Bend in the Road: Picking the best power meter

How to choose a training tool that's right for you in four steps

When it comes to picking a power meter, there is no shortage of options these days. And while many are good, reliable tools, they all have their idiosyncrasies. There is no such thing as the perfect power meter. Determining what is right for you is more a matter of deciding "what kind of problem you want to have," as veteran coach Joe Friel put it. You can do that in three steps, making judgments on your profession, the price, the location, and how the meter will (or won't) interact with your other toys, be they hardware or software.

I did a group power meter test over the winter, putting a few hundred miles on units from Stages, SRM, PowerTap, Pioneer, Quarq and Vector. My colleague Jeff Jones is currently in the throes of a similar test with Rotor, Power2Max and Factor, as well as a few of the above mentioned devices. We'll roll out a proper power meter buyer's guide when we're through, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share my two cents after doing a few dozen rides with multiple power meters running concurrently.

1. Are you a professional rider?

If so, then you will almost certainly have to use whatever your team hands you. If not, good news! You're not beholden to sponsors and can pick whatever is the best for you. Discussions of precision are all fine and good, but I feel comfortable recommending any of the above, save the Pioneer, as training tools to my friends, who run the full spectrum of cycling ambitions. If you want to drill into it, you can look at some comparative data files for the meters I tested in their respective reviews. If not, know that a power meter is a tool like a bathroom scale or a heart-rate monitor; it's what you do with it that matters.

In this graph, data from four meters tracks closely. Which is 'most accurate'? You tell us

2. What can you afford?

This is the biggest factor for most of us. Sure, an SRM would be great, but for most riders it simply isn't in the cards. Ten years ago, I bought a wired PowerTap built into an aluminum Bontrager Aero clincher wheelset so I could train and race on a single wheelset and have power data and - key point here - it was the most I could afford. Today there are more choices. Not that they are inexpensive by any means, but Stages and PowerTap now have some solid offerings at prices that won't result in threats of divorce.

3. Where do you want the meter to be? Or, more to the point, what is least inconvenient for you?

The second-biggest factor in picking a power meter is considering your type(s) of riding and your type(s) of bike. The one-road-bike rider has it the easiest; someone with a road bike and a tri bike or a ’cross bike or a second road bike in the stable has more logistics to sort out.

A set of Garmin Vector pedals can move fairly easily between the road and TT/tri bikes, but the ’cross bike is out of the picture, and you'll probably want to put Look-compatible pedals on the other bikes. (Otherwise, you'll either need two pairs of cleated shoes or you'll have to move and then calibrate the pedals every time you hop on another bike.) A PowerTap clincher wheel can move easily between all these bikes, but then what type of wheel will you get?

A crankset, a crank arm, pedals or a hub - which do you want to be stuck with?

The Stages left-arm meter can be moved between bikes, provided those bikes have compatible crank arms. And, technically, you can move complete cranks like SRM and Quarq — but that's not realistic.

If you are committed to a single bike, however, a crankset-based system can be a great way to go, freeing you up to pick or swap pedals and wheels as you like.

4. What will work with what you have?

Even if you are a one-bike rider, make sure that the power meter you're considering is compatible with your bike. For crank-based systems, bottom bracket solutions can be had - to a point. Double check with the power-meter company or your local shop before you purchase.

Then you have the head unit to consider. Most power-meter users and potential users have an ANT+ computer on the handlebar, a Garmin Edge or something similar. Virtually all power meters work on ANT+. If you prefer to just use your phone, then you can either attach one of those goofy dongles to the bottom of your phone, or go with a Stages or a newer PowerTap that use Bluetooth.

Stay tuned for a complete power-meter round-up in the coming weeks.

Bend in the Road is a column by Ben Delaney, who has been writing about bikes for 15 years. A former Cat 1 roadie, Delaney now has a garage full of kids bikes. Follow him on Twitter at @ben_delaney or Strava at ben-delaney.

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