When I became interested in using power as a bicycle training metric, the PowerPod device was not on my radar. Actually, there were no devices on my radar because I knew absolutely nothing about power meters. What I knew was, I wanted to get faster on the bike so I needed to take my training to a different level. And to do that, I needed to first understand what kind of power I was generating and then try to improve upon that. So I needed a power meter.
For those that have read my previous posts, you know that I’m always looking for the best value (i.e. I’m cheap). So you can imagine my shock when I did my first google search for power meters. Wow! These things cost almost as much as a new bike. I was not ready to make a $1,500-$2500 commitment. But as I researched further, I learned that there are several options and some of the choices are reasonably priced. I just needed to understand the differences and what sacrifices I would be making by opting for the lower-priced gadget. I won’t go through the differences in devices since there are many good references available (start with DC Rainmaker for excellent explanations and reviews). Instead, I’ll focus on describing the PowerPod device that I ultimately purchased.
The first thing you should know is the PowerPod is it not the typical “power meter.” Most classical power meters on the market use technologies that are related to force applied to the pedal, crank arm, or chainring. Hardware is installed either onto your existing bike components or as replacements (e.g. special pedals or crank arms) to your existing components. Data generated from the hardware/sensors is then subjected to an algorithm, transferred to your bike computer and displayed in watts. The PowerPod does not use direct force to compute power. Instead, it uses elevation changes, wind resistance, acceleration, and friction as the algorithm inputs to calculate power. The hardware is in the form of a sensor that mounts to your handle bars. Some power meter “purists” claim that the device is not even a true power meter (I assume because it is not measuring direct force). For me, I can look down at my bike computer and see a power reading in the form of watts, so I consider it a power meter. And the price point ($299) was right for me.
DC Rainmaker did a nice initial technical review of the PoweraPod here. He also recently published this video. The comparison data to other more traditional meters and performance was good enough for me to make a purchase decision. I will focus on my buying experience, installation, and usability.
Buying the PowerPod was pretty simple. It is currently available online from powerpodsports.com or ibikesports.com. I simply chose the color, put in my personal information and credit card, and my device arrived neatly packaged a few days later. There is an option for the PowerStroke upgrade key, which allows for the device to capture additional data to analyze wobble and, therefore, efficiency. I decided not to purchase the option, which was an additional $99. The website was easy to use and navigate. Don’t expect to find a lot of technical information about the product on the websites. The content was a little sparse.
If one is installing the PowerPod on a road bike with typical handlebars, it is pretty simple. The package comes with a GoPro mount that fits right on the bar. The pod can be easily taken on an off the bar without any tools using the supplied “wing” nut. It was a different story for me because I was installing the device onto my tribike bars. There were two issues: 1) Because my Profile Design T2 bars are not uniformly circular, I could not mount the device on the outside of my aero bars; and 2) There was not enough room on the inner part of the bar (inside the aero bars) to install the mount and still use the wing nut. After trying several different configurations, I settled on installing the mount on the inner part of the bar and not using the wing nut. Instead I used the regular nut supplied with the mount (that requires a hex wrench to tighten). The only disadvantage of the configuration is that I am not able to easily remove the PowerPod by simply hand-loosening the wing nut.
After installing the PowerPod onto my handlebars, the device needed an initial calibration before use. By following the supplied instructions, I was easily able to connect the PowerPod to my Garmin Edge 510 bike computer. The calibration step required that I ride for a few minutes with the device in the calibration mode. As described in the instructions, the power reading progressed from zero to 100 watts and the calibration was complete. I was happy to see that the calibration process worked exactly as the instructions described. I was then ready to get out on the road and give the PowerPod a true test.
Using the PowerPod is very easy. Once the bike computer is turned on, I simply press the button on the PowerPod to activate the device. It is then detected by the bike computer and it is ready to go. During my initial ride, I experimented with various levels of effort including some climbs and short sprints. The meter tracked closely to the effort and terrain (for example, displaying high watts during climbs). Overall, I had no issues with the real-time readings on my bike computer and the in-ride performance of the device. For me, what would be most critical would be the post-ride data analysis.
There are several ways to download and analyze the data from the PowerPod. Because I use the Garmin 510 bike computer, I am able to capture the data using Connect by Garmin. And since I have my Connect account linked to my TrainingPeaks app, my data also goes to TrainingPeaks, which is my preferred method to view and analyze the data.
A third method of evaluating the data is to use the Isaac software supplied for the PowerPod. The software was easily downloaded from the ibikesports website. Data is transferred from the PowerPod to the analysis software using a USB connection. Once downloaded, the data can be viewed and analyzed. In addition to data analysis, the software and connection to the PowerPod provides a means to update the PowerPod firmware with updates as they become available. I found viewing the data in the software interesting and it allowed me to see additional information that I am not able to see in the other programs. For example, there is a color profile allowing you to see wind resistance during your ride.
One function that I tried and found to be less than ideal, is the ability to switch the PowerPod into an indoor trainer mode. Using the Isaac software, you can change a setting on the PowerPod and choose the type of trainer you are using. But I ran into problems here. I have a CyclOps indoor trainer and when I tried to select the trainer type in the software, I had several CyclOps selections to choose from. I was not able to match the selection with my model, so I just picked one not really sure if it was the right one. I was able to get power data during my indoor session, but I’m not sure if it was accurate. I have not explored this function further since I am most interested in the data generated outdoors on training rides. I can always use the indoor data in a relative way (not worrying about absolute values but using the data to compare between sessions).
One thing that I will be curious to learn is the durability of the PowerPod. It seems to be well constructed, but it is a very small device with (I’m assuming) a lot of electronics packed inside. Time will tell on this.
Overall, my initial thoughts on the PowerPod are very positive. I found it easy to install and use, and the power data seems to be consistent and accurate. For my purposes, I am not overly concerned if I’m not getting accuracy down to the watt. I am able to measure power and compare results over time to evaluate training effectiveness and improvements. The PowerPod is an entry-level power meter that costs significantly less than most power meters on the market. It may not provide all of the critical data used by high performance athletes, but for age groupers like me, it is an excellent alternative to the high-end (i.e. high priced) power meters.