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Power Meter Buyer’s Guide – Which power meter suits you best?

Using a power meter, you can determine exactly what wattage you’re producing when cycling. This number says much more about your fitness, your daily shape and your overall shape than your heart rate could. Nearly all professionals use a power meter to determine their wattage during cycling. As with all bike parts, there’s multiple manufacturers, all with their pros and cons. We made an overview for various power meters, allowing you to decide which one suits you best.

Up until a few years ago, a power meter was not at all affordable. But, as with all new technologies, it’s been getting much cheaper. Still, a power meter is not an insignificant investment.

Most people’s first thought when hearing ‘power meter’ is about the type that’s in your crank arms or spider.
Most people’s first thought when hearing ‘power meter’ is about the type that’s in your crank arms or spider.

Many road cyclists who are taking their training seriously and are trying to improve, think it’s worth the investment though. This is for the simple reason that training with a power meter allows you to determine your FTP very accurately. Knowing your limits in that regard enables you to train better and more efficiently.

How does a power meter work?

Generally, all power meters for bikes function in the same fashion. It makes no difference if the power meter is located in your pedals, your axle or the crank arm. They all work using a metal strip that slightly distorts due to the force you exert during cycling.

A wheel hub allows for the use of a much longer metal strip that’s rolled up. That’s what makes this type of power meter very accurate.
A wheel hub allows for the use of a much longer metal strip that’s rolled up. That’s what makes this type of power meter very accurate.

This distortion is measured very precisely. From there, the power meter can determine exactly how much watt is required to cause the level of distortion.

You’d think that all power meters have the same level of accuracy. But that’s not entirely true. Every type of power meter has its upsides and downsides. First of all, it’s important to decide if you want a single-sided or double-sided power meter.

Single-sided or double-sided power meter?

It goes without saying that a double-sided power meter measures more accurately than a single-sided power meter. It should come as no surprise then, that a double-sided power meter is more expensive.

Do you want a single-sided or double-sided power meter? The price difference is significant.
Do you want a single-sided or double-sided power meter? The price difference is significant.

The advantage of a double-sided power meter is not just its increased accuracy, you can also see the difference in power output between your right and left leg. You’d even be able to train your weaker leg if the difference is larger than you’d like.

You can clearly see the Stages battery and measuring unit here.
You can clearly see the Stages battery and measuring unit here.

It’s important to decide what’s important to you: a double-sided and accurate, but more expensive power meter; or a less accurate and cheaper power meter.

Where to place your power meter?

Crank arm power meters

Power meters in crank arms are by far the largest group. Some brands offer double-sided versions, but not all brands have this option.

The front and rear of a pair of crank arms with a 4iiii and a Stages power meter.
The front and rear of a pair of crank arms with a 4iiii and a Stages power meter.

Crank arm power meters are relatively cheap. Mounting the is quite easy, especially if you opt for a single-sided power meter. But compared to other power meters, that single-sided power meter is a bit less precise.

You can change the battery in an instant.
You can change the battery in an instant.

This inaccuracy is the result of the power meter only measuring the power output of one leg. This value is doubled to show your full wattage. The subtle – or less subtle – difference in power output isn’t registered.

The metal strip that measures your wattage is in the crank arm. The advantage of this is that your crank arm is practically wear-proof and your power meter could theoretically last an eternity.

Pedal power meters

A power meter in pedals isn’t as popular as you’d think. It is, however, a very accurate way to measure your power output.

Mounting a Powertap power meter is very easy, but the pedals wear down quicker than other power meters.
Mounting a Powertap power meter is very easy, but the pedals wear down quicker than other power meters.

Power meters for pedals are relatively cheap and easy to mount. Unfortunately, pedals do deteriorate quicker. On top of that, you’re limited to a certain type of pedal, since it needs to be suitable for your cleats.

Pedals with power meters have a limited range of click-on systems. That means they aren’t available in all versions, brands and cleats.

Pedals with a power meter are often slightly thicker. You may need to adjust your saddle height.
Pedals with a power meter are often slightly thicker. You may need to adjust your saddle height.

Lastly, you can also adjust your stack height. That means you raise your saddle a little higher than you’re used to. Beforehand, make sure you measure your saddle height relative to the top of your current pedal. That way, you can be sure your stack is correct again after mounting the new pedals.

Spider power meters

A power meter in your spider is more accurate than a power meter in your crank arm.
A power meter in your spider is more accurate than a power meter in your crank arm.

A power meter in your crank arm’s spider seems not that different from a power meter in your crank arm itself. Still, the spider is a better spot to measure your power output. You’ll get a more accurate measurement this way. An added benefit is that you could measure on both sides in the spider. That’s not necessarily possible with every power meter mounted in the spider however.

From the rear, it looks pretty high-tech.
From the rear, it looks pretty high-tech.

Mounting a power meter in your spider takes a bit more effort than mounting a power meter in your crank arm. It’s still a relatively easy job though.

Hub power meters

The last spot that can hold a power meter is the rear wheel hub. You can choose between a ready-made wheel, or a separate hub to which you attach the spokes yourself.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think these wheels have a power meter.
At first glance, you wouldn’t think these wheels have a power meter.

That hub can be combined with only a limited amount of spoke patterns. If you have a deviating spoke pattern, this type of power meter won’t be very suitable for you.

A power meter in the hub provides the most accurate measurement of all power meters.
A power meter in the hub provides the most accurate measurement of all power meters.

Mounting a separate wheel is a piece of cake. Are you starting from scratch with a separate hub? Then it can be quite a chore getting everything right.

A wheel with a power meter is easy to dismount and mount onto a different bike.
A wheel with a power meter is easy to dismount and mount onto a different bike.

Once it’s assembled, it’s easily interchangeable between bikes. That can be quite useful too.

The Powertap hub power meter can be paired using ANT+ and Bluetooth.
The Powertap hub power meter can be paired using ANT+ and Bluetooth.

Power measurement in the hub is very accurate, because there’s plenty of space in the hub for a long metal strip to measure the distortion with. And since the power meter is concealed safely in the hub, it’s very robust as well.

What do I need, apart from a power meter?

To read out the measured data from your power meter, you’ll of course need a cycling computer. But not every cycling computer can read out all types of sensors. Make sure your cycling computer can display wattage.

Most quality cycling computers can display a live read-out of your power meter data.
Most quality cycling computers can display a live read-out of your power meter data.

In addition, it’s important that your power meter transfers your power meter data through a signal that’s compatible with your cycling computer. Many power meters use Bluetooth and/or ANT+. ANT+ is very common and is used in many cycling electronics.

Stages power meters can also pair with your cycling computer using ANT+ and Bluetooth.
Stages power meters can also pair with your cycling computer using ANT+ and Bluetooth.

Only the latest Garmin cycling computers have a Bluetooth receiver. If you own a Garmin, make sure if you need an ANT+ compatible power meter. We listed the pros and cons of the different types of power meters below.

What are the differences between power meters?

Power meter locationPriceAccuracyAssemblyExchangeable
Crank arm
Pedal
Spider
Hub
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Olle Vastbinder

Olle Vastbinder

You can find me on a bicycle almost every day. I commute each day from my house to work and back. Often on my road bike, and during the winter on an old crosser. And if that isn't enough, you can find me on my bike during most weekends too. On my trusty road bike or my mountainbike. And if you can't find me outdoors riding my bike, odds are I might be riding on Zwift

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