Stages Power Meter – Accurate and Affordable for Mountain Bikers

Gear
Accelerometer Delivers Cadence without a magnet

Stages has shoehorned an accelerometer in their tiny device and this allows them the simplest installation possible without having to install a cadence magnet on to the frame. The device knows the position of the crank at all times and is able to determine if the crank is spinning and how fast or if the rider is just standing and/or pumping on the pedals.

No head Unit means it works with many devices

Stages does not come with a head unit but it works with ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart protocols. This is part of the cost savings of the Stages devices as the customer is not purchasing some proprietary head unit from Stages. Rather, the user is expected to have and use one of many compatible devices. This leverages devices that are always changing and the customer most likely has anyway. We used the Garmin 500 using the Ant+ protocol. We then used the Iphone 5 with the Bluetooth Smart protocol and that worked like a champ too. And since the Stages Meter works with both signals at the same time, we used both devices concurrently on some occasions.

Accurate

The Stages Power Meter is plenty accurate. They state an accuracy reading of +-2% at 100 watts. That means that at the power level of most people which is about 200 watts, it’s +-1% accurate. And the key thing is it is accurate at all temperature levels and even as it changes temperature during a ride. The Stages power meter adjusts automatically.

This also means that the Stages power meter does not have to be calibrated before every ride to be accurate since it adjusts automatically. All other power meters in the market need to calibrated by pressing a sequence of buttons before every ride to adjust for temperature.

But what about real data, graphs and comparisons. Mtbr started to really get in to how accurate the Stages Meter is but it is a six month project. And much to our benefit, DC Rainmaker has done an incredible job here.. And he concludes that with the latest Stages version, it is a legitimate contender.

Durable

The Stage meter is so small and compact that there’s not a lot that can go wrong with it. Rated at 20 grams, it’s actually about 15 grams in most installations and it is permanently bonded to the left side crank. It can take debris hits and mud and wet conditions and it will just keep working. The only caution is the battery has to be replaced every 200 hours and care has to be taken to ensure the rubber seal is replaced in the proper position.

On our test rides in Winter Park, CO, we had about 15 bikes equipped with the Stages meter as we competed in 3 days of Enduro racing. There were 5 stages played out in a downhill bike park. Weather was stormy in the afternoons so we experienced rain and mud every day. Not a single glitch or failure occurred during the four days of riding.

Cross Country, Downhill and Enduro Racing Applications

Applications to cross country racing are obvious and almost mandatory. Along with a heart rate monitor, a power meter is the key tool for reaching one’s potential in cross country racing. It can help the rider in three ways:

  • During the Race – The rider can push to his limits and put out the power he’s capable of. The rider can also use the real-time power display to ensure he doesn’ t go too hard and blow up.
  • Preparation for the Race – Training is actually the greatest application of a power meter. One can train better and smarter with actual ways to measure output levels and gains during training. And when working with a program or a coach, power is really the only measure of progress.
  • Post-analysis of a Race – Whether you win a race or miss the top 10 by 3 seconds, there is a mountain of data that a power meter will give you. Every second is recorded and all your power efforts and durations can be graphed. These are key to understanding what happened in the race and how to improve for the next one.

So the applications for racing are obvious. Cross Country is perhaps the most obvious since the rider can look at the power meter in real-time during the climbs and really control one’s output. This is not applicable to a downhill race but it can be used in an enduro race during the climbing sections or even the transition climbing sections (to minimize one’s effort but still make the time cut-off). But for all types of racing, training and post-analysis are really more effective with a power meter.

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


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  • Loud says:

    The power tap hubs have come down in price to less than $1000. Looks like a suitable alternative.

    • Don says:

      The powertap hubs are close in price now. I’m happy with the powertap hub I have on my road bike. One potential downside is if you want to have a nicer/lighter set of wheels for race day, then you have to either sacrifice having data from your actual race efforts, or shell out for two hubs. The Stages gets around that problem.

  • Satch says:

    where da fun at?

  • roger says:

    If you already have a $10K MTB, what’s another $1K? Drop in the bucket!

  • Belisarius says:

    The Stages unit I am testing reveals a cadence error of 8-20 percent every given second, constantly changing numbers such as 85-116-91-105-95-98 even on stretched where I likely am 914-96 sharp… In turn this has got to affect wattage reading as it is built inside the formula… Sp although he ultimate wattage resume on file may seem ok, during training it is hard to peg. Backed with Garmin recorded data, these observations were undeniable. Stages staff is trying to explain, but they are at a loss actually.

  • kent says:

    one leg reading…not accurate. period.

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