Pioneer Reintroduces Power
Written by: Greg Kopecky
Added: Tue Feb 18 2014
Today, Pioneer is announcing a highly revamped system, and has set out to reset our collective expectations of their entry in to the power meter market. Sales begin the week of March 10, 2014 in the US.
Pioneer Dual-Leg Power Meter Crank Set specifications:
MSRP: $1,850 (Dura Ace 9000), $1,550 (Ultegra 6800) including crank set
Weight: 66 grams
Accuracy rating: +/-2%
Data transmission: Modified ANT+, Wifi
Crank length options: 165 – 177.5 (180mm in testing currently)
Power file format: .db (can be converted to .fit)
Chainring sizes: 50/34, 52/36, 52/38, 53/39
Battery size: 2 x CR2032 coin cell, user replaceable
Battery life: 120 hours
Water Resistance certification: IPX6 & IPX7
Availability: Mid-March 2014 ship date
At first glance, what jumps out from the spec sheet? First, the price has come down significantly compared to the original introduction. The prices you see above include the actual crank arms and chainrings – you’re buying a complete system. Second, this system is very light at 66 grams. That is heavier than the 20-gram Stages power meter, but quite a bit lighter than other crank-based systems weighing in the ballpark of 200 grams. Finally, while the CR2032 batteries are user-replaceable, the quoted life is on the short side, at 120 hours. Stages and Powertap operate on the same size battery, but quote 200 hours of use; Quarq is good for 300 hours.
The Pioneer Power Meter will initially be available only for Shimano Ultegra 6800 and Dura Ace 9000 crank systems, in the lengths shown on the table below. I’m told that they have ‘high aspirations’ to offer a system in the future for carbon cranksets.
Aside from that, the biggest difference between the old and new system is that it now uses an accelerometer to determine the cranks’ position throughout the pedal stroke, rather than the old bottom bracket plate. If you’re not familiar with the old system, it required a plate with twelve magnets to be very precisely placed and timed on the frame. When combined with the old larger sensor shape, the system was not compatible with many Trek bike frames, and most triathlon bikes that featured hidden brakes.
The new Pioneer system is a mix of old and new. It uses two magnets; one per left / right crank. These magnets can be mounted right on the chainstays (left in photo below), or via two small mounts on top of the chainstays (right) – the latter being intended for triathlon frames and Trek frames that didn’t work with the old system.
The other unique feature of the Pioneer power meter is that it also provides what they’re calling ‘Force Vector Display’. At each of the twelve points, it tells you your power, and also the direction:
The quoted accuracy of the Pioneer system is +/- 2%, which is the same as Stages, but less than Powertap (1.5%), Quarq (1.5%), and SRM (1%). I personally have to wonder if this is due to the use of the accelerometer, and its power calculation at every 30 degrees. We’ve written on this subject extensively in the past; in a nutshell, the limitation in all power measurement is not the accuracy of the strain gauges, but rather the speed at which you can measure events – finite pieces of time to perform a power calculation. Your cranks only turn so fast. It doesn’t matter how fast your data transmits if you can’t have the necessary piece of the power equation – time – which is available when you complete an event.
When Stages debuted their system, I asked if it would be possible to split the pedal stroke up in to four ‘slices’ – one every 90 degrees. This would allow for four power calculations per completed pedal stroke, and much finer analysis (at the expense of huge data files). I was told – and have since been told by others – that the required accelerometer sensitivity is too difficult to achieve, at least at a reasonable price. If the Pioneer system can truly spit out numbers every 30 degrees, it would represent a significant jump in technology.
The other key update to the product is that the ‘pod’ now attaches via a plate that bolts to the back of the right crank arm, rather than the old zip ties. The left-arm sensor attaches purely via an adhesive.
For the non-tech savvy, here is the ‘in-a-nutshell’ comparison of the new and old systems from Pioneer (the Athlete and Athlete-Lite names are used for purposes of differentiating the two styles):
Cranks are sold in two ways:
1) Complete systems from Pioneer
2) Your crank can be sent in to their two US distributors, QBP and KHS. You bring the crank to your local bike shop, and they manage the shipping, much like existing programs for mountain bike suspension rebuilds. Any complicated service can be handled at the Pioneer US service center in Long Beach, CA.
Pioneer representatives tell me that the power meter may be removed from the crank arms, and that the adhesive will not damage the cranks. You cannot, however, transfer the system to another crank because the removal process damages it.
New head unit and software
The other big news for Pioneer is a brand new GPS head unit, called the SGX-CA500:
If you want to use your existing Garmin or other ANT+ device, the Pioneer cranks can transmit in standard ANT+ protocol as well – but you lose the unique Pioneer features.
Pioneer is also into the software game, with their updated Cyclo-Sphere:
The Pioneer power meter is fully compatible with products like TrainingPeaks and Strava. Its stock file format is .db, but it can be converted in to more common formats such as .fit.
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