Table of Contents
- The Seated/Standing Position function
- The Power Phase function
- Platform Center Offset function
- The software tools themselves are still a bit speculative.
New Cycling Dynamics software and Vector S pedal system are designed for future upgrades
Since the invention of the power meter in the 1980s, the biggest advance to the genre is the development of the past few years of so-called dual-sided power meters, which independently measure power output from your left and right legs. Separate L/R power measurement offers up a trove of previously unavailable data for cyclists, coaches, fitters and scientists to use.
The biggest question about the advance is simple: what do we do with all that data?
GPS maker Garmin is making a stab at the answer with one of two new cycling products released today. Cycling Dynamics is software for Garmin’s line of GPS computers, specifically designed to capture and make use of its Vector dual-sided power data.
The initial metrics in Cycling Dynamics include three new areas of quantifying power data:
The Seated/Standing Position function
It detects position changes by comparing forces at the pedals. In Garmin Connect, you’ll get an analysis of time spent in each position, cadence, and speed and, of course, power output.
The Power Phase function
It uses Vector’s accelerometers to measure wherein the pedal stroke you’re putting out power, as well as how much negative torque (backpressure) you’re applying on the upstroke.
Platform Center Offset function
This is a sophisticated model that can show where peak forces are on the pedal platform itself, relative to the pedal center.
All of this is specific to its pedal-based Vector power meter. Garmin also announced a new, lower-level version of that product, called the Vector S. It’s essentially the same as the Vector. Only the left pedal has a power meter (the right is a regular pedal). The key benefit is a lower price ($900). The system can be upgraded later to a full dual-sided Vector power meter. That would allow to take advantage of the Cycling Dynamics software.
The software tools themselves are still a bit speculative.
Historically, when we’ve asked coaches and fitters how they’ll use all this new data from dual-sided power meters, the honest answer has been a shrug. “I’m not sure yet.” Since we’ve only begun to get data like this in the real world rather than a lab, no one knows how exactly we’ll put it to use.
The Platform Center Offset seems the most obvious benefit: by determining where on the pedal your peak forces are, an expert fitter could change cleat position, stance width or other fit parameters. Effects could range from better efficiency to comfort-related improvements, like reducing “hot spots” in the forefoot on long rides.
The Power Phase function has potential as well; along with Pioneer, Garmin is the only power meter maker to be able to analyze power output dynamically within a single revolution of a pedal stroke. Pioneer’s system is extremely precise, measuring force and direction at 12 points in the pedal stroke. But where that data leads us is unknown.
Most of the scientific literature on pedaling efficiency indicates that trying to reduce backpressure on the pedals has limited effect. Two recent studies (2008 and 2007) found that an active pulling-up motion during the upstroke portion improved pedaling effectiveness but at the expense of total mechanical efficiency.
But tellingly, most of these studies take place in a lab. A study co-authored by FDJ pro team trainer Fred Grappe noted that power profiles and perceived exertion levels were significantly different when measured on an indoor ergometer as opposed to on a power meter on a real bike outdoors.
What we learn in the real world could be different than what lab-based studies have shown so far.
In a way, the new software doesn’t put us that much further forward than we are today; using the data properly will require some trial and error and, very likely, the expert interpretation of a licensed coach with lots of power-training experience, and a qualified, experienced fitter.
That’s more data than most of us need. But over time, lessons learned from that could prove to have broader-reaching benefits in the form of new ideas about proper bike fit and training.
And Garmin gets points for rolling out its improvements as software rather than a static, soon-to-be-obsolete physical product. Cycling Dynamics will be available as a software update sometime in late 2014, says Garmin. Although only Vector owners can functionally use it. And the release carefully noted that the three new metrics are initial features; more will likely come with future updates.
Similarly, while the single-sided Vector S seems in some ways to be moving in a totally different direction, it lowers the entry price on Garmin’s power meter while offering the flexibility to upgrade later.