The Garmin Vectors (£1,349.99) are the latest power meter to hit the market. They’ve been years in development, but still carry the same sense of anticipation that comes with every Garmin product release.
They may have been a long time coming, but Garmin’s Vectors have finally emerged from the world of bike rumour to become reality. Originally announced in 2011 for a 2012 launch, Garmin cancelled and went back to the drawing board after deciding that the product wasn’t up to their standards of accuracy, reliability and consistency.
There was even speculation throughout the last 12 months that the project was to be abandoned entirely, but thankfully we’re now displaying the culmination of all of Garmin’s hard work on our test bike, and have been able to put the product through its paces.
There are two main areas in which the Vectors hold an obvious advantage over other power measurement systems. The first is transferability. You could swap your crankset from bike to bike every time you wanted to ride a different one with a Quarq, but it would be a big time commitment and, frankly, who on Earth could be bothered?
Similarly, with a hub-based power meter like a PowerTap, you’d have to swap over the wheel – which is perfectly easy – but leaves you committed to that particular wheel every time you want to ride with power. The beauty of the Vectors is that all you have to do is change the pedals and pods over when you want to use a different bike – just a 5min job. Then all you need to do is calibrate the system, a process through which the head unit guides you.
It really is impossible to overstate how much of a benefit that simplicity of transfer and installation is. It means you only need the one power meter for however many bikes you own. And if, for example, you were to rent a bike to train on holiday, all you’d need to take with you is the pedals, the pods and a bike computer.
The second important point is that it gives you a measured left/right power balance. Other systems offer left and right figures, but all bar the Rotor Power crank only offer a calculation of that split. In contrast, Vector measures at both the right and left pedal simultaneously to give you the real figure.
Devil in the detail
The pedal bodies themselves are made by Exustar and are Look Keo-compatible. It’s a shame if you currently run pedals by Shimano, Speedplay, Time or others, but you do get a pair of cleats in the box, so you can get going immediately should you not currently use Look’s system.
The pods are powered by two CR2032 batteries (one in each), which are easily replaceable in about 60 seconds. The whole system, including cleats, weighs in at impressive 426g, which will give even the most weight-conscious athlete no cause for complaint.
Garmin have also designed the Vectors so that you can replace certain parts for a fraction of the cost of a new set. Individual pedal pods are £49.99, while complete pedal bodies come in at £149.99, so that when the pedal eventually wears down, or you somehow manage to break a pod, you can replace the part without having to fork out another £1,349 for a complete set. This works because all the measurement technology is housed in the pedal spindle itself, so the body can take the usual wear and tear without damage being done to the system.
There’s also a USB ANT+ adapter in the box so you can update the firmware on the pedals themselves wirelessly. It’s a fantastic idea, although one we’ve not had the opportunity to try yet as there hadn’t been any updates released at time of writing. That said, Garmin did tell us that they’re working on one that’ll show pedal efficiency and torque dynamics, adding yet another dimension to your ability to monitor your training.
Importantly for triathletes, the Vectors work with the Forerunner 910XT as well as the Edge bike computer range. It’s a huge bonus if you want to race with a single device, rather than needing both bike computer and multisport watch.
On the bike
Setting the Vectors up is pleasantly easy. Attach the pedals with the spindles inserted through the pedal pods – Garmin recommend attaching the pods at 90° to the cranks when the right/left cranks are at three and nine o’clock respectively – using a 15mm spanner or, ideally, a torque wrench.
Then connect the attachment on the pedal pod to the end of the pedal spindle around the crank. Next, turn on your head unit (we used both an Edge 510 and 810 in testing), make sure power measurement is ‘enabled’ in settings, click ‘search’ and turn the cranks a few times. You should then see ‘power sensor found’ on the screen; you will then be asked to set the installation angle of the pedal pods.
This is far easier than it sounds, as all you have to do is get on the bike, pedal at 80rpm and the Vectors/Edge combo figure it out for themselves. You’ll then be asked to stop and unclip while the Vectors perform a static zero calibration. After that, you’re ready to go.
You can also calibrate the Vectors while riding. All you have to do is freewheel and pedal backwards five times. Simple. We’d recommend doing both a static zero and a rolling calibration at the start of every ride – this way you can be sure the unit is zeroed correctly.
The one possible problem that installing the pedal pods brought to mind was whether they’d hit the floor when we were out riding. But upon leaning the bike over, it was obvious that, when cornering, the pedal would hit the floor far before the pods – at which point you’ll likely be more concerned about hitting the deck than worrying about the safety of your pedals. Higher kerbs could potentially be an issue, but, once again, if you’re close enough to hit the pod on the kerbs, you’re easily close enough to hit the pedal itself, so there’s no way under normal circumstances that it should happen.
Price-wise, £1,300 is a not-insignificant amount of money. And other manufacturers, such as PowerTap, offer power measurement for a far lower spend. That aside, the Vectors are a superb power-measuring system. The transferability really sets them apart from the competition, while the ability to measure power from the left and right side simultaneously is excellent. Add that to the fact that subsequent firmware updates will add further unique metrics and they should only get better over time.
In use, we had no issue with the signal dropping and the 175hr battery life means you won’t be changing batteries every few rides. Overall, the Vectors are a potentially game-changing product and will have other manufacturers rushing to keep up.