Do you have some money to spend but don’t know if you should buy a power meter or carbon wheels?
The short answer is: Buy a power meter. It will make your training much more effective, so in the end, you will become faster than with carbon wheels.
However, it will require training discipline and your willingness to improve.
On the other hand, carbon wheels will make you faster instantly. So, why do I recommend a power meter?
Continue reading to find out.
Questions to Ask Before Purchase
You should ask yourselves the following questions before the purchase. It will help you make a better decision.
What Are Your Goals?
Do you want to get faster? Do you want your bike to look better? Or do you simply want an upgrade, no matter what?
If you honestly answer these questions, it will become clear if you should get carbon wheels or a power meter.
Sooner or later, you will probably buy both, but the question is, which one do you buy first?
What Is Your Budget?
For example, if your budget is $1000, you can buy both at once if you don’t mind not having the latest and greatest.
Single-sided power meters start at around $300. However, dual-sided costs twice as much, and the high-end power meters can even exceed $2000.
TIP: Learn what type of power meter to choose. I wrote an in-depth comparison of single vs. dual-sided power meters.
Carbon wheels start at a similar price range. For example, you can buy Chinese carbon wheels* for around $400.
*Look for UCI-approved, certified, or rider-proven wheelsets that are safe to ride and come with a warranty. Avoid unbranded wheels with a doubtful history. Learn more here.
Wheels from established brands are more expensive. They range anywhere from around $800 and can exceed $3000.
Power Meter vs. Carbon Wheels: Pros and Cons Explained
I summarized the advantages and disadvantages of power meters vs. carbon wheels in the following table.
|Power Meters||• Provide you with valuable data that improve your training efficiency|
• Allow you to get accurate data when using an indoor cycling app
|• Don't make your bike look better
• Don't make your bike faster
|Carbon Wheels||• Make your bike look better|
• Make your bike more aerodynamic
|• Won't improve your training efficiency
• Won't provide you with any data you could use (for indoor cycling, for example)
Power meters revolutionized the training of cyclists worldwide. They provide instant, objective, and accurate data that allows you to train more efficiently to get the most out of yourself.
Read this article to learn more reasons for using a power meter.
On the other hand, carbon wheels will make your bike look much cooler. But, of course, they also bring some performance benefits. I break them down here.
How Much Faster a Power Meter Makes You?
It depends on factors like your fitness level, how much you improve your FTP, etc.
Here is a simplified example.
Let’s assume you are an average road cyclist with an FTP of 3.5 watts/kg and weigh 77 kg (170 lb). According to Andrew Coggan’s power output table, this puts you in a CAT 5 category.
Now, let’s say you will follow structured training for a year and improve your FTP by 50 watts. This is a 0.65 watt/kg improvement (50/77=0.65), so your new FTP would be 4.15 watt/kg.
Here are a few examples of the possible time differences:
|Effort||Distance: 16 km|
|Distance: 5 km|
|Distance: 1 km
|3.5 watts/kg (269.5 watts)||27.16 minutes|
|16.89 minutes |
|4.15 watts/kg (319.55 watts)||25.50 minutes|
|14.72 minutes |
|Difference||100 seconds||130 seconds||53 seconds|
Assuming all other conditions are the same. Calculated with bikecalculator.com
As you can see, 50 watts may not seem like a lot, but they make a big impact.
How Much Faster Carbon Wheels Make You?
Many things, like your aerodynamic drag coefficient, wheels weight, terrain, rolling resistance, etc., influence your speed.
Unfortunately, bike wheel manufacturers usually don’t publish data from their testing. We get marketing claims like “Our wheels will save you 20 seconds at 40 km/h average.”
However, FLO Cycling is a bright exception because they publish at least some data.
They compared their carbon wheels with the aluminum rims of Mavic Open Pro. The difference at 35.4 km/h (22mph) was around 8 watts. (Source)
When you watch some unscientific speed comparison tests online, the time savings of carbon wheels compared to shallow aluminum wheels are in dozens of seconds, not minutes.
This being said, a power meter is a better investment, but you have to be willing to do some work and leverage the data it provides.
For more info, feel free to read my comparison of aluminum vs. carbon wheels.
Power Meters or Carbon Wheels FAQ
Most riders will become faster with a power meter, especially if you are willing to train and get the best out of yourself.
A power meter will provide valuable data you can leverage for improving your training and making it more effective.
Just keep in mind you won’t become faster overnight. So, a power meter pays off, especially in the long term.
On the other hand, a carbon wheelset will make your bike faster instantly. They are the icing on top of the cake.
Buying a carbon wheelset first and then a power meter makes sense if you care about how your bike looks and want to impress your cycling friends.
Let me know which of these two you will buy in the comments.