How to maximise the effectiveness of this wonderful tool, build motivation and lift performance.
More and more cyclists, of all levels, are making the significant financial outlay and purchasing a power meter. In my experience, most of these expensive gadgets are reduced to nothing more than something (else) to stare at whilst riding. So how can cyclists of all levels make the most of their power meters and begin see some real performance gains in their riding?
Broadly speaking, a power meter is used in two ways:
Power meters produce both the "raw" power numbers and analysis metrics that allow you to work at improving your mechanical efficiency on the bike. Pedal smoothness and torque effectiveness are indicators of how efficiently a rider applies force through the full pedal stroke and setting up a screen that shows these numbers can be a great way to receive instant feedback when doing technical or drill sessions on the bike. This sort of data can also be used to identify a "cadence sweet spot" for a cyclist. This is the cadence zone where efficiency data remains close to historical peaks, almost all riders have an obvious point (as cadence increases) where these numbers begin to plummet.
Another area where power data can be extremely helpful is with a trend comparison between raw power (let's say average power) and normalised power for longer rides or segments. Generally speaking, low NP in comparison to average power means a cyclist is dosing energy in an inconsistent or "surging" pattern (on VERY hilly courses this may not be so). This can be a great cost (energetically) to the rider and negatively impact on endurance.
Using a power meter to both identify these inefficiencies and then provide instant (in ride) feedback is one of the most powerful applications available to cyclists in decades.
Cycling fans have become used to seeing riders from Team Sky sit calmly pacing themselves, watching their power meters whilst rider after rider attacks impulsively. Nine times out of ten, the rider will be brought to heel by the steady tempo set by the men in black (and blue). This is a fine example of how a power meter allows every cyclist to pace themselves, dose their energy evenly and avoid prolonged excursions into the red zone (which is an endurance killer). Ultimately ALL riders will climb a hill/mountain faster if they are aware of their most efficient climbing intensity and a power meter is the only way to monitor this.
The final and most powerful application of the power meter is in the defining and setting of the power targets in training sessions to ensure that loads are well matched to rider's level, physiological characteristics and training goals. A test can define all of these things and once the structure is in place, the power meter becomes the ultimate weapon in the smart cyclists arsenal. The key is to have a well-structured and robust test, without it, your power meter is once again reduced to an expensive toy.