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When it comes to indoor cycling, there are two kinds of riders. You have the people who are in it strictly for pleasure and enjoy a good challenge once in a while, and then you have the die-hards who know every trick in the book on how to optimize their times spent pedaling.
If you’re wondering if there is a place in between the two, there is, and it’s usually the person who is transitioning from cycling as a hobby to cycling as a sport for building strength and endurance.
When you get to the point where you’re looking at different gear to upgrade your experience and give you insights into your performance, then you’ll want to start looking at power meters and cadence sensors.
The key differences between a power meter and a cadence sensor are solely based on the power meter measuring your body’s power outlet, and the cadence sensor is used for optimizing your gear and improving your technique.
Keep reading to find out which one is best for biking enthusiasts!
Table of Contents
What Is A Power Meter?
Simply put, a power meter is used to measure your actual power by utilizing strain gauges for all the data and then converting that data into measurable, readable numbers. This is what power meters are primarily measuring:
When you can acquire these details from a power meter, you can customize your training to work on areas that need improvement, and you’ll also be able to enhance your strengths based on all the reported data. It takes the guesswork out of how you are performing and gives you real numbers to work with.
What Is A Cadence Sensor?
A cadence sensor basically does exactly what it says; it measures your pedal cadence. This is typically achieved using an electronic pod and then placing two magnets on either side of it. This device will be able to register your rotation based on the magnets making contact with the electronic pod while you are pedaling.
If you have RPM goals, then this is one way to make sure you are meeting them. Most cyclists rely on cadence sensors when biking under certain conditions, such as uphill or biking against a strong wind. The main goal is to try and maintain a comfortable cadence zone during various conditions.
Note: You’ll be able to improve your performance without sacrificing any of your pace.
Differences Between Speed and Cadence Sensors
Speed and cadence sensors offer valuable information when it comes to tracking your performance while cycling. However, they both have unique qualities and should be decided upon based on your personal goals.
Here are the differences between speed and cadence sensors:
- Speed Sensor – The speed sensor will use your bike’s wheel circumference to determine the speeds and distance traveled on each biking trip.
- Cadence Sensor - The cadence sensor will use the crank arm to gather the data from your rotations per minute (RPM).
In fact, both of these sensors use different types of profiles (ANT+) to determine which sensor is being used. You must have an ANT+ supported profile in order to use a cadence sensor that can display all of your numbers.
What is a Speed Cadence Combo?
Many individuals opt for the speed cadence combo because it will give you all the details from both aspects. However, neither of these will be able to provide you with the in-depth details that a power meter can provide.
If you’re a beginner cyclist or somebody who is just making the switch from it being a hobby to making it a true form of fitness, then you might want to start with either the combo or you could even get away with just using a cadence sensor until you are familiar with your pedal cadence.
How Do They Fit On Your Indoor Bike?
Installing either a speed meter or cadence sensor on your indoor bike is quite easy. However, there is a proper way for doing this, and when not installing them correctly, you could end up damaging your equipment, or your sensors might give you inaccurate readings.
Here is how to install your speed or cadence sensor on your indoor bike:
- Speed Sensor – This should be installed on your rear wheel hub or on the flywheel in front, and once in place, you should spin your wheel to make sure the sensor has the proper clearance. Some speed sensors will come with an LED light that will flash to tell you it is working correctly. Then pair it with your cycling computer or the device being used to register your data.
- Cadence Sensor – The cadence sensor can easily be installed on the inside of your bike’s crank arm (non-drive side), and then you should spin your crank around to make sure your chain is not being affected by the sensor. Don’t try to install the cadence sensor on the outside of your crank, or you will have issues with your shoes hitting it during each rotation of the pedals.
Tip: Make sure that your speed or cadence sensor has a working battery before installing it on your indoor bike.
Which Is Best For Accurate Cycling Results?
When comparing a power meter to a cadence sensor, it likes comparing a Ferrari to a Volkswagen. Sure, the Volkswagon will get you from point A to point B, but it might not give you all the performance or the details you desire about your trip.
Cadence sensors are great for people who are only interested in how fast their legs are actually spinning, whereas the power meter is for the hard-core cyclist who wants the most accurate details about everything they are doing.
You see a power meter measures your watts whereas a cadence sensor only measures your RPM.
When you’re just learning to use cycling as a means for building endurance and upgrading your fitness level, you might not benefit as much from a power meter as you would when you understand your efficiency and know what your performance stats are versus your goals.
Many folks make the mistake of going all in and spending some serious cash on an expensive power meter only to find out that none of the information provided makes sense to them. This is the difference between biking for a hobby or dedicating your body to all the wonderful benefits the world of cycling has to offer.
We’re not saying that you can’t benefit immensely from the data that a power meter offers; we’re simply saying that when the time comes for upgrading your equipment, you’ll know it.
I, myself wanted to get the most out of my cycling performance and see my results as accurately as I could. You see I love training through Zwift and wanted to see my real effort being represented on-screen in real time. For me, it had to be the power meter I was going to use.
There are a few different forms power meters can come in but the one that suited me best was the power meter pedals, in this case, the Favero Assioma power meter pedals.
What is the Price Difference Between a Power Meter and Cadence Sensor?
We won’t lie; there is a significant price difference between purchasing a power meter and a cadence sensor for your indoor bike. Remember the comparison used above, the Ferrari compared to the Volkswagen? Okay, it might not be that extreme, but it is pretty substantial.
We want to emphasize that anybody who is cycling as a hobby or just making the transition to the ‘die-hard’ biking side doesn’t necessarily need to consider buying a power meter until the right moment. It’s more important to work on your consistency and build your strength before investing in that kind of equipment.
Here is an idea of how much money you will spend on either a cadence sensor or a power meter:
Cadence Sensor Cost
Cadence sensors generally cost anywhere from $25 to $100 for a decent piece of equipment. However, you can easily get the cost up into the thousand range when choosing to pair it with other Garmin equipment, such as their smartwatch.
Power Meter Cost
A good power meter for your indoor bike could run you anywhere between $500 and $1000. If you want to go top of the line, then you should be prepared to fork out a couple of grand. Again, this is where our comparison comes in about the two different car models.
Regardless of which option you choose to buy, make certain you learn all the aspects of using your new equipment. There is zero advantage to having some of the best tools available in the cycling industry if you have no idea how to use the data to improve your biking sessions.
We recommend starting with a cadence sensor and working your way up to the power meter if you don’t consider yourself an advanced cyclist. You will gain more confidence and boost your overall morale by working in sync with a cadence sensor.
Now that you know the difference between using a power meter or relying on a cadence sensor, you’ll be able to pick the best device that works for you. Keep in mind that you can always upgrade to a power meter once your performance is consistently improving while using a cadence sensor.
There is a pretty big price difference when looking at both devices comparatively, so if you’re new to the cycling world, you might want to start on the low end and work your way up to the king of measuring your cycling performance.