by Lars Hundley
My day job is still in the ecommerce world as it has been since 1998, selling gardening products online. I recently met Josh Matthew, who also works in ecommerce. I was thrilled when I found out that his business, Power Meter City, is directly related to cycling. I rarely meet someone who is familiar with both of my big interests. We hit it off immediately via email, and Josh agreed to answer some questions about power meters for our readers.
An entire site devoted to power meters. How did you end up in the power meter business?
In my early 30s, I caught the cycling bug – big time! The hills are full of great trails here in southern California and therefore, I got my start primarily on the mountain bike. Two day of riding a week quickly turned into three and then four and well… things got more serious, and exciting. Southern California also benefits from a healthy racing scene and I started spending most weekends at the races. Getting faster and pushing myself to be stronger was a hoot.
After a few years, I was really looking to add some structure to my training and wanted to start “quantifying things.” When you start riding, you can improve your performance a lot by following the “just ride lots” technique. But after a bit, your rate of improvement starts to slow. A structured training program is the ticket to continued improvements in performance. Enter the power meter!
I can’t recall exactly where I first heard about a power meter. It could have been at the races, through some on-line research or perhaps through a number of bloggers I follow such as Joe Friel. In any event, here’s where the idea for Power Meter City took shape. You see, power meters can be confusing. There are different types, features and compatibility concerns. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted or needed and couldn’t find great support. Most local bike shops carry one or two brands of power meters – so that didn’t seem like an ideal place to turn to. Then there are large online cycling sites. Some actually carry a decent selection of power meters, however the issue there is they stock thousands of SKUs. Everything from bikes, to clothing to nutrition and more. They just aren’t perfectly suited to address all the technical concerns that accompany the purchase of a power meter.
We felt a power meter specialist was the answer. A specialist could not only offer a larger selection, but could provide superior customer support since they would deal only with power – day in and day out. To be fair, the concept of a retail specialist is nothing new. In fact, there are companies that specialize in the sale of just about any product you can imagine. Why not power meters?
So in early 2016, we launched Power Meter City. Over the last 3 years, we have continued to grow the business and currently carry 14 different power meter brands and over 100 different individual power meters. We also sell related accessories such as bicycle computers, GPS watches, heart rate monitors, bar mounts, trainers and all of that good stuff. We currently employ about 7 people full time and also have some outsourced/part-time help. We have a 9.9/10 customer service rating on Trustpilot, which we are very proud of and we think this speaks to the kind of service and support we provide our customers.
What’s the benefit of using a power meter in the first place? Can it really help make you a better cyclist, or is it just something for data nerds to play with?
Power meters allow you to see and record exactly how much power you expend on the bike, as your power is measured in watts in real time – and power is simply fundamental to cycling performance. The ability to see and record your power allows for great insight into your fitness.
For example, many cyclists use a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors are great, however they only tell you how hard the effort is to your body. They don’t tell you the actual amount of work you are performing (input vs. output). Watts are a much more accurate way to measure your effort. In addition, heart rate only training suffers from a number of shortcomings. Heart rates can vary day-to-day, they can ramp up slowly at the start of an interval and they can suffer from what is called cardiovascular drift.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to using a power meter is that it removes the guesswork that goes into training and racing. Without a power meter, you’re really just guessing how hard you should be riding, if your fitness is improving, or if you had a good day on the bike. However, because a power meter allows you to quantify exactly how hard you are working, you have answers to all of these questions and more. Joe Friel, elite triathlon and cycling coach and author of numerous cycling books including The Cyclist’s Training Bible, calls the power meter the most effective tool for increasing speed on the bike.
Are power meters really only for bike racers?
The notion that “only pros use power meters” is not correct. Of course professionals take advantage of the benefits afforded by a power meter. However power meters are useful for anyone who is looking to take their riding and fitness to the next level, or simply monitor and track their performance. Since a power meter enables you to precisely measure your effort, it leads to better training sessions and improved fitness, regardless of who’s using it.
Here are just a few ways anyone can benefit from using a power meter:
1.) Eliminates Guesswork – As touched on above, with a power meter, there is no guesswork. You know exactly how hard you are working and can hit your exact intensity target at all times. This means no wasted time, precise intensity and better training.
2.) Allows for Structured Training – A structured training program where you focus on different intensities at varying durations is the ticket to continued improvements in power and performance. A power meter allows you to build a structured training plan with power-based training zones. This will allow you to precisely target the relevant zone and energy system – which leads to maximum performance gains.
3.) Can Make the Most of Limited Training Time – Athletes with limited time to train (aka “time crunched”) can especially benefit from a power meter. Power meters help make the most of your training time by improving the quality of your training sessions. They also help remove what is called “junk” training (unstructured training that doesn’t really accomplish a goal). For example, a cyclist with just 45 minutes to train on a given day can hop on their trainer or head outside and knock out 2, 20-minute intervals at a prescribed power and know they just maximized their limited training time.
4.) Can Track Fitness More Accurately – Power meters provide highly accurate details about how your fitness is changing throughout the season. You can track your average power numbers at given distances, your maximum power numbers, functional threshold power and much more. In addition, using software like TrainingPeaks and their Performance Management Chart, you can track of variety of important metrics such as your Training Stress Score (TSS), Acute Training Load (ATL), Chronic Training Load (CTL) and Training Stress Balance (TSB). The information gained from this type of software and analysis is invaluable.
5.) Motivation – With a power meter, there’s no lying. You get immediate, accurate performance assessment. This can serve as a great motivational tool. There is nothing more satisfying than ending an interval or a ride and seeing an increase in your average or maximum power numbers. A power meter can really help you hit that 100 percent effort target. In fact, it can serve as a great training tool because of this alone.
Is there anything new in the world of measuring power that we should know about?
The power meter landscape continues to evolve and progress. We are seeing more power meters, lower prices and improved accuracy – all good things for the consumer. Gone are the days where you had to spend $1,000 or more to get power on your bike. In fact, you can now find units in the $200-300 range. In addition, most power meters are accurate to +/- 1.5% or better, which is well within the needs of most cyclists.
Manufacturers are also working hard to make their power meters easier to install and use. Sure, when it comes to a crank-based power meter, it is always going to take some work getting it installed as you have to swap out cranksets and maybe even bottom brackets, but a number of power meters are a snap to get going with. Power meter pedals for example, one of the most popular types, install just like a normal set of pedals. In addition, crank arms simply require the user to swap out their left-side crank arm – a simple procedure that only takes 5-10 minutes.
We are also seeing more and more power meters with advanced features such as independent left/right power (the power meter can tell you how much power each leg is responsible for), rechargeable batteries and Bluetooth SMART capability. Lastly, almost all manufactures offer smart phone apps, which really help you get the most out of your power meter. These apps allow you easily update firmware, conduct zero-offsets (calibrations), monitor battery life and some even allow you to use your phone as your bicycle computer.
Josh Matthew is founder and owner of Power Meter City, an online dealer focused on the sale of power meters and related cycling equipment. Power Meter City was founded in January of 2016 and currently carries 14 different power meter brands and over 100 individual power meters. Prior to founding Power Meter City, Mr. Matthew worked in the financial services industry. His most recent position was Vice President of Investment Banking at ROTH Capital Partners. Prior to his role at ROTH, Mr. Matthew worked at Thomas Wiesel Partners and Cowen and Company. Mr. Matthew received his B.S. degree in Finance with a Minor in Communications from San Diego State University.