Updated: Apr 26, 2022
by David Bauerle
When I started doing triathlons 16 years ago, bicycle power meters were relatively new and very expensive. Being the data geek I am, I had to have one, so I splurged and bought one. For the first 2 years, I had the power meter, but I didn’t really use it for training. Skip ahead 16 years, prices have come down, and I now use my power meter extensively, as do most of the athletes I coach.
So the question is: Should a triathlete buy a bicycle power meter, and if so, when should they buy one?
The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors. First off, it is not required that all triathletes buy a power meter. You can be a successful triathlete without a power meter. So why spend the money? A power meter gives you and your coach valuable data to help optimize your training.
There are many advantages to using a power meter. The biggest advantage is the accurate measurement of training stress. Because every training session stresses the body, it is important to determine the amount of stress.
Training by heart rate to measure stress is not very accurate because many things besides effort can affect your heart rate. Wind, heat, humidity, and other factors like stress, sleep deprivation, even some medication can elevate your heart rate.
The use of speed to determine your training stress can be inaccurate because things like hills, wind, and heat will affect your speed. However, power measurements are pure. In other words, how much power over time you do during a workout is a very accurate measurement of your training stress. The only thing that affects the power meter is how much effort you put into pedaling the bike.
Another good reason to use a power meter is for pacing. During a triathlon, one of the biggest mistakes athletes make is going too hard on the bike and not having energy for the run. If you know from your training how much power you can output for a given time, you can predict what power you should average for the race.
Since power measurements are pure, no matter what the course is, by hitting the desired average power, you will have the needed energy to complete the run.
So should you buy a power meter? If you have the budget for it and want to be a stronger cyclist and triathlete, I say yes! Invest and enjoy the new data you will have access to.
I believe power meter training benefits all athletes; however, the longer the races you will be doing, the more important it is to have a power meter. If you are competing in only short course races (Sprints and Olympic Distance), a power meter is not that critical, and you may be better off spending your money on something else. If you are doing long course racing (70.3 or 140.6), then a power meter becomes more important. Because it helps me coach my athletes to reach their goals, I recommend power meters to all athletes I coach who are doing long course training.