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(Note: Please, please, please read the entire post before ‘investing’. Especially my concerns in the last two full sections…not paragraphs, sections.)
As each year passes, we continue to see drops in power meter prices. One only needs to look at my recent post on power meter pricing to see these plainly obvious pricing trends (in picture-graph format no less!). Which doesn’t mean power meters are getting more inaccurate, nor does it mean there’s a race to the bottom. In fact, power meters have never been more accurate (on the whole) than now. The technology of power meters a decade ago can’t do much of what today’s power meters do – for example, accurate temperature compensation, or high-speed data analytics. Neither of which are reserved for only the most expensive units either.
Still, there continues to be progress made on lowering the barrier to entry in the power meter world. And in the case of today, that’s coming from a Dutch company called IQ2, and their power meter that just launched on Kickstarter.
Of course – if you’re a regular around here you know I have a (perhaps unhealthy) fascination with digging into crowdfunded power meter projects. But my basis is simple: Show me the goods.
Specifically, I generally take the approach with power meters that unless I can touch and feel it in my hands, it’s not real. Same goes for data too – if I can’t see actual data with my own eyes…it’s probably not baked yet.
So where does IQ2 fit in that paradigm? Well, I went for a 50KM bike ride to find out.
But first, if text isn’t your thing – then this video explains it all nice and quickly (even including the full installation):
Ok, on with the text.
In many ways, the IQ2 power meter is a blend of power meter concepts we’ve seen before. It’s part Limits and part Vector/WatTeam. By that, I mean that it uses a small pedal spacer akin to Limits, while shifting the communications/battery portion to an attached ‘pod’ that aligns next to your crank arm (like WatTeam or Vector 1/2). Of course, other companies have used pods previously – including Polar and Look. IQ2’s pod is powered by a standard CR2032 coin cell battery used by countless others. Battery life’s minimum floor is 200 hours, but they’re hoping for 250-300hrs.
IQ2 notes that by shifting to a wholly enclosed pod design they significantly minimize the number of variables to deal with, in comparison to a glued on crank arm design (à la Stages/4iiii/Avio/etc…). And they’re right. Any of those companies will tell you that one of the biggest challenges is dealing with variances in crank arm manufacturing, especially for carbon designs. Whereas with a totally encapsulated pod design like IQ2 has, they completely remove any crank arm uniqueness aspects from the equation. Mostly.
The portion they’ll still have to deal with is crank arm thickness and depth variances. This was an area that Garmin ultimately had to have two separate SKU’s for their original Vector system to accommodate for. I don’t believe IQ2 will end up with that situation, but they will likely end up with having to include additional spacers (as Garmin does for Vector 3), to accommodate thinner crank arms. This would have the negative impact of further increasing q-factor (which we’ll get to in a moment).
The IQ2 power meter can be purchased either in a single-leg or dual leg configuration, like most dual systems on the market today. When purchasing single-leg you can even select whether that’s left or right you want. As with others, it simply doubles your single leg power to get total power. If you purchase the dual-leg system then it comes with two sets of sensors, one for each side.
Installation of the system is pretty simple. You’ll start by inserting into your crank arm an interior pedal adapter of sorts. This takes about 8-10 seconds using the small tool provided. This effectively decreases the width of the pedal attachment point in the crank arm. You can see below (right) that it doesn’t quite look like a normal pedal from the backside.
Next, you’ll attach your pedal to the IQ2 pod using a pedal wrench (before attaching anything to the bike). The pod is inclusive of the spacer. This takes about 10-12 seconds because of the pedal wrench bit:
And finally, you’ll attach your pod/pedal combo dish to the crank arm and insert a bolt through the back using a hex wrench:
Entire installation time – 60 seconds including brief breaks to rest. This is quite a bit cleaner than the Limits installation was, though it does draw on some of the same overall concepts.
At this point you’ll notice the obvious: The entire setup has bumped out your pedals away from the crank arm. It’s done that 16mm on each side. In most cycling circles, that’d be considered ‘a crapton’.
This increase in distance is part of what’s known as your q-factor. Or essentially the distance between the pedal attachment points on both sides of the bike. Note above how the silver pod in between the pedal and the crank arm extends your stance outwards .
Since Limits came aboard, there’s been plenty of debates about q-factor (since that increased it as well). Most of these debates overlook the most basic thing: If you have multiple types of bikes, your q-factor already varies significantly. For example, a road bike has a q-factor generally of ~150mm, while a mountain bike has a q-factor of 170mm. Jump on that WattBike? It’s got a q-factor of 173 but the Atom is 160. But wait, your gym spin bike has a different q-factor, and that’ll vary by brands and models too. Schwinn’s AC Performance is 170mm, while Keiser’s M3 is 197mm. Thus, if you switch bikes – then things are already changing.
Though, IQ2 does seem to have an answer for this. They’re looking to simply produce/OEM pedal spindles for a few of the major brands, with a shorter length – thus putting you back to the original q-factor. They don’t have this ready for their Kickstarter campaign, but they did have some prototypes of it available when I visited them. Obviously, there could be downsides with this approach, but that’s probably a different discussion for a different day.
Next, when it comes to the tech side of things, the unit will broadcast dual ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, like virtually every other power meter on the market today. It does this using the same chipsets that most others do, a Nordic nRF51 communications stack. It’ll broadcast power and cadence like most power meters. Though other extended metrics aren’t quite yet announced.
The system is designed to be portable and easily moveable between bikes. Though, every non-crank based power meter has stated that in their marketing campaigns for years, and very rarely has it actually been true. Sure, they’ve been portable, but not as easily swappable as something you’d do every day (a somewhat often request I hear). Looking at the structure of this design, I wouldn’t have any concerns swapping it every few weeks between bikes, but like most threaded gizmos, I wouldn’t want to do it every week between bikes.
There’s simply too much possibility of getting sand or grit into the threads and then deforming the threads. Especially since there are three sets of threads to consider here (versus one on a single pedal). This recommendation is no different than when I look at pedal based power meters like Garmin Vector or PowerTap P1. There’s eventually going to be a day when you’re in a rush and don’t catch those few grains of sand because the light was bad that day and everything goes to crap.
On the bright side, with the planned pricing of IQ2 – you can probably afford to outfit multiple bikes more easily than Vector 3 (which costs 4 times the price).
Finally – what about stated accuracy? Well, that’s kinda a funny one. Nowhere on their Kickstarter page is it mentioned, so I asked and didn’t exactly get an answer initially. Instead, I got a question back: “What do you want it to be?”.
Founder Keesjan Klant went on to explain that based on the specific strain gauges they’re using that they had an accuracy tolerance well under +/-0.1%. And that’s true if you were looking at purely the strain gauge itself (inclusive of temperature shifts). Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. One also has to account for aspects like accelerometers and their associated algorithms too. Ultimately, Keesjan stated that their goal was a system which was ‘under +/-1.0%’, but that it would depend on getting production units tested.
A Test Ride:
Now remember when I said I went for a 50KM bike ride? That’s true. That was the distance between Amsterdam and Wassenaar, where I rode to meet with the founder of IQ2. It was unfortunately not however the distance I rode with an IQ2 unit.
See – at this stage, no production-sized IQ2 units have been outside for a ride yet and transmitted power data to a computer. Thus, neither I nor they have any data from that. They have put together some larger prototype units as shown in their Kickstarter campaign (and a screenshot of which is below), but I wasn’t able to ride that either.
Compounding things – the company isn’t releasing any data at this point. You heard that correct, no power data at all. Instead, they prefer to do that with production models down the road.
Now, some have criticized me for ‘requiring’ companies show goods and prototypes at an early stage. And that’s true. But there’s also a simple reality to that requirement. In exchange for the visibility a company gets here, I need to validate it’s not vaporware. After all, the reason people come here is to get my opinion on whether a product is viable or worth your cash. And there’s simply no way I can do that unless I’ve seen the product first-hand. Photos won’t do it justice, nor a phone call.
So, there was no ride with the IQ2. But I did ride home. Or most of the way home anyway until I ran out of light and ended up using the excellent Dutch railway system for the remainder.
Meeting with the founder Keesjan Klant was without question interesting. He’s part Elon Musk and part Dr. Emmett Brown from Back To the Future. I have zero question in my mind he’ll be able to pull this off. He and his team are certainly smart enough – and he’s got a long resume of far greater and more complex engineering projects to work from.
But, like Elon Musk, I suspect he’s underestimating the difficulties in this product and the timelines involved. There’s a long trail of companies that have tried and failed to develop power meters. And many that have succeeded. And every…single…one of them has had delays and complexities along the way (yes, even SRM). No matter the money invested (Garmin), or the time in the industry (PowerTap or Quarq). Making power meters is far more difficult than people realize.
Like Elon – he’ll get there, and the product will likely be great in the end. But, it probably just won’t happen when you think it will. On the bright side, a power meter is generally considered easier than re-landing rockets on a floating platform in the ocean.
So the real question is whether or not you put out the money now for a unit. For that, I turn to my general rule on crowd funded campaigns: Expect to lose your money and get nothing. Thus, your expectations are such that anything above and beyond that is a success. Kinda like investing in crypto currencies such as Bitcoin – treat it all like money in Vegas.
My money would say that IQ2 will succeed in a power meter, that they’ll probably deliver next spring (2019). If/when they do that with an accurate unit, they’ll notably shift the market pricing at the same time. Competitive pressure doesn’t occur in this market until a new entrant actually ships an accurate product.
When it comes to the underlying technology in their unit – it all sounds great from a hardware standpoint, but none of it will matter without corresponding software to account for all of the environmental and human variables that have caused so many others to stumble.
So yes – if you’ve got 149€ to spare (or 199€ for the dual-leg) and don’t need a power meter this year – then give the wheel of Kickstarter fortune a spin. It might just pay off. But, if you’re looking for something to train and race in 2018, then consider a product already on the market today.
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