Last fall when Stages gave the world its first look at Dash, the Boulder, Colo. company’s own computer at the fall bike shows, the market was collectively curious. The overarching question: does the market need another computer?
The short answer, yes. When a company makes a powermeter, it behooves them to create a tool to read the data in the way that provides the greatest takeaway. And to that point, Stages, a power meter company, put a singular focus on one metric: power. It then puts a premium on analysis through its own cloud-based analysis program, Stages Link.
On its face, the $399 Stages Dash looks pretty simple. Old-school, in fact. The 100-gram unit is a plain ‘ol black-and-white screen, which (ok, this is cool) can be run in either portrait (vertical) mode, or panorama (horizontal) position, clipping into a unique, custom bracket.
With ANT+ and Bluetooth connectability, it has a sturdy aluminum frame around the plastic body. Five rubber-covered buttons run the operations, each having a solid détente so you know when you’re moving through modes. It even has an glare-resistant screen… no hazed out screens with your polarized glasses with this one.
While Dash does provide some nice day-to-day function features like push notifications for text and calls when connected to your smart phone, Dash just doesn’t put a focus on colorful GPS mapping. Or Strava segment relay. Which is exactly the point. It’s all about data. All the data.
The screens are hyper-customizable by the user, with metrics and fields upwards of 16 (!) in panoramic mode managed either through the Stages online connection, called Stages Link, or from the Dash unit itself. The units you read are also size- and placement-customizable. If a metric (10-second power, for example, or mapping while out on a mountain bike ride) is the one metric you want to focus on , it can be a big 3×3 unit image smack dab in the middle of the unit, while less important metric to your ride (time, distance, temperature, etc.) can be relegated to smaller 1×1 unit measurement, allowing you to, in your cross-eyed hypoxic state, focus on the one metric you (or your coach) want you to focus on.
Tying It Together: Link Online Analysis
We all have heard the term drill-down data. The stages online software, called Stages Link, is the company’s big, reinforced drill bit.
Partnering with Australian-based software company Today’s Plan, Stages has a legit, well, built planning and analysis software. Using Stages Link connection, you can both download your day’s training session to your training page to analyze, and can also push workouts from your training plan (either one of the many on offer as part of your plan or any assembled by you or your coach) from the software to your Dash. It’s a $20 a month premium membership, and opens the full array of data analysis and coaching programs. There is a free version, of course, but provides limited utility, and no coaching programs.
Apart from having a data-rich head unit, Link is the differentiating item separating Dash from the rest. Link completes what Stages calls the brand’s ecosystem: it provides the Stages power meter, the on-bike data relay through Dash and recording, and the off-bike analysis through Link. Stages now ties all the stuff we want together in a smart package: data, acquisition and analysis.
Once on the road, you’ll get your day’s workout (in the form of a short synopsis), as well as cues when intervals begin and end. Once done, load your workout to Link, and since the unit has GPS tracking, you’ll get not only your metrics but also a map of your ride. You can also push the ride to social sites like Strava, or another training program like TrainingPeaks.
Being a power meter company, Stages empowers the user to get the most out of not only their powermeter, but also their analysis. As such, Link software bases your workouts on your functional threshold power (FTP), and goes as far as providing a 20-minute FTP test in order to help you determine that number. Armed with that info, Link workouts can be prescribed with appropriately tailored power zones, from recovery to endurance to tempo, on up to Vo2 and anaerobic.
With that FTP info, you can choose from any of Link’s library of workouts. Endurance work, speed, strength, etc. can all be cross-referenced over time and intensity to come up with a program, all based on your own self-administered experience level and time available to train. When building a plan, Link asks your experience level, strengths and weaknesses to help tailor it into the closest thing to a coaching program.
Once done (and you have a plan that’s gonna vault you toward a new PB bike split in Kona), the rest is easy; plug in you Dash (or connect via the smartphone app (Android or iPhone are now available in their app stores) and that workout is pushed to your unit. No wondering what to do; just roll out the door, warm up and read the day’s workout and execute. Dash firmware updates are also pushed to the unit through the app.
One other note; While Stages would love you to to run Dash with its crankarm-based powermeter, it’s a brand-agnostic product, working with any ANT+ or Bluetooth-compatible power meter.
Instead of the quarter-turn brackets we’re used to, Stages goes for a channel slot clip-on design, which allows the Dash to be affixed easily in portrait or panorama modes. A TT/Tri bracket will be available shortly for between-the-aerobars setup on a standard 22.2 aerobar extension. There is an existing out-front road mount and an over-the-stem version for mountain bikes.
Stages had LAVA to Ojai, California north of Los Angeles for a test ride, and we’ve been testing Dash since in San Diego, Calif.
As stated, it’s not as graphically slick as, say, Garmin. But what it lacks in pizzaz it makes up for in data. We love the customizable screens, and like a fingerprint, there will be no one ideal screen setup, juset the one you dig the best. While having up to 10 metrics on a screen is amazing, I doubt anyone needs that much info in the course of a ride…. Or can let alone read the small metrics. We set up with power on 10-second average as our central data point, with normalized power, cadence, ride time, distance, temperature, vertical ascent
As an athlete without a coach (I know, how is that even possible) I am enamored with the cloud-based training analysis, but also coaching programs. You can create from scratch using all your input data about wants, needs, time, etc., or use a constructed program for one of the many loaded rides, including anything from the Wisconsin Dairyland Dare up to the Tour de Suisse… for $20 a month. There are no tri bike course rides uploaded yet, but as this picks up steam, we expect there will be some good 70.3 and Ironman course programs that will load up.
I loaded a few sample programs, and they’re exceptionally detailed, showing your plan’s ebb and flow leading to your event from 30,000 ft and providing details on the daily for each workout. Drill down as much as you like, or just execute the face value workouts; it will manage your build, speed, endurance and taper headed into an event.
One nice side item is each Dash comes not only with the bar bracket and connection cable (be sure to use it; we tried another micro USB cord and it didn’t have the juice to push data), is also includes a zippered, padded case for your Dash. For those that either transfer it between bikes or travel a lot, this case was a pleasant surprise. While traveling, my bike computer (like all the rest of my electrionica from cameras to computers) lives in my carry-on. This keep Dash from getting dinged.
Downsides? While a TT mount is on the way, there’s not a solution for integrated bars. Not even a rubber-strapped affixment option. Those with aero road bikes (Cervelo S5, Canyon Aeroad, or any non-round, non 31.8 clamp bar apart from Shimano’s version) are currently up the creek without a paddle. For what it’s worth, Stages said they are open to talking with third-party bracket companies about their own solution options. As someone that rides a lot of integrated bars, I’d hope there will be a solution soon, as it prevents me from using it on many of my own bikes.
The other element is you can’t refer to your completed workouts on the Dash. Once uploaded to Link, you can view and analyze them, but not on the Dash unit itself. Further to that, while some units from Garmin and Wahoo have WiFi upload that pushes your workouts directly to your coaching or social site, Dash doesn’t have that utility yet. Gotta either connect to your computer or use the app.
At $399, it’s still somewhat pricey, but comparable to so many other units on market, not ostensibly so. As Stages develops the product and adds updated features, we think the value will begin to fall in line with pricing. As data geeks over here, we’re pretty pleased with what it delivers, even in its infancy. Just needs some integrated bar bracket options!