That depends on whom you ask: I'm pretty sure your financial planner will advise against it, but your triathlon coach will likely give a resounding endorsement.
A power meter is an investment in yourself. While other big-ticket items such as high-end bike frames and aero wheels will produce marginally faster splits, they do nothing to improve the cyclist turning the pedals. Conversely, adding a power meter will serve as a tool to make you a stronger, more efficient and a more educated rider.
Prior to power meters, heart rate monitors were the best tool available to prescribe, monitor and track intensity in training and racing. While heart rate monitors do offer a quantification of effort level, the results can be unreliable and are subject to a host of outside influences. Factors such as weather, elevation, illness and fatigue can all influence heart rate and misrepresent an athlete's true output.
Additionally, heart rate changes are a delayed response to stimulus; therefore, it may take an athlete's heart rate several minutes to accurately match the increased intensity. If the cyclist is riding at varying intensities, their heart rate may never be indicative of their true effort level.
Objectivity and nearly instant feedback are the main advantages of a power meter.
Strain gauges within the power meter measure applied torque and then covert that data into a wattage measurement in real time. Because the power meter objectively measures force applied by the cyclist, it does not matter if the cyclist is riding uphill or downwind on a flat. The athlete can properly execute training or a race plan with a high degree of precision.
Additionally, when paired with supplemental data such as speed, cadence and heart rate, a cyclist can determine optimum riding parameters and position.
Power meters have become more accessible, more popular and cheaper. As TriDot is disrupting the triathlon training industry by applying technology, big data and predictive analyics, so are power meters a disruptive technology that is changing the way cyclists and triathletes train and race.
Power meters produce stronger athletes. For this reason, consider it less a financial investment and more an investment in yourself.
John Mayfield is a USAT certified coach and a TriDot Coach. The TriDot Training System is a data driven approach that takes the guess work out of triathlon training and racing. Coach John specializes in working with athletes with busy schedules and lofty goals. As a husband and father of three, he understands training, racing and recovery must all be prioritized alongside family, careers and faith.