Peeking over the Edge: Training with Power

Like many cyclists, I measure my cycling progression by either one or two metrics: distance and/or speed. I remember when I used do 10 miles per day every day and shoot for 50 miles per week. Seemed like every little rolling hill was a major leg burner and the wind! Oh my gosh, the wind! Going south on 107 was a blast but turning around to face the wind made me wonder if I could ride the distant seven miles back to the car. Well, I did make it back to car and that’s how I continued to measure my progress. Distance was the way to go. Eventually, speed started to creep in my metrics but that was later.

iBike_POWERHOUSE_InsertionMy first foray into something different was with the Powerhouse system from iBike. This was an innovative system to do structured intervals while cycling. A combination of iPhone case and the Powerhouse application that, when combined together along with your bike, would guide you through a fifty-four day plan of intervals and rest days. It would start you out with a fitness test to see where you stood and establish that baseline. Once you completed the fitness test it would then create a custom schedule of intervals for you to follow throughout the week. The application paired up with cycling coach Allen Hunter that guided and encouraged you to keep at it. It’s his formulas and techniques in training that is used to create that personalized training plan for you. How cool is that!

The program was simple, Allen Hunter would pop up and tell you what to expect for that days workout. It had a structure to it: a warm up, a set of intervals and then a cool down. All you had to do was keep up a certain cadence and keep a sliding arrow between the minimum and maximum range for that segment. The intervals varied from day-to-day and they were tough! You had to learn to change gears to keep that sliding arrow where the coach wanted it. Shifting gears up or down depending on the road conditions and winds was the name of the game. It was fun and challenging to go through the entire 54-day program. Throughout the program there were rest days and fitness test days to see where you stood and to make adjustments to the training program. Fun! When you completed the program you simply start over but at a higher fitness level.

The Powerhouse was my first experience with and training with a power meter. Yes, that’s right the Powerhouse system was in fact a power meter with all the numbers stripped out and a simple graphical interface was used instead. No mention of Watts, FTP, NP, VI or some other acronym was ever uttered. Total bliss. The case held the wind port and the sensors needed to measure the forces you were overcoming to pedal. The software on the iPhone used those sensors to compute the power and display it graphically. That sliding arrow represented the power you were exerting while cycling. That fitness test you was doing was the same fitness test you do to get your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

I did improve. It was easier to ride against the wind, those rolling hills were a lot easier and my average speed improved. I find it interesting how I fall back to the old metrics for measuring improvement, distance and speed. Those are “feel good” metrics that we can easily relate to.

iBike Newton

iBike Newton Power Meter

I now use a Newton Power Meter from iBike. It is just as accurate as any other permanent power meter but the big advantage with the Newton is the price and the fact that you can take it from one bike to another as easily as you could with a Garmin. The Newton has been on my bike for about a year now and just love it. The unit does have a few quirks such as no backlight, no bluetooth and no GPS but makes it up with having a great visible display in bright sunlight, long battery life, wind gauge, temperature and excellent power readings.

I’ve learned to do my fitness test to get my FTP and I’ve become familiar with the average power readings to expect on my rides. It does have Intervals built-in but they are not as easy to follow as the Powerhouse unit. The developers are constantly updating the firmware for the unit to improve and add new features to it. Bug fixes are free as well as minor enhancements. New major features means you will have to fork out some funds to enable it. That’s cool because you pay for what features you want. With the new enhancements I now have access to Nominal Power (NP) and actual power on the same screen. This really helps me pace myself depending on the type of ride I plan on doing. In my case it’s mostly endurance or long rides. No Time Trials for me.

kickerfeatureAs I mentioned before, I’ve set a weekly distance goal of 100 miles. I’ve started out at 50 miles and now it’s 100 but I’ve been thinking of increasing that. That is until I started using my indoor trainer to do some of my intervals. This trainer is not the usual mount bike and ride type of device but instead you can vary the resistance electronically through your PC or iOS device. The resistance is also calibrated and outputted in Watts to you electronic device. In essence I can now do structured power based intervals indoors (while watching tv of course)! Wahoo makes the trainer called Kickr and what a blessing it is. Combine that with the iOS app called iMobileIntervals I can do my rides, post them on Facebook, Strava or TrainingPeaks. Sweet!

Because of the Kickr, I have readjusted my thinking on those 100 miles per week. I used to struggle with deciding on whether I should ride on the Kickr or go cycling outside. I like doing the intervals on the trainer, but yet I’m not reaching my miles per week goal. It took me a while to get over the mindset that the miles HAS to be from cycling outside. That is just not true. Good quality miles on the trainer is just a good as being on the road. This was really hard to wrap my mind around but I’m starting to accept it.

Now my routine consists of intervals on the Kickr and longer rides outdoors where I focus on the target Nominal Power (NP) and reducing my Variability Index (VI) by pacing myself at the target power level. I don’t worry about speed or the wind. That will be taken care of as I get fitter and stronger. So far the results has been amazing. With the right pacing (even with the wind on my back) I can do the long rides without being burnt out although I do have to mindful of the 100+ F weather that we get around here in the Rio Grande Valley.

I’ve started brushing up on training with power and I got two books to help me on that aspect. Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan and the other book is The Power Meter Handbook: A User’s Guide for Cyclists and Triathletes by Joe Friel. I’ve read the Joe Friel book and I need to go back and reread it again for better absorption.  The Huner Allen book is there waiting for me to graduate to that level of understanding. Both books are great and highly recommend either one to anyone. I am definitely a beginner in this and have a lot to learn but I feel like I’m peeking over a tall fence and I can see the what’s on the other side, training with a power meter and I like it.

Share your experience with your early years of using a power meter. I’d love to hear from you.

Weight Loss the iBike Powerhouse v1.3 way

iBike_POWERHOUSE_InsertionAs stated before, my number one goal is to lose the weight though cycling. Riding fast, or going on club rides takes a back seat to my objective, weight loss. Going out for the sake of riding is not the ideal way to lose the weight, at least not for me. For me, I need a plan that I can follow day-in and day-out and that is where the iBike Powerhouse method of weight loss intrigues me. It is a simplified Power meter with customized power based interval training sessions created by the legendary Hunter Allen (power based cycling coach. A bio can be found at Peaks Coaching Group.) .

The system is a combination of a water/dust resistant case that contains the electronics that measures temperature, altitude, inclination, wind as well as the receiver for any ANT+ compatible sensor such as speed and cadence, heart rate monitor and even a DFPM (Direct Force Power Meter). Combine the case and it’s electronics with the Powerhouse software along with your iPhone or iPodTouch and  you have a complete package for training.

The software itself comes with several different training goals to choose from:

  • iSlim (the one I’m currently using)
  • CycleMax
  • 0-20
  • Express Fit
  • Brazilian Butt

Each has their specific goals and can be used over and over. The basic concept is to choose a training plan, depending on your goals, enter the vitals (weight, height, type of bike, bike weight, tire circumference), sync sensors (done only once), tilt calibration and a setup ride (all done only once or as needed) then do a fitness test. Afterwards, a daily ride plan is generated. Just do the daily rides as prescribed. At regular intervals throughout the plan, you will be asked to perform additional fitness tests so that the workouts can be adjusted. After each workout you are asked to rate the intensity of the workout from a scale from 1 – 10 where 1 is easy and 10 is near death. These ratings also adjusts the following workouts as needed.

The Case

As I mentioned before, the case contain all the electronics for the system as well as a protective housing for your iPhone or iPodTouch. It is water and dust resistant and I have ridden in the rain with no water getting to my beloved iPhone 4. It is hinged at the top with a clamp that holds the lid shut tight. The case can be mounted on either the stem mount or on the handle bar. If your stem has a high angle you might be better off with the handle bar mount because the case may not be able to slip into the mounting bracket. On my set up I had to shimmy up the bracket to get the clearance I needed and on top of that I had to add rubber feet at the bottom to keep it from rattling on the bolts that hold that handlebar.

One last thing about the case is that because it is water/dust resistant, there is no port for headphone jack nor a button to turn off unit. To many that my not be such a big deal but to others it can. To listen to music or listen to audible feedback and cues headphone are needed. In this case Bluetooth headphones. For those that want to use the same case for social rides or other non-training rides, access to the power button to save battery life is a must. The simple solution is to open the case and push the button, but in my opinion that is added extra wear and tear on the hing.

During the Ride

iBike_POWERHOUSE_iSlim_ride_screenOne of the nice features of the system, is at the beginning of each interval, you have Hunter Allen motivating you and giving you a heads up on what is coming up next. Although not necessary, Bluetooth headset are needed to hear the heads-up. As a bonus you can listen to tunes while riding via a music button that allows you to pull up your favorite playlist while riding. If not, then there is a visual feedback to. It’s up to you if you want to use head sets or not. Each ride includes a warmup period, the workout followed by a cool down. The displays are large and easy to read as well as a count down timer for each interval.

You goal is to match the target cadence and the floating intensity level. You will have to be changing gears to reach the two targets. Sometimes you will need to be changing gears often depending on terrain and wind. If you never done intervals then you are in for a treat. You alternate from recovery spin to work intensity.  Another bonus of this program is the variety of intervals! It’s not the same one day-after-day. You have pyramid, big gear/small gear, below/above upper threshold intervals to name a few as well as endurance rides and scheduled rest days.

My iSlim workouts, 56 in all, have been between 50 and 75 minutes with 54 minutes being the average. This gives me a great workout in a short amount of time. What I normally do afterwards is go riding free style and just put in some saddle time.

After the Ride

Once the workout is finished, there are some things you can do. First of all, you can see what the next ride is going to be. You can then upload your ride to Strava. Strava is the only site that is supported by the app. Hopefully others will be supported but only if users ask for them.

Something that I found out is that you can go back in history and pull up all of your ride files. This is cool because I can go back to my first ride and compare that to my latest ride. For me, it was an increase of  2 mph average.

One thing that i have noticed is when I do ride with a group, I tend to recognize the riding situation as one of the intervals from the program. My body automatically reacts and I get into a rhythm quicker.

A Few Caveats

I really like this system and there is always room for improvements. One thing that annoys me is the data from the fitness test can’t be upload to Strava. To me, if you are trying to achieve a mileage goal it would be nice to record it. You can’t even see the results in the history. It’s like the ride never occurred, but your lungs and legs tell you otherwise.

More sites to upload or tweet about your ride with the workout details are needed. Not everyone uses Strava and there are many to choose from. Even if they provided an email GPX file that would be good. Most places accept a GPX file to upload.

The ability to redo the last workout or fitness test is a must. Sometimes the fitness test didn’t come out as you would like to have or maybe you got interrupted while doing the workout. There should be a way to redo the previous ride. From what I’ve read on their forums, they do plan to implement this request.

The door cover snap handle did crack and eventually fell off. That means that I cannot lock the door closed. I contacted the company and they said they would replace/repair the case, I just had to send it in with a copy of the invoice. To me that mean one to two weeks without it. I opted for some Gorilla Glue and all is fine now. That has been about 2 months ago and the glue is still holding strong.

One last caveat is the receiver for the ANT+ sensors only work with iBike Apps. This means that if you are doing a non-training ride and want to use your existing favorite app like Cyclemeter you can’t sync the speed and cadence sensors or heart-rate. You would have to use GPS only mode with other Apps. Luckily, the folks at Velocomp have an App that you can use for just that purpose called iBike Coach.

Chip Seal Roads

Chip seal roads are rough on the case. If you have the stem mount option for the case, then expect a lot of vibration with the top of the case and the handle bar clamp bolts. It rattles the hell out of the unit and makes a lot of noise too! I don’t love those types of roads but you must be able to ride on it. Being the tinker that I am I came up with a solution of gluing strips of a used tire tube in the troubled area of the case. After a little tweaking it is now super quiet. If you get the mount that attaches to the handlebar then you shouldn’t have that problem.

Is the setup worth it? I my humble opinion, I believe it’s worth the investment. Just by following the program I have gotten fitter, stronger, faster and have been losing the weight. You still have to do your part with following the program and eating sensibly. This doesn’t give you the excuse of going out and downing a cheeseburger and a milkshake after the ride. Diet is just important as the method of burning the calories.  The iBike Powerhouse method of losing weight is an excellent, fun way of achieving your goals.

iBike Powerhouse: iPhone Cycling Gadget Heaven

While doing my daily surfing on the web, I came across some news out of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. What was the news, you may ask? iBike Powerhouse from Velocomp. To me it is an iPhone cycling gadget heaven. Using your iPhone / iPod along with their software and hardware, it turns your iPhone to a powerful bike computer including power meter. Along with that you get a new case and mounting system that’s waterproof plus the ability to include an extra battery for longer ride times. All this for the price of $269.

Hard to believe that you can get a power meter system for $269 with no other hardware to install on your crank or hub. Usually some sort of power tap will cost over $1000. Well above of what the average or club cyclist can afford. After checking out their comparisons of several different power taps and their system, it seems to be very accurate. There is also a calibration step you have to do before each ride, but that’s acceptable to me. Take a look at iBike Sports FAQ section for details of the comparison and accuracy of their power meter.

For those that want to read the press release, you can find it at the PR Newswire. Drop by the PR as a lot of information is provided there.

Having not touched nor seen it with my own eyes, I can tell this is something I will definitely get as soon as it comes out. Here are some of the features that it has:

  • Supports ANT+ Bike and Heart rate sensors
  • Waterproof case
    • Case holds extra battery (sold separately)
    • Case houses ANT+ antennae
    • Case houses Power sensors
  • Software fitness plan(s) designed by cycling coach Hunter Allen (see press release for more information)
  • Software for the PC and MAC to analyze your ride and export data

What I really like about the system is the software. It takes a baseline of your current condition and creates a plan for you to follow, depending on your goals. As you progress through the plan, the software adjusts the plan depending on your progress.  It is an interval based training system where all the calculations as to how long, number of intervals and the intensity is worked out for you. All you have to do is stay with in the displayed zone. What you basically have is a coach that goes along with you on your rides. Sweet! Here is a good video of it at the 2012 CES. I can’t wait to go out cycling and have a structured plan to help me achieve my goal of dropping weight and not ride haphazardly with no plan other than ride more miles. Granted this may not be for everyone, but it fits my goals nicely. I can buy the different training plan(s) for $9.99 each as needed.

As far as to when it comes out, I found no mention of it at the iBike Sports website, but I did read an article stating early Spring 2012. Hmm, well I wished it was sooner, but I will have to be patient and wait. I can safely say that this is my iPhone cycling gadget heaven that I am looking forward to getting.

Let me know what you think. Are there other fans of this yet to be released product?

Photos Courtesy of iBike Sports.

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