Joining the likes of SRM and PowerTap, Stages Cycling has launched its own GPS head unit, the Dash, and a cloud software and training app called Link to connect the dots between a power meter, a rider – and how to train in an integrated environment.
“We wanted to make training with power more approachable,” said Stages senior vice president Pat Warner. “We wanted to have the most robust data capture and analysis tools. And we wanted to offer riders a single platform for managing all their sensors.”
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Garmin, the dominant GPS player, went the other direction, of course. It largely cornered the market with its Edge computers before launching its Vector pedal-based power meters and Garmin Connect software and app.
While Garmin's Edge computers are easily the best on the market for navigation and full of training features, Warner and the crew at Stages believe there is an opening for a training-centric head unit with a bevy of customization options.
“We didn’t make Dash to compete with the Garmin 1000 or 820,” said Stages marketing manager Matt Pacocha. “There is not anything out there like Dash. It has a specific intention. There are plenty of GPS units out there to help you find your friends; the Dash is made to help you drop your friends.”
The $399 Stages Dash (UK and AU pricing was TBC at time of writing) is a black-and-white unit, can be used in landscape or portrait orientation, and can connect with up to eight devices (such as a power meter, heart-rate monitor, speed/cadence sensor, smartphone or smart trainer) via ANT+ and Bluetooth.
As with many computers, the screens can be set for a number of different fields. Unlike other computers, you can determine the layout in size and placement of each field — including a split-screen option where half the screen stays while you scroll through other pages on the other half.
The computer automatically adjusts its screens to the ANT+ peripherals you have connected. For instance, if you have a heart-rate monitor, HR-centric fields will be shown. If you don’t, they won’t.
While there is limited GPS functionality — it records your route and can show a route as a line on a blank background — there is no base maps or navigation functionality.
You can program the computer with its buttons, but the easier options are through the Link software or app. Similar to the app with Wahoo’s Elmnt GPS computer, the Stages Link app and software updates the Dash whenever physically or wirelessly tethered.
The Link software and app were built on the Today’s Plan platform around Stages’ specifications. Despite the deep and detailed level of data analysis, Stages hopes the Link software will be a beginner-friendly introduction to training with power, as it is packed with pop-up instructional videos, definitions and tips.
Link comes preconfigured around training zones. It can be customized, but those who don’t know what an FTP is – much less how to determine it – can jump right in and get training on day one, according to Stages engineer Jim Stemper.
“Training with zones is the easiest and best way to train,” Stemper said. “Right from the Link log-in, we have videos and contextual help to explain things.”
If you know your FTP, great, you can plug that into the software. FTP means functional threshold power, defined as the highest average power you can sustain for an hour, typically determined by a 20-minute test.
If you don’t know your FTP, Link has an FTP predictor based on a short questionnaire so you can get started with training-zone workouts immediately.
“Every page on the default startup is characterized toward zone training: time in zones, peak power, form and fitness,” Stemper said “Right from the start we want people to know that an FTP means something. If you can understand that a zone is an energy system, we have come a long way.”
As with Today’s Plan, Link can tailor your training to a particular goal and how much time you have to train each day. Also similar to Today’s Plan, the Link plans will automatically evolve as riders upload their data and their FTP improves.
Stages has a number of preset training plans written by former USA Cycling national track coach Benjamin Sharp, who is on staff as Stages power education specialist.
While each of the three components work with third-party products, there is some functionality that can only be obtained by using Link and the Dash, such as workout details from Link auto-populating the Dash. Besides being able to preview all the details (number, length, intensity of intervals), the Dash will also show you what’s coming up in the midst of a workout. For example, while you are doing one set of intervals, the screen will show you the recipe for the second set.
The Link software will be free for the basic functionality, such as the Dash manager, power manager and basic calendar, but the full analysis will require a monthly subscription, with pricing TBD. Stages will give two months of the full Link to those who buy a meter or a Dash.