Do Power Meters Give You More Power?

Ever since signing up for next year’s Haute Route Alps, I’ve been struggling with the decision to buy or not to buy a power meter once again. My best Haute Route results were in 2013 when I trained on heart rate alone, but my worst finishes have been after I gave up my power meter in 2016 or 2017. I don’t think this really says much because I’m just getting older and I know that I trained a lot more (and stayed off the sauce) in 2013 than any other year.

That’s slim for me

So where does this leave me? Part of me knows that having ‘numbers’ is a solid measurement of progress – just knowing that your FTP is increasing throughout the season can give you motivation to train harder. The other part of me, however, knows that it’s the work that matters, and great cyclists didn’t always have power meters.

But Gerry, you say, you can’t compare cyclists from the 50s, 60s, or 70s with today! Surely everyone is faster these days, thanks to modern training methods, high-tech science and methodical training programs that today’s riders have access to.

Well, maybe.

I decided to check a couple of things to see how much faster and stronger we are than our ancestors from the pre-carbon fiber days. First, something flat.


There are a few of these, but there is an Hour Record that is ridden on a traditional, non-aero steel bike to keep things equal, and you-know-who’s record of 1972 was the reference till Boardman beat him 28 years later. Then, along came a guy named Sosenka in 2005 and bettered it again (although Sosenka was caught doping at least once, so take that for what its worth). The difference between Eddy, who rode on baked potatoes and minestrone soup, and Sosenka, who apart from EPO, probably had a power meter:

Eddy (1972): 49.431km

Boardman (2000): 49.441km

Sosenka (2005): 49.700km

That’s a difference of less than 300 meters, or about the distance of the nearest bakery from your house if you live in France. There’s not a lot there over an hour.

Record breaking bike at Eddy Merckx metro station in Brussels


This is where it gets tricky because I don’t know of any climbing competitions that use traditional bikes nowadays, so some math needs to be attempted.

Alpe d’Huez: Fausto Coppi’s recorded time up ADH in 1952 was 45:22 and Marco Pantani’s fastest time in 1995 was 36:50. This is significantly faster, yes, but Pantani was most certainly juiced up on EPO, as were the rest of the Top Tens on the fastest ever ascension list – Armstrong, Ullrich, Zulle, Riis, Virenque, etc.

Mont Ventoux: Probably a better comparison is Charly Gaul’s time up Ventoux (from Bedoin) put up against a doped Iban Mayo.

Charly Gaul (1958): 62:09

Iban Mayo (2004): 55:51

There are so many variables here that don’t make these easy comparisons. The road itself probably hasn’t changed, but the surfaces have, that’s for sure. Check out what Louison Bobet was climbing Ventoux on in 1951, for example.

And what the Ventoux tarmac looks like this year.

And then there’s the all-important weight of the bike. I couldn’t find Charly Gaul’s, but I see that Jacques Anquetil’s Tour de France bike in 1962 was 10.2 kg, so it couldn’t have been lighter than that, I guess. Pretty much everyone after carbon fiber came into the picture has been at the same weight (the minimum allowed by the UCI):

Charly Gaul’s bike: 10.2 kg

Iban Mayo’s bike: 6.8 kg

This is a difference of 3.4 kg, or put another way, Gaul’s weight was 1.5 times that of Mayo’s. I don’t think that we’d expect his time to be 1.5 slower, but this handy GCN video suggests that and extra 5 kg on the bike (all other things being equal) over a 7% av 5 km hill equated to a loss of 1 min 20 seconds. Ventoux is much steeper overall than that and 4.5 times longer, bringing us to a theoretical…I’m getting beyond my capacities now – 4 minutes, if the weight difference is 3.4 kg and not 5 kg?

If that’s true, the ‘modern’ time for Charly Gaul would be 58 minutes, or 2 minutes slower than the drugged-up Iban Mayo, while riding on worse road conditions, without modern nutritional knowledge or application and….no power meter to train with.


I don’t have one yet, but thanks for reading.

13 thoughts on “Do Power Meters Give You More Power?

  1. Sounds obvious, but do what you like. If you’re into gadgets and find satisfaction in checking on your “numbers,” do it. Cycling is your thing, and at your level of ambition a power meter certainly wouldn’t be considered an extravagance by peers. You don’t have to JUSTIFY it to anyone, except possibly Herself.

    If deep down your real feeling about it is, “Great. Another damn piece of technology to manage and troubleshoot,” then by all means do NOT waste your money and good cheer on the thing. No one is scouting you out for the French national road racing team in advance of the next Olympics. ALL of this stuff is stuff you do for yourself. So don’t worry; be happy.

    • I think that is sort of my ‘deep down feeling’, Tony. I’m trying not to overload my life with too many things that require electricity, maintenance and troubleshooting. As for cost, it’s a business expense, so no worries!

    • Funny, I was thinking the same thing yesterday when wondering if I should up my indoor trainer game and go ‘smart’. I could see that helping, not to mention giving me something else to look at while grinding away.

      • Moving from a dumb trainer to a Kickr v4 transformed my winter training, its not just the watts, its VR races on RGT and the structure of sufferfest…. & no i’m not on commission.

  2. As I age, I’m just glad to be out and about! I changed my birthday age ride from miles to km a couple of years back for 2 reasons. 1. my birthday is in March and Scotland’s a wee bit chilly for longer distances 2. Covid just got in the way. As I finish my 3/4 century on this earth next year I would still like to return to miles, if there’s no ice or snow!! So, what’s this to do with power meters. I still manage to be up there on segments for my age, just by putting in the miles and being out in a club with younger folk who help me push myself. I don’t use a power meter, but still enjoy the techie side of things with a new Wahoo, which I’ve set up to let me know all sorts of goodies. Would I go any better or feel happier on the bike with more goodies? I doubt it – just trying to stave off decline, ps, my hero if I had one!

    • I’m in March, too, so I have the answer for you, Fossil – fly down to the south of France for your birthday. No snow, no ice!

      I think I’m like you a little with the tech. There are some things I just couldn’t imagine myself riding without – my GPS device for one. There are others (power meter) that I’m less sure about.

  3. I know the higher the watts to kgs. ratio is the better so being lighter usually helps..with purchasing a power meter, not sure if the lighter wallet fits the equation. I do hear good things about the Assioma pedals. bonne chance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s