Measuring power not just for elite cyclists anymore

Many companies that offer stationary bicycles are taking a page from elite cyclists in terms of measuring power output on bicycles. This new feature on some high-end and commercial models of stationary cycles is intended to help consumers measure progress over time.
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Many companies that offer stationary bicycles are taking a page from elite cyclists in terms of measuring power output on bicycles. This new feature on some high-end and commercial models of stationary cycles is intended to help consumers measure progress over time.

It used to be only competitive cyclists gave a hoot about power measurements on stationary bicycles, but some fitness manufacturers are pushing hard to make the average consumer care too.

“Power measurement is becoming a very popular subject for cyclists, professional and recreational alike,” said John Buse of Stamina Products. Measuring power is a direct descendant of the power taps, or meters, elite cyclists attach to their bicycles to track their progress and aid in training.

“Power has only really come to stationary cycling indoors in the last year or 18 months,” said Damian Hessian, vice president of sales and marketing at Wattbike ( (Click here to see an Apr. 8, 2011 SNEWS recap of the 2011 IHRSA show, including a look at Wattbike.)

Kevin Corbalis, executive vice president of marketing and product development for Star Trac ( said that some of the early attempts at displaying power on stationary cycles was merely forecasting what the power output and calorie burn were based on different variables, but now StarTrac and other companies are focused on measuring the actual power.

Proponents of tracking power argue that it can help users increase pedaling efficiency and track improvement over time. But since there is no uniform standard in the fitness industry for measuring power, consumers will have to take the separate companies’ words on accuracy of power measurements. Of course, each company claims to have the most accurate measurements.

But the products that feature actual power measurements don’t come cheap – none are with price tags below $2,000 – and many are intended for a gym or class setting. Still, some say measuring power on stationary bicycles will be the wave of the future.

How does it work?

Pat Warner, senior vice president of product development for Foundation Fitness (, said measuring power on stationary cycles is the next step for many companies offering stationary bicycles.

At Foundation Fitness, power on its FreeMotion cycles isn’t just about displaying wattage, Warner said, but it's about measuring power and using that to determine calories burned, speed and distance during a workout.

Foundation Fitness measures how much force is being put on the crank. Wattbike measures the pressure on the chain and how it’s supplied to the pedals to measure the power and wattage, and the Relay Fitness Group ( measures torque.

“A majority of bikes in the indoor cycling arena do not measure power through measuring torque,” said Relay Fitness Group’s co-founder Marko Vujicic. “They are using yet another estimate that tries to get close but is not truly accurate.”

Foundation Fitness has its own testing facility at its Boulder-Colo., office that tests the consistency at which the bike measures power. Life Fitness (, also entering the category, has a biomechanics team in its Franklin Park, Ill.-based labs that tests the accuracy of the products measuring power.

Though Star Trac has something up its sleeve in terms of a new bike that measures power, Corbalis said, the exclusive licensee of the Spinning brand is not ready to release exactly what that technology will encompass.

“We’re in the process of developing a bike computer but I don’t want to get into any specific details,” Corbalis said, but added “We’re doing our (research and development) and we’ll provide an appropriate level of accuracy.”

Who should care?

As a retailer, you generally like to how you’re doing from month-to-month, year-to-year, in terms of profit. The idea behind offering power measurements is to offer consumers a way to track progress and let them see how they’ve improved month-to-month, year-to-year.

“Everybody wants to find ways to become effective in their workout and get more from it,” Corbalis said. “There are great training methodologies associated with power. You can benchmark where you’re at and you can see how your performance has improved.”

Prior to these power measurements on bikes, Warner said, there were less accurate ways for people who used indoor cycles to measure their progress. Much of the information displayed were estimates rather than measurements.

“If you work out on our bikes with power measurement and you burn 600 calories on one day when you work out and the next day you burn 660 calories, you have a 10-percent improvement,” Warner said. “That’s based on power measurement, not a theoretical heart rate calculation off of calories or how fast you were pedaling.”

Many of these companies have yet to introduce their power measurement products to the retail level. Although, Wattbike will sell direct-to-consumer, and Life Fitness, which is selling some of the products through specialty retailers, provides training on how to properly explain the power measurement concept.

Corbalis of Star Trac said this is important for specialty retailers who want to sell these types of products, “It’s not just about power, it’s about education.”

--Ana Trujillo