Tag Archives: power

Gear Review: Stages Power Meter

Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter

Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter

I figured after an entire season of using the Stages Power Meter I was in a good position to be able to fairly assess the product. This is not a highly technical review, but more of a review of my experience with the product and my dealings with the company support. If you are looking for a more in-depth, technical review of the product and comparisons to other products, check out DC Rainmakers’ reviews here and here. I never buy anything without checking DC Rainmakers’ reviews first.

Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter

Stages DuraAce 7900 Power Meter

Being a triathlete and a bit of a techno-geek, I was chomping at the bit to get a real power meter. The prices of them definitely had me putting this off for sometime. I also started coaching myself and felt that this was critical to properly assessing and measuring my bike workouts. I thought the money I saved from a coach would help to cover the cost of the power meter. Many units are well over $1000, but the Stages Power Meter came out which was the first real possibility for under $1000.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts

Stages Power Meter with black electrical tape

I had a little introduction to using real power/watts with my Kinetic inRide unit on my Kinetic Trainer. The only thing is this only works on my trainer, when I am using TrainerRoad. I really wanted to quantify my road rides now that I had a little taste. I eventually added the the Cycleops/Powertap Powercal power/heart rate monitor which calculates your power based on a heart rate algorithm. While this seemed to do a pretty good job assessing an entire ride based on the averages, the instantaneous measure was all over the place. I also had my doubts about its accuracy given that you provided no individual input other than your heart rate. Despite is magically does a fairly decent job for a $100 power meter.

I broke down at the start of the 2014 training season and purchased the Stages Power Meter and replaced my Shimano Dura Ace 7950 left crank arm with the Stages version. It was around ~$900 and change. I probably could have installed this myself, but they recommend using a torque wrench to do it and I have yet to purchase one. Instead I decided to head out to see John at my favorite bike shop, Sleeping Dog Pro Cycles, and have him do it correctly. He indicated that I probably didn’t need to a torque wrench to do it. Ready to roll.

Pros

  • Cost <$1000
  • Accuracy
  • Great support
  • ANT+ & Bluetooth(BTLE)
  • Firmware updates easy
  • Installation(relatively easy)

Cons

  • Portability
  • Single-Leg Measurability
  • Battery cover sealing issues

The unit worked well from the beginning. Since it was Winter when I put it on, I was mostly using it on the trainer in the basement with TrainerRoad. Since I also had the Kinetic inRide going too, I tended to have conflicts with that over Bluetooth. Usually the inRide would prevail, but I was never really sure which meter was being used. I eventually figured out that I could determine which by doing single leg drills with my right leg, since the Stages would not show power when I did that. TrainerRoad has since done a better job of distinguishing the two and have separate lines for both now.
This was more an issue with what hate about Bluetooth(BTLE). You can only pair one specific type of device to a computer/phone at one time. And this is better why? This is why I still prefer ANT+ over BTLE and I think ANT+ will be around for awhile because of this limitation. The nice thing about the Stages Power Meter is that it has both ANT+/BTLE so you are not pigeon-holed into one communication type.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts

Battery compartment door of Stages Power Meter

The cost of the Stages Power Meter was surely the most appealing factor to me. Although as I write this, several other companies have announced new power meters in this price point just in the last week or so. One is that Garmins’ new Vector system now has a one-pedal option for about $800 with the ability to upgrade to two pedals in the future. The nice thing about that system is that it is easily tranferrable to another bike.
My biggest issue with the Stages device was after I had broken of a couple of the small tabs on the battery compartment door which allow it to lock in place. After I did that I was not able to lock the door in place. I notified Stages and they quickly mailed me out a couple new doors and gaskets. The Stages support is outstanding and they are very responsive to your issues. The new doors still would not close shut, so as a temporary measure I wrapped the unit in black electrical tape.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts

Backside of Stages Power Meter with black electrical tape

The tape worked fine until I decided to give my bike a good thorough washing. Then it stopped working. Ahh!! Turned out it just shorted the battery and after replacing it with a new CR2032 I was back again. I decided to take a harded look at this situation using a flashlight and a magnifying glass. Turned out one of the tabs that broke off were lodged inside and was keeping the new door tabs from locking. I extracted the broken tab and the doors immediately locked shut. I could have left the electrical tape off at this point, but with my A race at Ironman Lake Placid coming up, I didn’t want to take any chances.
I am glad I did that I took that precautionary measure because we experienced a deluge of rain at IMLP this year. Despite that my Stages Power Meter continued to output my power readings to my Garmin for the entire 112 miles. Some others were not as fortunate. Like my friend Shanna would also has a Stages meter which failed on her during IMLP this year. I think I will keep wrapping it with tape from here on out.

Stages Power Firmware Update on iOS

Stages Power Firmware Update on iOS

Firmware updates for the unit come out very frequently which is nice to know that that are always looking to fine tune the product. The updates are done via your iOS device or smartphone which is convenient. You have to keep the unit triggered so I usually do it will I am riding with my iPhone in the back of my jersey pocket. I have not had any issues doing this.
The unit is very accurate from what I have seen. More importantly it is consistent though. But the numbers I get with my Garmin showing the 3sec avg make sense to me and are not jumping all over the place like the PowerCal did. I am loving training with this tool now. My Garmin 910xt screen now just displays 3s Power, HR, HR zone and Time. I don’t even look at my speed anymore, which doesn’t tell you much anyway unless every possible variable is the same every time. Which it never is. I can also now plan ride workouts based on power zones which has made a huge difference in my riding.

Cycling, Stages, bike, component, gear, power meter, thing, watts

Side view profile of power sensor. Stages Power Meter left crank-arm

The fact that unit only measures one leg could seem like a big one, but I really don’t think it is. Maybe if you are an elite or professional it may be something you need to look at, but for the typical age grouper, we have so many other things to work on this is minor.
All in all I have been very happy with this product. I would recommend it to anyone looking to take their training and races to the next level without breaking the bank. The company is doing well and they firmly stand behind their product. There should be some major advances in power meters coming down the pike so who knows how this may change by tomorrow.

Hope this provided some help and thanks for reading! 🙂

 

How Many Watts Do You Generate Shoveling Snow?

Ok, I have been slacking big time on the posts here. I actually had aspirations of catching up during our recent winter vacation, but was so busy skiing and snowshoeing that I never even got one out. Since I have been home we have been getting bombarded with snow, so I have been busy shoveling away.

So all this shoveling got me thinking. How much effort does all this shoveling require? You know like calories, watts, and heart rate. Can I include this as training in my Ironman training plan? So armed with my Cycleops PowerCal power/heart rate monitor and Garmin 910xt, I decided to try to quantify it.

Here is a video from Day 1 of Winter Storm Pax…

imageDay one was pretty easy. The temperatures was below freezing, so the snow was nice and fluffy making for a pretty easy job. I then uploaded the data from my Garmin after the first round of shoveling on day 1. Here you can see that in 46 minutes of shoveling averaged 129 beats per minute and normalized average power output of 164 watts. That is a fairly decent workout. If comparing that to a run or bike it is probably a Zone 2 or low Zone 3 aerobic or endurance type workout. The TSS and IF indicate about the same. I think that would be good enough to make up for the swim workout I missed that day. It also said that I burned 411calories too(not pictured), so I can have a little extra snack on top that too! image My heart rate may have also been a bit high since I was pretty jacked up on coffee while I did this too.

 

Day 2 of Snow Storm Pax…

The second day of shoveling was a bit more difficult. We had gotten a sufficient amount of rain, sleet and ice during the afternoon and then the snow in the evening was very wet. I was up early so I could clear the driveway for my wife to get to work. I attacked the end of the driveway first since I knew that stuff would weigh a ton. It did! I was also running out of places to put the snow, so I had to toss it higher and farther than before. Not cool. Anyway I eventually completed it in about the same time as yesterday, except I didn’t include the back porch in this one.

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My heart rate was surprisingly lower this time. Must be due to having a little less caffeine coursing through my veins today. Since the PowerCal calculates power based on a heart rate algorithm, my power was also a bit less. Intensity Factor(IF) was fairly close though. I also burned about 400 calories here too.

Now I at least have a idea of what type of workout shoveling snow is. At the end of the day, it is still a stress on your system and you need to take that into account when training. It could get you an extra nap too!

CyclOps PowerCal with Heart Rate Review

Update 7/12/2013: Please check out my updated review additions to the CycleOps(now PowerTap) PowerCal unit update post here…

I am fairly at how fairly accurate this unit is based on that it uses heart rate and no calibration. It is fairly consistent, so if it is all you are using to gauge your workouts, then it is worth the money. If you are comparing your numbers to more accurate numbers then it will not be totally on the mark.
I have done a side-by-side comparison of this unit with the Kinetic inRide on my Road Machine Trainer(accuracy +/- 1%) and the Powercal is usually about -10-12kw below the inRide for the Avg power for a workout. Not too bad.
One other thing I noticed that when your heart rate doesn’t increase as normal for a given workout(usually a sign of overtraining and time for recovery), then the power measure is affected and the readings are lower than normal. Whereas with a real power meter the power would be more accurate and just your heart rate would be lower.
Now that I have a baseline for this unit from comparing it with my trainer, I can transfer that to my outdoor rides without a very expensive power meter. So if you want power with a little less investment this may work for you.

cycleopsPowerCal

cycleopsPowerCal

Gear Review Update: PowerTap(formerly CycleOps) PowerCal

This is an update since my previous gear review post on this product and also the post where I compare the power output versus the Kinetic inRide power. It appears that the PowerCal company is now PowerTap instead of the former CycleOps. The weather has been very conducive to riding outdoors for the last few months, so I really don’t have much data on comparing this device to another power meter. It seems pretty consistent and it is all I have to go by, so for me that works.

cycleopsPowerCal

cycleopsPowerCal

Biking and Power

One area that I do see an extreme difference is when comparing to other riders on equivalent segments in Strava. Below is one example of a speed run segment in my area shown below. My top result is highlighted below in between others for that segment. As you can see for roughly equivalent speeds, I putting out 201 watts compared to everyone else running around 270 to 290 watts. Hmmm? 70 to 90 watts off? Now most of these powers were calculated using Strava’s algorithms, but the entry just above me used an actual power meter of some sort. That power meter seems more inline with what Strava is calculating for others compared to the PowerCal. So again, while the PowerCal is consistent, I don’t believe the accuracy of wattage is very good.

 

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Problems on the Run

I also use my PowerCal for monitoring my heart rate while running. This is one area that I have had the most issue with this product. It appears to “flip out” frequently at different times during my runs. What I mean is that the heart rate just goes crazy and maintains a spiked reasding well outside my max heart rate. The first couple times this happened I kind of panicked at first, thinking I was having a heart attack or something. Eventually I realized it was just the unit. I always use a gel for the contact patches to help eliminate these spikes, but it doesn’t really help. I have also tried new battery, tightening the strap and taking the unit off for a few minutes. The latter seems to have the best affect on resolving the issue. You can see from the heart rate graphs below from my runs what this looks like. The strange thing is that it doesn’t occur on bike rides. It could possibly be from the up and down motion of running.

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Geekin’ Out: CycleOps PowerCal vs. Kinetic inRide

cyclopspowercal.jpg

Update 7/12/2013: Please check out my updated review additions to the CycleOps(now PowerTap) PowerCal unit update post here…

I have been eagerly wanting to start training with power, but am too cheap to fork out the big bucks for a PowerTap or a crank-based power meter. Then came the CycleOps PowerCal Power Meter/Heart Rate Monitor. For ~$100 I could have a fairly consistent way to measure way to quantify my rides. I read the review over at DC Rainmakers’ site and was tossing it around for awhile. Then my Garmin “Premium” (HA!) Heart Rate strap totally died on me so I needed a new HR monitor anyway, so I thought for $30 more I would give it a whirl.

At first I had nothing to compare it too, then I ended up bucking up for the Kinetic inRide power meter for my Kurt Kinetic Road Machine Trainer. Kurt claims that the inRide is around +/- 1-2% accurate(not sure where I saw this), so I thought this would be a good unit to compare too.

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I used my inRide on my laptop with the TrainerRoad workouts and then paired up the PowerCal with my Garmin 910xt. This one way to make those winter workouts a little more fun I guess.

As you can see from the table below, that PowerCal has been running about 20-30 watts below my inRide. It seems that it is much lower especially at the higher wattage levels. Despite this I feel it is fairly consistent, especially on a total ride basis. The individual readings on the PowerCal are all over the place, which is also cited in DC Rainmakers’ review as well. But if you assess the total ride wattage it is pretty close.

The PowerCal does not have any input as to the specific riders’ age, height, weight, or sex and calculates strictly on heart rate. It does not peform any type of calibration either. It astounds me as to how they can accurately calculate this very specific measurement with so many unknown variables. Given this it does a really decent job at it. Pretty amazing really.

 

 

I will continue to assess this tool, but it seems like a fairly good tool for measuring an overall ride for the money. I would not count on it for assessing your power output at a moment in time during a ride. The one week I noticed my HR was a bit more depressed training than normal and I did see some of that indicated in the power measurements as well.

IMLP Training Week 3-A Tough Loss

Doxie 0111The week 3 update is a little late coming out. The final build week of the first cycle ended with a death in my family. My grandmother had passed away on Saturday night. I was fortunate to see her about 3 hours before her passing. She was a month shy of turning 95 years old and lived a long and fulfilling life. I am very grateful to have been able to spend such a long time with her. For only being 4’11’” she was a tough and determined individual, but yet she still always cared for everyone else. Qualities I really hope I inherited.  I am also fortunate to have had 3 of my 4 grandparents live into their middle 90’s, another trait that I hope inherited as well. The last thing I had said to her earlier in the week before I had left was “we will meet again” and I know we will.

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In addition to the sadness during the week, I could feel the effects of three weeks of full build workouts taking their toll on me. I have been playing around with Heart Rate Variability(HRV) to monitor my training and evaluate when I need additional recovery. It is very easy to monitor with the Sweetbeat iPhone app and a heart rate monitor. I noticed that my HRV reading was starting to decline during the week, which would indicate that my body was in need of some recovery time.

Fortunately, next week is a recovery week. I also noticed several workouts where my heart rate was not increasing to its normal bpm’s despite an equal intensity. One of my tempos runs I could not get out of zone 2. On a positive note these first 3 weeks of training were about average volume weeks for half-Ironman training, so I am definitely on track and have not lost too much fitness from last season.

 cyclopspowercal

imageI was also playing around some comparisons of the CycleOps PowerCal heart rate/power monitor to the Kurt Kinetic inRide Power meter on my trainer. The inRide is supposed to be ~+/-1% accuracy so I was curious as to how the PowerCal would fare since it calculates power based on an algorithm using your heart rate. I will cover this more in-depth in another post, but I will tell you it is definitely affected by heart rate fluctuations.

Looking forward to a nice down week and some recuperation time. The Endurance Sports Expo is next Saturday in Oaks, Pa so looking forward to checking that out. I looked through the seminars and nothing looked that interesting, but hopefully I can pick up some near gear to play with.