Published: 8 October 2012
Blogger: Chris Walker
If anybody had said to me even 18 months ago that I would be training with power, I would have told them that they had gone off their head (diplomatically, of course). Let me explain.
Above: The PowerTap hub on my turbo bike.
Firstly, what is this all about? It’s the use of a device that measures your power output on a bike in watts. This can be a special rear wheel hub or built into a crankset. Pedal-based systems are coming onto the market and I am not about to get into any sort of technical argument about which ones are best, because I have no idea what I’m talking about….. The pedal-based ones are probably best avoided at the moment as they are relatively untried.
As a result of an introduction, I ended up with a hub-based CycleOps power meter (above), which I am currently renting from www.cyclepowermeters.com.
Those droves of you who hung on my every word describing my experience at the Tour of the Peak earlier this year will recall that a spoke broke (for the second time) on the wheel into which the hub had been built, 14 miles from the finish. The wheel got replaced without demur, and I’m pleased to report that no further mishaps of the spoke-breaking variety have since occurred.
Secondly, why? I’d trained with heart rate zones up until then and I was doing OK with them, so what’s the point?
It was actually suggested by Dan Bennett, my coach (http://www.progressivecyclecoaching.co.uk) because it gives a much more exact numerical measure of your progress. I’m a bit geeky in the numbers department, so this immediately appealed to me. One of the problems with using heart rate zones is that there is a lag effect with heart rate – it takes a while for the heart to catch up – and also, as exercise progresses, your power output drops for the same heart rate through fatigue, so you don’t get a true picture.
I am fortunate to own a Garmin Edge 800 cycle computer, which is a fantastic piece of kit. Once I’d got the cassette onto the wheel and spun it up in the frame, the Garmin, using its wireless ANT+ technology, recognised the hub immediately. After I’d pootled around on the bike, and after advice from Dan, I set up some initial power zones based on what is called your functional threshold power (FTP) which is the average power you generate over a 20 minute time trial effort, although a 5 minute all-out effort is also useful in calculating this. I am NOT going to tell you what the initial figure was, because I’d be too embarrassed, but suffice to say Bradley Wiggins has absolutely nothing to fear!
I submit the power files for all my efforts, turbo or road-based, from the Garmin to Dan, who analyses them using the industry standard Training Peaks software and reports the results. To keep a long and possibly boring story short, my FTP has increased by more than 10% since I started this malarkey about 6 months ago. It may not sound much, but it is actually significant, and I now have a definite measure of my progress. Funnily enough, I feel stronger on the bike, too….
Finally, what next? I’m a total convert. The price of these things is eye-watering, I admit, so that’s why I decided to rent first and see how I got on. Renting also contributes to a discount if you do want to buy it, and I’ve just asked for a final settlement figure.
There will obviously be a limit to my power output, but I haven’t reached it yet. Because you can actually see yourself improving, it’s a huge motivator. All I can say is – give it a try. Rent the kit first and see how you get on. I went for a wheel-based system because it is easy to switch rear wheels between bikes, so one bike remains on the turbo and the other goes out on the road.
For some light bedtime reading, I’d also recommend Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen. You’ll probably need several goes at this, as it’s very detailed, but the statistics you can get out of your power profile are truly astonishing in their volume and the story of your progress. As usual with these things, I wish I’d discovered all this earlier. As a training aid, it is brilliant.