What Is A Cycling Power Meter?
As Technogym tells us:
“A power meter on a bicycle is a device that measures the power delivered by the cyclist. Most bicycle power meters use strain gauges to measure applied torque and, when combined with angular speed, calculate power … They provide instant feedback to the athlete and allow for a more accurate race analysis”
Why Use One?
As Road.cc tells us:
“1. Quality Data & No Excuses — A power meter measures exactly how hard you’re working regardless of the terrain, the conditions, your fitness, or any other factor, and it’ll give you figures that you can meaningfully compare over time to gauge progress …
“2. Make the Best Use of Training Time — A power meter takes the guesswork out of your training effort, allowing you to train time efficiently …
“3. Pace Yourself — You can use a power meter to pace an event too …
“4. Work on Your Weaknesses — A power meter helps you identify weaknesses in your fitness. …
“5. Get Some Rest — A power meter can tell you when you need to rest …
“6. Tune Your Position — You can use a power meter to test the aerodynamic effects of altering your ride position and/or equipment …”
So, What’s the Problem?
The problem with cycling power meters is that they are not inexpensive. Expect to pay hundreds of dollars for one. And the best are several times that. Cost alone puts cycling power meters out of the reach of most cyclists.
There’s also the problem of format. Cycling power meters come in a variety of shapes. There are power meters that work at your feet (peddles and crank arms), and power meters that work at your wheels. And each choice potentially requires that you give up a beloved component of your bike. For instance, if you love your Time pedals but think power meter pedals are your best choice, you won’t be using your Time pedals any longer.
And that brings to the review of Velocomp’s PowerPod Lite …
What Velocomp Says
“Unlike other power meters, PowerPod Lite works with ANY bike: road, MTB, TT, cross, gravel, tandem, fat, recumbent — you name it … Unlike other power meters, PowerPod Lite doesn’t require you to change ANY component on any of your bikes …
“PowerPod Lite delivers the critical power meter features cyclists want, at an incredible price of $199 …
“With your Garmin bike computer and our exclusive AeroPod CdA app, you can see, while you ride, real-time reports of slope and wind speed as measured by your PowerPod Lite. No other power meter, at any price, provides this useful information!
“PowerPod technology, perfected over 15 years of real-world use, translates sensor readings into dependable, accurate power measurement.
“PowerPod Lite has just one button and one ‘status light.’”
Which All Sounds Great, But How Did It Do?
Velocomp claims the setup is fast and easy. Before I started, I read a variety of reports online which … well, disputed that claim. And while I did not have the setup problems other reported, I won’t go so far as to say the PowerPod setup was “fast and easy.”
Installing the software was a snap. No glitches to report. The interface was probably not as polished as some software you might be used to, but there was nothing offensive about it.
Once the software is installed and the unit is charged, you’ll need to pair the PowerPod to your cycling computer. In my case it’s a Garmin 830, and I had not problem with that. A quick prep or the PowerPod with the software and devices pairing, and you’re ready for your “calibration ride.” The ride is a short effort. The readings on my Garmin let me see the calibration status ticking down. Everything seemed to go fine. I figured I was ready for my first ride.
One that first power meter assisted ride, the PowerPod wanted to go through the calibration ride again. Rather than futz with it at that point, I ignored the PowerPod and rode without power meter readings. The next day, I recalibrated the PowerPod and went for a short ride to confirm it was working.
And It Was … More or Less …
I rode with the PowerPod for about a month. Being new to using a power meter, I didn’t know what exactly to expect in terms of numbers. I recall seeing one fellow post an opinion in one online forum that generally speaking he expected to see 200 watts of power to sustain 20 miles per hour on a flat, which all sound nice — round numbers and all, but … What did I know? PowerPod told me that it was not uncommon for me to be generating 220 watts in a similar situation. I suppose that was in the ballpark, right? But in Strava, I felt as though my max wattage and average wattage looked way too high.
In the end, I convinced myself that as long as the data was consistent (whether consistently high or consistently low), all I needed to do was compare my efforts to my own efforts. The numbers would still be meaningful, even if they might be technically wrong.
Charging the unit was also a problem. The PowerPod receives its charging via a USB cable connected to your computer. There’s no “quick release” mechanism for taking the PowerPod off the bike. It’s screwed on. And while Valocomp claims that you should get several rides from one charge, that was not the case for me. I could only get one full ride from a charge. I tried charging it on the bike using the provided USB cable and a USB to wall plug power adapter, but PowerPod did not respond to that. So taking the unit off the bike after each ride was, at least in my case, required.
What the PowerPod did right, relatively speaking, was recognize changes around me which would cause my power output to change. When I went uphill, the readings increased. When I went downhill, the readings decreased. When I drafted off another cyclist, the numbers dropped. Strong headwind? Up went the numbers.
On most rides, the PowerPod worked most or all the time. On at least four rides, the PowerPod stopped working in the middle of the ride. By that I mean that the power was on but there was no output to my Garmin. After several miles, suddenly I’d have power readings on my Garmin again. Analyzing the detailed data later on my computer, it was easy to see the period where the PowerPod data went missing – data, followed by a gap of nothing, followed by more data.
Tech Support for Lite is Lacking
I reached out to tech support with my concerns. The fellow there initially seemed like he wanted to help to find a solution. I sent ride data for his analysis. He sent back suggestions, all of which I tried. None of which worked. And then came the moment of truth: PowerPod Lite effectively has no tech support ability. Tech support data was insufficient for them to “see” my problems, which takes us back to a line which is displayed on their website: “PowerPod Lite stores the first 10 minutes of each ride in its internal memory. This ride information, displayed with included Isaac software for PC/Mac, is used for diagnostics only, as needed.” The technician could only see the first 10 minutes of my rides, which was not enough to provide any insights. If you’re thinking about buying a PowerPod and hope to have tech support, you best get one of the more expensive models.
The final straw was when I suggested to tech support that perhaps this product simply wasn’t a good fit for me, for whatever reason. Perhaps, for me, a return for refund was appropriate. They didn’t respond to that idea. I could have pressed the subject, but it seemed clear that it would have been a bit of a battle.
I really didn’t want my first product review to be negative. But this one needed to be put away. Am I still using PowerPod Lite? No. Can I recommend it on any level? No.