My friends know that I not only bike ride for fun but also for fitness. Since I started bicycle riding some six years ago, I’ve been on a bit of a journey with the equipment I use and protocols I follow. Some of the technology I’ve come across, like power meters, have been know to the pros for many years, but for me, discovering the power meter was a one of those light-bulb, ah-ha moments that transformed my bicycle riding. This post is about my experiences using a power meter.
Power meters are really cool. They essentially measure how hard you’re pushing on the pedals to make the bicycle move. If you’re familiar with heart rate monitors, they’re sort of similar except heart rate monitors measure your heart “response”to exercise. The power meter measures the direct exertion.
Power meters are located in a number of place on the bike depending on the manufacturer. Mine is a PowerTap. These devices are located in the rear axle and use wireless technology to transmit information about how hard the rider is working, in watts, to a monitoring device that sits on the handle bar. As you can tell, the power meter is really nothing to look at — but what you can do with it is SO MUCH FUN!
The receiving device that sits on my handlebar is made by Garmin, so it not only gives me a ton of wattage-related information, but also mapping and routing information. What I especially love about the device is it’s totally customizable. I can mix and match up to ten data fields per screen, in addition to map and course-based screens. This allows me complete freedom to create screens that best meet my individual needs.
So, without further delay, let’s dive into how I customized my Garmin 800 unit.
My Main Data Screen
This is the data screen I use most often. It’s a compilation of what I consider my most important data when I am out-and-about on a typical, everyday bicycle ride. At the top is my distance traveled for the ride, followed by my speed and the duration of the ride. The next line provides my average power measured in watts over the last three seconds, then my heading, my heart rate (I wear a heart rate monitor strap across my chest), the percentage of incline or decline of the road (e.g. 5%), my cadence measured in revolutions per minute, and the time of day. Any of these fields can be easily changed, but this is what I have come to find most helpful and is my primary go-to screen.
Also, just to point it out, to the left of the Garmin I’ve taped a little menu on the handlebar that gives me a quick visual of the order of the data screens.
As I mentioned, you can create these data screens in any fashion you want. For me, it makes sense to create screens that each revolve around a certain “theme” that’s meaningful to the way I ride.
My Power Metrics Screen
My second screen gives me addition information about the power I’m generating. The top line provides information about how long I’ve been riding. The next line is average power over the last three seconds. The third line provides data about current power as a percentage of my Functional Threshold Power, followed by Normalized Power data. The next line provides information about average power over the last 30 seconds (similar to the three second average except it’s a 30 second average). The next field tells me what my maximum power was for the ride. And the last line provides information about my Intensity Factor and Training Stress Score. Any of these indices can be Googled to learn more about how much really cool information they provide!
My Interval Training Screen
I use this screen when I’m training my body — trying to get in better shape — usually during the winter when I have my bike set up inside on a trainer, but also at other times when I’m trying to become fitter for an event. If you’re not familiar with interval training, it’s simply a series of low- to high-intensity cycling workouts interspersed with rest periods. My training intervals typically have a set duration and a set exertion level. For example, five sets of 200 watts exertions for seven minutes, with each set interspersed with a seven minute rest interval of easy pedaling.
Since my interval training is usually high-end, work-like-a-dog training, I designed the screen to have the most important numbers in large font at the top. When doing intervals, the duration and wattage are the most important numbers to track.
In additional to lap power, I also track average power over the last three seconds. I like to know both. Lap Power is the average of my exertion during the entire lap, whereas average power over the last 3 Seconds gives me feedback about my more current effort.
I’ve also come to appreciate knowing my heart rate when doing intervals. When I’m busting my tail sending my heart rate through the roof, I want to know I’m not going to have a heart attack by hitting it harder than is smart for a 56 year guy.
Last, at the bottom I’ve included information about the duration and power output from the lap I just completed. I always find that helpful just for comparison purposes.
Since I’m a flatlander from the plains of eastern South Dakota, I don’t use this screen too often unless I’m going on a trip to ride over hills or mountains. Still, it’s sometimes fun to visually size up a little local hill and guess it’s percentage incline. Other data relevant to climbing is the total ascent, measured in feet, as well as the elevation level. I also keep track of my heart rate, cadence and speed on this screen, as they’ll vary significantly from my typical Watertown area flatland rides.
My Miscellaneous Screen
This is my garbage pail screen. I use it for data I might want to look at periodically for informational sake — like to satisfy my curiosity, but that’s not vital to know for the ride. At the top is how many calories I’ve burned during the ride — which usually relates to how big a piece of pie I can eat when I’m done riding, followed by average and maximum data, then the odometer for the device, followed by the sunset time (important if I am riding a long day and want to be back before the sun goes down), the temperature, and a graphic of battery life.
Looking at all my Laps
I don’t use this screen too much. During interval training, this screen provided information about my power over the last three seconds and the duration of my current interval. Below that (and not shown), is a list of my average power for all my intervals for the workout. For example, at the top it might list something like 10 minutes at 250 watts. The next line might list 10 minutes at 150 watts, and so on.
Never Get Lost! Maps and Navigation
Perhaps the coolest single feature of the Edge 800 is the ability to download satellite imagery onto it — basically the same stuff you’d get if you went to Google Maps or Bing Maps.
Another feature I love about this device is it has the same navigational features that you’d expect from a car GPS. For example, it’ll give you turn by turn directions and show you how far until the next turn. As any bicyclist will tell you, it’s one thing to get lost when driving a car, but it’s even more miserable when you get lost riding your bike.
The last screen is a graphic depiction of elevation changes over the course of the ride. This is another screen I don’t use too much, but it’s fun to sometimes look at it. At the top of the screen I have two data fields for total ascent, measured in feet, and the current elevation. Below the two data fields is where the device graphically displays the elevation changes of the ride. For example, if you’re riding up and down big hills, the device will draw the hills you’ve been riding up and down. If you’re climbing a mountain, the graph will show it to you. You can customize the graph too — I have each box set to a vertical change of 80 feet, and a horizontal change of 5 miles. I can change each of those to make them more or less sensitive, depending on the type of ride I’m on and what I want to see.
So that’s my bicycling cockpit in a nutshell. It gives me a wealth of information. I can easily flip from screen to screen, and I’ve organized the screens by “themes” that are personally meaningful.
This little device has transformed the way I ride. It’s not only made my riding more purposeful and directed, but also a heck-of-a-lot more fun!