it need to be installed in place of the hub already existing on your bike and cannot be swapped back and forth. Once it’s on, it’s staying. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you ride using more than one set of wheels. I only have one set, so for me it’s not a problem, but for people who train on one wheel set and race on another, it is. But don’t worry, PowerTap has since released a chain ring based and pedal based power meters so this is no longer an issue. You can now get the quality and accuracy of a PowerTap Power Meter without worrying about switching wheel sets.
Interested in getting your own PowerTap power meter? Head on over to all3sports.com and use the coupon code TRIGIRL15 to get 15% off your purchase. Coupon is good for lots of things over there, so go do some shopping then get cycling!
Do you ride with power? Which power meter do you have and why?