Hands-on: WatTeam’s New Gen3 PowerBeat Power Meter

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Today WatTeam announced their 3rd generation power meter, introducing mostly hardware tweaks and durability improvements, along with the ability to swap the pods between bikes quickly. Most importantly though, their pricing otherwise stays the same – save the new multi-bike packages of course.

WatTeam has been known for driving the price of power meters lower by effectively moving the manufacturing facility into your garage.  You complete the installation on your crank arm using a process that may look intimidating, but is relatively simple.  The 3rd generation units have continued to tweak that process, reducing ways you can screw it up.

I’ve been riding with the units about a week, though, definitely not long enough for a full in-depth review.  Expect that later this summer when they start shipping the units and I’ve had a chance to try everything from scratch again on final production units. In this case, I did actually install this set from scratch on a crankset I own.  I then layered in a pair of PowerTap P1 pedals and a G3 hub in the back to compare power numbers against.

In any case, let’s get into the details.

What’s new:

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The vast majority of the new unit’s changes are around making it more durable, which in turn makes it more plausible to easily move between bikes.  That in turn gives them a ‘new product’ – the “PowerBeat 2×2”.  That refers to a dual-sided unit that’s in a kit for two bikes (hence the ‘2 by 2’ part).  There is no single-sided bundle for two bikes.

Specifically, here’s how the new pods are different:

A) They have quick-release buttons on them for easy removal
B) They’re bigger than before (and thus more durable in this case)
C) They’re lower profile to the crank arm (meaning, they hug it more closely, so they don’t stick out as much)
D) The cable is shorter, reducing likelihood of getting caught
E) The cable has a locking screw on it, reduces chance of it popping out
F) There’s new ‘travel pods’ that are fake placeholders
G) You charge the new pods off-bike, rather than on-bike (reduces cable breakage)
H) They’ll soon enable dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart concurrently (previously you could only enable one or the other)

In addition, some of the G3 changes are focused on the installation process. In fact, a lot of the pieces are.  If you look at all of the comments of my past WatTeam PowerBeat reviews, when things go wrong, it’s usually during the installation.  Either you start off on the right foot…or you don’t.  Once things have gone wrong during installation, it’s hard to get back on the right path.

A) They’ve gotten rid of the cool but slightly confusing molded plastic installation tool
B) Instead, there’s a new thin plastic ‘wrapper’ that shows the correct marking spots for installation
C) They’ve created a shield for sanding, to keep you more focused on a specific area and protecting rest of crank arm
D) They’ve introduced more validation checks in the app during calibration

The water-bag calibration process remains the same, as does the majority of app.  What differs in the app though is that you can select specific bikes now, so you can swap the pods between bikes.

Now, one thing hasn’t yet changed unfortunately – and that’s the inability to properly track hard sprints under 5-seconds long.  It’s long been an issue for the power meter, and it continues here.  The company says they’re looking to resolve that via a firmware update, but that’s been on the list an awfully long time and I think they’re underestimating the importance of that in peoples recommendations (like mine).

If you’re a triathlete, then the sprint issue isn’t going to impact you. You’re not likely throwing down 1,000w efforts in training, and certainly not mid-race (unless you’re ‘doing it wrong’).  But for road cyclists, it’s far more likely, and unless that sprint lasts 5 seconds or longer, it’ll ‘clip’ it, undercutting it a chunk (I demonstrate that in the accuracy section).

Still the changes they have made are welcome. It’s clear this feels like a much cleaner product than years past, and they’ve to manufacturing with Flextronics as well, a well respected manufacturing entity that has made products for numerous others in the space and beyond.  That should help them as well, not only in terms of producing a higher quality product but also being more consistent in availability as well.

Oh, and for lack of anywhere else to put it, here’s the giant pricing matrix of versions:

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In any case, let’s dig into the install process.

Installation:

WatTeam has long noted that the key to their lower pricing strategy is effectively moving the production of the power meter from a manufacturing facility to your garage.  In doing so you spend a bit of time (perhaps 45-60 minutes), but save a few hundred bucks. A fair trade-off for most.  With the first two generations of units, installation was technically easy, but certainly had gaps were people could go awry on steps.

With this 3rd generation line, you’re seeing the bulk of WatTeam’s tweaks have been spent on minimizing such failure points.  Obviously, with tons of customer support data it’s relatively easy to know where those points are.

In any event, I installed an entire set from scratch on a new crankset I bought. Typically I like to install secondary power meters on a known power meter equipped crankset (I.e. Quarq, Power2Max, etc…).  But WatTeam didn’t really want that, due to concerns that such secondary units on the crankset or crankarms would interfere with their power meter.  While I get that for crank-arm based units (I.e. Stages), I don’t entirely buy that for spider based options (like Quarq).  In any event, I went out and bought a new Shimano Ultegra unit to use for this test. I’d still have two other power meters to compare against, a pedal based unit and a hub based unit – which WatTeam was fine with.

Oh, here’s the box of goods:

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Essentially, each of the two bigger bags on the right is for one bike each (plus the two plastic sensor pod boxes and brackets mid-photo).  And then everything else is shared within the install/setup.

In my case I technically installed from a 2×2 kit, though I only installed it on a single bike thus far as the beta app wasn’t quite ready to handle secondary bikes fully (close, but not quite finished). Most of the pieces worked for the secondary bike, and in fact we created secondary bikes in the app and all, but for this initial test I was mostly just interested in how well it worked on a bike. The transition to secondary bikes is merely moving the computer pod between bikes and changing the bike name (which behind the scenes changes the calibration values).

While I’ll save crazy-detailed installation nuances for the final review, the gist of it is pretty simple and you follow an app with super-clear videos throughout.  First, you mark off on your crank arm where the pods will align to. This uses a new tool that’s easier (and cheaper), and has virtually no room for screwing it up.

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Then you apply some temporary stickers that let you focus on the precise area to sand off, which is a bit more deep than previous. The purpose of the sanding is 100% to get off the paint on the crank arm in that spot so the glue sticks better.  The new sticker keeps this area ‘contained’, tidying it up.

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After that process you’ll end up gluing on the sensor using a new glue compound.  At which point you’ll need to wait 24 hours for the glue to set.  Note you’ll do this process for crank arms in a dual configuration.

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A day later (the app prohibits you from moving forward till the 24hr timer has elapsed), you’ll install the pod brackets.

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These are technically known as the ‘comp pods’ (computer pods), and are where the batteries are, the communications, and other smarts. It’s these pods that are transferred from bike to bike.  Whereas the pod brackets stay permanently on the bike.

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Users familiar with WatTeam’s previous units may notice that the pods are indeed bigger, but they’re also tighter to the crank arm, so they aren’t as vulnerable. Also, the wire is now screwed into the pod, making that more secure.  All in all definitely a better design.

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Finally, you’ll pull out the old water bag weight trick to get things calibrated.  A lot of people laugh at this (I’d call them elitist), mostly because they don’t understand it.  What they don’t get is the water bags are just an ingenious way to get everyone access to what is effectively a known weight to test.  Rather than including 10 pound weights in the box, you fill up the water bags to precisely the top and the weight is known.  By knowing the weight and applying these bags in varying positions, WatTeam can figure out exactly how your specific crank arm is responding, and thus can replace what fancy factory machines normally do.

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Stages, 4iiii’s, PowerTap and others do precisely the same thing in their factories. Except instead of water bags they use hard weights, merely because their assembly lines are using the same thing day in and day out for years.

In any case, WatTeam has increased (made more strict) the tolerances for this step, now adding in detection of swinging of the bags in the app, so it knows when the bags aren’t quite right yet. It’s impressive.

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All of which culminates with a system that’s ready to ride.  The question is – is it accurate? Well that…that I sent to find out.  But before that, a few quick and simple practical things on the new pods.

First, they pop in/out via a little button on the side (a locking button essentially).  Press the button to slide the pods out, and when slid back in, the green light illuminates and you hear a reassuring click that they’re latched/locked in place.

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Second, they now charge off the bike.  Remove the pods, charge them up. I actually like this, as it’s a heck of a lot more logical than stringing two giant-ass USB cables to your bike through/around your crankset from the outlet somewhere nearby.  instead, take the pods and plug them in. Quick and easy.

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Third, the pods don’t yet support dual (concurrent) broadcasting of ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. That’s coming by launch the company says, but it’s not there yet.  This really only matters if you want to capture data on your ANT+ head unit (like a Garmin watch/device) at the same time as broadcasting to Zwift or similar app on iOS via Bluetooth Smart.  Personally there’s no excuse for companies not having this inbox these days, but as long as they have it by time they ship I’m happy.

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Otherwise, you’ll just pair it up to your head unit like any other power meter. Scan via ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart (depending on which mode you have it in), and head out and ride.  You can zero off-set like any other power meter from the head unit, and you’ll receive back calibration values to watch over.  All of which are useful to track accuracy related items.

Riding with it – Accuracy Data:

I’ve done a surprising number of rides with this unit for only having it on my bike a bit over week.  Things got off to a bit of a rocky start due to some bugs in the beta app that kept pushing the wrong bike values to my pods (a simple app bug now fixed).  But WatTeam got that all sorted and then it was a light switch and power instantly was happy.

I’ve done trainer rides, outdoor rides, and longer outdoor rides with varying temperatures and road conditions.  A good blend. For this preview post I’ll just focus on one indoor ride and one longer outdoor (temp shifting) ride.  Let’s first dive into the indoor ride, this one on Zwift:

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Compared above we’ve got the WatTeam Gen3 units, the PowerTap P1 pedals, and the Wahoo KICKR. It’s pretty obvious above that things are virtually identical.

Interestingly, even the sprints are actually very very close.  The above graphs are smoothed at 5-seconds to make them easier to read, but check out this ~700w sprint, it tracks well across it:

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Same goes for this little set of surges here:

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I note this because historically the WatTeam units have had issues with sprints under 5-seconds in duration, but it handles these fairly well (including the ramp up/down).  No concerns here on that piece.

And for fun if we look at cadence, again, it’s virtually identical to the PowerTap P1:

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Ok, so that’s all good and well.  But frankly, indoors is easy (well, easy for most brands anyway).  Let’s head outdoors.

Now, I’ll save you all the test loops I did, and just focus on Sunday night’s ride (I also rode today for a few hours too, but haven’t had a chance to download the four head units data yet).  That ride started just before dark and then went till it was dark out, so a nice shift in temperature over the course of it.  I did not zero offset at all, except at the start and about 10-minutes into the ride (my normal procedure).  Beyond that, it was up to the units to handle themselves properly.

Here’s the results:

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That little gap in the middle had a few purposes. One, I needed it to get darker for some other stuff I was testing. Two, I was distracted by the sunset and took some photos.  And three, I was curious how the units would handle post-break from an accuracy standpoint (just like a café stop).  The temp would have shifted during that timeframe, so I wanted to see what it did exactly.

The temp swing was 15*F over that time period. Interestingly, you can see the temp rise ever so slightly at the end as I come back into the city from the farmlands. Kinda neat.

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In any case, let’s look at some sections of accuracy that are worthy of note.  First is the two sprints mid-file.  These ones (if I go to 3-second averaging) are about 900w.  You can see that while close, the PowerBeat is definitely the lowest of the three, considerably below the PowerTap P1 units.  You’ll notice on the longer first sprint there it’s much closer, whereas on the shorter sprint it’s a bit of a gap:

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This is because WatTeam over-smooths sprint data under 5-seconds in duration.  As you can see above for that longer duration it gets very close, but the shorter duration not quite as much. WatTeam says they can address this via software, and perhaps that’s true. But as I noted earlier on…then address it. It’s been years this has been going on.

Still, for most efforts under about 750-800w, you’ll never notice this. It’s really only for sub-5 second efforts above that range that I see it occur.  These sprints, all below 750w, don’t show that occurring:

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Overall, beta or not, things are actually pretty good here. There’s a handful of brief blips here and there on some rougher roads where I see a very slight drop in power (perhaps 20w on 250w) momentarily. But I’ve gotta do a bit more digging on that with a few other power meters to narrow down who precisely is at fault.  It’s certainly far better than I used to see with rough roads, but they noted they fixed that a year or so ago.

I haven’t yet found a nice solid nasty strip of cobbles in Amsterdam to easily test these sorts of things on (all ears if someone knows of a nasty street).  But still, there’s plenty of brick roads that are rough enough for now…and I’ll continue to search for ones for my in-depth review later this summer.

In the meantime though, things are looking good.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Summary:

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The WatTeam PowerBeat G3 is effectively an evolutionary upgrade. It’s not revolutionary, and it’s unlikely that existing WatTeam owners would ‘upgrade’ to this version.  But for those considering a power meter, especially if you own two bikes – the appeal of quickly moving pods in a manner of seconds between bikes is super appealing.  It’s effectively giving you what pedal based power meters promised (in hype), without the reality that moving pedals between bikes daily isn’t realistic or sustainable.  Moving pods though is easy and trivial…and still accurate.

Of course, the pods are a bit beefier than before. Someone ate too many cookies.  But like bulking up for winter, that extra weight comes with the benefit of more resiliency against the elements (read: rough handling), as well as the flexibility to move bikes. All in all, I think it’s actually a good trade-off.  I just hope to see the concurrent ANT+/BLE part done by time they launch.

You’ll of course having to expend some time in this, but the steps aren’t hard to follow. The video prompts and app-guided process make it easy enough that almost anyone could do it, even if you’re bike mechanic skills are non-existence.

I’ll aim to do a full in-depth review later this summer once they start shipping.  But for now I’m liking what I’m seeing and I think they’re on the right track as a company and with what they’re doing, and the price point is hard to beat.

With that – thanks for reading, and feel free to drop any questions down below!

(Note: You can currently pre-order the WatTeam Gen3 PowerBeat units in an array of configurations (use drop-down to change variant).  Shipping is currently set for late August.  Don’t forget that using the above Clever Training link supports the site, and if you use DCR Reader Coupon Code DCR10BTF, you get 10% off. Plus, you already get free shipping. Enjoy!)

Source: dcrainmaker

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