Shopping for a Power Meter? Chances are you’ve googled every article on every meter and read DC Rain Maker's list twice. Well here's my contribution to your reading. I wouldn't go so far to call this a review (especially as it's my first power meter). But having spent three weeks now with the product there's a few things I’d like share my impressions with potential buyers.
My bike is a lot filthier that I’d like it to be, but I’ll explain why later on…
Power Meters cost a lot of money.
The common advice to new buyers is Stages, it's one of the cheapest ways to get power. But at ~$1000 (all prices in this piece are quoted in AUD) I feel that's still too much to spend for something that has such a stigma attached to its quality. Issues apparently plagued the first generation of devices and while they’re supposedly fixed in version two, that's a bad impression that's hard to wash out when you’re spending this much money.
Plus for a little more money I was really keen to get some separate left/right power and accurate pedal smoothness data as these are areas I wanted to address. (Note: I’m 2% left leg dominant, now I know. 2%!)
So I decided to save a little more money to spring around for the Pioneer unit. As I already had a set of Dura Ace 9000 cranks. (Almost all other crank-based units had compatibility issues or were wildly expensive to fit my cranks.) Having to send the cranks away to have the unit installed was going to be an inconvenience I wasn't looking forward to.
Other options I considered briefly were the Powertap P1 and Garmin Vector pedals. I loved the idea of having the meter inside an easy-to-move pedal but the availability for either unit wasn't great at the time I was ready to purchase.
Then along came a second hand (I don't pay full price for anything) set of Verve Cycling Infocranks, in my crank arm length, at the mid-compact chainring size I’d wanted to switch to and all for the price of the Pioneer unit!
A quick note here about warranty. Just like most bike manufacturers won't transfer warranties to the second owner, during my research it seemed most power meter makers (for example Quarq) had the same policy. After a quick email to Verve they were happy to cover the two year warranty from the original date of purchase even as the second owner.
Installing the Infocranks is easy! Step 1: Take them to your bike shop and have a mechanic install them. Seriously. I’m no expert and the last thing I want to do with something this pricey is mess them up just to try and save a few dollars doing it myself.
I did have one quite annoying hiccup setting up the Infocrank. If you have an external bottom bracket there are two screw-on magnet hangers which are the recommended method to trigger the pod on each crank arm. If you can’t use these you’re supplied with two flimsy stick-on magnets.
These magnets must be almost touching the pods to have them register the crank arm going past. After my first ride the drive side arm stopped registering about 20 minutes in, the non-drive side a few minutes later.
After some readjustment before the next ride (and emails back and forth with the very helpful people at Verve) the non-drive side registered for the whole ride and the drive-side not at all. The non-drive side contains the “brain” of the unit; if it can’t get info from the drive side it just doubles its own power reading. But you don't get pedal balance/smoothness etc.
Fiddling with the magnets some more, it seemed that they were simply not long enough to reach the pods on each crank arm reliably. This is a seemingly obvious design problem where the magnet is very short and my 175mm cranks are the longest Infocrank you can get.
The solution was to buy more double sided tape and some foam to “stack up” the magnets further away from the frame and closer to the crank arm pods. Then to add more tape where they began to peel off. It looks like my bottom bracket has a tumour, but it works!
If there are children in the room, send them out for a moment…
These barely-holding-on magnets stacked up with some foam from the hardware store are holding me back from thoroughly cleaning the bike for fear that they'll wash off.
For the touted years of development and claims of being the “most accurate power meter” on the market, it's incredibly disappointing that a product that retails for ~$2000 has a single point of failure; two sticky magnets.
There is allegedly a firmware update “weeks away” for the unit which will do away for the need for these magnets. But I have read other articles about the product written in late 2015 which said the update was imminent too.
Update! On April 5th 2016 Verve released the firmware update that does away with magnets. It's a simple process to update and after a test this morning it works flawlessly. The firmware also allows the unit to still use magnets if detected, and this will result in better battery life. Personally I’m glad to be rid of them.
Using the Infocrank
So it's a Power Meter. It meters power. It sends that to my Garmin. It shows me extra numbers on Strava. It fills Training Peaks with graphs.
Again as this is my first introduction to the world of power I can’t write to you about the virtues of “zero calibration setup” and “±1% accuracy” and “best in class water resistance” but apparently it does these things very well and so I guess that's good?
It does what it says on the can. That's a compliment.
I’ve ridden in wet and dry, no problem. Once the magnet-related issues were behind me it's really been set-and-forget. I haven”t had to add any new calibration routine or change the way I ride. Just turn on the Garmin, get in the saddle and go.
Now lets get into the serious business. As an amateur cyclist and professional creative this was probably a bigger concern to me than anything else. The aesthetics of the Infocrank isn't for everyone — but it works for me. Cycling Tips called it “industrial”, I think it's a little more “military”. Either way, it's tough looking and on my black/blue 2014 Propel SL0 it looks right at home.
Once you’ve got your Power Meter up and going, if you’re not already familiar with the data you’re going to get back it's easy to drown in an ocean of numbers. As a first-timer the most curious part about getting a unit is the lack of an instruction manual to go along with it.
There's no shortage of services for cyclists to plug their data into but there is a huge gap for the uninitiated. If you’re going to get value out of your purchase you’re going to need a coach, a lot of free time to read or a few knowledgable friends to annoy with questions.
I think there's a gap to be filled here and I wonder if any of the Power Meter makers have tried it. It would be nice to have a basic explanation of what the likes of TSS, IF, FTP and more are, and why anyone should care. Along with some example goals you could set yourself and how using a Power Meter will help you achieve them.
Sure I can google up some training plans, but you might as well throw numbers in a blender and call the result your “Killer Perfect Intervals Workout” because it seems anything goes. I’m sure I’ve read every combination of 1/2/5/10/20/60 minute workouts by this point.
Basically, if you’re thinking of buying a Power Meter you better already know what you want to do with it; or work it out quickly.
I’m quickly getting the impression that the value in a Power Meter is much, much more measured by what you do with it than which one you buy.
It is really exciting to be able to correlate numbers with effort during and after a ride. But that could be done with any Power Meter.
Overall I’m happy with the Infocrank. It looks great and it just works. If you want something to setup, get working and forget, this is a solid choice.