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Pedals & Shoes - Powertap P1 Review
Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

 

Powertap P1 Review

 

Josh Ross

 

A review of the Powertap P1 power meter pedals.

 

When you look out over the power meter landscape, there are many options. I don’t want to go too deep into everything out there, but the first choice you’ll have to make is, where you want to measure power from?

 

The Powertap P1 pedals could be just what you need, simple to fit, but with a few quirks

The Powertap P1 pedals could be just what you need, simple to fit, but with a few quirks

 

If you want something that’s easy to move between a few bikes, the best option is probably pedals. You could also think about a hub based meter; that, however, limits you to a specific set of wheels. Pedals are by far the most flexible of options, but even once you’ve limited your search to pedals, the options are numerous. Pedal based power meters are available from BePro, Garmin, Look, and Powertap. So, how does one differentiate? For me, the easy way to differentiate is simplicity. I want bike parts that just work. The last thing I want to be dealing with is complicated installs. I want pedals that you attach easily and don’t feel finicky. When you look at the options through that lens, The Powertap P1, and now available P1S, stand out.

 

The Powertap P1 – and P1S – install with a hex wrench and require no special torque or complicated ritual. It’s really that simple. Just screw them on till they are tight, install a standard AAA battery, and they are set. Once installed, they are reliable and match what I see on other power meters. If you are sitting at your computer and shopping virtually, the products Powertap has on offer appear to be the best option, and others are not really worth considering. It doesn’t hurt that you’ll find lots of glowing reviews about them. It might seem like I’m leading up to a big “BUT”; the truth, however, is that in everyday use, the P1 pedals really are as good as they seem. The “BUT” comes before you actually purchase them. It turns out there are a number of little things you need to consider before deciding the Powertap P1, or P1S, are the pedal based meter for you.

 

The first thing you have to think about is your crank length. If you are riding 172.5mm cranks – default length for the Powertap pedals – and you have no plans to change that; then you’re not going to have an issue. If you have a modern iOS device, or Garmin computer, you’ll also be fine. Anyone who has read my reviews should realise that doesn’t describe me. If it doesn’t describe you either, then you are going to need to really think about whether the Powertap pedals are the right option for you. The problem is that unlike Garmin, Powertap doesn’t have a computer based utility that allows you to communicate with the P1 pedals. That means if you need to adjust the crank length, there might not be an easy way to do it.

 

What's the weight penalty for pedal based power gauges? 220 grammes

What’s the weight penalty for pedal based power gauges? 220 grammes

 

Powertap has two ways in which you can adjust the crank length. They have their own iOS app which provides a number of features including the ability to adjust the crank length. You’ll need the right version of bluetooth, though. An old iPad 2 that I use sparingly, wasn’t able to connect to the pedals as the version of bluetooth it has isn’t modern enough. The other way that you can make the adjustment is on a cycling computer that allows you to set the crank length. Garmin computers allow this, so if that’s what you have, then you can take advantage of that. Unfortunately, the Wahoo Elemnt does not have this option. You could consider this a problem with the Elemnt, but that’s a tricky critique. Should Wahoo be responsible for providing core functionality to third-party products?

 

At this point in the testing, I was stuck. Once the crank length is set, it will be saved, so one option would have been to visit a local bike shop and offer a beer to my favourite mechanic for access to a Garmin. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t end the problem. I have different length cranks on different bikes. One is 170mm, and one is 172.5mm. That would mean every time I moved the pedals to a different bike, I’d need to adjust the crank length. For this review, I borrowed a Powertap Joule, but if I had been purchasing these for myself, I’d now need to either choose different pedals, choose a different phone, or choose a different cycling computer.

 

If you are also an Android household with different crank lengths on different bikes, and no Garmin, you’ll need to decide which one of those three pieces you feel like changing. If you happen to use either an up to date iOS device or a Garmin cycling computer, and that will admittedly be a lot of people, then you can safely ignore all of this as it’s not going to be an issue.

 

A single AAA battery powers each pedal. They're easy to source and change

A single AAA battery powers each pedal. They’re easy to source and change

 

If you happen to be good with the crank length issue, then it’s time to look at the other options again. The Look pedals are barely in the market at this point, but from what I can see, they are more expensive than other options and not as easy to install. I’m intrigued by their easy on and off pedal pods but at around $1500, they are $300-$500 more expensive and don’t seem to nail the easy install. Bepro is cheaper than everyone else, but they also don’t seem super easy to install, they only broadcast ant+, and they also rely on the head unit to set crank length. That leaves Garmin Vector pedals as the only other good option in this segment.

 

First, I want to address something that many people, including those in the industry, seem to be confused about. You do not need a torque wrench to install the Garmin Vector 2 pedals. The Vector 1 did require a torque wrench, but the Vector 2 does not. There is a published spec for torque, but if you watch their install videos, they explain that in order for the power to be accurate, you just need to make sure the pedals are tight enough. If you need to adjust crank length regularly, and you don’t have an up to date iOS device or Garmin computer, then choose the Vector 2. Garmin provides an ANT USB key, and they have a utility that will communicate with the pedals to allow changing of the crank length and updating of the firmware.

 

Otherwise, you have to decide which product works better for you based on a few key details. You might not need a torque wrench, but you do have to remove the pedal pods and use a pedal wrench to install the Garmin Vector 2. Small detail, but it’s a surprisingly annoying necessity to have to deal with the pods and use a pedal wrench. The other two things you’ll want to consider when looking at the Garmin vs the Powertap are that the Powertap pedals broadcast both bluetooth and ANT+, while the Garmin only supports ANT+, and that the Garmin has a weight limit of 200 lbs.

 

The PowertapP1 transmits both Ant+ and Bluetooth signals

The PowertapP1 transmits both Ant+ and Bluetooth signals

 

The weight limit is easy. If this affects you then the Garmin pedals are not going to work. I know some very fast people who would be affected by this. The dual radio transmission is a little less obvious, but let me provide a real world example. In many situations ANT+ is actually better. The fact that it can be received by multiple clients means that your ANT+ device can connect to both your computer, with an ANT+ USB adapter, and your headunit at the same time. This is important when you are on a trainer, and that is exactly how I use my power pedals most of the time when riding indoors.

 

If you use a tablet, or phone, instead of a computer for your screen while on a trainer, you’ll want to have bluetooth available also. Even though I use a computer most of the time, though, I’m about to send mine in for repair and without bluetooth availability, I’ll have to figure out some way to make ANT+ work with a mobile device. Another real world use for dual transmission is as a backup. When I’m riding outside, I connect to my head unit, which supports ANT+. But if my head unit runs out of battery for some reason, I have in the past switched to my phone to record the rest of my ride. Without bluetooth transmission, that’s not possible.

 

The bottom line is that if you have multiple bikes and want to measure power on all of them without issue, then power pedals are probably the best way to handle it. As long as you can deal with the limitations of the Powertap P1 pedals, then their ease of installation, use of a AAA battery instead of a CR2032, no weight limit, and dual band data transmission makes them the best choice out there. The Powertap P1 pedals will run you $1199 which is a $200 premium over the Garmin Vector 2 pedals, but that little bit of extra money buys you a better experience, with the caveat that they will not work for everyone in every situation.

 

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