Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter Review
The Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter
Training with power. It’s a phrase most beginners triathletes and cyclists have heard – whether at their local bike shop, from competitors at local races, or maybe just even from a colleague or two at work (more on that later). A few have even checked into the pricing on units, only to be turned off by yet another expensive piece of gear in the triathlon world. If this is you – read on. I may spit some technical jargon in this review, but believe me when I say I’ll walk you through two things as simply as possible: 1.) why you should be training with power and 2.) why you should be using Pioneer cycle products.The fundamental question here is simple enough. Is training with power needed for the beginner triathlete? I didn’t think so… until the good folks over at Pioneer Cycle Sports approached us here at Active Gear Review about doing a writeup on a unit. What started as an innocent enough look at some gear led down a bit of a rabbit hole on research concerning power. It’s been fun, rewarding, geeky… and overall, has truly converted me to a believer in training with power; I’ve also become a believer in products from Pioneer Cycle Sports.
Over the past month, I’ve learned more about the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Crankset and the Pioneer SGX-CA500 (review coming soon – I’ll get to why I separated out these two reviews in a bit) than I ever really needed to know, and more about why Pioneer power products truly are giving you the best bang for you buck on the market. Through the course of putting this gear through it’s paces, we took a more a much more in depth testing phase than we usually do. After all, it’s not like a unit of this caliber is a pair of shoes or something. We looked at all facets of the unit, including getting it professionally installed by a local bike shop (shout out needed for the guys at Kompetitive Edge here in Denver- best shop ever), and having them walk me through the initial usage of the Pioneer SGX-CA500 – you know, basic functions and stuff. They took me through how they installed the power meter itself, and also what makes the unit unique (and why the sell it). The head unit in and of itself feels like it has more features than my first Macbook had – I’m actually still learning about all it can do, which is why I dedicated another review to it’s usage entirely. It’s a truly stand alone unit, and is very useful as a cycle computer with or without a power meter.
Enough teasers. Now that I’ve set the background – let’s get into it.
First thoughts on the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter
Before I got started on my power training journey with the Pioneer Shimano SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter I thought it important to run my ideas for testing by an old friend and colleague, Base Performance and Kompetitive Edge Athlete Ed “Ocky” Goewey. Ocky’s the guy responsible for getting me into this whole triathlon thing, and I frequently look to him for ideas concerning the state of triathlon and performance gains. “Power is crucial to your training” he advised during a mid-afternoon ride this spring, “it allows for exact information on where you are in your training. Heart rate training was a good start, but it fluctuates too much.” Heart rate can be influenced by a number of factors, such as heat, caffeine intake, lack of sleep, etc – “if you truly want to know where your training is at, you need to start measuring it with Power.” His words resonated with me quite a bit – I’m not trying to win age groups or anything, but that’s not the point – I’m a family guy, have commitments, and am trying to squeeze 14 hours of training per week into a busy time frame. “Power makes your workouts more efficient – you get to do EXACTLY what needs to be done for your training in as time saving a way as possible.” This may be a key answer to the question of whether or not beginner triathletes should use power, or spend the money in an already expensive sport. If it can give me more time back with my family by making my workouts more efficient – it’s totally worth it. Ocky also vouched for the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter – due to his relationship with a Pioneer Cycle Sports dealer, he was well aware of just how accurate Pioneer is. “It’s a great unit at great price points. You’ll have fun with it.”
The box arrived soon after shipping was promised, with more stickers about the package inside being “fragile” than just about any other product I’ve taken a look at. I was a bit mystified as to why this was so, but after getting my hands on the actual crankset and unit, I understood why. Pioneer is making a product that’s quite a bit more complicated than your “average” power meter (if there is such a thing). At this point, my experience with power meters was somewhat limited – I’d ridden more than my fair share of spin cycles with power, including spin classes and such. I’d also borrowed friend’s bikes for races (I might have crashed my bike just 6 days leading into a race – but that’s a story for another day) and done “demos” on power units at expos and such. So I wasn’t a total newb. But immediately after opening opening the box, it became apparent that Pioneer was doing something just a bit different. To begin with, the power meter itself was integrated into the crankset, and could only be used with Shimano products (I spoke with Pioneer about this in an interview). Second, this power meter actually measured BOTH legs, as opposed to just a single leg like several products on the market. Third – there were a TON of pieces in the box. I’m normally a do-it-yourself kind of guy, (anybody else out there taking apart the bottom half of their car engine in their garage? My wife only got mad when she stepped in the oil pan.) but on this product I knew I was a bit outclassed. So I headed up to Kompetitive Edge for an install, and I’m glad I did.
After a couple of days, I went back up to the shop to talk to Ryan (the bike tech) and find out how the install went. It went great of course, ’cause the dude’s a crazy genius on bikes – but he showed me the syncing functions, the calibration functions, and essentially all the work that goes into getting these installed. I *probably* could’ve pulled it off myself, but I’m glad I had the guys at my shop of choice do it for me. If you’re just getting into the triathlon scene, and are stepping up to longer distances – you’ll probably want to spend your time training as opposed to monkeying around installing a crankset on your bike. That being said, Pioneer DOES offer a single leg option which offers a much simpler install. Sorry for the repeated teasers, but more on this later also. Since a couple of shop guys were hanging around with Ryan and me – we immediately decided to see how much power I could out at my peak. This seems to be a regular thing for guys who train with power to brag about how much power they can put out, so this was actually my first test of the meter – I jumped on and cranked away to see what I could do. I won’t bore you with actual numbers, but suffice it to say I got my butt handed to me by the shop guys. This was not surprising as a.) they are better cyclists than I and b.) they train with power – this should be your first clue as to why you want power. It’s an improvement tool which measures progress accurately and efficiently. And, as I was soon to find out – Pioneer just does it better.
Let’s take a look at the installed components in detail so I can break it down for you:
Testing the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter
I have quite a few rides in on the Pioneer Shimano Ultegra 6800 Power Meter – as of the date of this post, I’m currently sitting at around thirty training hours in Cycl0-Sphere. Temps ranged from a chilly 40 degrees (Fahrenheit of course) to a pleasant 70 degrees – I haven’t had the opportunity to really test out the unit in the heat yet, as it’s simply just not that time of year here in Colorful Colorado. I used the unit both outdoors and indoors on the trainer by simply toggling between GPS on and off and turning off the auto stop switch whenever I ride indoors. I, like many cyclists, prefer doing interval and single leg workouts without the bother of stoplights and traffic, so the unit was extremely helpful during indoor training sessions. It’s important to note that I could actually have set up different profiles to achieve this same thing as well, but that goes into the Head unit review more so that using the actual power meter itself. When discussing the review of the Pioneer Shimano Ultegra 6800 Power Meter, I had envisioned actually pairing the unit with my Suunto Ambit 2s (reviewed here by yours truly), but I actually wound up not pairing the unit to both the head unit and my watch. The reason behind this was fairly simple – while it’s easy to toggle between modes using the Pioneer head unit, the metrics are offered in such greater depth on the Pioneer system. So I wound up just using Pioneer’s system.
Immediately upon riding the first time (well, aside from getting owned at my local bike shop), it was apparent that I had a few things to work on. The constant feedback of power from the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter was simply fascinating. It told me all sorts of metrics that I’d never really considered – it’s the closest thing on the market to really feeling like you’re getting the same level feedback as the pros get, and for good reason. Pioneer Cycle Sports gives you access to all the metrics the pros use, as they measure your force a whopping 12 times per revolution, or every 30 degrees PER LEG. This is fairly amazing, and much of what makes the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter so accurate. I pressed Pioneer for details on exactly how this measurement works, but as you’ll find out in just a bit (during an interview I got to do with a big dog over at Pioneer) – this is proprietary, and wasn’t shared with a small fish like me. I can tell you that it not only works, it works instantaneously. Since I was testing the Dual Leg Power Meter, I immediately noticed I was pushing way too much power on my left leg, and not enough on my right. This is interesting, as I’ve been developing a bit of IT band syndrome in my left leg. I began training with an emphasis of balancing this power between the two legs based on real time feedback, and this helped me improve technique to the point where I was able to alleviate some of the IT band discomfort. And before you go blasting me for not getting a fit – I get fit twice a year by a guy who’s excellent, and gets used by triathletes the world over. Sure, I may not deserve a fit from a guy like that, but hey – I’m in the saddle 6-8 hours a week during triathlon season. May as well be fitted to it. First step and all that jazz.
I wasn’t but a week and half into the review when Pioneer offered me the chance to interview Russ Johnston, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Pioneer Electronics (USA). I almost immediately declined, not wanting to take up an exec level guy’s time, but then I figured why not? They’re offering right? I need not have worried. As we began the call Russ opened up with a cheerful “POWER IS KING!” to let us know he was on the line and ready to field some serious questions from a small fish like me. It says quite a bit that a company as large and world renowned as Pioneer Electronics is willing to talk to the little guy, and makes me believe even more than I did prior to the review cycle that Pioneer is a solid company – the type of company you’d feel good about giving your money to. What ensued next was long conversation concerning power meter usage, development, reasons for Pioneer jumping into the cycle world at all, and their support of the pro “peloton.” His answers gave me insights into a ton of facets of power meter usage, and he confirmed my previous suppositions about it’s necessity in terms of being able to improve as a beginner cyclist and triathlete. Russ easily proved his point early in the conversation – “People wouldn’t go to the gym without numbers on the weights, would they?” It’s an astute point that really got my thought juices flowing. “How do you improve unless you have benchmarks?” Russ questioned further. Indeed – how would I measure improvements without power measurements and data?
It’s important to be clear that Russ is not saying it’s impossible to improve without power – that would be absurd. Power gives you insight into your capabilities, and provides (much like my example above with my personal power imbalances) a focal point for what to improve upon. It’s like having a constant companion and teacher along for the ride – and for the money, I’d prefer advanced metrics from a company like Pioneer. Indeed, the sheer amount of metrics is initially slightly overwhelming – it almost feels like you’ve gotten quite a bit more than you paid for. That’s a goal of Pioneer, Russ asserted when questioned – “we give riders more data than they initially think they need” with the focus being on “constant improvement.” Essentially, as you progress as a rider while training with power, new metrics will become important to you; Pioneer gives access to all the data that the Pros use, so how far in depth you get into these numbers is truly up to you.
Without going into too much detail on how Pioneer uses a web based platform to track this for you (Cyclo-Sphere is a very powerful tool in and of itself, and will also be focused on in our writeup on the head unit/Cycle Computer for the power system), I will tell you that Russ was confident that CycloSphere’s web based system was the preferred method of choice for metric delivery – indeed, the site was easily used in conjunction with powerhouses like Strava or TrainingPeaks – but you quickly find out that these sites don’t give you access to all the data that Pioneer offers. I actually came to love logging into Cyclo-Sphere for the lay out, ease of use, and presentation of data formats.
Final thoughts on the Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter
It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of upgrades available to a budding triathlete. There are several options out there that are targeted at “improving” your speed, making you lighter, making you more aerodynamic, etc. Pioneer Cycle Sports, however, is focused on helping you build a better engine – and we all need help building this. This is why Pioneer is committed more so than any company in the industry to getting this valuable tool in the hands of every cyclist, whether it’s a hard core triathlete who’s been around the age-group competitions for years or the entry level cyclist who’s just looking to keep up with his weekend group rides and not get left in the dust. Pioneer has a very wide of product offerings around power, and it’s tiered in such a way as to let you get into the realm of power numbers without breaking your wallet. Gone are the days in which power training is only available to those with super deep pockets – and as a father of two young boys who has to make ends meet while waging war on the weekends at the half iron distance front, this is important to me. I’d like to keep improving, like to have benchmarks, and still be able to put food on the proverbial table. This is why Pioneer’s price points are genius – you can move into the realm of power with a single leg installation kit (quick write up found here) at just $499, cheaper than the cost of one Aero wheel or component kit upgrade. The best part of this is that all of Pioneer’s power system pieces are compatible, so if you decide (and you probably will, if you like the constant feedback on your own improvement) that you’d like to add the additional metrics found in dual leg measurements and a head unit, you can upgrade to these components at a later date and spread the cost of getting into power out over a longer time frame. When’s the last time you were able to buy say, one portion of a set of aero wheels and then upgrade another portion later?
If you’d like to enter into the power realm less gradually and already own a Shimano crank (see the Pioneer Cycle Sports site for more info), feel free to send it over to Pioneer for an install. Pioneer works with local bike shops all over the country to get your unit installed and get it back into your hands as soon as possible, often times in less than a week. For now, you’ll need to have Shimano (or buy a Shimano crank) in order to work with this system, but that’s only a minor drawback (if at all) to most as Shimano is so ubiquitous in the cycling world. Follow the links in the article to get started on Pioneer Power Meters today – the dual leg Pioneer SGY-PM68 Series Power Meter tested here has an MSRP of $1299, and Pioneer’s site makes it easy to find a local bike shop to get it installed for you. So – to answer your burning question (and make a play on Russ’ “Power is King” quote) – is power truly king? I have to say decisively yes. I can’t imagine another piece of gear that provides you more feedback, day in and day out, on your training. And with Pioneer’s tiered pricing system, you have no excuse not to get started. Cheers.