Here is our long term review of the PowerTap P1 Pedals. It may be one of the most versatile and easy to install power meters on the market, but how does it perform?
Power meters are becoming increasingly popular and consumer demand is driving down the price. I first had a look at the new PowerTap P1 pedals in February 2015 and subsequently got hold of a pair for long term testing. I have put the PowerTap P1 pedals through almost everything – road racing, audaxes, criteriums, time trials and the cold, sleet, snow, rain, salt, component destroying cocktail of British winter roads.
As an experienced user and fan of Garmin Vector pedals, I was keen to see how the two systems compare. Garmin recently released an updated version of Vector, the Vector 2, but I was disappointed to see that pedals still feature a separate pod. I much prefer the self-contained design of the PowerTap pedals.
The retail price for the PowerTap P1 is currently £999, making it considerably cheaper than the £1199 Garmin Vectors. The single sided Vector S is available for around £800 but Powertap argues that for £200 more you can get double sided measurement with their system.
Installation of the PowerTap P1 pedals is very simple. You simply screw them in and do not have to worry about specific torque settings or installation angles. This is a huge advantage over Vector, which requires a torque wrench, 16mm crow foot adapter and a bit of fiddling. I cannot stress highly enough what an advantage this is over other products on the market.
Owing to our climate, many British cyclists own more than one bike and being able to switch the PowerTap P1 pedals between these is a very attractive option. Because the PowerTap P1 pedals just require an Allen key, they are also ideal for taking abroad and on two occasions I travelled with them in my carry on luggage. If you want to travel light, hire a bike at your destination, you can easily take your pedals and still have power.
Calibration is necessary everytime you use the P1 pedals. This is similar to using a set of weighing scales and pressing ‘tare’. It just sets the base level at zero. In practice this is quick and easy.
The procedure involves setting off on your ride, getting to the end of the street, stopping, unclipping and setting the manual zero on the PowerTap Joule GPS computer or Garmin head unit.
When I initially used the system with my Garmin 1000 head unit, I was repeatedly greeted with error messages and failed calibration. This was resolved by updating the firmware on my Garmin through Garmin Express. Calibration of the unit is simple, but I look forward to systems that do it automatically.
One slight drawback is the cleats, which are specifically designed for use with PowerTap P1 pedals. Although very similar to Look Keo, they are subtly different. I tried the Look cleats that I use with Garmin Vector and found that the fit/engagement was not optimal. The cleats are not expensive though, offering engagement and float comparable to Look.
There is an issue with clipping in though. The weighting of the pedals means that they don’t always sit in the optimum orientation for rapid clipping in. The is in contrast to Look and Shimano pedals, which despite being single sided, will naturally sit at angle ideal for rapid cleat insertion. This is not a huge issue, but it did catch me out at the start of two criteriums.
The PowerTap P1 pedals weigh 437g a pair. To put that into context, a pair of Dura-Ace pedals weigh 250g and Garmin Vector pedals and pods hit the scales at 351g. So there is a slight weight penalty. Although this my dissuade the consummate weight weenies out there, I found the slight increase over Vector to be barely noticeable once you got going, even when climbing.
A big selling point of the PowerTap P1 is that it offers right/left power measurement for a shade under £1000. Especially useful, if you have had injury problems, or wish to monitor imbalances, such as differences in leg length. The on-the-fly left/right leg power is interesting, as altering the tightness of one shoe relative to the other can actually cause an imbalance.
The pedals feature an innovative sensor that PowerTap is calling a ‘Multipole Ring’. The sensor is a ring of 20 little magnets around the pedal spindle.
Combined with the eight separate strain gauges and accelerometers, the Multipole Ring offers huge potential, as it can measure the application of force though out the entire pedal stroke. This would help riders look at dead spots and pedalling efficiency. In addition, it is potentially a hugely powerful tool for bike fitters and physiologists as it enables greater analysis of the ankle flexion.
Some riders use their ankles as levers to gain additional power, where other riders maintain a flat foot throughout the pedal cycle. You would also be able to analyse how much time is spent in and out of the saddle, and differences in efficiency.
Although these metrics can currently be measured, Powertap does not currently have a way to display it. Powertap is working on it and future updates will tap into this hardware potential (pun intended).
Power is provided by two AAA batteries, one in each pedal located within compartments that sit parallel to the pedal axles. PowerTap claims that this will provide 60 hours of battery life, equating to approximately two months use for the average consumer. While testing, I covered thousands of kilometres and ran the batteries down several times.
Changing batteries is simple and you get plenty of warning that they are running low. The batteries tend to last around 60 hours – consistent with PowerTaps claims. Greater battery life could be achieved with a coin shaped cell, with Powertap saying that AAA was chosen for practicality and widespread availability.
I disagree with this, as I have never had a issue sourcing a 2032 coin cell and when I have travelled in the past, I have deliberately taken spares with me, should I need them.
You can also check the battery level on the phone app. One issue encountered is that the orange battery cover on the PowerTap P1 pedals is made from a very soft alloy. When changing the batteries for the first time, my Allen key slipped, rounding out the battery cover. Fortunately, PowerTap sent replacement covers.
I understand that Powertap is aware of this issue and will likely resolve it eventually. It isn’t much of a problem as long as you are aware not to use too much force.
The only problem I could see with this design is that the battery compartment is located on the bottom of the pedal, decreasing pedal clearance and increasing the risk of grounding a pedal when cornering in a race. This is only really an issue for those wanting to do criteriums.
The pedals are both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart compatible, meaning they can communicate with your smartphone, bike computer and other sensors. While testing, I used both my own Garmin and PowerTap’s Joule cycling computer. Customising the data fields and screens on the Joule is less intuitive than the Garmin 510/810/1000 thanks in part to lack of touch screen. Garmins can beep to tell you that the ride is paused, started, stopped etc. The joule didn’t and I found the lack of reassuring ‘beep’ disconcerting.
The first thing I should point out is that I found data recording to be consistent with other power meters I have used. Post ride analysis of my power, indicated that there were no spikes or dropouts in power measurement. Temperature can affect power measurement, but I experienced no such issues. On one occasion, I went for a pre-breakfast ride at 7am when it was 7ºC. During the day, temperatures peaked around 26ºC, with no discernible difference in measurement.
I rode the pedals while simultaneously riding on a Tacx Neo, with a Rotor InPower to compare power read outs. I found the PowerTap P1 pedals consistently read about 2% higher than the Tacx Neo. The Rotor InPower, which offers single sided measurement was sometimes higher and sometimes lower. The key thing here, is that the pedals were consistent.
The pedals are very sturdy and I wasn’t worried about potential damage being caused from clipping or crashing. Outwardly, the pedal bodies appear more robust than that of the Garmin Vector pods. Powertap informed me that its testing involved suiting up a test rider in protective clothing and getting him to deliberately clip the pedals at speed.
Despite carving chunks off the body, the pedals continued to function perfectly. While testing I had an argument with a pothole, an argument I lost. Although the right pedal took a large part of the impact, it continued to function perfectly well.
I subjected the pedals to a British winter too. Sludgy roads covered in salt and grime love to eat bike components, but the P1’s survived. However, I did start to notice wear at the front of the pedal body where the cleat enters. Although the pedals can take harsh treatment, I wouldn’t recommend constantly subjecting them to crap covered lanes, unless you have money to burn.
The PowerTap P1 Pedals are a great power meter. The perfect power meter for everyone does not exist, as the requirements of different riders is broad. However, the P1s are without question one of the most versatile power meters available.
If you envisage you will be swapping your power meter between two or three bikes, this is a very attractive option. Clipping in is not very quick, as previously mentioned, the clearance is lower too and for these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend the PowerTap P1 for criteriums. Although I didn’t really notice it once I got going the weight is substantially more than a Stages, so weight weenies may choose to look else-ware too.
Power measurement is consistent and appeared accurate, although it is crucial that you update the firmware, calibrate the pedals and set your crank length. Other reviews have stated that power measurement is not accurate and features spikes, but this was down to the firmware not being up to date.
For more information, head over to PowerTap. UK distribution is through Paligap.
A superb power meter, that is without doubt the most versatile and easy to install on the market. Accuracy is good, as long as you stay on top of firmware updates. A few minor flaws prevent a perfect score.