Friday night, I did my first ever install of quarq's SRAM-based crank power meter system. And then Saturday, I ventured out on the Assault re-con ride that traveled the first half of the course up and over Bill's Mountain and then back to Spartanburg.
While many of us may wish for one of those mythological Fabian Cancellara motors in our bicycles, power meters are in fact the latest evolution of precise training tools that have trickled down from the pro peloton to weekend warriors and bicycling enthusiasts who now choose to invest in training instead of a new carbon frame or that light wheelset.
Here are a few initial thoughts for anyone considering making the move to power meters:
• First, I broke a Golden Rule of cycling by heading out on a century the morning after a late-night first-time install of a major bicycle component. On the road, the only problem I encountered was my fault: The front shifting was off a bit, but I was able to adjust twice during the ride, and by the end, all was working flawlessly. Don't do it, but having broken the rule leads me to my next point. . . .
• The installation and use of the quarq system was impressively easy and manageable. What is involved? You must remove your existing crank and drive-side bottom bracket cup (to slip on a magnet beneath that cup). Once you install the quarq crank (exactly like existing crank), the brief and clear manual shows you how to sync your power meter with your Garmin device. I own the Garmin 500 (and could rave about the device if you want--highly recommended), and the initial sync and the calibration needed before each ride are quick and easy (when I first heard I needed to calibrate before each ride, I was skeptical; it isn't as complex as it sounds).
• I changed the first page of my Garmin 500 to show current speed, total miles, current power, percent grade, and heart rate. Doing just one ride revealed what people say about power readings: Power is far more accurate than speed or heart rate. Ascents, descents, drafting, and taking pulls are all revealed for what they are--climbs and taking pulls are taxing while descents and drafting save tremendous amounts of effort. The heart-rate fluctuations for the four conditions are minor compared to the power output differences. For precise and purposeful training, power is clearly the gold standard. (While talking to other riders with more experience with power meters than I have, I also learned that displaying and looking at average power output is another key indicator for training.)
• Specific to the Assault route, the power meter confirmed what I already knew from riding the event most years over the past twenty-plus years: Pea Ridge is hard and the bottom half of Bill's Mountain is steep and hard. While many people are intent on riding the Marion to the top of Mitchell as recon, most cyclists would benefit as much (if not even more) from experiencing the first half of the route; many riders can burn too many matches along this challenging section if they aren't purposeful and careful.
• One concern I had about the crank-based power meter was weight, but I found that my Colnago build-up went from about 16.5 lbs to about 17 lbs (using crude scales); if weight is a concern, this small difference can be easily addressed with other components--or a bit of care with the diet.
My next experiment is one I really am looking forward to--the recovery ride. I think this will be the best use of the power meter.
Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor