THE BEST POWER METER FOR ROAD CYCLING – PART 2
In Part 2 of this review to find the best power meter for road cycling, I’ll show you what power meters (PM) will cost you and which is best for the combination of bikes, wheels and rings you use now or may add. Since the market is changing fast and new products are due out soon, I’ll also give you my take on the major developments we’ve recently seen and can expect. Finally, I’ll say more about why I picked Stages as the Best Power Meter and tell you what I believe is the Best Power Meter Alternative and why.
In Part 1 I wrote that “for most road cycling enthusiasts, in most cases, I recommend you buy the Stages power meter.” I shared with you my analysis of the independent testing that allowed me to say that all six of the leading direct-force PMs perform to or above the level you need, no matter what they cost or where they are installed on the bike. This analysis and the conclusion I reached from it is an important foundation to what you’ll read in this part of the review, so if you haven’t had a chance to read through it, you might want to start there.
[Update – Sept 15: I’ve posted two updates to this review, one after the completion of Eurobike 2014 and a second looking back at the couple month period of developments that just finished with the Interbike 2014 cycling industry trade show. My analysis concludes that there is little change in the relative cost position or in the performance and functionality of the leading direct force power meters. The newer units haven’t started or successfully completed the kind of testing and improvement cycling that normally takes at least 6 months to a year to warrant a road cycling enthusiast purchase one yet. I don’t see any of the recent developments or announcements affecting my overall power meter recommendations.]
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Since I expect most of you want to know what you are in for when buying a PM, let me take you through an analysis of pricing and costs for the six leading PMs. Based on what I know of the RCE or road cycling enthusiast (see here for a definition), I’ll start with assumptions about what model of PM we would select from each company.
One characteristic of RCEs is that we spend roughly between $2500 and $5000 or £1500 and £3000 on our bikes. For my review of groupsets, I created a chart showing which ones were put on the 63 model year 2014 road bikes in that price range made by 14 of the leading companies. This was a representative rather than exhaustive survey of road bikes and looked at the groupset population by number of bike models introduced and not volume of models sold.
That said, this survey clearly showed that most of the road bikes in this price range are equipped with tier 2 groupsets (either Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Force) and most of those are Ultegras. Only a very few bikes in this price range are made with tier 3 gruppos including the Shimano 105, SRAM Rival or Campagnolo Centaur and slightly more are made with tier 1 Dura-Ace or Red 22.
With this knowledge, I made assumptions of which models RCEs would pick from each company’s PM options to be at the same market level as their bikes and groupsets. Here’s the ones I picked and have based my pricing and cost analysis on:
- Stages Ultegra 6800. Not the lower priced 105 or higher priced Dura-Ace versions.
- power2max Type S Road. Company is discontinuing the Classic model.
- Quarq RIKEN R chassis. This is the Quarq at roughly the same level as the tier 2 groupsets which are found on the large majority of bikes in the RCE’s price range.
- Garmin Vector. There’s only one model to choose from – easy.
- PowerTap G3. Not the more expensive GS or GS3. I know the hub isn’t part of a groupset but the G3 has the internals of a DT Swiss 240 which you’ll find on wheels that sell in the $1500 and up range and that’s the RCE’s upgraded wheel turf.
- SRM Dura Ace. This model is above the groupset model in the RCE’s bike price range but I think most people buying a SRM probably have a more expensive bike than the average RCE does.
For the cost analysis, I’m using the company recommended or MSRP/RRP prices. After surveying the market and with few exceptions today, most PMs are selling at retail at the company recommended prices. You can see these prices with links to online cycling shops and company direct-to-consumer stores which have them in inventory for all the PM models from the six leading companies here.
While I feel comfortable with this PM model selection for the cost analysis, I know that any set of assumptions are debatable. That said, I don’t think these assumptions unfairly advantage or disadvantage any of the PMs or change the conclusions showing which are more or less costly. If you think they do, please comment below or send me an e-mail.
Power Meter Price Comparisons
The charts below on the left show the MSRP or RRP, where I have it, in the US, UK, European and Australian markets for the PM models selected above. The charts on the right show what the same PMs would cost you in your local currency if you were to buy them in the US.
While I expect all of you interested in PMs are pretty good with numbers, the chart below does the math that shows the difference between the left and right charts above. This is what you pay for the PM at home vs. what you would pay for it in the US on a percentage basis and in your own currency. I’ll call this the ‘Home Market Penalty.’
Taxes explain part of this penalty. The US prices exclude state sales taxes which typically run just over 6% to just under 9% depending on the state. If you buy online in the US or are lucky enough to live in Oregon, Montana or NH, there are no sales taxes. Secondly, UK and EU VAT taxes run between for most 19% to 25% depending on the country. The 19% VAT amount is included in the prices for p2M, SRM and Vector since they are sold to the EU out of Germany. Australia’s VAT is 10%. So if you deduct those amounts, you can see how much of this Home Market Penalty comes from added costs or margin the companies are including in their market pricing. Setting aside taxes then, power2max and Quarq look to be adding nothing to the part of the price they control for the EU markets but the rest are adding roughly between 10% and 20% to their products for countries on the Continent. And, it looks like despite the UK being famously known as the US’ closest ally, we are furthest apart when it comes to PM pricing with Garmin, Stages and PowerTap adding a roughly 30% premium in the UK for their PMs before the tax man piles on.
Power Meter Cost Comparisons
Of course, the purchase price is only one part of the cost. Since these power meters are put in different locations and are combined with other components, there are, in some cases, related costs for integrating them into your current setup. You might want to refer to what is included in each of the PM models in the photos below to see what we are starting with.
Here are the assumptions I am making to get to the PM integration costs into your current setup.
- Stages Ultegra 6800. No added/saved costs. You replace your left crank arm with the Stages PM crank arm.
- power2max Type S. No added/saved costs. If you have a compatible (non Shimano) chainset, you replace your existing chainset spider with the p2m one and use your existing rings and arms. If you have a Shimano crankset, you’ll need to change it out with the p2m Type S PM which includes crank arms (with Rotor 3D cranks it adds $220/€170 more) and also add rings (another $150-$200). For the purpose of this analysis, I’m going to assume that you’ll only be attracted to the p2m PM in your current setup if it is compatible and would not spend the extra money to switch out your chainset unless you needed or wanted to upgrade that chainset in the first place. I’ll show you the upgrade net costs in the section below.
- Quarq RIKEN R. No added/saved costs. If you have a compatible (non Shimano) chainset, you replace your existing chainset spider and crank arms with the Quarq and use your existing rings. If you have a Shimano crankset, you’ll need to add a set of rings (about $150 to $200) to integrate into the RIKEN and go with the RIKEN BB30 version which is another $50/£50/€48 more than the GXP version this analysis is based on. As with the p2m above, I’m going to assume that you’ll only be attracted to the Quarq in a non-upgrade situation if it is compatible with your current set-up and would not spend the extra money in a non-upgrade situation.
- Garmin Vector. No added/saved costs. You replace your existing pedals and cleats with the ones provided as part of the Vector.
- PowerTap G3. Additional $175 to $260 in costs. To replace the hub in your existing rear wheel with a PowerTap hub, the company’s recommended US wheel builder will charge you an additional $175 above the price of the G3 to replace the hub in a carbon wheel and $260 in an alloy one. You may be able to get this done for less at your local shop or sell your old hub, but I’ll use these figures for now.
- SRM Dura Ace. Additional $750/€655. I’m assuming that if you are spending big for the SRM, you are also going to buy the PC7 (soon PC8) head unit designed to read out the SRMs 4x/second data transmission and you aren’t going to ‘cheap out’ on a Garmin head unit. The PC7 will cost you an additional $750 or €655. Again, you may be able to get something for your current head unit but I won’t include that in the assumption.
For all units except for the SRM, I’ll also assume you already have a cycling computer that reads power so won’t need to buy one. If you do, they will cost you $150 for a Wahoo, $200 and up for a Garmin but this would be the same for all the PMs (except SRM) so I won’t add it in.
With these assumptions in place, the following chart shows the cost to add a PM to your current setup. Note that I am using local market prices and currencies but comparing the costs using a common currency x-axis so you can see the relative difference in what it costs you based on where you buy it by looking at the relative lengths of the bars. For example, the €799 you’ll pay for the Stages Ultegra 6800 in Europe is about a third more than the $800 you’ll pay for the same PM in the US.
This comparison shows the Stages is the least expensive solution with the PowerTap about 15% to 20% more depending on the region, power2max about 20% to 35% more, Quarq about 30% to 50% more, and Vector about double the cost of the Stages. The SRM price is… well, as the saying goes, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
Lastly, what would the net cost be for adding a PM to the purchase of a new set of wheels or to an upgrade of your chainset beyond what you would pay for the new wheels or chainset themselves? The assumptions here are as follows:
- Stages Ultegra 6800. Net cost of $800/€799. No difference than adding the PM to your current setup. Again, you replace your left crank arm on whatever crankset you buy with the Stages PM crank arm. Stages makes arms for nearly all but the Campagnolo chainsets.
- power 2max Type S. Net cost of $1079/€940. No difference than adding the PM to your current setup. It is less expensive to buy a new chainset like the Rotor 3D+ (market priced at $285/€253) and add it to a p2m Type S PM ($1079/€940) which doesn’t have crank arms than to buy the p2m PM with Rotor 3D+ arms ($1499/€1260) and a set of rings ($175/€135) that would be needed to complete the chainset. So the net cost would be the cost of adding this PM to a chainset upgrade.
- Quarq RIKEN. Net cost of $1114/€966. Savings of $86/€101 over the cost of adding the PM to your current compatible setup. The RIKEN R GXP ($1200/€1067) already comes with arms but you need to add rings ($179/€136 for a set of SRAM Red 22 or Force 22 130BCD 53/39 rings) which brings the total for this new power meter equipped chainset to $1379/€1203. A new Force 22 53/39 GXP chainset will cost you $265/€237. So you are saving the added cost of buying the chainset versus just adding the rings to the RIKEN or $86/€101 to get the RIKEN PM as part of your upgrade. If you need to add the BB30 version of the RIKEN R, your savings goes down by the amount of the added cost to get the BB30 version over the GXP one which is $50/€48. I’ll assume the GXP version savings for now though more bikes will likely need the BB30.
- Garmin Vector. Net cost of $1500/€1549. No added/saved costs. As before, you replace your existing pedals and cleats with the ones provided as part of the Vector.
- PowerTap G3. Net cost of $260 for a carbon wheel like an ENVE SES 3.4 or 6.7 and $565 for an alloy wheel like a HED Belgium C2. Savings of $485 to $705 over the cost of adding it to your current setup. When you build the PowerTap into a new wheel you save what you would have paid to put an ‘unpowered’ hub into the wheel. For the wheels listed above, the PowerTap’s recommended US wheel builder will charge you the additional amounts shown to put in the G3 versus the standard DT Swiss 240 for the ENVEs and 350 for the HED Belgium. This is a very inexpensive way to add power if you have already planned on the expense of adding a new wheel.
- SRM Dura Ace. Net cost of $3645/€3514. Savings of $400/€354 over the cost of adding it to your current setup. The SRM is only sold as part of a complete chainset so when you buy the PM you are essentially upgrading the chainset. If you are building a new bike, you are saving the cost of buying the chainset or $400/€354 in the case of the Dura Ace 9000. You could spend that savings elsewhere on your bike … or on the cost of a nice dinner out to celebrate your new SRM.
The comparison chart for adding a power meter to an upgrade under these assumptions is seen here.
As with the earlier chart of cost to add power to your current setup, I’m using local market prices and currencies but comparing the costs using a common currency x-axis so you can see the relative difference in what it costs you based on whether you buy it in the US or Europe.
This is the scenario under which the PowerTap is the least expensive option. This assumes you don’t plan to use more than one wheelset as the G3 is really not a transferable option between regularly used wheels. This chart shows that you could buy 3 PowerTap hubs for your new carbon wheels for about the price of one Stages, but unless you were planning to buy that many wheels anyway this could get to be a rather costly proposition when you figure in the cost of the wheels themselves.
Under this upgrade cost analysis, the other PMs maintain their relative positions and costs, with the exception of RIKEN’s cost which comes down about 10% relative to the cost to add it to your current setup.
Pricing is not static. PowerTap cut theirs last year and, just in the last few months, the product line, pricing, and discounting changes have effectively resulted in Quarq and Garmin Vector prices going down and power2max prices going up after first going down. Confusing, I know but it’s all worked into the price and cost analysis I’ve just presented. I’ll return to a discussion of price in the developments section later in this piece.
One of the key considerations that drive people to respond “it depends” when you ask them which power meter you should buy is the different combinations of bikes, wheels and chain rings a road cycling enthusiast might use over the course of a season. For example, do you ride different bikes, switch one set of wheels between them and use different chainsets on each bike? Or, do you use the same bike but use different wheels and switch between standard and compact rings depending on what kind of terrain you are riding? Thinking of buying an aero frame or disc brake frame in addition to your current one, another set of wheels or some 52/36 rings soon? Want it to be easy to have a PM on whatever setup you have now and use that same PM if you add another bike, set of wheels or upgrade your chainset as part of a groupset upgrade?
Answering these questions can be a head scratcher but scratch long enough and you can map it all out. That’s what I’ve done and will take you through here with this chart as a road map.
The statement at the top of the graphic – I currently use one bike, set of wheels and chain rings during the rides when I want to use power – likely addresses a good number of RCEs. All the power meter types – crank arm, spider, pedal or hub – are equally suitable in this situation if they are available where you live and compatible to your set up. I’ll go through what I know about compatibility and availability later on in this review.
The last statement in the box at the bottom of the graphic summarizes the findings about performance made in Part 1 of the review – all six of the leading direct-force PMs perform to or above the level you need – and the findings about cost shown in the section above help you pick the lowest or net cost PM.
In between that first and last statement, I list the different combination of bike, wheelset and chain rings setups you might use. Some of these are redundant but in the way I’ve laid it out, I make sure not to miss any regardless of which way you want to start thinking about the different combinations you use.
Below these combinations, I include the replace (or upgrade) and add situations that you might do in the next couple of years during which time you don’t want to change your ability to fully use whatever PM you might buy now.
Lastly, and importantly, I note where I don’t believe a given combination or situation would be well served by a PM type due to transferability issues. These are marked with the red dashes followed by a letter referring to the type of PM I suggest you stay clear of.
What are those transferability issues? I see two:
- PowerTap’s hub based PM is a single rear wheel dedicated solution. If you are going to be riding multiple wheels, you are not going to be transferring one hub between them. You could, but it’s timely and costly. If you already have wheels that you are planning to continue using after you add a new one – like adding a ‘racing wheelset’ to the ones you have now and plan to make you’re ‘training wheelset’ – you’ll obviously be limited by having a hub PM on only one set.
- While it’s certainly doable, I don’t think many RCEs are going to want to transfer a spider type PM if they change their chain rings on a regular basis. It’s probably about a half hour job for the average cyclist who is good with tools. The time is mostly taken up positioning the rings and power meter, unscrewing and re-screwing the chainring bolts, lubing, recalibrating the PM, etc. If you change out your rings a good deal, each set is likely to be pre-assembled with its own set of bolts to save you time. Again, it’s doable, but costs aside, considering the option of spending less time changing just the crank arms or pedals, it may be enough to turn you away from the spider PM option.
I don’t have a good sense for what % of riders regularly change their chain rings or what PM owners who do feel about the relative effort that goes into it, so if you are one of these people please weigh-in in the comments section at the end of this review. I’ll gladly modify my assumptions here if I’m off-base. You also might get a kick out of watching this video that came up first when I googled “installing power2max.” This bike shop tech looks so uncomfortable and, at times, unsure in front of the camera that it’s quite comical and probably makes many of us RCEs right at home.
Determining PM compatibility sometimes requires looking at 2 or 3 considerations at the same time, especially if you want to add power to your current components rather than as part of an upgrade.
For the leading spider PMs (Quarq, p2m and SRM), you first need to consider your bike’s bottom bracket to select the right PM model from one of these companies. Most make models that are compatible with all the major bottom brackets but you obviously need to be able to specify which one it is that you want.
More challenging is spider compatibility with your chainset. As I mentioned near the beginning of Part 2, most 2014 model $2500-5000 bikes are being made with Shimano groupsets. While most of us don’t have 2014 model year bikes, Shimano groupsets have been on most new bikes for a while. While I haven’t seen any market data to confirm this, my educated guesstimate would be that 60-70% bikes sold in this price range in the last 5 years now have Shimano chainsets, 10-15% have SRAM, 10% have Campagnolo and the rest have some combination of FSA, Cannondale, Specialized or ROTOR. Campy has a loyal and vocal following but has not been sold on many new bikes for a number of years. Their share is due largely to aftermarket sales.
Shimano’s has a proprietary chainset design which does not work with p2m’s current spider-only PM or Quarq’s spider and crank arm ‘chassis’ models. You need to add rings to both and arms to the p2m if you are going to put one of their PMs on to replace your Shimano chainset equipped bike. As I detailed in the net cost analysis, this can add several hundred $/£/€/A$ to the cost of adding a PM. T he SRM is only sold as part of a complete chainset which they make in Shimano, SRAM, Campy and other versions.
The leading hub (PowerTap), pedal (Vector), and arm (Stages) PMs are rather straightforward when it comes to compatibility. PowerTaps can be equipped with Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo freehubs for 10 and 11 speed groupsets and have a 11 speed freehub body to replace 10 speed ones to make it 11 speed compatible without needing to re-dish the wheel.
Vector uses Look Keo compatible pedals which fit with nearly all road crank arms and come with matching cleats for your shoes. When initially introduced, the Vector was not compatible with S-Works, and some FSA and ROTOR arms due to the size of the pedal pods. A new pod was introduced in April that addressed that issue.
Stages makes crank arms that replace Shimano, SRAM, FSA and Cannondale crank arms. While they bond their accelerometers on specific model cranks they buy from these companies, there’s no reason why you can’t replace your Dura Ace left crank with Stages Ultegra one or your Force 22 crank with a Stages Rival one if you want to save a few bucks. While Stages makes PM equipped replacements for all the Dura Ace and Ultegra 10 and 11 speed Shimano crank models as well as for the currently 10 speed 105 model, they only make the SRAM Rival version so you’ll have to go that way regardless of which SRAM cranks you are running. Stages doesn’t provide a PM arm for ROTOR cranks, I’m assuming because the two are power meter competitors which also might explain their limited line of PM arms for SRAM, which owns Quarq.
Stages PM technology measures the flex in the crank itself so it doesn’t make an arm to replace the carbon cranks that Campagnolo and Specialized S-Works use. You can, however put a Stages SRAM crank on the left side of SRAM chainset that has a carbon one on the drive side. Also, because the PM is mounted on the backside of the crank, there is not enough clearance between the PM and a small number of frames and rear brake combinations. You can read Stages’ summary compatibility page here and check this list to see if your bike is compatible or not.
All of these PMs are ANT+ compatible so should work with ANT+ compatible head units. Some however are optimized for head units their own company makes (e.g. SRM & PC7, Vector & Garmin, PT and Joule) but a basic Garmin 500 or higher-end model should do the trick if you want most of what a PM gives you (SRM & PC7 being the exception).
Availability is a moving target so what I write here may or may not be current at the time you read it. Availability is also hard to pin down, so it may not be totally accurate even if you read this the day I published it. But as of the beginning of August 2014, this is what I know.
SRM and PowerTap, the longest established PM producers, distribute product throughout the world through bike shops, coaches and online. PowerTap also sells through wheel builders. SRM has announced but not yet delivered on a switch from their PC7 to PC8 head unit for summer 2014 delivery. PowerTap rebranded under its own name last year but you will still see its older hubs co-branded with CycleOps and its no longer manufactured SL and Pro models in its distribution channels. Products from both companies are generally available. SRM quotes 3-5 days to ship out if you are buying directly from them. Your PowerTap build will depend on your wheel builder’s schedule.
Quarq’s parent company SRAM focused the distribution of its ELSA and RIKEN (but not RED) power meters to one company this spring, a move they also made for their Zipp wheel line. This is not unlike what Shimano did, attempting to better manage the product flow and pricing, or in other words, eliminate the discounting seen in some channels.
Quarq announced their new 11 speed spider and crank arm only ‘chassis’ Red 22, ELSA R and RIKEN R models in May, discontinuing the complete crankset and chassis 10 speed versions of the same. With this move they have essentially reversed the direction they started just a couple years ago in trying to sell new customers a PM integrated into a SRAM chainset with the introduction of the complete crankset Quarq RED Cinqo and Quarq Red 22, ELSA 10R and RIKEN 10R. This was perhaps encouraged by their then new corporate parent SRAM. You can still find 10 speed full chainset PM versions of the Red, ELSA and RIKEN for sale throughout their channel. The crankset versions are more expensive than the chassis models even after you includ the price of adding chain rings. While I don’t know how far along Quarq is in distributing its new units, I would expect they will do this slowly in some regions so their retailers don’t get stuck with a lot of higher priced, unsold and now discontinued crankset versions. That said, you can find both chassis and crankset versions or the 10 speed PMs still selling side by side at major online retailers like Wiggle today (here) but not the R only or 11 speed chassis versions yet.
power2max follows a direct-to-consumer distribution strategy that they say allows them to keep their prices low. They also distribute internationally. Vector uses the large international Garmin distribution network which includes bike shops, coaches, their own direct-to-consumer online store, and large online retailers. Retailers are not allowed to sell the Vector to customers outside their country.
Stages has done a good job both reducing the time to get it PMs and expanding its distribution network despite the high demand it has experienced right from the time they made the product available. While it also does not allow sales outside the retailer’s own country, major UK online distributors like Merlin have nearly all the Stages models and lengths in stock. Beyond their US home base, Stages is now selling in the UK, Ireland, continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
As I mentioned in the opening of Part 1, a lot has happened in the last few years. To pull back from some of the details for a moment, I believe the power meter market has gone through what business strategists call ‘disruptive innovation.’ This occurs when established market leaders make products that exceed what most existing customers need and that a much larger group of unserved but potential customers are unwilling to pay for. Along comes a company with a ‘disruptive technology’ that provides a perfectly good, less costly solution and a different business model that appeals to that larger, unserved customer group.
If you think about what personal computers did to disrupt the mainframe and mini-computer market, and in turn, what tablets and smartphones have done to disrupt the PC market then, you get the idea.
In the case of the power meter market, SRM was the prima facie example of the established company making and improving on a product that exceeded what most customers needed while ignoring a very large and largely unserved potential market. Others like Quarq and more recently power2max and ROTOR have come along trying to beat SRM at its game but for a similar customer group with essentially the same spider technology and business model. While Quarq has made some inroads, they really haven’t expanded the market much or opened up that unserved group of customers.
Metrigear, the pedal power meter company that Garmin acquired and became Vector, and later Stages Cycling came on the scene each with different technology to try to change the game and appeal to a larger customer base. Note that while the physical technology of strain gauges are essentially the same as what others are using, how these two applied that technology – at and integrated into the pedal and crank – make them different technologies.
Somewhere along the way, Metrigear/Garmin took a wrong turn or two on the road to being a disruptor. They lost sight of providing a ‘good enough’ PM for and at a price that would attract that much larger group of road cycling enthusiasts. Instead, they decided to try to separate themselves from the market by providing the proverbial cure for an unknown disease – left/right leg power measurement. In pursuing this cure, they ended up a) taking a lot longer to get to market, b) making what looked to be the primary benefit – easy transfer of pedals between bikes – much more complicated and distancing to RCEs (do you want to worry about lining up those pods and torquing those pedals just right to make sure you get consistent readings?), and c) driving up the price and probably the cost 75% above the sub $1000 level they had targeted. And, while Metrigear’s development costs may have driven them into the arms of Garmin, becoming part of that large company may have constrained them from adopting a different business model than used by the mothership.
Meanwhile, Stages appears to have become the true disruptor. Their technology is different in a way that creates value a whole new group of customers are willing to pay for. Their design reduces the number of needed strain gauges and, therefore, the cost. They use an accelerometer, eliminating the need for a magnet to track cadence. Their entire PM is small enough to attach to the back side of a crank, a far simpler manufacturing process than any other PM. Using the crank as the location for their PM, they have one of the most transferable solutions to those wanting power on multiple bikes. They can more easily serve 80-90% of the market by attaching to a very small number of already produced crank arms rather than making their own. Their design adds an inconsequential amount of weight (15-20g). And, their communication protocol includes both ANT+ and Bluetooth which offers the potential of future connectivity solutions with the iPhone, the most iconic consumer electronic device of our generation.
Oh, and did I mention that they priced their PM for at least half of what others were selling their PMs for? Now that’s a different business model and a clearly disruptive innovation.
We’ve seen what’s happened since Stages came on the scene. PowerTap whacked its hub price 40% ($510/£380) to come in line with Stages. Quarq ditched the chain rings on its new models and apparently reduced its margins to lower their price 20% ($230/£350). Garmin is offering a $200 discount coupon for US customers that my guess will become permanent and be expanded to other markets after it’s coincidentally timed to end around the Eurobike and Interbike shows. And power2max just announced a $150/€150 cut to its entry level Classic PM. But, they also announced they are discontinuing that model, meaning the company’s higher priced Type S PM becomes the new entry level PM. That will effectively increase the price of their entry level PM 25% over the Classic’s former level. (Not sure they have thought that pricing strategy through.)
As you can see from these price cuts, the ‘home market penalty’ I quantified earlier, and the reality that the MSRP/RRP is also the market price for most in this segment of the cycling market, there has been a lot of margin built into PMs. And as you saw from my earlier pricing charts, even with these price cuts, there’s still a good sized gap between where Stages and PowerTap are priced and where everyone else is above them.
While perceived value (using demand as a surrogate) and not cost drives pricing, those pricing the Quarq, p2m, Garmin’s Vector and ROTOR PMs are going to have to decide whether they want to compete in the market that Stages has opened up or whether they are pursuing some market between those attracted to Stages at the RCE end and SRM at the professional end. I don’t know who makes up that ‘between’ market segment (tri-athletes and amateur road racers?) but I’ll guess the marketing folks at Quarq and the others pricing PMs in the same range are pricing with that segment in mind. But, I think it’s a pretty good guess that the RCE segment that Stages is focused on is much larger than the segment that Quarq and the other are pricing to now. So unless the ‘between’ segments see something that truly differentiates the Quarqs and p2ms and Vectors enough to justify the 20% to 50% cost premium above Stages that it looks like they’ll be at when the current round of price cutting plays out, a large percentage of them will likely chose Stages.
As I look at what’s just over the horizon, I see more competition similar in design to those selling at or above, and in some cases well above the $1000 price point. ROTOR is working through accuracy and calibration issues on its ‘ROTOR Power’ PM introduced a couple summers ago. It’s design has 4 strain gauges in each arm. They also just announced the ROTOR LT, a left only crank arm version of their Power PM, and had a Tour de France team testing it in the same set up with a p2m spider PM. By having both a two-armed and one-armed PM, they either believe there are two markets here or they are hedging their technical and market bets. Interestingly, the one-armed ROTOR PM version has been priced at $1,490/£799/€990. The US price is nearly 2x the Stages price and the same as Vector but closer to the Quarq and power2max UK and EU price points.
Verve Infocrank, another PM with strain gauges in its left and right arms, was introduced this spring and is now available through its direct-to-consumer channel at $1750/£1260/€1533/A$1999. The price includes rings, bottom bracket, installation tool, cadence magnets and a GPS head unit. So it’s a complete set up, where the current competitors seem to be stripping rings and arms off their units and not integrating a head unit in the base price.
Trending even higher, the Factor Power Crank is a newcomer that also has 4 strain gauges in its left and right arms and appears to be targeting the SRM end of the market in terms of its engineering and lofty price $3400/£2000. One reviewer gave it a 5* rating but commented that it was “a little heavy” at 860g and had “shortish charge life” at 10 hours of use. Thankfully, they don’t distribute it in the US, otherwise I’d have to buy two of them and drop about 5 pounds off my already lean frame to make it work.
The pedal based Polar/Look and Pioneer spider PMs have been on the market going on a couple years now and neither has seemed to get much traction in the market. The Polar doesn’t communicate in ANT+ which seems to be a fatal flaw and the Pioneer seems over the top in offering features that no one knew they needed but under the bar by initially using zip-ties as the means to attach it in shops only to your chainset.
And then, there’s the Brim Brothers Zone power meter we’ve all been waiting for. This is the Bigfoot of PM products, both figurative and literally. Figuratively, because people have been searching and waiting for this PM for years and years but not one of the nearly 2500 of us who have pre-ordered it has actually seen one show up on our doorstep. (Caley Fretz at VeloNews did report seeing one in 2011 and Ray Maker at DC Rainmaker tested one in 2012.) And literally it’s Bigfoot because this PM goes in your feet leaving an impression unlike any other. Well, it actually goes in your cleats and connects to transmitter pods that attach to your shoe straps.
The Zone promises a power meter dream team of no-installation transferability, 100% compatibility, independent left/right leg power measurement, light as your shoes weight, and a two sensor/two accelerometer/no strain gauge design that’s bound to be less expensive to make than any other PM. Brim Brothers sent out an e-mail to their pre-order list in March titled “Launching in 10, 9, 8…” saying that they would start delivery in August (of this year – I double checked that part). Well it’s August and I’m leaving a light on for Bigfoot.
Of course, the Eurobike and Interbike shows will happen later this month and there could be more changes coming. Since several of the companies have already announced the product and pricing changes I’ve noted, I’m not sure we’ll see a whole lot of major changes but it could happen. Perhaps a few more price drops (hello Vector!), price cuts on discontinued products in inventory (Quarq?), or reductions in some of the more obscene home market penalties (anyone?). And maybe another Bigfoot sighting? We can only hope.
ABOUT INDEPENDENT LEFT/RIGHT LEG POWER MEASUREMENT
It may appear that I have blind spot to the value of independent left/right leg power measurement and all the goodness that comes with it. Many of the newer PMs have this feature and it is often mentioned by the companies and reviewers as a key benefit. Perhaps this is the feature that justifies the 20-50% cost premium over Stages and attracts that ‘between’ market I spoke of earlier?
I don’t think I have a blind spot, but I freely admit to having a bias.
I don’t believe RCEs need independent left/right leg power measurement and the torque efficiency and pedal smoothness measures that often come with it. As mentioned before, I see independent left/right measurement as the equivalent of a cure looking for a disease. A solution to a problem no one has. A set of statistics that don’t help you get better. Data that no one has found a use for. Etc.
Yes I’m biased against it. And yes, I have used a PM that gives me these L/R readings. While it worked differently than today’s PMs do, I did get calculated L/R leg power readings from a PM I used regularly for several years. It did capture my attention and I did check to see what my balance was from time to time. But, I really didn’t know what to do with that information and couldn’t find anyone who did.
I’m fine if you want to discount my personal bias as “uninformed” or something describing this view much less politely. But, let me know which of these realities you also want to discount:
- SRM, the leaders in the industry with the most sophisticated power meter available and who have worked with top professionals and coaches for years, have not moved to develop left/right leg PM measure functionality. Maybe they are the established, fat-rich-and-happy industry leader that will get toppled by their complacency as I described earlier in my explanation of disruptive innovation. But, if anyone would have been exposed to the need and value of such a measurement, they certainly would.
- Team Sky, one of the most well funded and successful pro racing teams and one that has remade research and training approaches across the pro circuit, is the ultimate believer in finding and implementing marginal gains. After using SRM units in the past, this year Sky is exclusively racing with the Stages PM that measures and doubles the power coming only from the left crank arm under a sponsorship agreement. Would Sky put sponsorship revenue ahead of performance? Perhaps, but Rupert Murdoch is already spending 10s of millions of pounds on the team to win. I don’t think he needs a little extra money and certainly not at the risk of team performance.
- Team Garmin Sharp, whose lead sponsor Garmin makes the Vector, the first independent left/right power measuring meter, doesn’t even use them. After several years of sponsoring the team, Garmin will no longer be the lead sponsor (and perhaps not sponsor the team at all) at the end of this season. What a missed opportunity to promote your own product and get value from your remaining time in the spotlight. Or, maybe the Vector doesn’t perform well enough for the team directors to want them on their bikes?
- As mentioned earlier, ROTOR, the first company to make an independent left-right measuring crank arm based PM, has just introduced a left only PM.
- Two years after introducing their PMs, neither Garmin or ROTOR or any of the power measurement gurus like Joe Friel or Hunter Allen or researchers or testers either company could have hired or who could have published research they might have done on their own to verify the training value of the L/R measuring PMs have published research or even attempted to define the potential value of left/right leg power measurement. Leading independent testers Ray Maker of DC Rainmaker, Greg Kopecky at Slowtwitch and the PM reviews at BikeRadar have not shared any research they’ve uncovered that shows the value of L/R leg measurement though they appear to offer only reluctant support of Stages’ left arm only measurement approach despite their own testing showing Stages’ accuracy and consistency in line with that of other leading PMs.
Bottom line, I’m aware of no claims or research that concludes something along the lines of “we have found with thousands of miles of testing, that power differential between legs has no significant influence on ride data and its value as a training tool.” Stages actually makes that statement, without the word ‘no’ being struck through.
It’s relatively early days in the lifespan of the independent left/right leg power measure feature. There may be something coming down the road that demonstrates the training benefit of balancing my power in a specific way or keeping it within a certain range at key points in a ride or in measuring the power output of a leg recovering from an injury or in some other scenario that no one has posited or tested yet. I’m open to that. Remember, I looked at my own L/R power balance for a number of years wondering what to do with it. But, currently, I don’t see the value of spending twice what you need to on a PM in the hopes that it someone will figure out the value of L/R measurement.
I asked Stages about their view and plans for left/right leg power measurement. So you know, when I ask a company to answer a question about their product, I never ask to speak to marketing or engineering or management. I don’t want to hear spin. I call the company and ask my questions to whomever answers the phone on the tech or product support line. The woman I spoke to was very responsive (rather than dismissive) and told me in a very non-defensive way that they have considered developing a product with power measurement on the right or drive side crank arm (to work with the PM they have on the left arm) and that they remain open to it. Their goal, however, she went on, is to provide an accurate and consistent, easy to use and transfer, affordable power meter to cyclists who normally would welcome the opportunity to train with power but thought they were too hard to use and too expensive to justify. She concluded that they currently don’t see how L/R leg measurement would add to achieving that goal.
BEST POWER METER AND BEST POWER METER ALTERNATIVE
As I stated in the first line of Part 1 of this review, “for most road cycling enthusiasts, in most cases, I recommend you buy the Stages Power meter.” While as a business strategist I clearly admire the innovativeness of Stages, I recommend you buy it because it provides the performance RCEs need at the lowest cost under nearly all combinations of gear setups you might use, transfer, add or upgrade to, and is broadly compatible and available. The Stages Power meter has only been in the road cycling power meter market for two seasons but Stages Cycling, the company that makes the PM, introduced its first crank arm PM system for large stationary bike installations at indoor cycling centers only two years after Quarq introduced their own first PM product. With their history and current success, I think Stages will remain as viable as any of the other PM companies or divisions currently in the market. For all of these reasons, I recommend Stages as the Best Power Meter for the road cycling enthusiast.
If you plan to have a carbon wheel built as your primary rear wheel for the next several years or plan to buy multiple carbon and alloy wheels that you will use whenever you want to measure your power on more than one bike, I recommend you consider the PowerTap G3 as the Best Power Meter Alternative. In the first situation, the PowerTap is the least expensive PM option; in the second situation, you can get multiple PowerTaps for essentially the same cost as a Stages and save yourself the need to transfer the Stages (as well as the wheels) between bikes.
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If you aren’t yet familiar, In The Know Cycling is a site for road cycling enthusiasts who want to know – but don’t have the time to do all the research, product and price comparisons to figure out – what gear you should get next and where you should get it. I bring a fellow rider’s perspectives to my posts that evaluate and inform you about an entire category of products at one time. I have no industry ties, don’t run ads or go on company paid trips, and buy or return everything I test.
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Current prices and stores for the recommended Stages and PowerTap power meters are shown just below. Links to the stores with inventory and having the best prices for the other leading PM brands and models follow.
Updated August 23, 2015
Stages Power Meter for Ultegra 6800
- USA & Canada: Stages company store – $800
- United Kingdom: Merlin – £699
- Europe: Stages EU company store – €849
- Australia & New Zealand: Available only in physical stores – A$899
Other Stages models
- USA & Canada: Stages company store
- United Kingdom: Merlin
- Europe: Stages EU company store
- Australia & New Zealand: Available only in physical stores
- Wiggle $724, £500, €678, AU$813
Other PowerTap Models
Current 11-speed spider and crank-arm models
Older 10-speed, spider and crank-arm and complete chainset models
- Europe: VectorEU company store
- Australia & New Zealand: VectorAU company store
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