Power Meter Buyer’s Guide, Part II: Quarqs and Vectors and PowerTaps, Oh My! – UPDATED FOR ’16

by Kevin E.

Welcome to Part II of our Power Meter Buyer’s Guide! Now that we’ve covered the basics in Part I, here we’ll highlight a few power meters to put on your short list.

Location, Location, Location

Where your power meter is located is key to ensuring it will meet your needs. As we discussed in Part I, the most common types of power meters reside in your cranks, hubs, or pedals. Below we’ve selected a few examples that might be the best one for you.

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Crank-Based

Crank-based power meters were the first of their kind and made watts part of the cycling vernacular. Crank-based systems are great for riders with one primary bike and/or riders who swap wheels often (triathletes, time trialists, cyclocrossers).

Quarq Elsa RS

Quarq Elsa RS

Quarq Elsa RS

Quarq has been one of the most recognized names in power meters since 2008. In 2011, bicycle component maker SRAM acquired Quarq and lent its engineering and manufacturing expertise. The Quarq Elsa RS is their latest feature-packed top-flight unit. Also available are the less expensive entry-level Riken model ($1200) and add-ons for specialty cranks like Cannondale SiSL and Specialized S-Works.

  • Lightweight Hollow Carbon Arms & Aluminum Spider (616g)
  • Measures Left/Right Power Balance to help train pedal stroke efficiency
  • 1.5% accuracy
  • Built-in cadence sensor
  • Automatic temperature compensation for accurate power data year-round
  • Waterproof for all-weather riding
  • Compatible with ANT+ head units (Garmin, etc)
  • Elsa RS compatible with new Shimano 4-bolt chainrings (5-bolt standard version available)
  • MSRP: $1600

Best for: Frequent wheel-swappers, pedaling technicians

Stages Power CrankIMG_20150106_143831968

Stages made a big splash on the power meter scene by offering their left-crank-only power meters for nearly half the price of their competitors. While their single-sided design doesn’t offer left/right power balance, there isn’t much else you don’t get with a Stages power meter for considerably less dough. You might think measuring from just one leg isn’t accurate, but the pros at Team Sky think its more than accurate enough for them. And with mountain bike models available, its not just for roadies.

  • Nearly no weight penalty (~20g), practically invisible
  • Easy installation
  • 2% accuracy
  • Built-in cadence sensor
  • Automatic temperature compensation & weatherproofing
  • Simultaneous ANT+ & Bluetooth compatibility
  • Many models available to match nearly any bike (including MTBs!)
  • MSRP: starting at $529

Best for: First-time buyers, smartphone users, MTBers

Powertap C1 Chainrings – New for 2016

Powertap C1 Power Meter

Powertap C1 Chainrings

New for 2016 from Powertap, the C1 Chainring Power Meter is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to add dual-side power meter functionality to your existing crankset. They are compatible with most 5-bolt cranksets, and installation is as easy as replacing chainrings.

  • Installs on your existing crankset
  • Only 150g additional weight
  • Measures left/right power balance
  • 2% accuracy
  • Simultaneous ANT+ & Bluetooth compatibility
  • User-replaceable battery
  • MSRP $699

Best for: First-time buyers, pedaling technicians on a budget

Hub-Based

Rear Hub-based systems from PowerTap are another popular option for power meter users. Hub-based systems can be easily swapped between bikes and can be bundled in with a wheel upgrade.

PowerTap GS/G3 Hub

PowerTap GS Hub

PowerTap GS Hub

Wheels are often one of the first upgrades you’ll buy for your bike, so why not add in a power meter while you’re at it? Whether you spec out a custom wheel build or choose one of the many pre-built options, you can get a power meter for less cash than you’d think. If you have multiple bikes, swapping is as easy as putting on a wheel. Got a disc-brake thru-axle MTB? No problem! Track bike? You’re covered!

  • 1.5% accuracy
  • Built-in speed/cadence sensor, no zip-ties needed!
  • Minimal weight penalty
  • Tool-free installation
  • ANT+ compatibility, Bluetooth optional
  • Can be bundled with a Joule head unit
  • Disc-brake and track models available
  • MSRP: Hubs starting at $599, Complete wheels starting at $799

Best for: Wheel upgraders, multi-bike stables

Pedal-Based

Pedal-based power meters measure power closest to the source. Pedal-based systems require no special tools to install and can be swapped between multiple bikes relatively easily.

Garmin Vector & Vector S

Garmin Vector Pedals

Garmin Vector Pedals

Though they took a while to get it to market, Garmin took the time to get the Vector system right. The setup is neat and tidy and can fit on virtually any bike. They can be installed/swapped at home without special tools, so long as you follow the proper installation procedure for best accuracy. They are Look Keo

Garmin Vector S Pedals

Garmin Vector S Pedals

compatible only, so users of other systems will have to change cleats. If you can do without left/right power balance, the more affordable left-pedal-only Vector S is also available.

  • Swappable between bikes
  • Measures where force is applied, eliminating drivetrain losses
  • Left/Right power balance
  • Built-in cadence sensor
  • ANT+ compatible
  • Also available in a single-sided version (Vector S)
  • MSRP: $1299 (Vector 2) $699 (Vector 2S)

Best for: Look Keo users, frequent bike-swappers

Powertap P1 Pedals – New for 2016

IMG_5907

Powertap P1 Pedals

Powertap’s expanded 2016 product line includes a new pedal-based option, the P1. Just like the Garmin Vector pedals, the P1 pedals provide true left/right power balance and super-accurate power measurement, but with even simpler installation and swap-ability between bikes. All electronics are integrated in the pedal body itself, so they are literally plug-and-play. No pods to align, no torque wrenches necessary. The trade-off is ~40g of additional weight and a chunkier appearance over the Garmin Vector, and they require a special, proprietary cleat.

  • Easily swappable between bikes
  • Super accurate power measurement (1.5% accuracy)
  • Left/Right power balance
  • Built-in cadence sensor
  • ANT+ & Bluetooth compatibility
  • User-replaceable AAA battery
  • MSRP $1199

 

So How Do I Use This Thing?

A power meter is one of the best training tools you can buy, but the data it provides won’t be very helpful if you don’t know what to do with it.

The first step in training with power is to do an FTP test. An FTP test will determine your Functional Threshold Power, or the maximum power output you can sustain for an hour. The training zones will be working in during interval training will be based upon this value. Depending on who you ask, the procedure for a proper FTP test can vary. If you’re a DIY kind of person, the training video series The Sufferfest offers an easy-to-follow test to do indoors at home.

The next step is to build a training plan. There are plenty of resources out there to help you with that, but the best way is to enlist the help of a cycling coach to build a personalized training plan just for you. He or she can assist you in completing an FTP test, customize a training plan, and guide you along the way towards achieving your cycling goals.

Final Thoughts

A power meter is not an insignificant purchase, but using one properly will undoubtedly do more for your riding than any other upgrade you can buy. Today’s power meters are accurate, easy to use, and more accessible and affordable than ever. If you still have more questions or if you’re ready to start unlocking your potential by training with power, give us a shout!

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  1. You Have The Power!!: A Power Meter Buyer’s Guide, Part I | Cycle Craft Bicycle Stores

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