There is a comparative question that has been posed in the cycling and triathlon world more often than "Ford or Chevy?", "Advil or Tylenol?", and "American Idol of The Voice?".
"If one had an extra $1500 in their pocket, would you suggest race wheels or a power meter set-up?"
It got people talking about what is the best use of money and the cheapest speed you can buy. It was argued that wheels might get you 10 min over a 112 mile bike vs a cheap aero helmet that might get you 5 minutes. Not sure if these stats are even true.
This was asked of me this week. Here's my reply:
If you're looking for short term gains: get the wheels. They won't save 10 min in 112, but 3-5 min is conceivable The faster you are the better improvement you get. Aero benefits are based on the square of your speed, so the benefits at 20mph are 4x greater than at 10mph.*
If you want long term gains: get a power meter...assuming you have the knowledge (or coach) to use it properly. Without proper use, a power meter is a fancy toy. If used correctly, I've seen gains of cycling AND running better off the bike, to the tune of hours in an Ironman.**
I asked this same question of my coach 10 years ago. He gave me the same answer. I bought wheels (immaturely, immediate gains won over). A year later I'd wished I'd gone with the power meter. I use a power meter now, and suggest power for all my athletes who can afford it. I all but mandate one for anyone with serious goals mentioning the words "championship," "pro," or "Kona."
*A good aero helmet is actually more aero-advantageous than wheels, but have fewer vents so the drawback of less ventilation and heating (depending on the helmet) may not outweigh the speed difference. Get a Rudy Project Wingspan--among the fastest and best vented aero helmet on the market and the #1 helmet in Kona (where I hear it gets a bit warm). www.e-rudy.com 'Like' GEC on Facebook and message me for a code to get 40% off!!!
**Tucson Endurance Performance Center is an authorized retailer for all major power meters--Quarq/SRAM, PowerTap, SRM, Rotor Power. Combine with GEC's expert coaching using power and you have a world champion caliber combination! 'Like' Tucson Endurance Performance Center on Facebook for free coaching with the purchase of a power meter!!!
Enjoy the ride!