Do you really need a power meter?

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Do you really need a power meter?

While they might be all the rage, you really need to think about whether you need a power meter on your bike

I like power meters. I like them because, like a lot of people, I always enjoy having a gadget to mess around with and, as someone who definitely has an aspect of his personality that errs towards the empirical, I like seeing numbers on a screen that I can measure against past and future performances. 

It’s also worth pointing out that while I like seeing these numbers, the information they give me is never anything short of disappointing, as my ability to actually turn the pedals in no way matches my enthusiasm for doing so. The only thing that stopped me from becoming a professional cyclist, in fact, was a dramatic lack of talent. And application.

Fundamentally, though, I think power meters are still slightly misunderstood. There seems to still be an eternal power struggle between the power disciples and those who claim that power measurement adds an unneeded level of complication to an otherwise simple sport. This one I can clear up once and for all: you don’t need a power meter. I’ll just reiterate that to make sure it’s absolutely clear: you do not need a power meter. Thousands upon thousands of cyclists have become really strong riders before the advent of training with power, and just because you don’t have a wattage readout on your Garmin’s screen doesn’t mean that you aren’t making progress towards your goal.

Sorry if that sounds like blasphemy, but it’s the truth. Whether or not you’re measuring power, you can still get on your bike, have a blast and ride until your legs burn.

As much as you might want a power meter, you really don’t need one. Before you buy you really need to have a think about what your goals are, and what you enjoy doing most on the bike

But before all the power meter users out there come to hunt me down with the intention of burning me at the stake of progress, I’ll follow it up with this: anyone who doesn’t think a power meter is the single best training tool for a cyclist is only kidding themselves. If you want one thing that’ll help you to become a stronger rider, a power meter is it. Nothing on a bike compares to the accuracy and, most importantly, repeatability of a power meter while remaining as unaffected by external variables.

The power meter, just like a heart rate monitor, is a tool designed to help you become a stronger rider (and unlike heart rate, power doesn’t have the same day to day fluctuations as heart rate, hence why power meters have become so pervasive at the pro level). Think about that for a moment. Very few pieces of bike kit are designed with the goal of helping you improve physiologically. Aero wheels, aero helmets, skinsuits, time trial bikes and almost everything else out there actually have a different goal; and that’s to help you make the most of what you already have. A TT bike is designed to make you more aerodynamic and, as a result, help you go faster. But it won’t give you the ability to produce more watts, just make sure that those watts are being used in the most effective manner possible. It is, if you like, a tool directed towards increasing efficiency, not boosting power.

Of course, having a power meter on your bike isn’t going to do anything in itself. You have to put in the work. And if you don’t want to, or have little interest in, doing that, then why bother? If you like to ride, enjoy a weekend spin with your mates but have no real performance ambitions, why on earth would you buy a power meter? Unless you’re training to a structured plan and interested in repeatable performance over a large time frame you’ll gain very little from using one. And if you’re not training, a power meter is just another piece of kit like those wheels that sit in the garage never ridden, or your spare set of handlebars you keep lying around ‘just in case’. Sure, it’ll give your bike the ‘pro’ look, but so will segmented cable housing, and that won’t set you back hundreds – or even thousands – of pounds.

Speaking of which, one other thing I frequently hear is that power meters are expensive. At the risk of being overly equivocal, that’s both true and utter nonsense. Like almost everything in life, expense is relative, and while £500 might seem like extortion to a lot of us, to others it’s comparatively cheap. Power meters are far cheaper now than they were just a couple of years ago, and major brands like Garmin, Quarq, Pioneer, Power2max and Rotor all having dropped the RRP on their devices over the last 12 months.

Quarq, Power2max, Pioneer, Garmin and more have reduced the price of their units over the last few months, making them more affordable than ever. Unless you spend all your money on flashy bike clothing, that is

You can pick up a unit for as little as £500 now from an established brand, and do even better than that if you wait until sale time, and if you think about that relative to the cost of most other bike-related kit, it doesn’t actually seem too bad considering the potential gains that can be made. If you want a set of carbon wheels, almost every set out there will cost you more than, say, a Stages, unless you buy some unbranded rims from China in which case there’s a danger that you’ll get exactly what you paid for. I quite often see people out riding in well over £500 worth of bike gear and while I’m not suggesting you should ride naked in order to save money (please, please don’t do that), the point is that if you kit yourself out in full Assos or Rapha then tell me that a power meter is too expensive, I probably won’t believe you.

Ultimately whether or not you need a power meter comes down to what your goals are. If you just want to ride your bike and enjoy yourself, there really is no point. A power meter is a specialised tool for riders who want to increase wattage and increase their on-bike strength but it can actually take away a lot of the pure enjoyment from riding. If you race, or really want to improve your fitness, then following a structured training plan using power zones can do wonders, and it’ll give you a measurable way to track improvement over time. But does any rider actually need one? No, of course not.

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