The leg on the upstroke weighs down on the pedal and creates additional work for the leg on the downstroke. A crank/hub power meter ignores that and gives you the effective power combined by both legs.

Lets assume a rider generates 120W on the downstroke and -20W on the backstroke. Total power would be 100W.

Now can the crank arm measure the negative power on the backstroke and substract it?

(If, as I've learned, it can not differenciate between positive and negative power a crank arm power meter would show 140W. If it can only measure one side you get 120W)

1 Answer 1


Some power meters measure forces or torque on a drivetrain component located downstream of the bottom bracket and hence can only provide data on the net forces (or torque) applied to both crank arms combined. These power meters are unable to distinguish between how those net forces (or torque) are generated by each leg at each point of rotation of the crank arms.

Examples of such power meters include devices taking strain measurements at the crank spider, the chainring, the chain, the cog(s), the hub, or even at the rear tyre when the bicycle is on a power measurement ergometer. SRM, Power2Max, Quarq, Powertap hubs and C1 chainrings all fall into this category of power meter. Ergometers such as the Wattbike also fall into this category as they measure strain at an internal component driven by the chain.

However there are other power meters that measure the forces (or torque) upstream of the bottom bracket, e.g. measure the forces (or torque) on each crank arm or on each pedal independently (there are even meters proposed to measure the forces at the shoe cleat). These meters do the calculations and provide the same net power data that the other type of power meters do. Such meters include Garmin Vector pedals, Powertap P1 pedals, Infocrank and Pioneer. But they have the capability to provide the extra data generated by measuring the forces applied by each leg independently.

To provide the extra data from each crank arm (or pedal) it requires appropriate software and a bicycle computer head unit with the capability to record and provide this additional data.

For the most part, such meters don't readily provide this extra data, but rather provide down-sampled subsets, such as a left/right power balance. This is because the common communication standards in use for many bicycle handlebar computers (i.e. ANT+) as yet don't have this capability. So in order to provide such data it generally requires proprietary data capture hardware and software.

The question still remains as to the utility of this extra data and whether it provides any actionable intelligence.

In terms of the propelling the bicycle forward, all that matters are the net forces and the velocity at which those net forces are applied and so whether a power meter is measuring up or downstream of the bottom bracket matters little.

Where examining the independent crank (or pedal) data may be of some use is in analysing pedalling "techniques". This is not new in terms of the science of bicycling biomechanics, there have been such devices used in labs for many decades with research dating back to the late 1960s (e.g. Hoes et al). Independent crank force measurements were first reported in the literature in the 1890s! Since paper(s) by Hoes et al then there has been research into crank forces by Coyle et al, Korff, Edwards, J. Martin and no doubt many others.

One interesting aspect of the research is that while there is much made of "pedalling technique", the reality is that how we end up pedalling naturally is pretty darn hard to beat. Another is that just because there may be some negative torque on the upswinging crank arm, that does not mean it is a bad thing. Indeed if you look at data by Coyle and Korff, it's pretty normal for many elite professional level road riders.

Here is an image extracted from the Coyle et al study which does indeed show riders often apply some negative torque at some points around the pedal stroke: enter image description here

  • 1
    That's one hell of a reply but I believe there has been a misunderstanding. With >>measure power in both "sides"<< I did not mean left foot, right foot. I have edited the question now. The strain gauge inside a power meter will change electric resistance when it bends. The question was wether a simple crank arm power meter can differenciate wether it's being bend one way or the other. Because according to my logic if it can't we've got some serious problems that I have already adressed in my question.
    – AzulShiva
    Sep 8, 2016 at 8:45
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    Yes, well designed strain gauges can differentiate the direction of force application, or alternatively distinguish between positive and negative torque. Indeed depending on the design of the gauge set up (e.g. Axis cranks) they can provide such bidirectional force data in 3 dimensions: tangentially, laterally and radially, although most meters just focus on measurement of tangential forces. In case of radial forces, that's akin to distinguishing between compression and tension. Sep 8, 2016 at 9:51
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    A simple test of this is done by inspecting the torque zero offset values (a simple process for many power meters) then applying a positive or a negative torque and to watch the reported torque values. In the case of my SRM (and on Quarq and Power2Max) spider based power meters, the torque values move up for positive torque and down for negative torque. Sep 8, 2016 at 10:44

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