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It’s been a long wait for Garmin to release their pedal-based Vector power measuring system and now that it’s finally been released, I jumped at the opportunity to take it for a spin throughout the last month. Let’s take a look and see how it performed.
A Silicon Valley upstart called MetriGear originally developed the technology for measuring power via the pedal axle. They started showcasing it at Interbike back in 2009 and originally used Speedplay as their pedal. It was due to be released in Q1 of 2010 but then Garmin acquired MetriGear and began to productise it. Here we are over three years later and the Vector has finally come to fruition.
If you ask me, the holy grail for a powermeter would be that: 1) It doesn’t add much weight, 2) it measures left and right leg power so that pedalling efficiency can be analysed and improved, 3)it’s easily swappable between different bikes, 4) It’s affordable.
Garmin nailed three out of four of those with the Vector, however they fell short on a few places as well.
Features and benefits
The pedals themselves are Exustar PR-3’s which are similar and compatible with the LOOK Keo. This is a proven pedal design with cleats that are inexpensive and easy to replace.
In my view, the biggest benefit of the Vector is the ease of installation and how it can be transferred to different bikes with no difficulty. Setup and calibration are dead easy once you’re familiar with the process.
You’ll notice that there are basically four pieces in total: two pedals, and two “pods”. The pods contain one CR2032 battery and an accelorometer. To install, you simply put the pedals and pods (along with a washer) onto the crankarms and you’re nearly there. A couple calibration steps on the head unit is all that’s left and then you’re rolling with power. Note: you will need a torque wrench to ensure the proper tightening so that power is measured accurately.
Other unique features include left and right leg independent power measurement. This doesn’t really mean a lot unless you have good software to put it into context, however for someone who suffers from an imbalance or is coming back from a leg injury and wants to see their progress might have good use for this. For me, it’s a passing interest, but the novelty quickly wore off. That said, the potential applications could be very interesting. The Vector not only measures the intensity of the power being produced, but as the name indicates, it also measures the direction in which the forces are being applied. Some interesting and useful pedal stroke analysis could result with the right software. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how much energy you’re wasting throughout the pedal stroke?
If you’re a weigh weenie, you’ll appreciate that the Vector adds only about 55g relative to a non-Vector equipped bike. A set of Exustar PR3’s weighs ~300g and the Vectors weigh a total of 355g.
For an excellent in-depth review of all the features the Garmin Vector has, head over to DC Rainmaker for a complete guide. There’s nothing I can add to this and I highly recommend giving it a read if you’re in the market for a Vector powermeter (or any powermeter for that matter).
Accuracy and reliability
Garmin claims +/-2% accuracy which is similar to other systems on the market. However, it’s not the absolute accuracy that’s key; it’s the unit’s consistency with itself. A number of independent tests have verified Garmin’s claims and have successfully stacked up against other power meters, so I won’t go through that exercise again. In my experience with the Vector, the power readings I’ve seen are exactly what I’d expect judging by feel. Note: Again, one thing to take note of regarding accuracy is to make certain that you use a torque wrench to tighten to Garmin’s specifications or else the readings will be out.
When riding over rough roads and cobbled back lanes, I don’t see power readings dropping out and the Vector seems to perform every bit as good as my previous Quark or Powertap devices. The verdict is still out on longterm reliability, but read on for more detail on my concernes with this.
Garmin is late to market with the Vector and devices such as SRM, Quark, and Powertap are the standards for powermeter enthusiasts. We’ve seen many systems come and go, the highly expensive LOOK/Polar pedal system (which is similar to the Vector) doesn’t appear to be a glaring success, and we’re also seeing the emergence of Stages and Pioneer systems. Pioneer looks to be very pricey ($3100USD) but Stages appears to be promising at their <$1000 price point.
Many powermeter offerings have now broken the $1000 price barrier, which the Vector was rumored to be when first announced. However the Vector has a RRP of $1695 AUD. You might ask, why would I buy the Vector over a $2800 SRM, a $2200 Quark, a $1000 Powertap G3 (don’t forget you need to build it up with a rim and spokes which adds $200-$300), or a $700-$900 Stages (soon to be released in Australia).
Again, the thing that the Vector has going for it is the ability to easily change bikes. As far as the price goes, it falls right into the middle of the range of powermeter choices. Garmin has indicated that the Vector is in fact two powermeters, and might offer a less expensive option in the future by only having the powermeter functionality on one pedal (similar to Stages only having power measurement fixed to one crank arm).
I’ve spoken to a few mechanics about the problems they’ve seen come through their doors in the past month since the Vector was released. There have been a few that you should know about:
- The pods are quite brittle and have been know to break off. The recommended set-up proceedure is to ensure the pods are facing down away from the top of the pedal so that your foot doesn’t kick it when clipping in. However, one of the first things I noticed when testing the Vector was the pod protruding out of the crankarm which would be possible to hit it with your foot. Also, you don’t realise how many times you knock your pedals on walls, doors, etc until you have a $1700 set of pedals on that you’re trying to be careful with.
- Certain cranks are not compatible with the Vector. The reason for this is because there needs to be 5mm clearance between the chain and the pod connector (plugged in at the back of the crankarm) when the chain is in the 53×11 (or else there’s risk of the chain hitting the pod connector when the frame flexes). Some models of Specialized cranks have seen problems as well as some FSA and Rotor cranks.
- Personally, I had difficulties getting my Garmin 510 to work properly with the Vector because of firmware issues. After multiple firmware updates along with pod battery changes I finally got the unit to pick up the power properly. I do understand these things happen, but I nearly gave up until I was advised that the pedals needed a firmware update as well. Most people who have bought the Vector haven’t experienced these problems, but I did and it was frustrating.
- A widely held view is that pedals take the brunt of the damage during a crash and that having an expensive powermeter in this vulnerable place of a bike is not ideal. I called Garmin to ask about their crash replacement policy and since the product is still new, they don’t have a replacement policy in place yet (in Australia). Of course warranty items fall under standard procedure (2-year warranty, which covers manufacture defects), but not crash replacement. Replacement pods cost approximately $99 AUD and replacement pedal body assembly is $199 AUD (replacement procedure TBD). The part that is not available as an accessory is the pedal spindle (this is the brains of the system).
If you’re in the market for a powermeter you will choose the Garmin Vector because you have multiple bikes that you’ll want to switch between often. The installation process is quick and simple. You’ll have these swapped between your road bike and TT bike in less than a minute.
That said, there are a number of issues I see with this system. The pods are susceptible to breaking off (and frankly, don’t look very good) and for me, this is a deal breaker at the $1695 price point. If the price were to come down to under $1000 to appeal to the entry level user, I would say this would be a powermeter to consider. However, until the price comes down and the pods are integrated into the system in a more tidy way, you might want to wait to see what Vector 2.0 has to offer. In the next version I hope to see different pedal options, better pod integration, and different pricing options. There’s no doubt that Garmin is onto a good thing, and this is just the start.