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Training with power continues to grow in popularity as more and more people recognize the distinct value that it provides. Short on time, serious about improvement? Look no further than a powermeter. Long on time, serious about improvement? Look no further than a powermeter. This isn’t new news though – powermeters are well into their second decade of use, and they’re used for good reason.
The New, Improved PowerTap
While the crowd is growing, the two top dogs in the powermeter game are without a doubt SRM and Saris’ CycleOps PowerTap. I’ve long trained with an SRM and have been a proponent since I first tried it. I’ve long looked askance at the PowerTap, noting the serious weight penalty the PowerTap demanded and the cemented in option of ONE rear wheel (at least for the typical racer’s budget) if you wanted power data. For me, it was always a fairly clear option that the SRM was the top rung if the money was available (or, in my case, if you had the right, very, very generous friend: thank you, John Dowd).
The PowerTap SL+ hub.
Saris took note of these shortcomings and completely redesigned the hubs over the past few years. Along with a completely reworked hub that is now stiffer and much more water resistant (read: completely); they also spent some serious time slimming down. Early models of the PowerTap hub were often three times the weight of a normal hub. Continued development has seen the SL+ dieting heavily: it’s now 141 grams lighter than a previous model Pro+ and stiffer courtesy of a 15mm alloy axle as compared to the previous 12mm version. On top of all of that, PowerTap went wireless. Saris made the ANT+ wireless jump early on, and the results have been fantastic.
The inner workings of the PowerTap hub.
I Need A Wheel, A Great One
That’s all well and good, but I still need a relatively all-purpose wheel that will shine both in training and racing, because I want data all the time, not just some of the time. What wheel am I going to ride that fits the bill as both a hardcore, bombproof training wheel and a no concessions made fast, light race wheel? Thank you, Zipp, for the 404 wheelset. The heads at Zipp are always looking to be at the forefront of technological advances (Charles did an incredible job of showing us this when he toured the factory a little over a year ago – and they’ve upgraded everything since then), so it isn’t surprising that Zipp aligned themselves early on with the folks at PowerTap.
The 404 rims are some of the best in the business. There’s no questioning that. I’d only heard that claim before. I now nod feverishly in agreement.
The results? I’m sure you’ve seen the handiwork of the Garmin boys over the past few seasons. They’ve since moved on, but Cervelo TestTeam has now stepped up to the flagship spot and is now reaping the benefits of the PowerTap/Zipp combo. I hope I don’t piss too many people off by mentioning it, but Floyd Landis got to Paris in the shortest amount of time way back in 2006 using a PowerTap on his Zipp wheels on every stage. I won’t say anything else on that Tour, but we’ve since seen these hoops run everything from mountaintop finishes to hilly, fast finishes like Sanremo, to the toughest material test of them all: Paris Roubaix.
At first glance (and probably in the mind of lots of people), the ‘Tap being laced to Zipp rims makes a lot of people assume these are just race day equipment and that’s pretty simply crap… I’ve pounded these wheels on dirt, gravel, grass, cross courses, and the hottest crucible of them all: New Orleans roads, and I assure you, they’re at home as training gear.
Continued development on their staple 404 rim has yielded the fastest, lightest, strongest incarnation yet. Zipp have upgraded the rims several times in the past couple of years (as well as an end to end hub redesign) and these are their latest edition. The spoke bed is different, the lay up is different, the list of changes is too long for a review not entirely devoted to the wonders of Zipp’s continuing evolution, but these are not fragile, race day kit. In my case, I opted for clinchers, as a tubular wheel for training isn’t exactly ideal. If I had opted for the tubular rim, I’d be forced to list further differences, as Zipp added new structure from end to end including more changes than just the “Carbon Bridge” tech they speak about.
The shape of stiff and fast.
Your “race” wheels should, in theory, have a lot in common with your power training wheels in that they will both need to take repeated big efforts. With 3000 unkind miles in these in just a few months, I’m fine with calling these tough.
If we’re talking race wheels though, I’d like something fast, something quick, something fairly light, something aero, something like, say, the 404. It’s a clincher race wheel at its finest. I had managed to make it my whole ‘career’ without ever racing on a deep dish carbon rim before this past Summer, and the difference is black and white. The speed difference was noticeable, but there was also a mental side-effect – just looking down at the wheels made me smile. They were fast, they felt fast, and they definitely looked fast. Don’t laugh at me, that counts for something for me when I’m struggling to pull through in a break.
So what kind of weight compromise does the upward dreaming bike rider have to make? The SL+ hub tips the scales at 412 grams. Sure, it’s a helluva lot heavier than the stock Zipp hub, which weighs in at 176 grams, but with less than 300 grams of added metal, I trade up to a tool that will make up for that 300 grams in training and performance benefit.
For this test, I rolled on Serfas Seca RS tires. Serfas is just nudging into the game of late and are making some solid, dependable tires. I loved em.
I can hear the skeptics coughing in dismay as the mental calculators whir: Zipp 404s and a PowerTap SL+ hub? That’s going to run in the neighborhood of 3000 dollars. Big gulp. BUT – hey, take a step back and look at how much a wireless SRM costs – pretty much the same ballpark, more expensive even. Out of this, you get some of the best wheels around out of the deal.
The new and improved PowerTap hub does its rim counterpart justice – stiff and stiff make fast, fast, fast.
How have they held up? I’m still firmly of the opinion that my road bike is actually a bike for all surfaces and that pavement is optional. A few years ago, I did a review on some great Easton wheels – I’m tearing down a trail, no helmet, rocking out. A lot has changed since 2005 in my world, but a lot has stayed the same: I’m wearing a helmet now, but still giving every type of terrain its due justice. In short, I don’t pass light judgment on the durability of wheels. If they’d don’t cut it, I don’t ride them. I’ve had no problems with the wheels. I ride my bike how and where I want to, and the wheels take to my chosen terrains and situations be it racing or training with aplomb. I’ve had no need for truing, no problems whatsoever.
Finally, I Need A Computer
What’s a powermeter without a computer to see the data? For the longest time, before the outset of ANT+ wireless technology, we were all forced to use the computer of the manufacturer – SRM or PowerTap. The development of the wonderful ANT+ technology changed the game though – sure, you can still use the standard PowerTap Cervo computer, which is just fine and dandy, or you can make the jump to a number of other different computers. In this case, I opted for a slightly different tool, a veritable Swiss Army Knife: the Garmin Edge 705. (Note: CycleOps is about to release their new Joule computer, which will add a further wrinkle to this game, as it promises to be an impressive, innovative product, but for the sake of this review, we’ll stick to the 705.)
The main screen. This is full customizable to show from 1 to 8 different bits of data. I rarely use it, so I put a ton on it.
To put it simply, the Garmin 705 is one of the coolest developments in bike technology in eons. I’ll have to use a virtually copyrighted phrase here from the legendary frame builder, Richard Sachs, because this is all of course: ATMO – According To My Opinion.
The Joys Of ANT+
We wouldn’t have the chance to enjoy the Garmin 705 without that which I give thanks to everyday: ANT+. ANT stands for Area Network Technology. The + refers to the cool part. Straight from the ANT+ website: “The key advantage of this unique managed network is device specific interoperability which enables wireless communication with other ANT+ products.” What does that mean? You can pair a PowerTap hub to a Garmin 705, you can pair a PowerTap hub to an iBike iAero, you can pair a wireless SRM to both of the above, etc etc.
Charles was more than generous in helping Ashley with her first real bike.
In the actual device itself, the ANT+ chip is a tiny transmitter that measures up to a miniscule 5mm square. The chip broadcasts in the 2.4 GHz license-free band. This tiny little chip just opened the powermeter horizons. It’s not just for the big boys either – powermeter development is exploding right now (the already in use Quarq Cinqo and the in development Metrigear Vector and Brim Brothers’ new powermeter to name but three), and they’re all using ANT+, why? Because it takes the pressure off creating their own computer, because it increases the possibilities, because it’s hands down, just plain easy and it just happens to be the best.
I got the wheelset and the 705, locked in the rear wheel, attached the 705 to my handlebars, told the 705 to search for the powermeter, rotated the rear wheel – voila, the devices paired, I went for a bike ride.
The Garmin isn’t a tiny addition to your bike, but it isn’t bad or obnoxious by any means. I’m a huge fan of the stem mount.
Let’s Take A Closer Look At The 705
The Garmin 705 has changed the way I ride bikes, the way I look at riding bikes. It is quite simply the best piece of electronics I’ve ever attached to a bike. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, but its positive aspects far outweigh any little firmware issues or rumored data loss that may crop up. I’ve had absolutely no problems. That’s another cool thing (early users would say, this was a bad thing) with a product like the 705 – it’s not a finished piece. Garmin might have released the product a bit early in the development process, but a succession of great firmware updates have yielded a great product. It’s not without its small failings, but for the most part, it’s pretty damn solid.
My favorite screen: power, heart rate, and map. What else do I need?
In a unit just a wee bit larger than the SRM head unit and PowerTap Cervo, you get power measurement, heart rate measurement, and the fantastic GPS. To be able to put the business end of my training together with the adventure is one of those love at first sight things for me. I’m serious about the time I spend on my bike, I’m serious about improvement – I always ride with a powermeter. It’s not for everyone, but for those that make the jump to training with power, there’s not much better to be had than pairing the work aspect with the potential to explore with such ease.
The 705 is infinitely customizable to your own needs. The main screen can be set to include from three to EIGHT different pieces of data. The choices border on ridiculous. I thought this was the coolest thing in the world at first, but after some playing around, I realized that I prefer something a little more minimalistic. I don’t need too much information for the most part, so I often opt for the map screen with my 3 second rolling average power at the top…sometimes I might include my heart rate on that screen as well. It is such a treat to be able to control exactly what I see on the screen. I get to choose what’s important to me. What’s important to me changes on a day to day basis though, so the ability to change these settings in a matter of seconds is fantastic. I like that.
What can you choose from? Here are a few: Ascent, Bearing, Cadence, Distance, Distance to Destination, ETA at Destination, Elevation, Grade, Heading, Heart Rate, Heart Rate Zone, Power, Power Avg 3 sec, Power Avg 30 sec (which is a really nice feature, as it seems to go in line with RPE), Power Zone, Speed, Sunrise, Sunset (?!), Time. That’s only about half.
The head unit itself is a lightweight addition at 3.7 oz, 105 grams. The display resolution is a very nice 176×220 pixels, and it’s in color, which is a big help for the mapping features.
The altitude screen is a helluva lot more interesting when you’re not riding around New Orleans. You can tell that I’m actually at a pretty high spot in the Crescent City – I’m at 2m above sea level!
The battery length on the Garmin 705 is good for all but, well, ultra ultra long distance riders like oh say, Dave Harris. 15 hours just isn’t enough for a guy that goes fo 3+ day consecutive tours. Check out his blog if you want to get starry-eyed and dreamy about adventure biking.
Great For Sharing!
Making a purchase like a Zipp/PowerTap/Garmin is not something done without a little forethought. I pondered it long and hard before pulling the trigger. One of the huge pluses for me was, well, us. Ashley has been riding a ton of late, and a tool like the Garmin is a godsend for a new rider to a new area. For us, we’re constantly on the go, so Ashley (me too!) can find her way around just fine if we’re in Athens, Georgia or New Orleans, Louisiana. Even at home in Northern Louisiana, she’s finding new roads. The 705 and PowerTap have provided a unique option for a relative newcomers: she’s really enthusiastic about training with power, so the combo of powermeter and GPS is perfect.
The whole system is completely transferable between bikes. I can take the wheels and Garmin off of my bike and put them on hers in less than, what, 30 seconds? I don’t have to make any changes, I don’t have to change any settings – just put the wheels on her bike, attach the Garmin, and go!
I’m Done With My Ride, Now What?
Garmin has some solid software in the internet based, Garmin Connect. Everyday after I ride, I come home, upload the data to Garmin Connect…then I upload it to TrainingPeaks WKO+ software. Garmin Connect is good for the mapping part of my day, but for the heart rate and power data, it just doesn’t provide the detail and, well, amazing amazingness that WKO+ provides. When it comes to power analysis, there just isn’t a program on the planet that holds a candle to TrainingPeaks WKO+. With that said, I love Garmin Connect as a tool to keep track of where I’ve been riding, and as a tool to share where I’ve been riding with anyone who is interested. I love the idea of compiling a great set of routes for local bike riders to enjoy. The days of top secret routes are gone in my opinion. I think that last bastion of road elitism is done. Well, I’m doing my best to make sure that the great routes are there for all to enjoy.
My Only Beefs
My only real issue with the entire system is the stem mount. It could be better. I had the unit almost fly off my bike on a number of occasions. Thankfully, it’s a simple fix, even for me, one renowned for simple task idiocy. I just glued the rotating part (so you can attach to either stem or bar) down, and I’ve had no issues since. I would highly recommend taking the few extra minutes to glue that bad boy down, otherwise you might be watching 500 dollars fly off of a bridge and into a raging river. Well, that’s how I scared myself into buying glue.
This whole project has been a present of sorts for Ashley. I don’t have much to give, but I can scrounge up bike stuff.
I’m also not a huge fan of trying to navigate the Garmin’s map without a pre-loaded map (see below). I can do it when I have to, but let’s face it, the screen isn’t like sitting at home with Google Maps open on a 23″ monitor. The screen is about 4cm wide, so scrolling around, trying to find the road that will take you home on the fly is a wee bit trying. Thus, it is preferred to either plan ahead with a map you make beforehand (my #1 favorite), use the nifty compass feature and find your way home approximately, or double tap where you want to go and have it map you there automatically.
The Garmin 705 retails for 499.99 on the Garmin site, for that money, you don’t get the detailed map of your country. That will set you back another 100 dollars. That’s a painful secondary purchase that I’m not wild about, but without the real deal maps, the 705 is not nearly as appealing to me. I tried a 705 with just the base map, and I was disappointed. The detailed maps are essential, and they are one of the principle factors in making the 705 shine. So if you get the 705, just add on the extra 100 dollars, and do it right.
The Important Part, For Me
I ride my bike for more than just getting fit though. I train with power, but I’m not a slave to it. To put it simply: I love riding bikes. I love being outside, I love seeing and feeling everything the region around me has to offer. I absolutely love exploring. Finding new, unridden roads (at least by me), is one of the more satisfying things I can think of on a bike. Making a new turn, on to a new road, cresting a climb with a gorgeous vista at the top: it’s priceless.
I don’t have the time like I used to have though. I don’t have time to ride 5-7 hours per day for the most part. I can’t just ride out 3 hours, get crazy lost, then stumble home many hours later. Plus, I don’t really want to. I love exploring with a bit of research and forethought ahead of time. Everyday before I ride now, I get on MapMyRide, plot out a route, save it as a .CRS in the Courses file of my Garmin, then follow that route the next day. Some people might find my approach sacrilegious, I think it’s a great way to learn the area. For me, I don’t pick up directions and routes super fast, so I go about it methodically…and I love it. I get a good idea of the area where I’m riding when I spend some time looking at the map, get a better idea after plotting my route, and I get an even better idea after following my route on the roads that I viewed the night before on the computer, but this time in reality, pedaling. I’ve learned more about where I ride in a few short weeks than I did in years before that. Call me a Philistine, but I think it’s a great way to learn. You don’t learn math by guess and check for the most part, do you? You sit down, do some studying, practice a bit, then put it into action when it’s schooltime. That’s how I treat my riding now.
You don’t have to plot routes though either – I know that’s not everyone’s style. You can go out, ride completely randomly, get wicked lost, then just tell the thing to take you home. It’ll plot a route in about 10-30 seconds (depending on how far you’ve ridden into Terra Incognita). The route that it selects is usually spot on in terms of its usability, but it’s always best to have a quick glance and make sure you’re not headed to the Bahamas. I personally don’t love depending on this feature. I love doing a little homework the night before, getting a bit dorky researching on Google Street View and the Satellite View, then plotting out my route for the day. That’s just me though.
Interested? For more on each of the above products, follow the links…
- The Zipp 404 clincher wheelset
- The Garmin Edge 705
- Saris CycleOps PowerTap SL+
I train with power, but I don’t profess to knowing a thousandth of what there is to know about the topic. If you have questions or want to learn more, I highly recommend a visit to the Wattage forum on Google Groups.
Thanks for looking. If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!
PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.
If you have any questions or comments, please, fire me an email.
There’s always the trusty JeredGruber.com if you’d like to take a peek at power training put to work…and other fun stuff.