SRM prototype power meter

Rule#74 Conundrum

Rule#74 Conundrum

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Maui Velominatus Dave is tapering for this Saturday’s Cycle to the Sun. It is more mass start, time trial to the sun as there is nothing like 3.3 km of continual climbing to sort everyone out by their power to weight ratios. After 2 km of climbing there is no pack and no draft. Everyone climbs as hard as they can and almost everyone is riding alone. 

Dave has been training like a bastard. He doesn’t have a coach but he does have a power meter and an analytical mind. As we talked about his up-coming race he could not contain himself any longer, “I don’t know how you and Frank can train without power meters. They are fantastic. They make your bike an extension of your body.”

What? I had never considered this as a possibility. Isn’t this something we all want; the rolling centaur? This is a feedback loop: the brain to the legs to the cranks to the strain gages to the head unit to the eyes to the brain. The bike is getting involved here. The bike is telling you how hard you are riding it. Dude. 

Presently I’m just riding with a V-meter. I’ve used heart rate meters and cyclometers but got tired of seeing how slow I was. I wanted to simplify; I wanted an unadulterated ride. Also, I obviously didn’t want to formally train anymore, just do rides that I barely made it home from. Is that training? To quote Roy Knickman*, “you are what you train.” His admonition is something Abandy should take to heart; if all you do is train in the mountains, that’s all you are going to be good at. I might have been just training to barely make it home but really it was not training. Training should be more work and less play. 

 We all need cycling goals. We all need something to get fitter for, even if the goal is as simple not to get shelled as quickly on that same climb. 

Let us be very clear on the idea of training rides versus other rides. A training ride may not be too much fun and most importantly there should be a clear plan for what will happen, see Rule #71. This is where the power meter has to shine; it is the most reliable, direct and accurate instrument for monitoring effort on the bike. The prices are coming down and the model choices are going up. Here is a nice amateur guide for them. 

The head unit stays at home on the weekend group ride to the café and back. That ride is why you did the training ride(s) earlier in the week. Don’t try to mix the two or you will be abused. We do the training rides so we can drop our friends on the weekend, that’s what friends do. And nobody wants to be accused of staring at their power meter when they should be looking where they are going, no matter how well they ride.

I am intrigued by the concept of the bike becoming more of an extension of the body through the power meter. Does this violate The Rules? Does this make you a stronger cyclists?

*Who is Roy Knickman? American Hardest of Hardman of the 7-Eleven and La Vie Claire era, FFS. 

// Technology // The Rules

  1. @pistard Damn. The fifties; when spoke properly, ruled the world, dressed like @Teocalli and ran special bike friendly trains. Where did it all go wrong?

  2. Interesting conundrum @Gianni

    Like @Tobin an @frank have said, I go riding to turn my brain off, not sure I need another device to keep it constantly buzzing and thinking and worrying and stressing.  By nature Im a ball of stress so a power meter added to everything else in my life would do my head in.

    On the flip side of my own argument inside my tiny brain, a work colleague has recently purchased a “Bkool” indoor trainer with virtual feeds and inbuilt power meter ( He’s not Rule #9 compliant) .  His group rides have gone through the roof whereby previously languishing at the back, now a regular at the front and pushing hard.

    So, as per the “force”, if used for good, not evil, cant be a bad thing Obi Wan.

  3. @The Grande Fondue

    @Puffy

    You will never win a race or a bunch ride just by watching your wattage.

    Hmm

    Chris Froome looking at stems

    I knew someone would bring Froome up…. As you seriously suggesting that absolutly NOTHING other than riding to a set wattage is all that he did? Are you suggesting that tactics, teamwork and the like played no role at all? Maybe, just maybe he used/uses a large number of tools to get him to the front of the peleton at the right point in a race/on a climb and THEN and only then does he ride to a set predetermined wattage. Even then I would suggest that he was going past his predetermined limits because/if he felt strong, he dug deeper than he had in testing because this was the real deal, not a simulation and in those situations we can do so. Maybe, if that was the case, and he had stuck to his predetermined limits he wouldn’t have done as well?

  4. @Gianni

    @ChrisO

    You have to go further and make your entire training power based – and that includes keeping it on your bike even on the weekend club ride. You might not ride to a pre-determined power level as you would in a training session but you do want to know exactly what your effort was on the ride as this will have an effect on your weekly and long-term training.

    People who start with power training are often surprised by the amount of recovery – and how very light that recovery is. Because you train so accurately at higher levels a power-based training plan has a lot of recovery time at levels where previously you might have thought it was hardly worth being on the bike. So if you do a three hour club ride you need to know where that fits on the scale.

    That is a very good point and it demonstrates how little I know about training with power. Yeah, that makes sense. The point I should have made is, when on a weekend group ride and you let your power meter dictate your ride that day, your friends will abuse you. A group ride is probably not an individual power training ride also. But your point about needing to record all your rides so you have all your data is an important one.

    I train (with power) 90% of the time alone because I get to do what I need to do without consideration of others. Occasionally I ride with a buddy when he asks what I’m doing that day and our schedules line up. On one occasional we had agreed on a “2hr Easy” ride but I found he kept half wheeling me especially up hills. I eventually asked him if he wanted to move it to moderate and ride harder. He said no, but he was “inimidated” by my power meter and was afraid he was “dragging me down”.

    I assured him that I was not a “zone junky” and didn’t have to stick exactly within a small zone every second of the ride. Intervervals were a different story and I did those solo. What really took me back was that he felt the need to always be pushing just that little bit harder than I was just incase…

    I told him… “Buddy, just ride it, if I don’t like the pace I’ll say something as should you”.

  5. @Mike_P

    I started training with a power meter and coached plan last December and it’s made a whole world of difference for me. Whereas year after year I’d overtrain, then get sick, then recover and repeat the cycle.

    Make sure you get a good Coach with runs on the board! My previous “trainer” (he wasn’t coaching me!!) lead me through that exact cycle and when I finally pulled the pin after 64 weeks, he had admitted he’d overdone it but was continuing on the same path! The new coach is actually coaching me (interested in me as an athlete rather than just punching out training plans), I’m actually riding less, feel vastly fitter/fresher and the areas I kept asking the last guy to work on are finally being worked on! The new coach has the runs on the board personally (used to race) and has some successful clients. The last one had a Masters, but that was it, all book smarts and no street smarts. Lesson learned.

  6. @souleur

    but for now…I’ll subscribe to ‘ride more’

    Funny you should say that. As I mentined in a post above, my previous “coach” used the ‘ride more’ or TITS principle as I like to call it. (Time In The Saddle). I was always tired, fatigued and my performance plateaued. The new Coach’s motto is “Train smarted, not longer” and “Train to win, not to make charts”. I ride less (8-10hrs compared to 10-14hrs), and man do I feel fresh on a daily basis compared to before. Performance is moving upward at good rates. The intensity of my training rides is much higher now, but I recover fast and better. Where as before I had DOMs getting on the bike each morning, now, it’s gone by lunch time!

  7. Yes having a coach, if you can afford it, or a mentor if you can’t, is a good way to start with power. It really is such a different mindset and approach that you need someone to help you.

    Quite apart from understanding all the different bits of jargon and TLAs – Functional Power Threshold, Training Stress Score, Normalised Power and don’t get me started on Decoupling !

    When I started with my coach I complained to him that I felt I was going backwards because I wasn’t doing enough. Another guy who started around the same time quite because he wasn’t being told to go hammer it five times a week. Fortunately the coach resisted and told me to wait and see, and I came back stronger and better than ever.

  8. @GogglesPizano

     as it is only measuring a deflection that is already there …. would be undetectable I would say

    So marginal gains says remove the deflection.  Any deflection is lost energy.  If that’s how they work then I can understand there being no loss, but if that is how they work I’d be surprised if they could detect low power as that would imply something of a noodle for a crank arm?

  9. @Chris

    @pistard Damn. The fifties; when spoke properly, ruled the world, dressed like @Teocalli and ran special bike friendly trains. Where did it all go wrong?

    No kidding, car free roads, not a pothole in sight, packed lunch from the restaurant carriage, bike carriage, helpful attendants, etc.  Progress eh.  Try to get more than 3 bikes on a train now…..

  10. @Puffy

    @Mike_P

    I started training with a power meter and coached plan last December and it’s made a whole world of difference for me. Whereas year after year I’d overtrain, then get sick, then recover and repeat the cycle.

    Make sure you get a good Coach with runs on the board! My previous “trainer” (he wasn’t coaching me!!) lead me through that exact cycle and when I finally pulled the pin after 64 weeks, he had admitted he’d overdone it but was continuing on the same path! The new coach is actually coaching me (interested in me as an athlete rather than just punching out training plans), I’m actually riding less, feel vastly fitter/fresher and the areas I kept asking the last guy to work on are finally being worked on! The new coach has the runs on the board personally (used to race) and has some successful clients. The last one had a Masters, but that was it, all book smarts and no street smarts. Lesson learned.

    Yep, I can’t speak highly enough of my coach.  He has more runs on the board than any rider I personally know…former track sprinter and then stage racer in South Africa before moving over.  He coaches multiple elite riders and has even had one of the former Rabobank squad come to him, albeit for his bike fitting knowledge.  Apart from the training plans, the key to my success with him is his ability to motivate me through dark periods when I don’t think it’s going too well, to explain the science in easy to understand terms and to help me relax more as a rider. The realisation that I don’t need to kill myself to be better has been a revelation.  His service is money well spent and over the 8 months we’ve “worked” together he’s become a friend as well as coach.  Did I mention that he is also an awesome wheel builder and bike fitter?

  11. Interesting question posed here.

    I’ve always been a bit of a heart rate guy…heart working to pump blood to muscles doing the work of making my bike fly has always struck me as a more valuable metric to observe than something as simplistic as speed for example.

    However, I think there can be a risk that you will allow the numbers you’re seeing cloud your perception of the effort you’re putting out.  For me, 165 bpm had become a redline of sorts as time after time I’d soon find myself in trouble if I tried to keep hammering at this operating temperature.

    And then, a couple of weeks ago on an awesome ride with a big group of fast guys, where speed and the moment distracted me from all else, I realized after the fact that I’d done more work at and beyond my perceived red zone than ever before.

    Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

  12. @kixsand

    Interesting question posed here.

    I’ve always been a bit of a heart rate guy…heart working to pump blood to muscles doing the work of making my bike fly has always struck me as a more valuable metric to observe than something as simplistic as speed for example.

    However, I think there can be a risk that you will allow the numbers you’re seeing cloud your perception of the effort you’re putting out. For me, 165 bpm had become a redline of sorts as time after time I’d soon find myself in trouble if I tried to keep hammering at this operating temperature.

    And then, a couple of weeks ago on an awesome ride with a big group of fast guys, where speed and the moment distracted me from all else, I realized after the fact that I’d done more work at and beyond my perceived red zone than ever before.

    Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

    I can’t look at my heart rate during a race. It freaks me out when it is higher than expected, and then my brain starts plotting against me.

  13. @kixsand

    And then, a couple of weeks ago on an awesome ride with a big group of fast guys, where speed and the moment distracted me from all else, I realized after the fact that I’d done more work at and beyond my perceived red zone than ever before.

    Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

    And this is why the use of a power meter should be cautious. So to quote @frank (who gets more and more eloquent with each passing post)

    @frank

    The bike becomes an extension of the body through extended meditation and training. The computer does not make it so. The bike is a part of the body when you know instinctively how to unweight the saddle to roll over a bump in the road that only your peripherals saw, or exactly how much to lean on one side of the bars to navigate around an obstacle, or to sense the exact moment you should shift without ever thinking about it. The supple feeling of being one with the machine is not given by the computer. Full stop.

  14. @DeKerr

    @kixsand

    And then, a couple of weeks ago on an awesome ride with a big group of fast guys, where speed and the moment distracted me from all else, I realized after the fact that I’d done more work at and beyond my perceived red zone than ever before.

    Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

    And this is why the use of a power meter should be cautious. So to quote @frank (who gets more and more eloquent with each passing post)

    That’s like saying that because the sledgehammer didn’t work you should avoid the nutcracker.

    HR is a blunt instrument compared to power for exactly this sort of reason. It doesn’t reflect the work at the exact time that it is taking place, and it is itself affected by other factors so it is no more than a guideline.

  15. Just a thought but in applying the KISS principle, has anyone ever been told simply to train with a heavier bike?

  16. @souleur

    hmmm…does this violate The Rules? Does this make you a stronger cyclists?

    Being fairly old school, you know where I am going with this. CogFather merckx NEVER needed no foulfilthing meter to measure his wattage. My beloved, Gino, never measured such a thing. For petes sake, I’m not convinced, rising from the ashes as a Pheonix, that Pantani ever was equipped with such. BUT, they did measure something else…the size of their heart, their inner faith that they could…would, and did have it.

    Its nice I suppose to have such a meter, and for the money, I would/do trade it out so quickly for other equipement on the bike, most commonly new hoops. I just cannot justify for myself, using the power meters, given my paycheck on any given weekend is just not going to pay out. Maybe one of these days it gets to that breakeven point, but for now…I’ll subscribe to ‘ride more’

    True, the CogFather is, well, fuckin Eddy. Why would he need any such thing- he simply devoured anything in front of him?  Gino was too busy racing secret message under the eyes of fascists to even be bothered with watts/kg nonsense.  As a velominatus budgetatus I cannot imagine trying to justify a powermeter to the VMW. Just wouldn’t go. 

  17. Power meters may also violate Rule #90
    Power = Torque/ rotational speed
    Torque is essentially the force which you push down on the pedal
    BUT power may be greater at a higher rate of rotational speed and a lower quantity of torque, which may tempt you to prematurely shift out of your big ring.  This is a dangerous scenario and therefore power meters should only be used with the utmost caution since it could lead to habits that stray from the path to Mt. Velomis.

    Over-use is the common issue.  I was on a charity ride the other weekend and during the ride there were a couple incidents that helped fortify my long ago decision to leave digital technology off the bicycle.

    1) We were in a small group of riders and 2 guys appeared to be content setting the pace, so wanting to contribute I rode up to chat and do some time in the wind.  One of them replied “no worries, just keep the pace around 35″  I replied, “I’ll try, but I have no way of measuring my speed”  Long story short, it didn’t work so well, since he was riding 2nd wheel and would not change his speed no matter what… we left them shortly afterwards.

    2) My VMH is new-ish to riding in larger groups.  We joined a group of club riders and when she took her turn at the front I noticed that she was accelerating and the group was starting to splinter slightly.  I went back up beside her to let her know that she need not go quite so hard (I made this mistake when I was starting too, since the natural thing is to get to the front and push much harder on the pedals – a little too hard when you’re new).  She said, “sorry, I only have a V-meter.”   This made me feel all warm and happy inside, and I said ‘carry on’.  [note: she doesn’t read the site, but knows that I do – thus this gave me great pleasure to hear her say this]

  18. @extra special and bitter Nice job infiltrating the mind of the VMH.

  19. @frank

    I don’t know how you and Frank can train without power meters. They are fantastic. They make your bike an extension of your body.

    The bike becomes an extension of the body through extended meditation and training. The computer does not make it so. The bike is a part of the body when you know instinctively how to unweight the saddle to roll over a bump in the road that only your peripherals saw, or exactly how much to lean on one side of the bars to navigate around an obstacle, or to sense the exact moment you should shift without ever thinking about it. The supple feeling of being one with the machine is not given by the computer. Full stop.

    That said, I certainly understand why people use the power meters. It is not a material difference to using a heart rate monitor apart from the fact that it removes the delay from the heart’s response to an effort. Its a very good tool and if I was a Pro I would use the fuck out of it.

    For me, I enjoy the game of chance that comes with riding on feel; its purely a study of how well I’m reading my body, pushing my limits and seeing what shakes out. Its more fun for me, that is all.

    Also, I might add that if you rely on your numbers too much, you will forget how to read your body’s signals and sense a bad thing coming. Froome’s Stem Staring didn’t keep him from a bad day on the Dauphine; my guess would be he was watching numbers and forgetting that his body was trying to ring him to say one of the pistons in the engine room was misfiring.

    So busy, so much to read, too little time. But if I was going to put my thoughts on this fine article into words of my own, I’d just be repeating Frank.

  20. @Teocalli

    @GogglesPizano

    as it is only measuring a deflection that is already there …. would be undetectable I would say

    So marginal gains says remove the deflection. Any deflection is lost energy. If that’s how they work then I can understand there being no loss, but if that is how they work I’d be surprised if they could detect low power as that would imply something of a noodle for a crank arm?

    Plastic deflection is lost energy. Elastic isn’t.

    Every crank flexes slightly as you pedal. That changes the way materials behave – specifically, in power-meter, they implement tiny strips of metal – strain gauges – that change conductivity in a measurable way when they’re put under tension: Arranging them in certain patterns allows you to track by how much the crank itself is flexing. The system flexes just as much as it always did, except now there’s a current that measures that flex. Powertap does the same, except at the hub.

  21. @frank

    Also, I might add that if you rely on your numbers too much, you will forget how to read your body’s signals and sense a bad thing coming. Froome’s Stem Staring didn’t keep him from a bad day on the Dauphine; my guess would be he was watching numbers and forgetting that his body was trying to ring him to say one of the pistons in the engine room was misfiring.

    Power measures the actual output. Everything else measures the reaction. That’s the main difference between HR and feel as opposed to power.

    Actually, if you watch the final stage from the perspective of a coach who understands power, the tactics of that day can be interpreted the other way around. Sky knew Contador is strong, and very soon after the start of the stage it would be painfully obvious that Froome is on an off day. A rider with power, who’s in-tune with his feeling, will immediately see that’s for a given effort he’s not producing the same power. Or that his HR doesn’t line up.

    That’s why they sent a top climber into the break: At least salvage the stage. They refused to pull even though Sky were the only team with more than one rider, and Contador was isolated. They knew they won’t win the overall since Froome is suffering, so why let Contador have it?

    Power doesn’t save you from having a bad day (or two), especially after a crash. But it helps you recognize it and race accordingly…

  22. @pistard

    @GogglesPizano “The Bonk” is mentioned around 9:22…

    Thanks so much for posting this. A real treat and a real glimpse into the past. So many things to point out: trains are worse now in the UK, roads are WAY busier, cycling gear has improved, mudguards and saddlebags are not quite as de rigeur as they once were, neither as plus fours. As always, something were better back then, some things not so much. I once joined the CTC but the bastards left me in the rain fixing a puncture by myself on my first outing with them – it was my last.

  23. @tessar

    @Teocalli

    @GogglesPizano

    as it is only measuring a deflection that is already there …. would be undetectable I would say

    So marginal gains says remove the deflection. Any deflection is lost energy. If that’s how they work then I can understand there being no loss, but if that is how they work I’d be surprised if they could detect low power as that would imply something of a noodle for a crank arm?

    Plastic deflection is lost energy. Elastic isn’t.

    Every crank flexes slightly as you pedal. That changes the way materials behave – specifically, in power-meter, they implement tiny strips of metal – strain gauges – that change conductivity in a measurable way when they’re put under tension: Arranging them in certain patterns allows you to track by how much the crank itself is flexing. The system flexes just as much as it always did, except now there’s a current that measures that flex. Powertap does the same, except at the hub.

    No system is 100% efficient so to create any output there is a corresponding input loss.  The only question is how much and whether it is significant.  Elastic still has lost energy as no elastic system is 100% efficient in returning the energy in the same form – typically there will be eat produced from elastic systems.

  24. @Teocalli

    @tessar

    @Teocalli

    @GogglesPizano

    as it is only measuring a deflection that is already there …. would be undetectable I would say

    So marginal gains says remove the deflection. Any deflection is lost energy. If that’s how they work then I can understand there being no loss, but if that is how they work I’d be surprised if they could detect low power as that would imply something of a noodle for a crank arm?

    Plastic deflection is lost energy. Elastic isn’t.

    Every crank flexes slightly as you pedal. That changes the way materials behave – specifically, in power-meter, they implement tiny strips of metal – strain gauges – that change conductivity in a measurable way when they’re put under tension: Arranging them in certain patterns allows you to track by how much the crank itself is flexing. The system flexes just as much as it always did, except now there’s a current that measures that flex. Powertap does the same, except at the hub.

    No system is 100% efficient so to create any output there is a corresponding input loss. The only question is how much and whether it is significant. Elastic still has lost energy as no elastic system is 100% efficient in returning the energy in the same form – typically there will be eat produced from elastic systems.

    Completely, entirely, insignificant. As I said, strain gauges go on top of the existing structure – they just measure the flex that already exists. Yup, even the beloved Dura-Ace cranks flex. In my Power2Max meter, you basically unscrew the Rotor 3D crank’s spider, and thread in the new one. Still a straight connection, but with the measuring device “piggy-backing” on it.

    There’s some weight added, but in the days of sub-800g frames, that’s fine for UCI-bound pros. And since 300g of added weight is so insignificant…

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