Now you can measure your power output without replacing any components on your bicycle! CycleOps' PowerCal gives you real-world and real-time data via a convenient chest strap. It's compact, light, and easy to bring along on every ride and on any bike so you get consistent training metrics. After the initial setup, the PowerCal uses complex scientific algorithms based on your heart rate to send accurate power data to your ANT+ compatible head unit (sold separately) so you can maximize every training session. And, because it's attached to you and not your bike, you can use the PowerCal to track progress across multisport training disciplines as well.
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I've been looking at the PowerCal for a while and finally was able to justify buying it when I needed a new HR strap anyways. It's only $50 more than a normal strap. I have a PowerTap wheel that I use for training, but it's old and heavy so I don't like to race with it. Furthermore, I use a disc wheel when I'm racing TTs and there's no way I'm spending $3k to get a disc wheel with a PowerTap. I've been taking this on my rides, both alone and with the PowerTap to compare. I find it to be over-optimistic on my power on Z2 rides, with the stop & start that comes with traffic lights and riding to get out of the city. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's spot on for my steady intervals! (I've tried it for 2- 30 minutes.) I'm excited to use it for TTs and races this year. That said, if your heart rate is finicky, it may not be for you. My heart rate is a pretty rock solid predictor of my performance. Also, for reference, I'm a 125 lb woman with an FTP~ 4.5 W/kg. They seem to have done away with the USB that connects it to the computer for calibration but it does seem to magically work for me.
PowerCal isn't marketed as a 100% accurate power meter. Nor as a tool for elite athletes (or any advanced athlete) to use as a hard core pacing device in a race or even day to day training. Instead, what it does offer is a low-cost method of getting a rough order of magnitude of your power level on a given ride. CycleOps is rather straightforward about this, from their own site:"The PowerCal is not as accurate as a PowerTap and not intended to replace one. Research has shown varying degrees of accuracy based on individuals and types of riding. Accuracy will depend greatly on the individual and type of riding."Now there are many alternatives that can estimate power information after the fact – some of them free or relatively cheap. However, most of them are just that – after the fact, and separate. If you want some sort of integrated metrics that automatically show up in whatever bike computer you're using – there's really only two choices: PowerCal, or a normal power meter.Note that you shouldn't take a PowerCal wattage number and attempt to compare it against someone else's power meter number. There are just too many variables. It's better for plotting progress against yourself over time.In my mind, the perfect target audience for something like PowerCal is actually my Dad. He normally rides about 100 to 150 miles a week, but he doesn't race (triathlon or cycling). Rather, he rides to enjoy riding and to stay fit. Today, he uses simple speed on known courses/routes to determine his improvement week over week. While there are pitfalls to this, that's the only tool in his (and most cyclists) bag to work with. Something like the PowerCal would give him a general idea of his improvement within the season. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would work – as seen by not only the vast majority of the data here in this review, but also many other reviews and data points out there.But as noted, it's not for everyone. Personally, I wouldn't use it day to day in my training, because my training is focused and specific enough that I need to ensure my numbers are consistent and accurate from session to session and within a session at shorter intervals than the PowerCal can respond to. Though, I would point out that I do believe the vast majority of power meter users today don't get truly accurate and consistent numbers session to session. Instead, they look at trends. Merely looking at some of the differences you can see above between the PowerTap and the Power2Max in my data is a obvious indication of that.Ultimately, the PowerCal is just a tool. As I always note in power meter related reviews, you still have to go out there and do the hard work to get better. This is simply one more (low-cost) tool in your bag to try and capture, analyze and make improvements on your work. Good luck!