This is a question I hear over and over from my athletes and cycling friends.
My answer would be yes, if you can afford one!
A powermeter brings so many benefits to cyclists, I’ll list a few of them below:
Instant feedback – When training with a powermeter, you can see instantly the force you’re applying to the pedals. Whilst a heart rate monitor is a very useful gauge, there is a delay between applying the force (doing the work) and your body reacting to that work or effort. For example, when you start a climb, you may have a heart rate of 120bpm, you climb for 3 minutes before you reach 150bpm. During that period you may have been putting out an effort in zone 3, but your body takes 3-4 minutes to react to that effort fully. When training with a powermeter, to your known zones, you can ensure that you are training in the right zones, not pushing too hard.
Time Trials – Timed efforts against the clock. There is a tendency for all athletes to go too hard at the beginning of a Time Trial, effectively putting themselves into the RED (zone 5+), where as for the optimal pace, depending on the length of the race, should be somewhere around their Functioal Threshold. By going beyond their threshold, they are effectively overloading their body early on in the Time Trial, this will ultimately cause a slower overall time trial result.
Accountability – When training with a powermeter, you have the ability to see exactly how much power you have been putting out for a set duration, distance or segment. This allows you to look back at your own previous power and tally them up with similar effort (based on heart rate and time) so you can see your relative improvements in performance.
Coach feedback – Having a powermeter gives your coach a powerful (no pun intended) insight into your training progress. By looking at your power data over set durations, they can asses your relative improvement in performance.
Efficiency – By having feedback as to the amount of force you’re applying to the pedals, you can work on improving your pedal stroke efficiency, keeping the power (measured in watts) steady instead of spiking. You can improve your efficiency which effectively will allow you to go faster for the same amount of effort put in.
Training load – A powermeter allows you to look at accumulated training load (known as ATL, or sometimes TSS, or Training Stress Score) per week and per month. This then gives you the ability to look at many other metrics, such as your fatigue levels, form and fitness. All of these tools can only be effectively used with a powermeter.
Planning – Knowing your previous best efforts for any given duration of time, means that you can plan certain race scenarios or at least some parts of races. As an example, I used my known best power curve when racing in the Tour of Khao Yai, a race that I won overall. The race had a simple format, a flat run up to the base of Khao Yai (a 900 meter ascent). I knew the approximate wattage I could hold for the duration of the climb, so keeping that in mind, I kept within 10-20 watts of that number for the entire climb. In a race situation with a peloton of cyclists follwing you, it is hard to climb based on feeling alone, however with a powermeter, you know exactly how hard you should (and can) go. The tool we look at in order to determine our previous best efforts is called the ‘power curve’, this is probably one of the most useful feedback tools available for planning any time trial or similar effort.
Powermeters are becoming much more affordable. With the 2nd and 3rd generations on the way, more advanced tools are being brought into the market, this is also driving the price of the basic or entry level powermeters down.