Training With Power

May 6, 2008 at 9:57 am Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the Computrainer and stated that I might think about getting one again in the future.  Recently, as my schedule has made it more and more difficult to fit in an extended bike ride, I began thinking about getting another Computrainer.  Things changed, however, when I discovered an excellent article by training guru Joe Friel entitled Training With Power.

In addition to making several very strong arguments about the benefits of being able to train with power, Friel makes frequent references to the Powertap SL 2.4 Wireless power meter by Saris.  I’d heard of the Powertap before, but for some reason it never occurred to me to look into one. 

So, I spent the next few minutes (and by few, I mean about an hour) perusing the internet for pricing and reviews.  The reviews for the product were great across the board.  The setup couldn’t be easier: just install the wheel with the built-in hub and slap on the computer and you’re done!  The retail pricing was about comparable to the Computrainer (about $50-100 cheaper including the wheel build and depending on the price you’re getting).  I was able to find it on Ebay brand new from a reputable seller for under $1100 (including shipping, but no wheel kit).  

So, I started thinking, what are some of the pros and cons of the Powertap and the Computrainer when you compare them.  

  • The Powertap gives you the ability to train with power outdoors as well as indoors.  This is a BIG plus for me.  Since I live in San Diego (home of quite possibly the best weather in the country), rain is very rarely a problem and for those times when I can’t make it outside (for weather or other reasons), I can just pop my bike on my indoor trainer (which would be going to waste if I had a Computrainer). 
  • Powertap set-up is a one-time thing.  As I mentioned in my review of the Computrainer, this was my one pet peeve with the device.  Unless you’re going to dedicate a bike to it and then leave it set-up (which I wasn’t nor do I have the space in my apartment to do), it takes a good 10-15 minutes to get everything set up each time you want to use it.  There’s cords hanging out everywhere and it just creates a mess and is an overall pain in the rear.  Racermate, if you’re listening, think wireless!!!  I swear, technology has come a long way over the past decade!  For a device that costs $1600 (not including all the extras such as a wireless HR monitor that they know you’ll buy), the least they could do is make the device wireless.
  • Computrainer gives you the ability to download courses.  This was my favorite feature of the Computrainer.  The ability to “feel” the gradation of any particular course you’d like (as long as you purchase the additional software and figure out how to use it which is not an easy task) is a pretty cool feature and one that I really enjoyed.  However, I do think the ability to do this tended to put me into a “time trial” mindset which was probably counter-productive since I should have been doing focused training.  
  • Powertap device is all-inclusive.  By “all-inclusive” I am referring to the fact that it is able to capture speed, power, and cadence with no sensors on the wheels or frame.  All it needs is the hub and the mounted computer.  I currently have a Polar CS 200 on my bike and those sensors drive me mad (especially the cadence sensor) because I usually end up stopping at least once a ride to adjust one or the other (usually the cadence…I think I hit it with my shoe).  The Powertap does away with all that and makes the bike even that more aero.
Those differences, the lower cost, and the fact that the thought of staring at a wall or TV hour after hour on a Computrainer made me a little sick to my stomach made my decision pretty easy: I purchased the Powertap.  I got it for just under $1100 on Ebay.  After I get it, I still need to take it in to have a wheel built around it.  I called a couple of shops yesterday and this will probably end up costing me about $200 or so for the labor, rim, and spokes.  I haven’t decided yet whether I want to use a current cassette or just buy a new one.  I’ll probably just end up getting a new one so I have yet another cassette option and that added flexibility (assuming I actually learn how to change out a cassette some time).
I’ll post a review of the Powertap after I’ve had several chances to use it.

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