The Bike List

First impressions: Garmin Vector Power Meter Pedals £1350

Tested by Nik Cook, tester for The Bike List

These pedals have been a long time coming. Launch dates were put back again and again and, at times, it looked as though Garmin were never going to be ready to put them on the market. To be honest, I got pretty frustrated with the whole process. As a cyclist with a reasonably large stable of my own bikes, test bikes coming and going and taking part in all disciplines of cycling, a pedal based power meter and the bike to bike versatility it should theoretically offer looked ideal. Polar managed to get a set of power pedals to market first but, although the pedals performed well, Polar's stubbornness to not embrace ANT+ and to stick resolutely to their extremely limiting head units and metrics, made them a non-starter. So, the waiting continued and, much as I appreciated that Garmin didn't want to risk releasing a dud, I finally lost patience. I opted for a Power2Max crank based system and, as you can see from my first impressions review and long term test, it's an excellent power meter.

Eventually though the Vectors were released but, rather than me greeting this news with a sense of excitement and anticipation, I was really quite nonplussed. It was a bit like that girl you fancied all through school but she was always unobtainable. You go away to Uni, come back, see her, suddenly she's interested but you've moved on and you're not going to fall into her arms now that she's finally ready. I'll admit it, Gamin had hurt me with their teasing, flirting and procrastinating and now they were going to have to work damn hard to impress me.

The first and most obvious sticking point is the price. Garmin argue that you're effectively getting two power meters for your money, as there's one in each pedal but, with way cheaper options, such as Power2Max and Stages available, can they justify such a hefty price tag? It's a big ask but, if they do offer genuine bike-to-bike versatility, they're in with a fighting chance.

They arrive nicely packaged and, with a thank-you note inside, Garmin obviously appreciate the wait time. Apart from the pedal pods, they look remarkably like a standard Look Keo pedal and the whole lot weighs in at 351g according to my kitchen scales. This is significantly heavier than the 190g you'd be looking at for top of the range Look Keo Blade Carbon Ti pedals (£275) but a power meter anywhere is going to add weight to your bike and, in the grand scheme of things, 161g isn't bad at all. You are stuck at the moment with Look Keo cleats and, although this is fine by me, it might put some buyers off. If being limited to Look Keo cleats is a deal breaker, the good news is that Garmin have plans to increase cleat compatibility, allowing for use of other pedal systems including mountain bike options, but you'll need a bit more patience as these are not available yet.

The mechanical side of initial installation isn't quite as simple as putting on standard pedals but it's not far off and certainly simpler than self-installation of a spider mounted crank based system.

There's a bit of fiddling with washers involved and some aero cranks arms are too fat to accommodate them (15 mm limit) but on FSA Gossamer cranks on my winter trainer, Stronglight cranks on my track bike and Rotor 3D+ on my TT bike they went on fine. Getting the pods positioned right takes a little bit of trial and error but it's not bad. The key part of the installation for accurate readings is making sure that you tighten them up properly. The exact figure for using a torque wrench is 32.5 Nm which translates as pretty darn tight. Most cycling specific torque wrenches go nowhere near this value and you'll also need to get hold of a 15 mm spanner crowfoot adaptor. However, the key thing for accuracy is that they're not under tightened so, if you're using a standard 15 mm pedal wrench, don't be afraid to give them a good tweak. Before you get medieval with your wrench though, double check you've got those washers on correctly as some people have crushed their pods (ouch!) at this point. Don't get overly gorilla with the wrench, you're after firm and, if you're unsure, order yourself a torque wrench. It's then just a case of popping in the batteries and the little end plugs and you're done.

Next you've got to get them calibrated and talking to your head unit and your computer via the supplied ANT+ dongle. Using a MacBook Pro, Garmin 800 and Garmin 910XT this was pretty simple. You need to make sure that crank length is set correctly and can either do this on the head unit or on your computer using the Gamin Vector updater. The head unit will always override though so I had my 800 set-up for my road bikes (172.5 mm cranks) and my 910XT set-up for my track bike (165 mm cranks). If you haven't got two Garmin units and are regularly swapping between bikes there would certainly be scope for forgetfulness and it does add another step to the process.

The calibration process is three steps. First, for power sensor install angle, you need to go out and spin the pedals up to 80-90 rpm. Next is a manual static calibration where you unclip and put the crank arms horizontal to the ground. Finally, for enhanced accuracy, you perform a dynamic calibration which involves eight backwards rotations of the pedals. All the steps are fairly intuitive on a Garmin head-unit and, if you've got a 810 or 510, you get step-by-step prompts.

After several back and forward swaps and, including calibrations, the entire process is a 10-15 minute job. If you had to adjust crank lengths using your computer, add a few more minutes. Not as simple as a pedal swap and not as fast as swapping over the Rotor 3D+ cranks with my Power2Max power meter on but I can only run that on my summer road bike and my TT bike.

Obviously, on a fixed gear track bike the final calibration step isn't possible, leaving the accuracy at +/- 2%. This might not sound deal breaking but, if I'm on the track riding a 500 watts pursuit effort to try and see the value of a tweak to my aero set-up, 10 watts either way is quite a big chunk. If I was a Chis Hoy-esque sprinter (I'm not!) putting at 2000 watts, an 80 watts possible range to see if your gym work is paying off is massive.

Out on the road and I've been very impressed with the Vectors. There's a bit of pod rub when I'm wearing my chunky winter booties but it hasn't seemed to have caused any problems and is only occasionally noticeable.

Data has been impressively accurate and I've had no synching issues at all, either for power or for cadence from the accelerometer.

They've fared well in some really grim conditions and don't seem at all affected by temperature fluctuations or harsh road surfaces. Battery life is about 175 hours with the right hand pedal draining faster. You get a low battery warning when one is down to 20% though and, with CR2032 batteries cheap and replacing them a 1 minute job, this is no big deal. Garmin 810 and 510 units will also tell you which battery is low.

One of the big USP's that Garmin are pushing is the genuine left/right pedal balance and, although it is interesting, for me, it doesn't really add much. As it turns out, most of the time I'm pretty balanced but, when I get fatigued, I slightly favour my right leg. No big surprise and not an issue that I especially feel the need to address in training.

With the Vectors set-up on the turbo in conjunction with my Power2Max meter, they track each other pretty closely. Generally, for a given workout, the average power value from the Vectors would be 3-5 watts higher but both units are consistent.

For such an expensive bit of kit, the pedals do seem very exposed to crash and accidental damage. However, I've had a couple of ice related tumbles with them and no issues yet. The key component is the strain gauge containing spindle and, although not available separately, it's well protected by the actual pedal and crank and I struggle to think how you'd damage it. If you need a new pedal body, you're looking at £149.99 and a new pod will set you back £49.99.

My other concern was the glitchy reputation of first generation products from Garmin but this has been unfounded too. Performance so far has been faultless and, with easy synching to the Garmin Vector Updater, future Firmware updates should be simple enough.

So, two months into my relationship with my Vectors, have they managed to worm their way into my affections and elicit my forgiveness for their tardiness to the power meter party? It's still early days and I'll want them to endure a full winter of abuse before making my final verdict. They're not quite the ultra versatile bike-to-bike, simple as swapping pedals, über power meter I'd built them up to be in my mind. The pedal pods are frankly a bit bulky, set-up is a little fiddly and they don't quite tick the key track cycling requirement for me. These are fairly minor quibbles though and my two biggest doubts of robustness and reliability have both been dispelled. That just leaves the price tag. If they were £400 cheaper it would be a no-brainer and Garmin had originally indicated that they'd be aiming for a sub £1000 price point. Let me sit on it, see how they go though to the summer and I'll make a final call then.

Buy from evanscycles.com

Related Reviews:

First impressions: Power2max Rotor 3D Plus Power Meter

Long term test: Power2max Rotor 3D Plus Power Meter

Summary: Rotor Power (including 3D+ crankset) power meter

Garmin Edge 810 GPS Cycle Computer - Performance Bundle

At a glance

Verdict Great product but pricey and not quite the one power meter fits all bikes solution I’d hoped for.

Garmin says:

Pedal-based Cycling Power Meter

  • Delivers reliable, accurate performance data
  • Easy to buy, install and own
  • Measures total power, left/right balance and cadence
  • Displays data on compatible Edge® devices and Forerunner® multisport watches
  • Shows power metrics and graphs in Garmin Connect™

Measure Where It Matters

Garmin brings power to the people with Vector, an innovative pedal-based power meter. It not only changes how power is measured; it changes how cyclists get power - making it extremely easy to buy and install. Vector measures power at the pedal, where force is applied. It's a direct measurement power meter that delivers reliable, accurate data. Because the force sensors are housed in each pedal, Vector gives you the unique ability to see right and left leg power independently.

Easy to Buy, Install, Own

In the past, owning a power meter was a complicated process and often involved making mechanical tradeoffs for your bike. Vector changes all of that. Now you can walk into your local bike shop, walk out with a Vector power meter in hand, and then install it yourself in minutes. There's no need for a mechanic, no downtime while your bike is in the shop. Plus, there are no complex drivetrain or wheel tradeoffs to consider and no external sensors to install.

Another advantage of Vector is that you can use the same system on multiple bikes by simply swapping out pedals and moving the wireless head unit. And, you can take Vector with you when you're going out of town for a race or when you're traveling and might be renting or borrowing a bike. It's also easy to update Vector software as enhancements are made, thanks to its ANT+™ wireless technology.

Wizardry Behind the Watts

Vector works by measuring the deflection in the pedal spindle as you pedal. By comparing that measured deflection to a factory-calibration, Vector can determine how much force you're applying to the pedal. Vector measures the force you apply a few hundred times every second. Built-in accelerometers also measure your pedalling cadence. The force sensor and related electronics are permanently and securely sealed within the pedal spindle.

Complete Cycling Suite

If you're already using a compatible Garmin head unit such as the Garmin Edge 500, 510, 800, 810 or Forerunner 910XT, adding a Vector power meter will take your training to the next level. Vector measures total power, left and right leg power and cadence and sends the data to compatible Edge cycling computers¹ or other ANT+ enabled head units. Complete the suite with post-ride analysis, mapping, route planning and data sharing at Garmin Connect. Having all your cycling electronics and analysis from one brand means you can trust the equipment, the user experience and the support.

Pedal Body and Assembly

  • Lightweight composite body
  • Stainless steel wearplate
  • CNC machined, hardened stainless steel spindle
  • LSL bushing and sealed cartridge bearings
  • Adjustable tension binding
  • LOOK Kéo-compatible.

Pedal Pods

  • ANT+™ transmitters and cadence measurement via accelerometers
  • User-replaceable battery (2032 coin cell)
  • Minimum of 175 hours of active cycling operation

Cleats

  • High durability thermoplastic with anti-slip rubber surface pads
  • Rubber button to reduce free float action between shoe and cleat
  • 6 degrees of float (0 degree also available)
  • LOOK Kéo-compatible.

What's in the Box:

  • Vector pedals
  • Pedal pods
  • Cleats and hardware
  • USB ANT Stick

Vector System Specs

  • Battery life: 175 hours
  • Weight (approximate, per pedal):
  • Pedal: 152 g
  • Pedal pod: 23 g
  • Cleats and hardware: 38 g
  • Total per pedal: 213 g
  • Garmin Device Compatibility

Garmin Device Compatibility

Data Edge 810 Edge 800 Edge 510 Edge 500 Fr 910XT Fr 310XT
Total Power Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
L/R Datafield %/NP¹/TSS²/IF³ Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Power Focussed Lap Display Yes Yes Yes No No No
Calibration Guidance Yes No Yes No No No

 

Supplier: Garmin (Europe) Ltd, +44 (0)23 8052 4000, www.garmin.com/en-GB