Interbike Tech: Stages disrupts power, adds more crank options

Stages Cycling has changed the power meter market for the better, and has three new options for 2015

Two years ago this week, Stages Cycling kicked existing power meter brands squarely in the backside. As we head into the annual Interbike tradeshow this week, the same venue that saw Stages launch in 2012, those companies are still having trouble sitting.

The word “disrupt” is overused in the tech world, too frequently applied to fashionably futile Silicon Valley startups rather than real market-changers. But it does apply to Stages’ unique one-sided power meter, in the context of the undeniably small power meter market. Though the unit has had its share of teething problems (waterproofing and battery problems in early versions, most notably) it has proven extremely popular thanks to a trifecta of simplicity: easy setup, low maintenance, and a modest price.

Stages is quite proud of its role in the forward movement of the power meter market, which felt stagnant for years prior to that 2012 launch. In a press release on Monday, it pointed out that it brought both real-time temperature compensation and accelerometer-based cadence to market first — both of which have been incorporated in new meters from Quarq and others.

But those two bits of technical progress are nothing compared to the market-wide price drop that Stages precipitated. A $700, crank-based, direct-force power meter was a game changer.

Today, a PowerTap can be had for $510 less than in 2012. Quarq has units that are hundreds cheaper as well. Garmin just announced a left-side-only version of its Vector pedal-based meter. It will cost — you guessed it — $700.

Stages’ greatest legacy, then, is the realization of a previously untapped market. Many consumers seem unperturbed by the fact that Stages only measures power generated by a rider’s left leg — an admittedly huge issue if you’re after the utmost in accuracy and repeatability. The meter’s popularity is proof that there are plenty (perhaps a majority) of riders on the roads and trails today that don’t give a hoot about the offset between left and right leg power, who see SRM’s $3,000 price tag and think, “That’s a whole new bike.” These riders are happy to pay $700-900 to train and rider better, but not three times that figure.

The takeaway? If you’ve purchased a brand new, high-end, wireless power meter for under $1,000 since 2012, from any company, you largely have Stages to thank. We don’t get a lot of disruption in this century-old industry. But we’ve witnessed some in the last two years.

On Monday, stages announced another expansion of its single-sided, crank-based power meter lineup. It will now include the top-of-the-line M9000 mountain crank and middle-of-the-range 105 crank from Shimano, and an aluminum BB386 EVO offering from FSA that can pair with that company’s carbon fiber SL-K Light driveside crank and chainrings as a hybrid package.

The announcement bolsters the company’s options at both the high and low ends of its price spectrum. The M9000 crank will retail for $900, while both the FSA and 105 options will retail for $700.

That brings the number of sub-$1,000 power meters up yet again. The next disruption, we can only hope, will begin to bring costs down to half that.