Dirt Rag Magazine

First Impression: Stages Cycling Power Meter

By Eric McKeegan, photos by Wil Matthews.

I’ll admit to being a bit surprised when we were invited to attend a media camp for a power meter company.Dirt Rag isn’t well known for our embrace of electronics, although all of us certainly make use of our smartphones…

The more I read the invitation, the more excited I got. Stages Cycling‘s Matt Pacocha teamed up with a few other companies and the Colorado Freeride Festival to create a chance for the invited editors to race in the enduro, aboard a Yeti SB66c trail bike with the new Mavic Crossmax Enduro wheel/tire system, and equipped with a Stages power meter, natch.

Let’s get this out of the way first, the Stage’s product may be the smallest thing I’ve ever been to a press camp to check out. Here it is from the side and top, most people would never notice it on the bike.

Instead of using sensors in the hub or driveside crank, Stages bonds its sensor to the left crank arm. Inside this little black box is a strain gauge and accelerometer and a single CR2032 battery good for 200 hours of use and easily found for under $5 and replaceable without tools.

The Stages Power meter is just a sending unit, so a head unit that complies with the ANT power standard, an iPhone 4s or 5, or a third generation iPad. Expect an app for the Android OS soon, but your phone needs to be Bluetooth 4.0 compatible. While the Garmin is the most popular unit I’ve seen, there are also units from Cateye, Sigma, Bontrager, CycleOps, Specialized and others.

The power meter not only sends power info to the head unit, but using the accelerometer, it measures cadence too. With the head unit hooked up to GPS satellites, this means totally wireless info about location, speed, cadence and power. As a former mechanic that wired up some incredibly complicated computers to bikes, this system is a relief to install.

Since the unit only sends data from one side, the result of algorithm used to figure out wattage is doubled to figure out total wattage for both legs. While some might get up in arms about this system, it is good to keep in mind that the vast majority of riders have less than 4 percent difference in power between each leg, which falls within the average margin for error of most systems. While this might not result in exact data that would be revealed in a laboratory environment, Stages stands behind the consistency of its data. That consistency is what is important for training.

The big advantage of using the non-driveside crank means all kinds of components can be swapped with no need to recalibrate they system. Pedals, chainrings or wheels are all fair game for swapping with no need to change any settings, or send the unit back to Stages to reprogram.

The stages unit also automatically calibrates for temperature changes, unlike most other units on the market, which need to be calibrated throughout a ride with changing temps. 

I also had a chance to talk with a number of athletes who are pretty stoked about this system, from enduro racers like Jared Graves, Jeff Lenosky and Mark Weir, to more XC guys Mitch Hoke and Macky Franklin. Across the board, they are all excited about the in depth info this system makes available and how quickly this info can be incorporated into revised training plans.

The other key to this system is price. While $700-$900 isn’t at all cheap, it is substantially lower than any other power meter on the market. This system should open up the power meter market to more cyclists, and the well protected mounting location should keep the sending uit well protected with charging though rough terrain. When you purchase a Stages power meter, you actual purchase a non-drive side crank arm to match your existing crank with the power meter system already built in. 

I used the very popular Garmin Edge 510 computer to capture data, and everything worked well all weekend, at least until I forgot to charge the Garmin before day 3 of racing. All the captured data was uploaded to trainingpeaks.com, where a coach crunched all the number and recommended some direction for training, should I want to improve my enduro performance.

I’ve got the power meter at home now, waiting to be installed on new Turner Burner for further use and a complete test. To be honest, its been years since I’ve used any type of electronic device to record my speed off road, but the information captured by this system is pretty darn interesting, and I look forward to hitting the local trails and seeing what kind of data results.

We also had a chance to talk with a number of athletes who are pretty stoked about this system, from enduro racers like Jared Graves, Jeff Lenosky and Mark Weir, to more XC guys Mitch Hoke and Macky Franklin.

Check the pages of a future issue of Dirt Rag for the complete review.

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