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Pioneer Electronics launches new, improved power meter

Pioneer Electronics has launched its second crank-based power meter in less than a year, the Athlete-Lite power meter and head unit. Pioneer — yes the same Pioneer electronics that made your car stereo and the DJ equipment at nearly every electronic dance music concert — launched its Athlete power meter last fall, but is already replacing the first-generation Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 meter with a wholly redesigned model.

The Shimano Dura-Ace version of the power meter will sell for $1,850, and the Ultegra for $1,550, making the Pioneer Athlete-Lite crank much less expensive than comparable SRM models and slightly less expensive than the SRAM Red Quarq.

The new 2014 Athlete-Lite models are set to be available in March.

The Pioneer power meters are built with a design similar to the Stages meters, attaching a strain gauge-laden pod to the inside of the crankarms to measure flex. But while Stages takes power from one leg and doubles it, Pioneer mounts a pod on both sides of the crank. That means that, like Garmin’s Vector power pedals but unlike SRM and Quarq, the Pioneer meter measures both left and right pedal forces at the arm. Additionally, the Athlete-Lite only adds 66 grams to the Dura-Ace and Ultegra cranks, making the Pioneer Athlete-Lite Dura-Ace cranks lighter than the offerings from SRM and the SRAM Red Quarq.

Fixes and functionality

The Athlete-Lite patches up some of the shortfalls of the previous generation, which was used by the Belkin team in 2013, but never gained much popularity with amateurs. Most obvious are the significant price drops and the unmistakable visual improvements, as Pioneer has cleverly integrated the new system into its host cranksets. Functionality has improved dramatically as well.

The 2013 Athlete model (the previous generation) required that the rider use Pioneer’s bottom bracket, which had large magnetic rings outside the bottom bracket cups. The Athlete-Lite only uses small decals with a magnets concealed inside that stick to both chainstays — similar to the magnets required by SRM and Quarq. The Athlete-Lite model also does away with the previous generation’s wonky zip-tie-secured transmitter and instead uses new chainring bolt-mounted unit. Both features make the Athlete-Lite crank much more aesthetically appealing.

Pioneer will be launching a new head unit as well, dubbed the Athlete-Lite CA500, which will accompany the Athlete CA900. The CA500 is considerably smaller than the CA900, utilizing a black and white screen instead of the CA900’s full color option.

In our time with the CA900, we found the graphics to be exceptional; however, ease of use was somewhat lacking. It is highly customizable, and provides a vast swathe of display options likely to satisfy even the crunchiest number cruncher, but navigation leaves something to be desired.

Additionally, the Pioneer head units cannot accept pre-programmed workouts, as Garmin head units can. So, riders with very specific intervals must practice with their quick thumbs.

The Pioneer head units are only loosely compatible with training programs such as Strava and Trainingpeaks. They are GPS-enabled, and provide all the right data, but are designed to upload to Pioneer’s training site, Cyclo-Sphere.com. Riders who use Strava and Trainingpeaks must upload to the Cyclo-Sphere, then download the data from the Cyclo-Sphere website as .fit file and upload that file to the training service they utilize. That’s a bit of a pain.

The good news is that the Pioneer meters work perfectly well with popular head unites like Garmin’s Edge 810 and 510.

If there is a saving grace to the Pioneer CA500, it is that it will be able to communicate over WiFi, which could be a big step in the future of uploading rides. At launch the CA500 will only upload to Cyclo-Sphere, but Pioneer representatives are hopeful that future development will grow the CA500’s compatibility. The CA500 will cost just $300.

All said, the Pioneer Athlete model we’ve been testing has been good, not flawless, but an excellent start. We’re not fans of the functionality of the head unit, so we have been using a Garmin Edge 510 with our 2013 Pioneer Athlete model. The low weight and comparably competitive price should make the Athlete-Lite cranks appealing, and we look forward to testing the cranks in the near future.

Pioneer Electronics Athlete-Lite Power Meter and CA500 head unit
Price: $1,850 (Dura-Ace) | $1,550 (Ultegra)
Weight: 703g (Dura-Ace) | 831g (Ultegra)
Pros: Lighter, Less expensive, and more features than SRM
Cons: Head unit functionality needs to be streamlined

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