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Last year when Saris/CycleOps came out with their ANT+ enabled Joule, many wondered how it would stack up against the competition. Would a non-GPS enabled device still be able to compete in an increasingly GPS dominated world? And how would it differentiate itself from the competition?
Well, I set out to find out.
The folks at CycleOps sent me both a Joule and PowerTap to try out for a few months. Though instead of sending just a bare PowerTap hub, they actually sent along their entire wheelset that includes the PowerTap hub (the actual power meter) already built in. This is a relatively new offering directly from them aimed at a streamlined PowerTap experience.
Of course, the bulk of my testing would be aimed at the Joule and how it interacts with the PowerTap – as well as how it plays with other power meters on the market. After all – one of the strengths of using ANT+ is interoperability with some 300+ companies that make ANT+ enabled devices.
If you haven’t read my product reviews before you’ll find them fairly in depth. Consider them part review…and part manual. Many folks use them as a reference guide after they’ve bought the product. Additionally, in the case of the products provided by CycleOps, the wheelset (including PowerTap) goes back to them in the next few days – though they don’t need me to send the Joule back…so that will probably work it’s way into the giveaway scene at some point… 😉
So, without further ado – let’s dive into it!
Part I: Joule-
Once you’re ready to get everything all unboxed, you’ll have a multi-part unpacking effort. The first piece is the Joule itself. This is of course the brain of the operation as the actual cycling computer. Should you already have a power meter (PowerTap or otherwise), then you’ll only be unpacking this first piece. Here’s what the box looks like prior to me tearing it open:
Once you open it up you’ll find the box is actually rather simplistic (a refreshing change) – with the Joule simply there looking up at you:
Inside the box you’ll find an assortment of components that help you to better use the Joule and power in general.
First up is the Joule itself of course:
Then the impressively thick Joule printed manual:
Then the ANT+ enabled HR strap (note, if you already have an ANT+ enabled HR strap – this is simply duplicate):
A standard mini-USB cable:
The Joule mounting kit and zip ties:
And lastly a few CD’s/DVD’s that include power overviews and the PowerAgent software (though, I recommend you grab the latest version online):
Finally, as a brief comparison in size, here’s the three most popular other power meter head units out there today – the Edge 500, Edge 800, and the older PowerTap Cervo – Little Yellow Computer (LYC):
With that, let’s move onto the PowerTap hub and wheels.
Part II: PowerTap Wheels-
The fully integrated PowerTap wheels are somewhat new to CycleOps. Essentially the goal here is to offer you as the consumer a solution that doesn’t require you to go to a bike shop once it arrives on your doorstep. In this case, they sent me to review a fully configure wheelset, with the PowerTap hub already built into the wheelset. If you buy just a PowerTap hub to integrate into your own wheelset, then the unboxing process would be slightly different. But…onto the wheels we go!
You’ll note that each wheel is boxed separately.
Within each box is not only the wheel itself, but also a wheel bag for each wheel – a nice touch. However, the wheels do not come with tires – so you’ll need to pick those up somewhere along the way. This is typical of most wheelsets in the cycling world.
These particular wheels are built by Enve (used to be known as Edge Composites), and are the Enve 45’s. These ones aren’t shipping quite yet and are still a few months away. Today if you pickup an integrated wheelset directly from CycleOps it’s based on the DT Swiss rims. Going forward in the next month they’ll also be offering wheels based on the Velocity A23’s.
As noted, the PowerTap hub itself is built into the wheelset. Normally if you just bought a PowerTap hub you’d have to get it installed by a wheel builder or bike shop into a compatible wheelset of your choice. In this case, it’s already built in:
The PowerTap hub is fully wireless using ANT+, which means it’s compatible with any ANT+ enabled device that supports power meters. This includes a wide range of devices from CycleOp’s own Joule head unit, to Garmin, Timex and phone based devices.
Now that we’ve got everything unboxed – it’s time to get it installed.
Installation is comprised of two parts – installing the Joule onto your bike, and putting on the PowerTap wheelset on your bike. Both pieces are dead simple though.
For the Joule you’ll go ahead and breakout the mount kit, which may require a small Phillips head screwdriver to get setup depending on if you mount to your aerobars or handlebars – as the channel on the back of the mount can swap both ways:
I suggest doing a practice run with which way it’ll need to mount…prior to zip-tieing it to your bike. Once you’ve got it all situated directionally, then you’ll want to go ahead and apply the zip ties.
And with that…installation is complete. Very tough…I know.
On the wheelset side – you simply swap out your wheel set for theirs. You’ll want to remember to buy tires and tubes for it though. And note that because of the longer valve stem you’ll need to get slightly longer length valve tubes than you normally would.
Once that’s all set, then they should look nice and pretty on your bike:
First Run and Configuration:
Now that we’ve got it installed, all we need to do is simply turn it on. From here you’ll want to first get the various ANT+ sensors that you have hooked up. In the case of the PowerTap you’ll pair it as a Power Meter, but it’ll actually provide you with Power, Speed and Cadence. It knows Power and Speed based on measurements via reed switches in the hub, but with cadence it actually determines that mathematically.
Like every other ANT+ power meter head unit on the market, you’re only able to pair one power meter (or one cadence sensor, or one speed sensor) at a time. Noah’s Ark this is not. But that’s totally fine and also the norm amongst head units.
It does allow you to save multiple sensors though – which is a neat perk if you have multiple bikes, or if your like me and have a few ANT+ HR straps lying around, it allows me to just use any one handy and simply activate it.
In addition to setting up the sensors you’ll want to go ahead and enter your athlete information. You can do this either on the device, or on your computer and have it sent to the device. I’d highly recommend the computer approach, but understand that because the focus of the Joule is providing a highly informative on-device experience, you see much more capabilities locally than many of the competitive devices.
Once you’ve got the basics of the device configured you can go ahead and configure areas like display settings – increasing the brightness and contrast levels for example:
It’s really rather astounding how bright the Joule backlight can get. No issues viewing any of the numbers in the dark should you be relegated to night-time workouts (or just want to save money on lights in your house).
It’s in the settings area that you can also configure power and heart rate zones as well:
Now that we’ve got all the basics configured, let’s head into normal use. As for the PowerTap hub itself – there’s nothing else to do or configure here…it just works.
Day to Day Use:
The most important thing to know about the Joule is that it’s all about the on-device informational experience (as opposed to focusing just on data capture and then later on-computer analysis). Unlike the majority of other power meters compatible head units out there, this one focuses on power meter usage as its first objective. Of course, it records all this data as well, allowing you to then later drill into the data through either the included software suite or any 3rd party suite.
Overview of user interface and design:
The Joule cycling computer uses a unique design that allows you to display up to six primary fields, with two additional related secondary fields displayed along the bottom. To show what I mean, check out the below photo. In this case, one of the altitude metrics is shown within the primary fields, and the 2nd and 3rd related metrics are shown along the bottom:
This is actually a really easy and cool way to allow you to quickly get fare more detailed information than could realistically fit on a single screen. Instead of having to change data screens to display more information, you simply use the little joystick to highlight the primary topic area, and it’ll automatically show you the two related fields of your choice below. Unique…and super simple.
(Above, you can see I have Watts selected in the upper left corner, while along the button I’ve got Av Watts and Mx Watts for that interval shown)
The Joule navigation is compressed of essentially three buttons: Mode, Interval and the Joystick.
1) The mode button iterates through screens on the Joule itself – kinda like pressing a ‘Next’ button. And in the case of the settings screens, it’s used as a back button.
2) The interval button is primarily used to create a new interval – or lap. For users of Garmin devices, this is a bit confusing as first, but after your first workout it all makes sense. Instead of pressing ‘Lap’ like you would on other devices, you simply press ‘Interval’ to demark an interval. At the top of the screen it’ll go ahead and display which interval number (aka lap number) you’re on.
3) The joystick allows you to maneuver around the display between the different data fields, as well as many of the historical pages (controlling up/down). In addition to left/right/up/down, the joystick depresses in and is used as an ‘Enter’ button.
Any of the three can be pressed to turn the unit on from it’s power saving state (it automatically shuts off after a few minutes, but you can configure that in the settings).
Configuring Display Fields:
As noted above the Joule includes the capability to customize screens to your liking. You can choose between 3 and 6 data fields to display as primary fields. If you choose three fields, then the top field takes up approximately half the screen – making it super big and easy to read.
Regardless of how many fields you choose, you can easily change fields simply by pressing and holding the joystick down. If you hold it down for a brief moment, it’ll change the fields in the primary area with those in the secondary area (lower fields). If you hold it down for a longer time period it’ll slowly iterate through just about every field under the sun – allowing you to choose exactly which one you want.
While the field selection system is a bit clunky compared to some devices, you don’t change fields all that much once you have it setup – so it’s not too much of a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
Smoothing and zero inclusion options:
The Joule includes many little options that target the power meter world and help to simply either make life easier on the bike – or to standardize data off the bike. Here’s the quick rundown:
Power Smoothing: You can choose to smooth power at 1s (seconds), 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s, or 30s. Note this doesn’t affect recorded data rates (which are 1s) – but only what is displayed on the unit. I generally prefer 3s or 5s.
Power Zero Option: You can choose to include zero’s in your power file, or ignore them. This would be cases where you’re coasting and don’t want that to ‘bring down’ your overall power numbers. I keep this to enabled, and choose to include zero’s as to not artificially inflate my power numbers.
Cadence Smoothing: Same as above power smoothing options – but with cadence instead.
Speed Smoothing: Same as above – but with speed.
Speed with zero’s: This would remove zero’s from your speed, like the power zero option above.
As you can see – plenty of options to get and view the data how you like it…which is just how I like it!
Power Meter data fields:
As I’ve noted elsewhere – the Joule is about power…and the Joule doesn’t disappoint here. But instead of writing out all the fields manually – I found this nifty little table which does the same thing. After all, no need to re-invent the wheel.
As you can see, there’s tons of options both for power and non-power fields. For those that train by power scores exclusively, you’ll note the inclusion of TSS, NP and IF – and area that’s not available in many competitive devices.
Device History Displays
The Joule has a huge amount of on-device data displays and historical information. Part of the goal was to allow folks to be able to simply not have to download their rides all the time to get access to detailed ride information. There’s just a ton of information you can iterate through. For example, historical summary information:
You’ll notice it shows that specific day’s ride – as well as the past 2 weeks. You can simply tap the center joystick though to change it to any number of time parameters (i.e. months) though.
You can then go into much of the power detail as well, from Average Watts to exactly how many minutes you spent at zero watts (coasting):
Really cool stuff.
One of the other fun ones is the Peak Power reports. This report allows you to show various peak power numbers over the course of a given ride, or single rides.
It was in these reports though that I noticed some rides weren’t being correctly totaled though into the longer 2 week+ columns, as some rides I had with higher power numbers didn’t seem to show up in the Peak Power numbers later on, despite showing up here. A minor bug of course, and not something I’d ultimately base a product purchase decision on. In general I find the Joule to be incredibly bug free in comparison to competitive offerings.
Overall, the power history options here are pretty in depth and really allow you to sit somewhere with just the Joule alone and get a pretty good understanding of your recent and long term power history.
Data Storage and Card:
The device itself includes 4MB of storage – which is about 26 hours of ride files, but that can be expanded with a MicroSD card. The nice part here is the MicroSD card slot is fully inside the unit’s back door – allowing you to ensure it stays dry in the watertight compartment – regardless of the conditions outside.
I didn’t really find a need though to purchase a separate card (which of course, are dirt cheap on places like Amazon or your local computer outlet) – but if you need the extra on-device data space…it’s easy to expand.
We’re trained as consumer electronics users to know that anytime we see an exposed USB port you should be worrying about water. And in the case of devices like your cellphone – that’s generally true. But this ain’t no cell phone.
Nope, this is a fully weather sealed device – with an internally sealed USB port. To prove this you may remember my recent dunking of the the Joule in the bathtub (along with some of the cycling Garmin’s). For those who missed it and the video, check out the full post here.
The Joule is weatherproofed to IPX7 – like most other ANT+ devices, which means it can sustain 30 minutes in water 1 meter deep. Of course, it can sustain driving rain for quite a bit longer – basically just about forever in my experience. It’s sustained water pressure that IPX ultimately measures, not merely just water exposure (where it has no issues).
In my testing the device performed flawlessly, without any issues resulting from the bathtub experience two months ago – or any rain and snow since then.
Additionally, using the device with gloves is relatively easy. Though the joystick is a touch bit harder to navigate than the buttons – but eventually you get the hang of it.
Downloading to computer:
Once you complete your ride, you’ve just begun to tap into the potential of the Joule. After all, now you get to begin the analysis that can keep you pouring over data files for hours (err…days) on end.
But, before we get to that we’ve first got to get the data off the device. Luckily, that part is easy. First, you simply plug it in via USB to your computer (Mac or PC).
Then you turn it on if not already on. From there, you’ll go ahead and open up the included PowerAgent software (which we’ll cover in more detail in a second) and select to download the data:
Once that starts, it’ll take a few seconds to download everything. But before ya know it…it’s all there – ready for you to choose which files you want to save. Additionally, this is the place where you can choose to share you workout with a slew of different services.
Now that we’ve got the data onto the computer, let’s start playing with it.
The Joule includes the CycleOps created software suite called “PowerAgent”. This software suite is their primary way to download and manage all the power files you create. The software is free, and can be downloaded/updated whenever you need to here.
Once you’ve got it all installed you’ll go ahead and get data files from your Joule per the above section. After that, it’s time to start analyzin’. The main screen will show your ride summary and detailed information tabs:
You can drill down into any specific interval that you created during the ride itself.
But you can also create intervals here on the fly to analyze. For example, I just created a quick random chunk below – and yes, even name it that as I did below:
You’ll find many of the same historical options that were on the device also present in the software. For example, in the lower portion of the below screenshot you can see the various Peak Power Numbers for that specific ride:
In addition to analyzing your rides, the software allows you to both update and configure your Joule devices. For example, should firmware updates become available, you can easily download them to your device:
It only takes a moment to update the firmware – which is pretty important btw when you first get your Joule. There’s been a number of additions over the past 6-9 months – including key enhancements like adding support for a number of ANT+ sensor types.
Speaking of ANT+ accessories, you can also actually create the pairing information here – if you happen to know the ANT+ ID. This is a fairly geeky…but really cool feature.
As you can see here, I can add other ANT+ devices outside of those made by CycleOps, such as another ANT+ Power Meter.
All in all, the base software suite is pretty impressive for vendor supplied software that’s able to do both single-ride analysis as well as basic historical information. Though I find that for more detailed long term historical trending and reporting it lacks a bit. Also, from a triathletes standpoint it only covers one sport – so you’ll need to find another application to cover all three sports and logging. That said, CycleOps is a cycling company – so the focus is logically quite cycle-focused.
Training Peaks (3rd party):
In addition to the included PowerAgent software, you can also use a slew of third party options. For me, I ultimately upload everything into Training Peaks (TP) – merely because that’s how I communicate my workouts with a coach. In the case of TP, I can either use the PowerAgent software included and simply tell it to upload to Training Peaks, or I can go ahead and have the Training Peaks device agent pull the data files directly from the Joule:
Once I’ve got the device files uploaded to Training Peaks (the website) I can analyze them till the cows come home.
TP has both a free and premium version available. In my case, I get the premium version via my coach. I think for users of power meters, you’ll actually want to spring for the premium option should you need an online solution. Though, if you don’t need an online solution I find the PowerAgent software is pretty comprehensive and really fits the bill for most folks.
Additionally, Training Peaks is part of Peaksware, which is the same company that owns the long-used WKO+ software suite – which really specializes in power. But given virtually all of the WKO+ functionality is being ported to TrainingPeaks.com, I feel that if you have to invest your cash somewhere – TP is the place to do it.
In addition to Training Peaks and PowerAgent, you can also choose the free and open source Golden Cheetah application. This application is worked on by a community of folks dedicated to finding ways to do some pretty in depth analysis of your rides. Golden Cheetah can open files on your Joule directly, without the need for any conversion.
Golden Cheetah allows you to drill into each lap individually, or the ride as a whole.
They’re also doing quite a bit of interesting work around aerodynamics within the AeroLab area – well worth the look. Outside of the numbers, Golden Cheetah will surely keep those picture-focused folks busy looking at all the pretty colors.
It’s alright, I understand…you’re cyclists…it’s all about pretty colors (how else do you explain the Team Liquigas kit?).
Ancillary Software Note: While I normally also mention Sport Tracks, in this case ST doesn’t include native upload capabilities from the Joule. Though there are workouts, and you can certainly export from PowerAgent a CSV file which Sport Tracks can read, today it does not support directly importing the native .BIN files.
If you’ve skipped the dozens of pages of detailed analysis up until this point…don’t worry – I won’t hold it against you. I understand completely, these are the simplified bullets you want to see:
– The whole setup ‘just works’
– Very detailed power analysis history on device itself (not just dependent on computer)
– ANT+ Compatibility with all ANT+ power meters
– Tons of customization options
– Never lost a single data/ride file due to corruption – something I often see on competitor devices
– Battery life lasts just about forever
– Barometric altimeter
– Good suite of software included for ride analysis
– Contains many power meter training metrics such as TSS, IF and NP.
– PowerTap hub tied to a single wheelset – must pick either race or training wheels
– Joule doesn’t have GPS, thus not as versatile as devices with GPS
– Cadence is ‘calculated’ and is susceptible to inaccuracies in some fringe scenarios (very high cadence at 150rpm+)
– Joule pricing is a bit high compared to competitive devices
I’ve found the whole Joule + PowerTap setup to be remarkably issue-free. Meaning, it just works day in and day out. I get on the bike, start cycling and it’s immediately gathering power metrics. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I’ll have data loss down the road, or if something isn’t picked up in the pairing process.
The PowerAgent software suite itself is fairly impressive for vendor included software, especially compared to the rest of their competitors. Most others out there tend to short cut this area a bit.
I see two areas that give me pause though. The first is the lack of GPS functionality in comparison to most other head units with ANT+ power meter capabilities. While many will argue that GPS doesn’t provide a specific training gain, I think it provides extra useful information around ride context – even if for just my own records. The good news here is that CycleOps understands this and based on my conversations back at Interbike with them, something is likely in the works here.
The second area is around price. At basically about $450 for the Joule itself, the head unit is priced significantly higher than the generally comparable Garmin Edge 500. While it’s priced in the same range as the Edge 800 – the Edge 800 does a fair bit more in the mapping area. But on the flip side, neither of those Garmin’s offer anywhere near as much on-device historical and on-ride information in the power meter realm. And neither of the Garmin devices can seem to be as flawless as the Joule when it comes to ride file integrity – and nothing sucks as much as having your ride fail to save after hours of hard work – so that’s absolutely worth something price-wise.
On the PowerTap side – it remains the cheapest option to a power meter here in the US today. As such, it drives significant market share – and not just because it’s sub-$1,000, but because it just works every time. The only caveat to a wheel-based power meter is that if you have multiple training and racing wheels, you’ll need to decide which one to install the PowerTap on. Either that or just ride your race wheels all the time.
In summary, I was consistently impressed with the Joule and PowerTap system and will be sorry to see the wheelset and PowerTap get packed up and sent back to CycleOps.
Thanks for reading! As always, if you have questions feel free to post them in the comments below.
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