What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Tech: The CycleOps Joule

CycleOps waited a long time to release the successor to the hugely popular, original Cervo computer. It was well worth the wait though, because the Joule, the newest computer in the Saris CycleOps lineup, is a true gem. The new supercomputer is a boon for not only the data junkie, but for anyone looking to get the most from both their body and computer.

This spring, I got the chance to work with the new Joule 2.0 from CycleOps, and straight up I’ll say the Joule is the best computer I’ve ever used, bar none, when it comes to pure data possibilities and simplicity. Although it doesn’t offer GPS capabilities (yet), there’s a lot to go with this great new computer.

Every bit of data you could ask for in one great computer: the Joule 2.0

With the Joule, CycleOps took the already capable Cervo and gave it a massive upgrade. The Cervo still stands as a great, simple computer with the bare minimum of data, whilst the Joule now stands as the big brother who carries the grand daddy of Swiss Army knives wherever he goes. The folks at CycleOps created a computer that satisfied virtually every need of the rider who trains with power: more storage, more data, long battery life, a fully rechargeable battery, simple mini-USB connection, a sturdy design, and the great new add-ons of both Training Stress Score and Intensity Factor, all in a package that’s only modestly larger than the original Cervo.

The information packed computer is certainly a bit larger than the cyclecomputers of old, but in use, it looks great on the bike.

Too Big & Too Much? Nope. Just Right.
Some might bemoan the larger size of the Joule, but when mounted on the stem, it seems perfectly sized. Any smaller and the eight individual pieces of information on the Dashboard would be too small. As it is, they’re easily readable, and just right – in my opinion of course.

The question of information overload is a valid one with the Joule, and yes, you will find yourself looking down at the computer fairly often as you ride. There’s a lot to look at. Normally, plain and simple wattage is my query when I look down, but the other bits of information are easily and quickly absorbed with a quick scan. I guess in this regard, I’m the perfect 20-something, completely in love with mass amounts of random information.

I never tire of the steady stream of data the Joule provides. I feel like I’m capable of enjoying the view while still being able to enjoy and absorb the news from my computer – percent grade, normalized power, TSS, power, heart rate, etc, all while still breathing in deeply the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the sport I love.

The information possibilities on the main Dashboard screen are almost innumerable. Almost…36.

Data is great, more data is better
The Joule tracks everything from average heart rate, average power, average pretty much anything to normalized power, to maximum anything, to training stress score, kilojoules, kilojoules per hour, gradient, altitude gained, you name it, you can see it, and it’s all stuff you WANT to see.

I’m personally a huge fan of gradient. I’ve had more success with gradient with the Joule than I have had with the Garmin, which is a bit scary to admit. Even more interesting to me, especially when I’m spending a lot of time in the mountains is VAM – rate of ascent, or in the terminology of the controversial coach that came up with it, Dr. Michele Ferrari – velocita ascensionale media. It’s not the most important number in the world at first glance, but when training specifically for an event where you know what’s required on the critical climbs, you can set a very accurate goal.

For instance, last year, while preparing for my attempt at the USPRO Championships in Greenville, I was told by FasCat Frank Overton, that I’d need to be climbing in the 1600 m/h range to have any chance of staying in contact with the lead group. He wasn’t lying. After that, I worked out a plan with Matt McNamara focusing on bringing that number up as high as we could in the very limited amount of time we had to work with. At first, I could only manage extended efforts in the 1200 range, but as the summer wore on, I began spending increasingly more time at 1600. I wasn’t nearly fit enough to do that 10ish minute effort over four ascents along with a hard race the rest of the time, but hey, I did it once at least.

On the Dashboard, you can move the highlighted box around with the joystick – when you do that, you pull up two extra related metrics to go with the highlighted one. In this case, Current Watts goes nicely with average and maximum watts.

A Closer Look
While the new computer shares very little in common with its predecessor, the trademark yellow remains, as does the satisfying click of the three buttons. If you’ve ever worked with the old Cervo, you can still enjoy that same click as you scroll through the Joule’s four main screens: the Dashboard, Report, Activities, and Menu.

The far left button, Mode, takes you through all of the screens, while the middle Joystick>, does the job of navigating the possibilities within each screen very easily. I’ve had no problems merrily scrolling, clicking, and scanning while riding, though I think it’s probably advisable to wait until you’re safely stopped on the side of the road to do some things unless you’re riding all by your lonesome.

Ashley wasn’t thinking too much about her wattage at this point in the latter moments of the race, but she did admit later to glancing down every few seconds and doing everything she could to stay above a certain wattage.

The final button, Interval, takes care of just that – intervals. I like the possibilities afforded by the interval button, when you press interval, you normally remain on the full ride screen, if you press and hold it down, the main Dashboard screen changes over to just the data from your interval. This is a pretty nifty little feature. For intervals or racing over varied terrain that doesn’t allow for perfectly consistent power outputs, the use of Normalized Power and Intensity Factor are really helpful. Instead of fretting over the drop in power through a technical section or a descent, or conversely, the rocketing skyward in wattage due to any number of a million reasons, you can focus mainly on the keeping Normalized Power up, or if you’re into something even simpler, Intensity Factor, which is the ratio of your normalized power to your threshold power. Trying to get in some good threshold work? Just keep the numbers over about .90, and you’re doing just fine. It allows you to train with power, but still utilize the best meter you have – yourself. Intensity factor doesn’t change anywhere near as much as wattage, so just giving a look at the IF every now and again during a hard, stochastic effort, can ensure that you’re still doing what you need to be doing to get the most out of yourself.

On the left is the Dashboard view of an interval, while the right screen is the Activities view, which has an easy to scroll through list of all of the intervals you’ve done that day.

There’s More!
The stored data on the computer is impressive. You can do 20 hours of riding without downloading just using the built in 4mb of memory, and if you add in a micro SD card, you can pretty much store an infinite amount of data. Just being able to store more than a ride or two on the computer is a welcomed addition. Sometimes a hectic post-ride schedule or just being on the road a lot doesn’t allow for the few minutes necessary to download and take a look at the data. Mostly though, I’m a download as I go kind of guy, and now that Ashley is training hard, it takes all of about 20 seconds before I have the Joule plopped in my lap after a ride with the plea: please download…right now!

Even after you download your data, the computer continues to store the basic data from each ride – certain maximums, kilojoules, time, time in zones, etc. Over the span of a few weeks, this stored data becomes more and more interesting, because your work begins to become an amazing library of instantly accessible statistics…while you’re riding! Sure, it’s not quite necessary when you’re rolling down the road to check out your six month 20 minute best effort (or even one year best), but there’s something quite satisfying about scrolling through the stored data or intervals when you stop at a gas station for a quick break.

Peak Power is a screen that has become a constant, positive companion of Ashley’s. She has watched her power go up, up, up on the Joule after a lot of hard, focused work. All of her power numbers have increased between 40 and 100% since this shot was taken…and she let me know each and every improvement as she checked it along the way.

The Case Of Ashley
In the case of Ashley, we found it to take on a whole new dimension – a motivator. She began training seriously for the first time in her life at the beginning of July, and instantly, the Joule became her best friend. Even for a rider who was just getting started, the Joule was a point of massive interest for her. She could go out and ride each day and see the improvement. She didn’t have to guess or wonder or hope, she rode a favorite 20 minute climb at 130 watts at the start of her training, and then a week later, she did 150, then 170, then, when we returned to Louisiana following our extended stay in Colorado, she cracked 190, then a week later 200.

No question, we were able to see that improvement after each ride when we downloaded the data to TrainingPeaks WKO+, but it was even better to stop, take a breath at the top of a climb, and have a look at her latest improvement. We watched her improve everyday in every way imaginable: power, heart rate, time, etc.

The Reports screen has been a page of motivation for Ashley, as the highs have gone up nearly every day. Each day she improves, and each day she finds great motivation in that. And who wouldn’t? There’s something about watching power numbers inch upward. Weather conditions can change, heart rate can change, but power stays the same under all conditions (well, it obviously goes up and down according to how you feel or how tired you are).

The Joule at over 4200 meters (14,100 feet) – at the top of Mt. Evans in Colorado. The Joule uses a barometric altimeter, so it can get a little bit off, especially when you get up to the mind boggling heights possible on Mt. Evans. It does lack the function to manually set a home altitude, which helps adjust for those changes in barometric pressure that might say you’re 10m below sea level when you’re not, but we’re told it’s coming.

The more data available, the more I find myself utilizing it. Information is good, and the Joule provides heaps of it. Just how many reports can you get on the Joule? Glad you asked.

You can get a:
• Summary Report
• Power Detail Report
• Work Report
• Peak Power Report
• Time In Power Zones Report
• Time In Heart Rate Zones Report,
• Surges Report
• Climbing Report

Each of those includes a plethora of information all relating to the question – am I getting better?

The inclusion of Training Stress Score and Intensity Factor are a very nice touch as well. CycleOps scored a huge coup when they teamed up with the folks at WKO+ to utilize the gold standard in training algorithms.

But How Hard Is It To Use?
Installation is brutally simple – straight out of the box, I attached the mount to the stem, attached the computer to the mount, turned it on, spun the wheel, the PowerTap paired to the Joule almost instantly, and that was it. Done. I went for a bike ride. The Joule utilizes ANT+ technology, so it pairs with any powermeter that uses that same standard. Right now, that includes PowerTap, SRM, and Quarq.

Yep, it’s pretty simple.

The directions included in the box and easily accessible on the CycleOps website are thorough and easy to figure out, but the computer itself is intuitive as well. I laid down on my bed for about ten minutes, scrolled through all of the different screens, inputted the necessary data, and had no problems figuring out how to work the computer. When I later combined the knowledge I had gained from just playing around with the computer along with a little selective scanning of the instructions – all was perfect.

The Caveat: Price
The Joule is not free, but I’d say you get what you pay for, maybe even more. It’s not included in the purchase of a PowerTap, and it’s not cheap. Retailing for US$449 dollars without the heart rate strap, and $499 with, the computer carries a rather steep price.

For what you get though, it’s a price I’m willing to pay, and now that Ashley has all but confiscated the first one, I’m working on buying a second. When I’m training seriously, I feed off of data, and I demand it. When I know there’s a computer available that can satiate my thirst for information, I want it on my bike, because it will help me to train just that little bit better. Compared to SRM’s computer, the PowerControl 7, the price of the Joule is a pittance – and you get gobs more data for 450 dollars less.

You can see the Joule in there somewhere. I told you it’s not that big.

In Short
I love it. I get mad every time I’m not able to use the Joule. It’s not quite rational in that I could live just fine without it. It’s just a computer, but I feel that if I’m going to train with power, I’m already making a big investment not only financially, but in what I’m prepared to do in training – the Joule is the perfect capstone to allow for the best possible chances of improvement. Powermeter + Joule + solid, intelligent training plan + a lot of hard work = results. I can make great gains without it, so can Ashley, but that’s not really the question – the question is how can I push myself to train the most efficiently and effectively every time I get on my bike? I feel like the Joule can play a significant part in answering that question.

For lots more on the Joule, head over to the Joule’s page over on the CycleOps website.

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Thanks for looking. If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.

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