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On test: Garmin Vector Pedals
Posted on: Friday 23rd August 2013
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Just two weeks ago we published details - after many months of development and delays - of the launch of the long awaited Garmin Vector pedal-based power meter. To accompany that announcement, Garmin also launched a microsite to provide more information at www.garmin.com/vector.
Wanting to get our hands on them to give to trial, on Monday this week we were invited to a Vector test event based at Castle Combe circuit, and we selected Russell Cox (www.coachcox.co.uk) to be the Tri247 tester.
Russell has reported regularly on the site over the years, usually in the role of 'athlete', where he achieved some excellent Ironman performances including several visits to Kona including a swift 9:47 finish there in 2009. These days Russell's triathlon focus is more towards his busy coaching operation, where utilisation of power data is a particular strength and interest of his. With that depth of experience and knowledge as both athlete and coach, Russell was just the man for the job. Not surprisngly, when offered the chance to get his hands on them it didn't take long for him to accept.
This is his initial report - with a longer term review to follow - but initial impressions are very good - "I'll admit I was sceptical... but I now believe that have a winning product".
A Day with the Garmin Vector Pedals
Power is perhaps the most effective training tool available to cyclists. As an athlete it has helped me prepare for numerous races and as a coach it has helped me guide athletes to success. I don't need to be convinced that power is the future of bike training. Neither does Garmin. After 18 months of rumour and speculation they have finally released their Vector pedal-based power meter with a RRP of £1349.00. I'll admit I was sceptical, but having attended a demo day for Tri247 and installed and used the pedals first hand, I now believe they have a winning product.
Garmin are open about the delays - unable to consistently produce reliable pedals they waited, refining the system until it was fit for the mass market. They wanted to deliver a power meter that would work straight out of the box and that anyone who could put pedals on their bike could use.
The installation was simple - it took a matter of minutes. Once I'd removed my existing pedals I simply tightened the Vector pedals and their battery pod to the crank using a 15mm spanner. That was it. Some cranks may require additional small washers before tightening, but that's as technical as it gets.
There is one small caveat, something potential purchasers need to check in advance. While using a pedal-based system leaves you entirely free to use wheels, cranks and bottom brackets of your choice a small number of cranks are incompatible with the Vector. If your cranks are greater than 35mm wide or 15mm deep the pod unit will not fit, also the unit requires at least 5mm clearance between crank and chain when on the big chainring. 99% of users will be fine, but as someone who bought a wheel set that wouldn't fit between his TT bike's narrow chainstays, I'd want to double check first.
There were no issues with my Dura Ace cranks so I was ready for a test ride around the Castle Combe track. Pairing the Vector with my Edge 500 was as simple as with any ANT+ device. Garmin have updated the firmware for all their recent Edge computers adding Vector specific features and making the initialisation process quick and easy. For those still using an Edge 500 the first thing you do is ride. Spin at a smooth cadence and the Garmin will automatically calibrate the installation angles for the Vector; you know it's completed when the 500 starts displaying power. This initialisation is a one off on installation, after that you need only worry about calibrating the zero offset before each ride (something that should be done with all power meters). I was out riding on the circuit with a fully operational power meter in less than 10 minutes.
My initial test consisted of 20 minutes riding laps of the Castle Combe circuit; just enough to confirm the pedals were producing power numbers and that they seemed to coincide with my own feel for the effort. Garmin are well aware that many have questions regarding the accuracy and consistency of the Vectors, but they're confident that testing in the wild will demonstrate performance in line with their competitors. During that 18 month refinement period they have been collecting a lot of comparative data on their testing program. It's impossible for me to judge from such a brief ride, but Garmin have kindly loaned me the pedals for longer term testing.
So far I've used them on one hilly coffee shop ride. Power numbers again matched expectations and perceived effort, however shortly after the coffee stop, as I rode up Cheddar Gorge, the numbers felt far too high (600W should feel a lot harder). A quick recalibration, performed by back-pedalling 5 or 6 times, seemed to correct this error; afterwards readings returned to normal. While this is all based on perception it was reassuring to observe the dynamic calibration work.
My current power meter, a Powertap, was damaged in a race last season and is still in need of repair. One of the biggest concerns regarding the Vector pedals has been the risk of destruction during a crash. Pedals often fair badly when a rider comes off. To address this the Vector is modular so that users can independently replace the pedal body or the battery pod should they become damaged. The hardware behind the power meter is safely stored in a stainless steel cylinder at the heart of the system. The risk of damage to this is minimal; pedals can be replaced at £149.99 a pair and battery pods at £49.99 each.
I can't complete this initial review of the Vectors without mentioning one final feature - measuring the left/:right pedalling balance. With the latest firmware my Edge 500 can tell me the contribution my left and right leg are making to the total power. The importance of pedalling technique is much debated, it can be a can of worms. I'm not convinced this is a useful metric for most, but it's there for those that want it. Garmin have also hinted that future firmware updates for the pedals (user applied) may bring new metrics as they develop new ways to interpret the data generated by the Vector.
By the end of the demo day my doubts about the Vector pedals had largely vanished. Garmin have avoided the mistakes of other pedal-based approaches and brought a finished product to the end user. It's easy to install and easy to use; it can be used with any combination of wheel, crank and bottom bracket; it's portable enough to take on holiday and use on a rental bike. There is one sticking point: the price. £1349.00 likely deters the casual user and the serious cyclist will be aware of a number of cheaper options currently available. Price aside, based on my initial experience with the Vector pedals I think they were worth the wait.