Review The Stages pages

Dec 16, 2012
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Tokyo
#1
Right then, having been out for a couple of rides with the Stages power meter I thought I’d share my experiences so far.

Installation

In a word, eeeeeaaasy. It was just a matter of replacing the left crank arm. The only issue I had was that the Ultegra crank arm is fitted with a plastic screw-top cover thingamawotsit to protect the BB, and of course you need a special tool to unscrew this because... well, because presumably Shimano can squeeze more money out of you that way. I applied the age-old method of ramming a handful of allen keys into the hole and twisting. I then swapped in the Stages crank arm, retightened the bolts, and screwed the BB cap and pedal back on.


Setup

The initial setup was also dead easy. With a Garmin Edge you need to go to the bike settings page and have it search for an ANT+ power meter. It takes a jiffy. The Stages also measures cadence, and interestingly you don’t need to do anything to get this working: it automatically replaces whatever you’ve been using to measure cadence previously (in my case, a magnet on the left crank arm).

Before heading off on a ride for the first time you need to calibrate (zero reset) the power meter, as the forces applied when bolting it to the bike and attaching the pedal alter the Very Fabric of The Crank Arm’s Existence. To do this, you put the crank arm in the six o’ clock position and hit the “Calibrate” button on your Garmin. And... that’s it. Stages recommend that you calibrate it before every ride, but from what I’ve heard from other users, this isn’t really necessary. You don’t need to adjust anything for temperature, either, as it does this automatically.


Left leg only

Not having another power meter to compare the Stages to, I can’t tell you how it fares against the competition (but if anyone would like to lend/gift me a PowerTap for comparison purposes, I’d be happy to post the results here). Obviously, with it being a left-crank power meter, it only measures power from the left leg. This could be an issue if you are worried about having a left-right leg imbalance and want to correct it, but I imagine most people don’t really care about this. I know for a fact that my left leg is weaker, but actually I’d rather my power was taken from this leg, as it means I’m more likely to train harder.


FTP tests and all that

So far I’ve tried to do a number of power tests to get a better idea of where I am in terms of fitness, and to see how Stages matches up to Strava’s wattage calculator. After buying and reading through bits of Training and Racing With a Power Meter, the benchmark tests seem to be 5-second, 1-minute, 5-minute and FTP (20-minute or 1-hour) intervals. I did a 20-minute FTP on my first ride, and several 5-second intervals on my second. I didn’t really manage to get a good reading for the 1-minute and 5-minute intervals as my pacing was terrible: I either started off too hard and almost spewed up my brekky halfway through it, or I didn’t push hard enough and ended up with a result that I knew wasn’t my best.


Stages power vs. Strava’s guesstimate power

Unsurprisingly, Strava’s guesstimates are often way out compared with the results from the Stages, often under-reporting the actual power for short efforts and being quite variable for long ones. For example, I usually start my rides with a 20-second blast up a short 7-8% gradient hill. I’ve done this a million times so have a good stock of results I can look back on:



As you can see, for similar times (under identical conditions), Strava was showing 200 watts less than Stages. If we compare this to longer, endurance-type sections, Strava was closer to Stages, but on the whole Strava was overestimating my power output:



This is not surprising as all Strava has to go on are gradient, heart rate and speed. Plus these Strava efforts are all along the Arakawa with massive tailwinds, and as we all know, with a decent enough tailwind even Jenson Button's dad, Benjamin, could average 30kph along there, and he has a terrible anti-ageing disease.

Anyway, in short, for me, Stages seems to show that I’m stronger at short sprints than I thought I was, and the opposite for time-trial type efforts.


Assessing yourself

What’s really interesting – and also a bit depressing at the same time – is that you can see exactly how you match up against others, even if you’ve never ridden together or ridden the same courses. For example, I found that Cav can easily sustain 1,000 watts for 21 seconds:



Whereas, if I really try, I can squeeze out just 804 watts over the same length of time:



(I still reckon I could have him, though. It’s just a matter of making a strategically timed “Yo mamma...” comment.)

The ability to see exactly what you’re body was up to lets you truly see if you’re getting stronger or not. A faster time on your favourite stretch of road might reflect this, but outside factors, such as a tailwind or riding in a paceline, mean that it’s really not reliable for flat conditions. Hill climbs (like Shiraishi) are a different kettle of fish, I suppose, as wind and drafting play little part in your ability to get to the top. I haven’t tried the Stages on a hill climb yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if keeping my power at around my FTP will really help me get to the top quicker, and whether Strava's guesstimate is closer to my actual power output.

Would I recommend the Stages? It’s early days, but so far yes, I would. If you’re serious about getting stronger and faster, and you really want to know how your body is responding to the training you’re putting it under, then it’s great: it’s cheaper than most of the other power meters, it’s easy to swap onto other bikes and its readings are consistent. If, on the other hand, you want your bike to look the shiz and to go a bit faster without any added effort, get a pair of aero wheels. Actually sod it, get both – you know you want to anyway.
 

GrantT

Maximum Pace
Oct 2, 2012
1,617
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Setagaya
#3
Comparison of a robust climbing segment would mostly negate aero-related errors.

Edit: Obviously I can't read. Look forward to seeing a comparison on a climb like Shiraishi.
 
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leicaman

Maximum Pace
Sep 20, 2012
2,540
2,229
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Asakadai, Saitama
#5
Stop all this right now. Stop it. I don't need one. Never have and never will need one. They are just overpriced gimmicks that have no place in cycling. Watts should be used only when talking about lightbulbs, not climbing a mountain. I don't need one , I don't need one, I don't need one.

(Now then , I'm hoping I just managed to convince myself not to spend money I don't have on one of those bad boys ;) ............. But they are soooooo very tempting)
 
Likes: Andy in Tokyo
Dec 16, 2012
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Tokyo
#6
I believe it also uses rider weight in the equation, so make sure you have an accurate one in your settings. Not sure that would impact your results, but I see some people on Strava who definitely have the wrong weight input.
Doug, you're right, I forgot to mention weight. My data for this was accurate (ie, I took into account the weight of the bike, accessories and my fully-clothed self).
 
May 22, 2007
3,610
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Kawasaki
halffastcycling.com
#7
Stop all this right now. Stop it. I don't need one. Never have and never will need one.
Quite right. @Andy in Tokyo was kind enough to not include a link to the Stages Power Meter itself, so that you would not accidentally go shopping.

Thank you for the review, @Andy in Tokyo. A lot of it applies equally to other power meters, I suppose.

I sort-of question the selling point "easy to swap between bikes". I actually have the Shimano crank arm dust cap tool; occasionally I can even find it amongst all the other bits of black plastic swimming around in the bottom of #3 toolbox. But don't you think that swapping a wheel (i.e. PowerTap) between bikes is easier than swapping a crank arm? No tools required vs. allen key, torque wrench, plastic dust cap spinner, grease etc.
 

theBlob

Bokeh master
Sep 28, 2011
2,864
1,450
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...
#8
It doesn't really matter how it compares to other devices or people for that matter. Effective use of it will make you a much stronger cyclist fairly quickly.

Best points..

- Instant unbiased appraisal of your effort
- Ability to control your output and balance your output as conditions change (e.g. gradient)(In saddle/ out of saddle)
- Placing your current efforts in a time scale. i.e. You look down and see you are doing 420W on a climb, but your legs are feeling good, well, you know no matter how you feel right now you will be dead in 2 minutes if you keep this up!
- Allow you to effectively work on pedaling efficiency, and balance.
- Allow you to train and classify your efforts irrelevant of wind conditions. (Good for Tokyo River runs!)

Bad points..

- NONE!
- OK, cost!

What settings do you run on your garmin?

I have a few screens, one for indoor trainer, one for outdoor, and one for climbing.

My main one

has

3sec av. power
10 second av. power balance
Lap time
Cadence
Speed
Lap average power
Lap time
 
Likes: Andy in Tokyo
Dec 16, 2012
605
824
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Tokyo
#9
But don't you think that swapping a wheel (i.e. PowerTap) between bikes is easier than swapping a crank arm? No tools required vs. allen key, torque wrench, plastic dust cap spinner, grease etc.
I agree. I imagine that it lies between the PowerTap and crank-based power meters in terms of swapability (is that a word? It is now). Actually I didn't look into getting a PowerTap because I like to swap between using fancy-pants aero wheels and bog-standard ones.
 
May 22, 2007
3,610
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143
Kawasaki
halffastcycling.com
#10
I agree. I imagine that it lies between the PowerTap and crank-based power meters in terms of swapability (is that a word? It is now). Actually I didn't look into getting a PowerTap because I like to swap between using fancy-pants aero wheels and bog-standard ones.
Good point. I like my PowerTap (because that's what I have) but at the moment the wheel it's part of is popping spokes at the rate of 1 per ride and my wheelbuilder has gone mysteriously silent.
 
Dec 16, 2012
605
824
113
Tokyo
#11
What settings do you run on your garmin?

I have a few screens, one for indoor trainer, one for outdoor, and one for climbing.

My main one

has

3sec av. power
10 second av. power balance
Lap time
Cadence
Speed
Lap average power
Lap time
My main screen shows (in this order):

Speed
3 sec av power
HR zone / cadence
Time / lap time
%grade / distance

I have another screen showing accumulated stats for the ride, temp etc. I like the idea of a page for flatish riding and another for climbing, though. Might have to steal that...
 

Doug3

Maximum Pace
Jun 24, 2010
720
179
63
Setagaya
www.tokyocyclingcoach.com
#12
On my Garmin I use

HR Zone/Power Zone
3sec ave power/30sec ave power
lap power/cadence
time/lap time

On recovery endurance days I basically only use HR to monitor training. I will set MAX alarms for HR and Power to alert me if I go too hard.
For longer intervals the 30sec and lap power are generally most useful, and the 3sec ave power for short intervals to make sure I don't go out too hot at the beginning.

For intervals I also like the Joule because it has a bar graph to show the average and min/max (power)values in real time. The visual cue is good for doing intervals because I can see the perspective of how far away I am from the target wattage easier.

The only time I ever display speed is on fast descents over 70kph or sprint training.
 

Sikochi

Maximum Pace
Sep 13, 2010
1,181
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68
Kochi
#13
Good point. I like my PowerTap (because that's what I have) but at the moment the wheel it's part of is popping spokes at the rate of 1 per ride and my wheelbuilder has gone mysteriously silent.
Mike, have you tried contacting Powertap, as they might be able to shed some light on the problem, or at worst, suggest a new build given your set-up/riding style/weight etc. You can either contact them direct or post on the Official Power Tap thread that is on slowtwitch...or just try searching slowtwitch itself to see if someone else has had something similar.

I agree. I imagine that it lies between the PowerTap and crank-based power meters in terms of swapability (is that a word? It is now). Actually I didn't look into getting a PowerTap because I like to swap between using fancy-pants aero wheels and bog-standard ones.
The trick is to buy a wheelcover and then you have even better than a fancy-pants aero wheel...a de-facto disc.:tup
 

Doug3

Maximum Pace
Jun 24, 2010
720
179
63
Setagaya
www.tokyocyclingcoach.com
#15
Mike, have you tried contacting Powertap, as they might be able to shed some light on the problem, or at worst, suggest a new build given your set-up/riding style/weight etc. You can either contact them direct or post on the Official Power Tap thread that is on slowtwitch...or just try searching slowtwitch itself to see if someone else has had something similar.



The trick is to buy a wheelcover and then you have even better than a fancy-pants aero wheel...a de-facto disc.:tup
Welcome back.
 
Dec 16, 2012
605
824
113
Tokyo
#16
Just a quick update showing Stages power data vs. Strava guesstimates for Shiraishi (6.4km climb at an average grade of 8%):



Considering the time differences it looks like Strava does a pretty good job of estimating power for climbs, provided you enter the correct weight data.
 

Doug3

Maximum Pace
Jun 24, 2010
720
179
63
Setagaya
www.tokyocyclingcoach.com
#17
Just a quick update showing Stages power data vs. Strava guesstimates for Shiraishi (6.4km climb at an average grade of 8%):

View attachment 8435

Considering the time differences it looks like Strava does a pretty good job of estimating power for climbs, provided you enter the correct weight data.
Nice job! HR shows also tells an interesting story.
 

Andy in Tokyo

Maximum Pace
Dec 16, 2012
605
824
113
Tokyo
#19
So I went to replace the battery on the Stages this evening and two out of three of the little legs that hold the cover in place snapped off. Bollox! @Musashi13, be careful, they're delicate beasties!