Once again, it’s time for the big dance that is Kona. Or more technically – the Vega Ironman World Championships. It’s when the fastest long-course triathletes in the world gather on a small island to collectively consume more electrolyte-filled drinks and gel packets in a day than most cities could ever down.
However, this marks the 10th year that power meters have been tracked at Kona. In that time we’ve also seen a pretty dramatic shift in the market and the players. And in the last 2-3 years I think we’ve really seen things start to stabilize, at least for now. I expect this will remain fairly constant until Shimano gets around to putting an (accurate) power meter in their Ultegra cranksets with either a minimal or minor price increase. Meaning, until they make it a no brainer.
Of course, this data set is part of the larger annual Kona bike count that looks at which bike frames and components are most popular. But like past years – I’m most interested in the geeky data, specifically, the power meter data. As I’ve done for a crap-ton of years in the past, I’ll analyze the power meter count data that was released this morning by Triathlete Magazine, and talk about the trends.
A Bit of Backstory
For those not familiar, historically Lava Magazine and now these days Triathlete Magazine, in conjunction with a bunch of industry folks, count all of the bikes entering the transition areas. By ‘count’, I mean that they give them a complete rubber-glove exam of componentry. While this might be an interesting consumer publication tidbit, it’s really about industry marketing. It enables big companies to brag about domination in the bike industry for everything from the bikes themselves to helmets to wheels.
For example, here’s an ad from a few years back (2014) that Quarq did almost immediately following the bike count numbers.
Starting in 2009, the Kona bike count added power meters to the list of counted parts. So we’ve now got almost a decade of power meter numbers to work from. Enough to start developing some interesting trends. For many that follow the industry, these trends won’t really be a huge surprise.
By the same token, it’s really important to understand that these numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of power meter usage across the board. Why’s that?
Because Kona Qualifiers are the pointy end of the pack. The super-pointy end. They also tend to be well beyond the normal triathlete Type-A mentality (that I fit into as well), which means that in addition to spending all their time on their sport they also spend all their money. They tend to gravitate to the more expensive options, especially for things like weight savings or if the word ‘carbon’ is involved.
Whereas the more weekend warrior road bike rider might not spend the same proportion of income in the sport, and thus is far more likely to buy cheaper power meters (à la Stages, 4iiii, Favero, etc…).
Next, remember that these are for units on the market as of the first few weeks of October. But in reality, I’d wager that 95% of athletes qualifying for Kona will have a fairly locked down mentality on gear – so likely any major bike changes, such as a power meter purchase, would have been done back in the spring (or at worst mid-summer), to be able to leverage that data for training all season. We haven’t seen any meaningful new power meter announcements this past summer (or this year), so we’re not looking at a scenario where you’ve got some brand new units on the market that might not be accounted for (such as two years ago in 2017 when both Favero and Garmin announced units over the summer, though we now see the impact of that in 2019).
Finally, note that the field at Kona is very dynamic in that while the age groupers on the podium at Kona will often return year over year, much of the age group field tends to view going to Kona as aspirational – and thus aren’t likely to be there 5 years running. Still, excluding the lottery winners, the overall athletic class of athlete tends to remain quite consistent year over year (and getting faster).
To begin, let’s start off with all the raw data from the past decade. I’ve ported it into a single table to make it easy to deal with. See the links at the bottom if you want to look at the individual yearly data straight from Triathlete Magazine. I’ve compiled it into some spreadsheets, and color-coded it for fun.
A crapton of quick technicalities to note here (seriously these are important):
– This year I have much higher confidence in the count compared to last year. Last year we saw a lot of oddities around pedal based power meters that were likely missed, especially Favero. This year the pedal counts matched the power meter counts (last year they didn’t).
– There’s no breakout of models, so we don’t know on PowerTap for example, how many are hubs vs chain-ring vs pedals. However, this year with the pedal counts we can deduce at least how many of those PowerTap units are pedals specifically – so that’s cool (130 pedals of 177 PowerTap products).
– Inversely, some brands like Ergomo have long died off, but I kept them for historical reasons.
– I suspect there are cases where other relative unknowns might have been missed. It appears they’ve caught most brands, but if something is mostly unheard of (such as an Avio power meter), it might not be seen. These folks have to work super-fast and are likely not expecting the unknowns. But I’d consider any of these negligible in the grand scheme of things
Here’s what I was referring to on the pedals of power meters front. The Garmin numbers match, which is great, and the PowerTap numbers don’t match – which makes total sense. Undoubtedly the majority of PowerTap people these days are using PowerTap P1/P2 pedals, with the remainder using PowerTap C1 or G3/etc hubs.
So what about power meter adoption? Simply put – it continues to climb, albeit slightly – but it climbed again as with every year prior:
One of the challenges that we always have at Kona is that disc wheels are not permitted, primarily due to safety concerns with strong crosswinds on certain sections of the course. As such, people that may have PowerTap hubs in disc wheels aren’t really accounted for here. That said, year after year I suspect that’s a dwindling number of people, especially among the Kona crowd.
Next, let’s look at the brands more carefully:
First off, sorry there are duplicate colors. There are only so many colors to work with, and I just let Excel do its thing. All you really need to know to decode it is that blue section on the bottom is Quarq, and the yellow section in the middle is Garmin.
Of course, most of the trends we see here aren’t surprising. Back in 2009, there were really only a few brands (Quarq, SRM, PowerTap, Polar, Ergomo). But it’s really PowerTap and SRM that dominated back then. Ironically, those two continue to see their numbers dwindle, albeit due to entirely different reasons. In the case of SRM it’s that the power meter world surpassed them in pricing and functionality. In the case of PowerTap it’s a bit harder to pinpoint, given they have the P1/P2 pedals, but those have struggled to compete with Garmin – likely due to form factor. Perhaps the SRAM acquisition this past winter will change that.
Quarq continues to go strong, though no longer holds #1 – these days it’s a very strong #2 which is actually really impressive for a lot of reasons, namely their price point, but also that Shimano groupsets dominate SRAM groupsets at Kona (1,927 to 430).
But ultimately, the core reason that Garmin is winning the overall power meter category is likely just distribution (with a side blend of practicality to switch bikes more easily). That one can buy Garmin pedals at virtually any bike shop on earth matters. Same goes for online stores too. While Quarq has similar reach via SRAM’s ownership, stocking Quarq cranksets is a far higher bar than stocking a single type of Garmin pedals.
Now, keep in mind that the numbers probably would be even higher if Garmin hadn’t been embroiled in the general $h!tshow that has been the Garmin Vector 3 battery cap fiasco. One only has to look at comments on reviews and posts to see how many customers Garmin lost to Favero. While Favero went from 0 to 70 here, that’s mostly because last year it wasn’t counted properly.
Let’s talk about some of the other stand-outs in this list though. In mostly order of volume shipped:
Quarq: The company did well this year, slightly growing total units this year from 345 to 367, which is solid in a market that doesn’t really favor more expensive crankset/spider based power meters.
PowerTap: Like Quarq, PowerTap also grew numbers (156 to 177), after retracting from 2017 to 2018 (as did Quarq). Again, I suspect in the case of PowerTap these growths were undoubtedly due to Garmin’s fumbles in this segment. It’s also impressive too given that there’s been virtually no PowerTap brand marketing since the company was sold to SRAM/Quarq earlier this year. Some of this might be due to the PowerTap P2, but since that was more or less just a minor internals change and new paint job, it’s unlikely that was a core driver.
Power2Max: Despite doing once again no marketing, the company remained roughly static (after a number of years of strong growth). They lost a few units from 181 to 177 (even though total bikes increased by about 50). Again, I’d consider this a solid performance for them given they display an almost SRM-like lack of interest in making gains in the market from a distribution/marketing standpoint.
Stages: The company shrunk slightly this year from 126 to 117. Like with Power2Max, this was roughly a wash, but it’s still 8% or so. I suspect the main driver here is just that pedals are just cheaper than ever before (remember, Favero dropped prices again last December). It’s really as simple as that.
Favero: This was the first year they showed up on the charts, though as noted I’m sure they had quantiles last year, but just were overlooked. Still, 70 is a respectable first date, and I suspect just being on this list will continue to see them grow next year. My bet? We’ll see them hit 150-200 next year. We’ll see how I do in 12 months.
SRM: No amount of finicky SRM EXAKT pedals was going to save their numbers this year, which continued to plummet to the lowest point ever – a mere 63 units. They used to be the majority of units. Now? A mere 4%.
Beyond those, almost everyone else stayed roughly the same.
Despite a relatively quiet year for new power meters (and by quiet, I mean basically non-existent), we continue to see power meters grow within the Kona ranks. Though admittedly slightly less than I’d expect these days. I’d have assumed power meter adoption would easily be 70-75% at Kona, if not higher – given the type-A gear mentality that is pervasive at the Ironman World Championships. I’d love to be able to ask people as they checked in their bikes that didn’t have a power meter: Why not?
Which isn’t a negative question, as it is a curiosity. There’s no more perfect scenario for a power meter than an Ironman race, and within that – no better race from a pacing standpoint than Kona. Between the winds and the adrenaline of the event, there’s frankly no better event to use a power meter on that I can think of.
Like in the past, we continue to have startups waiting in the wings with the promise of cheaper power meters, such as IQ2 and others. But as with every previous year, these startups have struggled to gain a foothold. Or, just to ship products. Remember last year we lost WatTeam shortly after Kona (despite managing to land a single unit in last year’s count).
And like last year, it’ll be interesting to see if anyone is riding with any aero sensors out on the course. For those that are excessively bored, rummaging through race day photos to find Notio Konect sensors or VeloComp’s AeroPod out on real-world bikes. Both have been shipping for a year now, though I’m not sure either company is making major progress in the market. I continue to think it’s got huge potential, but is slowed by the challenge of understanding how to use the data to make oneself faster without having experienced coaches and aero professionals giving you the exact tips on what to change.
With that – thanks for reading!
Note: This year, and many of years past data is from Lava Magazine and Triathlete Magazine by a collection of industry folks that survey the bikes upon check-in. Links to all past data sources are listed here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.