This is a pretty big topic. So this is just a kick off to a whole series. Interestingly enough, power meters have been around for a long time. The first power meters for bikes were out in the late eighties and Lemond was one of the first to try out a prototype. Riders have been able to buy power meters since 1989. When I started racing, power meters were pretty rare, however they were definitely out there. No one really thought of them as necessary for racing and many of the international pros weren’t using them consistently. However, just like carbon wheels, they seem to be the norm now. I see college kids without enough cash to buy gas with a $3000 power meter on their bike.
Since I have coached, I would say that 70% of the riders I have worked with had/have power meters. The riders I worked with have used a whole variety of products, from Polar to SRM to Power Tap to Quarq. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and I won’t go into those in this post.
As a coach or self-coached athlete, power can be an awesome tool. As a rider without set training, it is a novelty toy. (there is nothing wrong with toys if you can afford them) Coaches are able to directly monitor the training and the effects of the training through power meters. To me, this is where power can add value vs. just heart rate. HR is great for understanding recovery, setting training goals and understanding effort. Power allows you to understand how these items directly translate into improvement or not. Power meters have allowed the coach to be on the bike with you. A good coach can review a file and understand all the subtleties of a ride/race without having a conversation. And if they have enough experience, they can usually tell how you did. Power can also help you understand your personal improvement, regardless of results. I’ve had many conversations about how a rider hit their PR for a few markers in a race, but they only finished mid pack. Naturally they were bummed about the race, however a rider can take a lot of confidence from knowing they are improving without having to have results. Power can also be very helpful for riders who don’t have a lot of group rides or weekly races for training. It allows some basic comparisons that can serve as good indicators of fitness going into an event.
While not necessary, training with a power meter and understanding how to use it can become an advantage to an athlete. Particularly one without a lot of time to waste days on the bike.