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Product review: Quarq’s CinQo Saturn power meter

  • By Michael Robson
  • Published Aug. 22, 2011
  • Updated Aug. 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM EST

Knowledge is power, and vice versa

Quarq CinQo Saturn power meter on SRAM S975 cranks. Photo: Michael Robson

BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — If you read Ben Delaney’s article in the March issue of VeloNews, on the basics of training with a power meter, you might have already borrowed a meter, established some baseline data and possibly become a little interested in learning more. And now you’re in the market for some hardware. Quarq’s CinQo Saturn might just be what you’re looking for.

When Quarq started shipping its new power meter cranks in 2008 they were trying to break into an icy market against a very small handful of established competitors. Up until that point SRM had set the standard for crank-based power meters and PowerTap offered a rear hub-based system. Quarq set out to make power meters more affordable and user friendly and this they have done in fine style.

One thing I realized after setting up and testing the Quarq CinQo Saturn was that I was going to have trouble making this review long enough (Editor’s note: We don’t pay by the word, Michael, so don’t worry about it). Setup was ridiculously simple and when teamed with the Garmin 800 head unit, the system recorded data faithfully and with no fuss. Everything worked first time and the whole thing is designed to continue working with a minimum of maintenance and downtime.

Weight without GXP bottom bracket came in at 789 grams, which is right around 15 grams lighter than the comparable SRM crank and only 120 grams (about a quarter pound for the metric-challenged) more than the SRAM Red cranks they replaced on my bike. At this weight there would be absolutely no problem with racing with the crank and recording valuable race data. Many pros and amateurs already do.

What about PowerTap?

Probably the most popular power meter among amateur road racers is the PowerTap hub. It may be apples and oranges to compare a rear hub to a crank, and for many racers with multiple wheel sets (and who might take a spare wheel in a race) a crank-based meter makes more sense.

But if you don’t race, and/or don’t own a quiver of wheels, it’s worth looking at the PowerTap, which is on par with the Quarq in terms of price, weight and simplicity.

PowerTap’s current lightest hub is the SLC+, which weighs 402 grams and retails for about $1,800. The more popular SL+ model is just ten grams heavier and about $500 cheaper. By comparison, a Dura-Ace 7900 hub weighs about 255 grams and costs about $250; a DT Swiss 240S hub weighs 220 grams and costs about $330. (All these weight and price comparison are ignoring the headunit, since you can use a Garmin Ant+ unit with either system).

Bottom line: ignoring the cost of the rest of the wheel, choosing a SL+ rather than a Dura-Ace rear hub will add $1,050 and 157 grams to your bike. (Choosing a Quarq CinQo Saturn over a SRAM Red crank will add $1,420 and 120 grams to your bike.)

Of course you’ll need to build a rear wheel around that PowerTap. PowerTap offers a prebuilt aluminum-rimmed clincher rear wheel with the SL+ hub for about $1,500. So if your bike currently has a comparable wheel with a Dura-Ace hub, you would be adding 157 grams and spending $1,500 (plus a head unit) to get into the power training game. PowerTap offers (heavier) wheels that retail for less than a grand. By comparison, going the Quarq route will cost a minimum of $1,795 (if you don’t need a bottom bracket) and add 120 grams over a Red crank.

PowerTap is introducing a new hub next month, the G3, which will retail for $1,300 and weigh a claimed 325 grams, only 70 grams more than a Dura-Ace hub. — Steve Frothingham

Quarq installation

Installation is pretty straightforward. Simply pull out the old cranks and in some cases the bottom bracket, install sensor magnet, and install the new cranks. That’s it … really. The system ships with two magnet options: one attached to a ring that gets screwed in with the BB and one that is glued on with included two-part epoxy. Now I know a thing or two about adhesives and figured that the likelihood of a glued-on magnet falling off due to operator error was pretty high. A quick search confirmed my fears. Solution? Quarq has an optional magnet that mounts on the cable guide under the BB or there’s the most elegant solution of all: electrical tape.

When the head unit device — in my case a Garmin Edge 800 — is fired up, it detects the crank and establishes a dedicated network via the pretty much ubiquitous ANT+ protocol. After the first time ANT+ sets up a network to the crank, heart rate sensor and cadence/speed sensors, it remembers them, even through battery replacements. From there, depending on your choice of computer, you can set up and customize data recording, screen fields and settings.

Riding the CinQo

I have spent 10 weeks putting the CinQo through its paces. I ride lots of rough dirt roads and the crank has been dirtied and cleaned over and over with no problems. There was a small incident with condensation under the battery cover but it was easily remedied by drying the cap with a cloth and checking the seal for dust and debris. I have it on good authority (Frank Overton of Fascat Coaching) that the battery can be expected to last about 18 months or 400 riding hours but it doesn’t matter: you can change it in about 60 seconds with your bare hands.

Quarq recommends zeroing out the crank before every ride for maximum accuracy. This is a simple process done at the head unit. Automatic zero outs can be done during the ride by just back-pedaling for four or more revs. The guys at Quarq tout the crank’s accuracy at plus or minus 2 percent, which is similar to the other power systems and difficult for the layperson to quantify anyway. Included in the box is a trial version of Training Peaks WKO+, which would be the software of choice for anyone venturing into the power training realm.

Quarq has another neat trick up its sleeve: The recently released iphone/ipad app called Qalvin that allows the user to troubleshoot and diagnose problems, calibrate slope settings and change the settings for different chainrings. A Wahoo Key is required for your i-device to talk to the crank. If you don’t want to drop $80 for the Wahoo Key you can take your bike to a local Quarq dealer and make the changes you need on the spot.

With weight and performance comparable to the PowerTap and SRM, its Quarq’s price and user friendliness sets it apart. In pure price-per-pound terms a SRM on a SRAM S975 crank will run you almost $4.90 per gram and a Quarq CinQo with a Garmin 800 will still set you back a paltry $2.95 per gram.

Add to this equation the fact that the Quarq has more strain gauges, weighs less and overall does more and I think you can see a serious bang-for-your-buck pattern emerging. SRM also carries the Achilles heel that if anything goes wrong, or you want change your chainrings or the battery, the whole unit has to be sent in at the expense of the customer. SRM definitely has the upper hand on pure range of products, Quarq only offers cranks for road bikes for now but mountain bike cranks are expected later this summer with yet more options to follow.

I personally like crank-based power meters way more than a PowerTap. As a ‘cross racer I am constantly changing wheels so the power meter just can’t be there.

All I see with the Quarq CinQo Saturn is everything that everyone else has and more. This must have been apparent to SRAM, who acquired Quarq in May of this year. It can only get better from here.

Quarq has a growing dealer network and you can also buy online at Quarq.com

FILED UNDER: Bikes and Tech / Reviews TAGS: /

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