With more than a bit of time on my hands and not a lot of riding going down (or even on the horizon), its a perfect excuse to work my way through some marginally helpful gear reviews that I had forgotten about. Its absolutely perfect timing to add to the mildly educated number of product testing articles that you find on line. The difference here with a Dirty product review?

  1. Authenticity – No advertising $$’s here homies, so its brutal truth time… Ain’t gonna tell you the pig is pretty and try and milk it at the same time, if that even makes sense
  2. Global collective – I have pulled in data and experiences from others with the same product and without their permission or knowledge, will weave it into the story… Respectful.

Today’s victim? The Stages Power Meter!

Yes, I’ve had previous rants about power, but that was more focused on how its usage was probably going to ruin any social aspects of your riding and lose you friends that you used to enjoy awesome rides with over the last 10 years. This time though, its all about the product itself and funnily enough, its actually a semi interesting story. Here’s the little bastard in question that I have now logged a solid 7 months on (approx 8000km’s):

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Discrete, good price, this will do nicely…

When it semi dawned on me that I needed to be peer pressured into getting a power meter, a quick glance across the market highlighted that while it looked plentiful, it was ultimately more limited than a budget airlines drink cart:

  • SRM – Did I want to pay more for a power meter than I paid for my frame? Ah, nah… Yes, its the gold standard and as fucking PRO as it gets, but I couldn’t quite justify it to be honest
  • Quarq – SHAM product, so instantly blacklisted, not to mention I had seen nothing but epic fails out of them, basically the Gen 1 Reverb seatpost of power meters
  • Garmin pedals – Like a Look pedal, but with haemorrhoids, and First Gen?
  • Power2Max – German, so probably accurate, but see first point on cost: WTF
  • Powertap – Awful wheel scenario, plus, I had seen more failures of these than a bad day in a Filipino call centre (hello siiiiiir). Just look rubbish as well.

So, when a simple crank based solution rocked up that just so happened to match my bike and was super easy to install, it was a no brainer (ok, got a really awesome price as well). If you’re technically/mechanically retarded like me and don’t want to invest a lot of time in any form of manual reading, then the Stages is going to love you and vice versa. Take it to the shop, put it on, ANT pair it with your Garmin, calibrate but pushing 4 fields on your Garmin and voila! Its ready to roll! Can I be fucked explaining how it works? Not really, its a strain gauge thing blah blah, if you need to really know, hit their website for more info than you can throw a nerd at.

Next thing you know, you’re rolling along in the sun, with this svelte little unit sending you new numbers to your Garmin, hassle free, and as far as you’re concerned, accurate (Epic power cunts may argue otherwise, but the number is the number, so its all relative from a training perspective, unless you like waving your diddle around on WhatsApp). This was great! Didn’t waste all your money on it, looks good and works! Plus it all felt so easy to set up and now you can get on with becoming a power training cyborg just like everyone else around you. This is how you’ll feel when you look at your Stages in the first few weeks:

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“Its just you and me now, we don’t need the others”

Everything was awesome… I could do FTP tests, I could set up my ZONES… I could even sit at coffee and say “Fuck yeah I did 500w in that last interval” (fucking lies). I may as well have been a Team Sky domestique (who they forgot to test). And then one day… One infamous day… I got my Stages wet, and no, I don’t mean that in a “meet you behind the hedge at the end of the field after school” kind of way either… I mean soaking wet in your classic Asian gear fingering monsoon scenario. What came next? Things changed dramatically… The next day I went for a ride and found that things were very different:

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“Gaaaaaaa… You got me WET… Now I’m gonna fuck you”

Yip… Believe it. This is one of those scenarios where ‘Waterproof’ actually means ‘Slightly splash proof’, probably to about the same level as a Garmin 800 really. So, what happened? Well, the thing was fucking deader than democracy in any country ending in ‘Stan’. Of course, you don’t find out its dead until you’re out on the road, at 5.25am. Ordinarily not a problem, but by now you’ve turned into a totally addicted power cunt (PC) and so not having your fix turns you into a giant rage monster.

Continuing with that theme, it then all got very painful, its best I break the experience down into chapters – To be noted, the following storyline seems to be consistent globally, by which I mean I know 6 or 7 people who have been through this (I am so awesome at stats):

1. The hairdryer scenario – So, the advice I got to revive my dead stages was unleash a hair dryer on to it… Yes, not in a melt it kind of way, but give a good going over like you’re Kate Upton’s stylist (no, don’t use your tongue). Then, when its close to melting, leave it in an air conditioned room overnight and put a new battery in… Low and behold, ITS ALIVE! Yes, by some sort of miracle, it starts to work again… Sort of.

Don’t speak too soon!

2. Close the blast doors – The next “thing that makes you go cuuuunt” are the fiddly little tabs on the plastic door. Yes, now you’ve got it wet and need to open it up and replace batteries and shit, the next issue is that you will invariably snap off the little tabs, which only need you to wink at them to sheer off faster than a drunk work colleague’s kit. The end result? Yip, bust out the duct tape…

But wait, there’s more! 

3. A battery a day keeps the coach away – So this is where it starts to get even more ridiculous… Yes, my power meter became more power hungry than an Ex-KGB spy pretending to be a world leader. How hungry? Well, it managed to start eating its way through a battery per DAY. Yes, it was machining that shit espresso style, brand new battery in the morning, dead the next day. W… T… F… End result, take the battery out after each ride, which in turn means more door drama, see point #2

This can’t be normal?

4. “This is not the problem you’re looking for” – Finally, it was time for Tech support… I am loathe to contact companies other than Santa Cruz for support as invariably you get a canned response, or no actual real help from a human. Given my e mail was routed to Stages Euro support team, I was not disappointed. In spite of my e mail refer to the 3 units we had defective and listed not only all the symptoms, but also what we had already done to address them, I got the standard response:

  • Ignore information provided
  • Reply with this unrealistic statement (quote): “Usually water intrusion does not affect the functionality of our power meter after the water has been dried out“… Have you only been selling them in deserts?
  • When all else failed, ask for the unit to be sent back

Sigh… Send it BACK? Are you for real?! I’m addicted to this shit man, I can’t go riding without my 85% accurate power number coming through! It would be like asking these guys to get a regular job flipping Big Macs FFS:

"Come and take our defect power meters, I dare you..."

“Come and take our defect power meters, I dare you…”

5. Robots to the rescue! – So, with the thought of locating a Cannondale crank removal tool enough to do my head in, I reverted to the very odd practice of daily battery removal and reloading to use the Stages. Weird? Yes… Effective? Seemed to do the trick. Eventually though, technology came to the rescue, via perhaps one of the cooler features of the Stages product: The iPhone App! Feed my sweet smart phone addiction, blue tooth my face off and update my Firmware baby… It does it all:

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A full battery symbol – A rare experience

Someone at Stages HQ must have twigged there was a problem, as pretty soon there were two Firmware upgrades and as if by magic, the second one absolutely fixed the battery draining issue! So, if you’re reading this and nodding your head, the process seems to be:

Hairdryer>New door>Firmware upgrade>New high quality battery>wrap the unit in a condom

To cut a long story semi short, my Stages now runs 100% trouble free, which is a small miracle when I know how many have been sent back… Whilst it was like crapping out a porcupine getting to a stable state, no complaints now. I suspect this is part of buying a Gen 1 product, my main advice is to make sure you have the new doors with the rubber insert, throw a high quality battery in and then try to keep it covered – Less than ideal, but better than shipping it to fuck knows where?

 Summing it all up

If you’re like me, you can probably only manage to concentrate to read 25% of this, so to cater for those that have had their attention spans fisted by their smart phones and modern way of life, here is the handy summary section on the Stages Power meter:

Stuff that makes you go: “Fuck yeah”

  • Price – Pretty cheap eh
  • Looks – Svelte and low profile, the least intrusive PM
  • Easy as – Massive slut appeal in how easy it is to get going
  • Firmware upgrade – Yeah, the iPhone interface is cool as fuck, except if you’re on Android, then you need to add this to the below section
  • Clean up time – It does cadence as well, so you can throw away that awful Garmin magnet thing

Stuff that makes you go: “You cunt”

  • Appears relatively allergic to water – not good if you want to ride through monsoon season. Or outdoors.
  • Carbon cranks? Forget it – Only works with Alu set up… Campag RAGE!
  • Tech support – Thanks for A) ignoring my messages and B) telling me the obvious
  • People with SRM’s telling you your power meter is under reading by 30-40w – Not proven, but something that may grind on real PC’s with an OCD for waving their cocks about talking about absolute numbers.

So – In summary, I still like my Stages, and its now been working consistently for the last few months, the most recent Firmware upgrade seemingly did the trick, not to mention getting a high quality battery. The water proofing scenario remains its greatest downfall, which has resulted in some novel approaches being taken around the world. My favourite so far was from The Belgian National Champ, who heat shrink wrapped his tight as fuck YO:

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Effective… Until its battery change time…

Would I buy it again? Hmmmm… I would probably wait for their Gen 2 product, conceptually I still like this model the most of all the products on offer, but the market is expanding so rapidly that they’re going to have to really up their game with the next hardware release to stay relevant. I also REALLY want to go back to Campag Carbon cranks, but I can’t with this set up, so bear in mind its for Alu set ups only.

Footnote – I have only covered the Road experience, fuck knows how people use these for MTB (or why, now there is an awesome way to ruin the concept of MTB completely), but I wouldn’t recommend it based on my liquid experience.

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3 Responses

  1. AndrewR

    I have been running a Stages on my XTR M985 cranks for over two years and despite turning into a data hungry twat, and the episode where the firmware drained the battery faster than a relapsed alcholic with a bottle of JD, it has been excellent. The newer style battery covers are certainly more waterproof than the first generation (which has the shitty plastic tabs that broke everytime one changed the battery). The bonus for gear whores like yourself is that Stages now make their Gen 3 power meter for carbon cranks!! I am looking at getting the newer M9020 XTR so I can run a 30T oval so will be looking at a new Power meter crank arm too. Happy trails.

    Reply

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