Gear

A $6 power meter? Yes! Sort of…

Is this the end of high-priced power meters? Did the barrier to entry just disappear entirely? Not so fast.

You may have noticed the buzz in the last couple of days around the launch of a $6 power meter from Danish company Sensitivus Gauge ApS. $6 for a power meter? Sign me up! I’ll take two! Heck, I’ll take twenty and put them on every bike, even my beach cruiser! Is this the end of high-priced power meters? Did the barrier to entry just disappear entirely?

Not so fast.

A $6 power meter, but for whom?

For starters, that price isn’t what you, as a consumer, will pay. Sensitivus Gauge has essentially made the technology available to manufacturers and those bold enough to launch a component start-up for that low price. It’s important to note that $6 does not include the cost of the cranks or, critically, the actual execution of turning strain gauges into a power meter. Per the press release, here’s what that low price figure actually represents:

“Sensitivus provides full non-exclusive access to schematics, source code, mechanical drawings, reference designs, and all the know-how needed for both the immediate implementation of power meter technology in a crankset and to further develop new solutions including pedal-based power meters.”

In other words, a manufacturer that intends to produce power meters can now do so for as little as $6 by obtaining a non-exclusive license from Sensitivus Gauge. That’s largely because material costs such as strain gauges can cost as little as $1 each. Prior to Sensitivus Gauge’s offering, a company would have to spend a significant amount of time and resources in order to develop its own system. The Danish company is now offering all of that for a low price, so a manufacturer can get off the ground quickly and cheaply.

But as it turns out, this isn’t exactly a new concept. “The Sensitivus guys have been around for awhile,” says Quarq category manager Jim Meyer.  “I expect that most of the power meter companies in the industry have talked with them at some point. The $6 cost is a great headline, but it is old news for power meter engineers. A few low-end components can be really cheap, but you are a long way from a race-ready power meter that you can trust your training on. The same can be said of the rolls of carbon fiber on Alibaba for $30/kilogram. Still a long way from a Trek Emonda frameset.”

Benefits to the consumer

Okay, so you won’t be landing a power meter for $6 anytime soon. That doesn’t mean you don’t get anything out of this. For starters, competition is good. While certain companies already have their own proprietary power meters, they are usually expensive. Sensitivus Gauge could push prices down.

That, of course, begs the question of whether quality will suffer as a result. “We make all our meters in Boulder, Colorado as one of the many steps we take to ensure the reliability and consistency world class athletes demand,” says Pat Warner, senior vice president at Stages Cycling. “There are more inexpensive shortcuts, including manufacturing in Asia and using less expensive components, but as perhaps the world’s largest manufacturer of cycling power meters, we feel the performance compromises are too great. But, as a building full of bike racers, we always welcome competition.”

Indeed, in a perfect world, accessibility to the Sensitivus materials will push innovation. Established brands may get motivated to innovate more quickly and attempt to push the boundaries of what power measuring devices can do — and even where they can be integrated.

Conversely, the inexpensive meter might not get any traction.

“Turns out it is really easy to make a bad power meter,” says Meyer. “Even if you make a good power meter, it is hard to get the volume to make a sustainable business. Now the power meter world is consolidating down to only the very strongest players. The great news is that power meter cost keeps going down and the quality keeps going up. With the introduction of Red and Force AXS, now lots of high-end bikes come with power meters built in as OE equipment. Riders can expect that trend to continue as they get more and more bang-for-the-buck with all of their electronic equipment.”

Time will tell

We still don’t know much about the $6 meter’s viability or quality. All we know is that after years of fundraising, it’s all available for use. With such a low cost of entry, it’s entirely possible we see some poor iterations hit the market. Or maybe they will be great. Either way, we will try to get ahold of one if and then they become available and test it. In the meantime, a good power meter will still cost you more than $6.