Single-sided power meters: what are they, how do they work and what are their benefits

Single-sided power meters have made training and racing with power far more accessible and affordable, but how do they benefit performance? Nik Cook explains…

Man cycling at sunset, Corsica, France

A single-sided power meter works by having stress gauges on one crank arm or pedal, transmitting this information to your head unit and then this data is simply doubled to produce an estimated figure of your overall power output in watts.

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Single-sided power meters have made training and racing with power far more accessible and affordable. There are however plenty of nay-sayers who question their accuracy and argue that you’re better off not bothering with power until you can afford a dual-sided system.

The benefits of training with a power meter

Such kit snobbery is elitist, short-sighted and frankly, wrong. For most of us, with work, family and other commitments competing with the time we can devote to riding, surely it makes sense to maximise the benefits of the precious time you do have to train?

Especially if you’re fairly new to cycling, a power meter is a shortcut to learning how to gauge your effort in racing and training and will help you to avoid many of those common pacing pitfalls.

For middle-distance and long-course triathletes, I’d argue that a power meter is virtually an essential piece of kit. It’ll stop you overcooking the bike leg and help you ensure you’re riding at an intensity that’ll allow you to fuel effectively.

The bottom line is that for almost all riders, a single-sided power meter will perform these key functions more than adequately.

Yes, we all tend to have some degree of imbalance between left and right in our pedal stroke but, assuming that imbalance is reasonably stable, the numbers that you’ll see will be consistent and relevant to you.

Okay, it might mean you can’t play post-ride wattage Top Trumps with your mates with 100% conviction but, and this might surprise some people, that’s not really what a power meter is for!

How important is pedal-stroke analysis?

You will also miss out on some pedal-stroke analysis but I’d argue, for a lot of riders, that’s not an especially useful data-filled rabbit hole to go down. I love a bit of data geekery as much as anyone, but the coaching jury is still out on the usefulness of pedal-stroke analysis and dedicated work to ‘correct’ perceived faults.

Finally, some single-sided systems, such as Garmin’s and Assimo’s pedals, allow for upgrading a single-sided system to dual-sided at a later date when you have a bit more cash and if you feel the need.

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Top image credit: Getty Images