Archive for December 2017

TrainerRoad PowerMatch: Disabled

After getting the CycleOps Hammer smart trainer I’ve been experimenting with how it, my Stages power meter on the Salsa Vaya, and the TrainerRoad PowerMatch function work together. In short, PowerMatch is designed for those who have a power meter on their bike and want to ensure that the resistance and workouts are consistent indoors (with the smart trainer) and out (with just the power meter). While I only use power data for training indoors during the winter (never for outdoor training), I do like to look it over after outdoors rides and thus want to be sure the two are as in line as possible.

To automatically handle differences in power meters, TrainerRoad’s PowerMatch calculates the offset between the power meter and smart trainer, then adjusts the resistance every 10 seconds to accommodate the difference. On its face this makes sense to me, but whenever I’d enable it the resistance would get bit surge-y feeling during harder efforts leading me to think something wasn’t quite right. I suspect this is because of the Stages being single-leg, I likely have a bit of an imbalance between legs, and my recent rides in TrainerRoad have shorter efforts than the sustained stuff that single-leg meters are best at. So, I started to think about if something else was right for me.

In TrainerRoad, on the Power Meter settings, there is a toggle to use the meter for cadence only. In the Smart Trainer setting the options for PowerMatch are Auto, Disabled, or a Manual offset. This results in the following scenarios:

Power Meter Normal, PowerMatch Auto: Displayed power is from meter, with this data used by PowerMatch to determine resistance. Occasional surging feeling, but overall good. While riding it appeared that power data jumped around.

Power Meter Normal, PowerMatch Disabled: Displayed power is from meter, resistance set by trainer’s internal meter. Displayed power data appeared low (5-10W) when holding an interval steady.

Power Meter Cadence Only, Power Match Disabled: Displayed power is from trainer, resistance set by trainer’s internal meter. Feels smooth (no surging) but seemed marginally easier than with PowerMatch.

Power Meter Normal, Power Match Manual: Displayed power is from meter, resistance set by trainer offset adding/subtracting manual value; no automatic adjustment of offset done.

With Power Meter Normal, Power Match Manual looking most like what I wanted, I set out to determine the offset between my Stages meter and the CycleOps Hammer. To do this I first ensured the Stages and Hammer were calibrated. TrainerRoad was set to have PowerMatch disabled and the Stages meter to Use Cadence Only. My Garmin Edge 520 recorded power from the Stages meter and TrainerRoad recorded the Hammer’s data. I then rode a custom TrainerRoad workout that has a warmup, then a series of 1 minute intervals at 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, and 110% of FTP with 30 second 50% rests between in Erg mode so  trainer resistance adjusted automatically. After this I did a 30 minute Free Ride where I shifted to adjust speed (and thus power), trying to get a good mix of steady state and short/hard intervals, under different situations, to get sane date to compare. To cut down on data misalignment both of these rides were non-stop spins without pausing, doing my best to start and stop the Garmin along with the TrainerRoad workout.

Both of these sets of data were then compared in DC Rainmaker‘s Analyzer tool, with the results visible here:

Comparing the two, I see two notable things, both most visible in the 30 Minute Freeride:

  1. Sudden transitions decreasing power show 0 values when measured by the Hammer, but still some power with the Stages.
  2. Hammer seemed to measure higher, with the variance becoming greater as power output became higher.

I don’t believe the sudden transitions are a concern nor really something that can be accommodated for, and I don’t think they’ll be a problem for the normal Erg mode workouts where the main desire is to have the trainer providing resistance. This is likely a simple side effect of the large flywheel in the trainer taking a while to slow.

For the scaling disparity between the Stages and Hammer, maybe there’s something there… I’m tending to think that the Stages is reading higher on very hard efforts because with these I’m more apt to be standing and shoving down on the pedals versus a smooth spin. Perhaps this is throwing off the strain gauge? Let’s see…

Here’s how the average powers worked out:

Workout Meter Average Power Weighted Average Power
Custom Test Stages 173.50 191.70
Hammer 174.77 194.20
Free Ride 30 Stages 209.87 228.25
Hammer 211.03 234.05

 

Since I’m trying to compare power meters themselves, I’m looking at Average Power. (I don’t want to use Weighted Average, because this gives increasing priority to greater power outputs, since they are harder on one’s body. For example, it’s a way of reflecting how 300 W feels more than 2x as hard as 150 W.)

Across these two rides the two meters are within ~1 W of each other. While I originally went into this investigation looking to see how much of an offset I’d have to set up in Power Match Manual, I’m now thinking that the Hammer is close enough to the Stages to simply use Power Meter Cadence Only, PowerMatch Disabled. It’s possible this could skew a bit more as I do higher power efforts, but I think this will probably still be within sane ranges. It’s rare that I’ll see the 100W difference like in the high power effort of the Free Ride 30 test (700-800 W range), most things will be in the 200W-300W steady state range where alignment seems sane.

This will cut down on the surging that seems to be coming from the single-leg power meter, still provide sufficient correlation between indoor and outdoor efforts, all while having the benefits of an Erg mode smart trainer.

It’d be nice if TrainerRoad offered some sort of percentage correction, but perhaps this is why PowerMatch instead does a frequent reassessment and is turned on my default; better to check the offset and correct vs. attempting to figure out a scale. Being able to see how PowerMatch is working internally would be nice, but I’m not sure this would add any real value to the product.

2017-2018 Trainer Setup: CycleOps Hammer

For winter 2017-2018 I’ve put together a revamped, and much improved, trainer setup in my basement. Since the last setup with a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine things have been changed pretty significantly. I had previously set things up in front of a CRT HDTV which I’d previously used as a gaming / home theater setup but over the years I didn’t really use it for anything other than movies while on the trainer and basement music; just kind of a waste. This fall I sold the CRT HDTV and stands, picked up a cheap LCD TV (with built-in Netflix and Amazon apps), and put the whole setup on a metal stand in front of the trainer.

The result is a nice setup where a movie plays at eyes-on-the-road level and TrainerRoad is just a glance below. A CycleOps Hammer smart trainer provides resistance when riding, a nice step up from using a power meter, fluid trainer, and shifting to reach power targets. Four speakers (plus two over the workbench) are connected to a home theater receiver / amp, making for great audio from movies, or music via the AppleTV (and iTunes), although I tend to have subtitles on while watching movies to keep the audio at a reasonable level. A squirrel cage fan blows from a distance to keep me cool while riding. To ensure good ANT+ connectivity I’ve located the Garmin USB adaptor to a table next to the bike where it has a short path to the trainer, power meter, and my heart rate strap.

Since I have a Stages power meter on the Vaya, I have the option of using TrainerRoad’s PowerMatch. This uses the on-bike power meter and adjusts the smart trainer so that everything matches. I understand how this will benefit those wanting the same power numbers indoors and out (since no two units match exactly), but I’m still undecided if it’s a good setup for me. I’ll be working that out over the next few rides.

So far this setup is working out very nicely. While expensive initially (almost the cost of a bike) I vastly prefer the feel of a direct drive smart trainer to the fluid trainer with power meter. Both are effective, but I’m really enjoying not having to shift and chase power targets. Both Kristen (she also bought a Hammer) and I are following TrainerRoad plans over the winter, and as it moves into more over-under workouts, especially those with very short high intensity intervals, having a smart trainer is a huge bonus. It’s very difficult to effect radical changes in power and stay on target when shifting and matching speed to a power target. A smart trainer eliminates that need.

Wahoo KICKR Customer Service Disappointment

Planning to follow a TrainerRoad plan with Kristen all winter, and a little irked at the quirkyness of shifting to hit power targets on my current setup, I became interested in a smart trainer. My buddy Mike let me borrow his Wahoo KICKR, something I’d been itching to try after hearing so many good reviews of them. In short, I really liked the experience and was quite impressed by how much easier it made riding indoors. I focused more on putting out effort and selecting my cadence and less on staying on target, and large swings (say, over/unders) were MUCH easier to do when I didn’t have to seek the moving power target. I really wanted one. A few days later I noticed that Wahoo was selling NOS (new old stock) 2016 model for $899, which seemed perfect! The $1199 retail price is a bit more than I can afford, but this was doable for both Kristen and I. Orders were placed and we got ready to sell our fluid trainers.

Not hearing anything on the order after four days we sent notes to Wahoo’s customer service department. The responses indicated the units had accidentally been oversold, so we were offered refurbished 2016 units for $100 less. Having the same warranty and being even cheaper, that sounded great! We both accepted the offer and waited. A day later we were informed that the warehouse had found more stock of the new 2016 units and those were on the way, with the refurb offer rescinded. Not as good of a deal, but still, great! Because of this back and forth Melinda, the customer service person, tossed in a 142×12 Thru Axle Adapter for me and a TICKR X Heart Rate Monitor for Kristen; both things we could use and a really nice gesture.

Unfortunately, when the KICKRs arrived, we found that Wahoo had screwed up. These were not new units, nor refurbished, but instead returns which likely hadn’t been opened since the customers packed them up. Mine was scraped and the end caps were chewed up as if the previous owner didn’t clamp it down properly and had the bike come off while riding. The cassette was slightly greasy, it had a bunch of non-Wahoo stuff (Garmin manual and packaging, Monoprice packaging) in the box, and fine plastic dust from the expanded foam packaging was spread all over, including in the resistance unit. Kristen’s was arguably worse, with a heavily scuffed flywheel area (as if the owner had it resting against something), an empty through axle adapter box, and the previous owner’s personal info: the RMA from Clever Training and — inexplicably — a copy of his vehicle inspection report from Volkswagen Credit.

My KICKR:

 
  

Kristen’s KICKR:

IMG_4727.JPG IMG_4728.JPG IMG_4742.JPG
IMG_4730.JPG IMG_4743.JPG IMG_E4729.JPG

Separately we both immediately contacted Wahoo, but being Saturday didn’t hear back until Monday afternoon. (They’re open M-F, 10am – 7pm, and email responses seem to take about a day.) The first responses offered $100 refunds claiming the units were refurbished. After pushing back indicating that they are simply used and don’t seem like it’d be up to their standards, the refund offer was upped to $200 with the opportunity to test them out before accepting. While $699 is an even better price, neither of us were keen on paying so much for used trainers with plastic dust in sensitive electronics.

Since it’s often easier to work things out over the phone I decided to call Wahoo. I spoke with Micah, who explained that the original customer service person I’d contacted via email, Melinda, was best suited to help me. (I got the impression she’s a lead or manager.) Indicating that what I really wanted was a new trainer, and that I was hoping they could sort this all out, he informed me that the 2016 units are gone, so that’s no longer possible, but he’d get in touch with Melinda and let her know that we had talked. A short while later I heard back from Melinda, offering to return the used trainer and give a 10% discount on a new 2017 KICKR. I replied asking for the RMA, declining to purchase the 2017 model. (In the mean time Kristen had called and set up an RMA for hers, but did not receive a discount offer.)

I understand that things go wrong with warehousing and shipping, especially when winter (trainer time!) is coupled with the busy holiday season, but I can’t help but be left quite soured by this experience. Almost two weeks after making the purchase, with time sunk into a back and forth via email and visiting FedEx, we’re both back where we started… without smart trainers. And waiting on refunds.

Good thing we’ve still got fluid trainers to ride… Because the CycleOps Hammers that we ordered are still en route.