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From the mag: Power to the people

Published April 25, 2013
From the April 1 issue of BRAIN

BOULDER, CO (BRAIN) — Training with power remains one of the most elite market niches in cycling: so expensive that even some ProTour teams limit their riders’ access to power meters, keeping them under lock and key and lending them out for limited tests. In the retail marketplace, few parts categories, except perhaps carbon wheels, have as high an average price as power meters, which until recently started at roughly $1,000.

Nevertheless, sales of power training equipment—including the various meters and related computer head units and software—have been doubling or tripling in recent years, according to suppliers and industry data. And the trend is set to continue with new, lower-priced hardware and easier-to-use software hitting the market this year.

“This will be a big year, but for us it’s always a big year,” said Jesse Bartholomew, CycleOps category manager for Saris. “We’ve grown every year [we’ve been in the power market], and that won’t change.”

CycleOps’ PowerTap hubs and wheels, which start at about $800 for a hub, have become market mainstays, even as other suppliers promise lower-priced options, some of which have never materialized.

“The power meter market has almost become synonymous with vaporware,” Bartholomew said. “A lot of consumers have been in the position of waiting for things to become available, and that kind of affects the whole category negatively. Luckily we haven’t had to play that game and we’ve been able to focus on delivering our product and making it better and more durable all the time.”

Compared with 2011, sales of power meters at IBDs jumped 166 percent in units and 91 percent in dollars to reach an impressive $5.1 million last year, according to figures from Leisure Trends Group and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.

However, last year a combination of previous-generation items being discounted and more lower-priced models being sold contributed to a 28 percent drop in average retail selling prices, Leisure Trends and the BPSA reported.

New hardware and software

This season at least one competitor is delivering perhaps CycleOps’ biggest competitor yet. The Stages Cycling power meter, which is attached to a bike’s left crankarm, hits the lowest price of any power measuring unit, starting at $700 for the meter attached to a Shimano 105 arm. (Other companies offer products that take a stab at calculating power indirectly and sell for less, including CycleOps’ PowerCal chest strap and iBike’s Newton computer.) 

Besides being cheaper than the PowerTap wheels and other options, the Stages meter is the lightest on the market at 30 grams, and allows riders to use their preferred wheels. The Stages meter does limit crank selection to aluminum arms from Cannondale, SRAM and Shimano. 

Besides the Stages unit, other new power meters are promised from Garmin and consumer electronics maker Pioneer, who are each promising pedal-based systems. SRAM’s Quarq division and crankset maker Rotor continue to develop and deliver lower-priced crank-based systems, while Polar and Look continue to market a pedal-based system.

The new players and the competition are sure to drive down the cost of meters. But another factor is set to reduce the barrier to entry for athletes looking to measure their watts: the smartphone. 

Newer models of the iPhone and some Android phones have a new version of the Bluetooth wireless protocol built in, called Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth 4.0. Newer power meters will soon be able to talk directly to those phones, eliminating the need for a head unit like the Garmin Edge or CycleOps Joule models, and lowering the cost barrier for power training by several hundred dollars.

Soon, cyclists who own compatible phones will be able to use them to display and record power data. If they don’t want to put phones on their handlebars, they can use the Wahoo RFLKT computer, which relays data from phone apps to the bars and sells for considerably less than other head units. 

Where’s the dealer in all this?

The Leisure Trends/BPSA figures cited earlier are for U.S. IBD sales. The market is likely much larger when consumer-direct, online and coaching sales are considered. Power training-related markets for coaching software, apps and even coaching services are generally sold outside the IBD, as well.  

Though potential power meter consumers are a desirable, high-dollar customer, reaching them requires an educated dealer, Batholomew said.

“They need to get smart; for better or worse, the power meter market is complicated and you are dealing with a customer who is extremely passionate and dedicated to his sport and achieving a goal, and who has invested a lot of time and effort and money in achieving that goal,” he said.

“Consumers are doing their homework, and some are walking into shops expecting to have a meaningful conversation about using these things, like they would about buying a bike. And they aren’t finding anyone there to talk to.”

CycleOps is trying to close that gap with dealer education, he said.

The PowerTap opens the door for dealer sales of wheelbuilding, tire, cassette and head-unit sales. And Trek, a PowerTap distributor, has offered PowerTap options as part of its Project One custom bike program. 

Meanwhile, crank-based power meter systems like the Quarq, Rotor and SRM meters require compatibility and installation knowledge that is beyond many consumers’ ability.

Stages sees a big role for the IBD in the selling of its new product. Besides offering “ample” dealer margins and restricting online sales to its own site, the company has a novel crankarm trade-in program that reduces the cost of adding a Stages meter to a new bike.

The program allows pre-authorized dealers to return unused left crankarms to Stages for a credit, which can reduce the cost of adding a Stages unit by $100 or more, depending on the dealer’s discretion. Stages managers also point out the program is good for the environment and prevents the creation of left crankarm stashes in shops around the world.

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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