Garmin’s Vector system is a pedal-based power source that is ANT+ compatible. It’s like 6 power meters for the price of one. You get one for: your left leg; your right leg; your road bike; your turbo trainer; your mountain bike; and for your TT/race bike. It’s used by the Garmin-Sharp race team.
This article will tell you about some of the benefits of owning and using a set. I come from the angle of a triathlete/duathlete rather than a pure road cyclist or MTBer. Despite the name of this blog I’m probably a more competent cyclist than runner.
I have to say that, like you, I’ve seen a MASSIVE amount of comment on various forums and reviews about Garmin’s Vectors, we’ll go on to see that I really like the Vectors, but there is so much tome-like drudgery that is written out there. C’mon guys just putting a couple of pedals on and linking it to a watch that you are already VERY familiar with is FACILE.
I’ve tried to keep this review short; linking to content such as manuals rather than regurgitating all but the most salient points.
I will look at value-for-money, comparisons to different technologies, features/benefits, limitations, stuff that could be added, who might buy these and why.
The acid test: If stolen, would I buy a new set?
Well I only have this set on loan but, yes, I would love a set. These pedals make your bike VERY stealable so, in reality, if you owned them you would have them insured and Mr Esure, or whoever, would pay for a new set (hopefully).
Where am I coming from?
I ‘do’ Duathlon/Triathlon and I have a turbo trainer that has power functionality; albeit limited. I have no road based power system so that puts me at a significant disadvantage in races that I am all too aware of. I have reasonably good pedalling technique but no regular means of monitoring that assertion. The occasional Watt bike session helps but I use elliptical chain rings and the Watt bikes don’t. I do regularly use power when training on the turbo, especially for shorter interval sessions. I use power/FTP as one key means of measuring my medium term improvement. I mostly use ANT+ kit eg a 910XT.
1. WHAT YOU GET
You get everything you need in the VERY pretty box even the washers and LOOK cleats. In addition you will need a bike and a compatible Garmin watch like the 910/810/800/510/500. If you are going to spend £1300.00 on pedals I would bet that 98% of you have a high-end watch already. You’ll need an allen key and a spanner (officially you need a torque wrench).
You will also need circular chain rings – oval ones are not officially supported. Though my ROTOR Q-Rings work fine FWIW.
Eesh. Just get a spanner and put them on. On a scale of nought-to-very-tight I made mine tight. Use a washer (provided), point them downwards, check for clearance and, well, just follow this very brief but sufficient official installation instructions. Or watch theses videos:
OK. You haven’t turned your watch on yet right? Good. Don’t. Have a little sprint for 30 seconds to bed those ‘pedals’ in.
3. PAIRING & CALIBRATION
Again, just follow the manual. It’s REALLY simple. The manual even comes in paper form when you get the pedals.
Or watch these videos
a. Pairing the 910XT
Well actually, it’s not SO simple (just pretty simple). Yes, the Edge’s written pairing instructions are simple to follow. However I couldn’t find any written or video instructions on how to pair with a 910XT. THAT is not in the manual.
So I guessed.
I followed the 910’s on-screen instructions having first GOT OFF THE BIKE AND LEFT THE CRANKS HORIZONTAL WITH THE BIKE UPRIGHT. You turn your watch on and search for a power sensor. Then get this message and you say YES.
Note that I didn’t get the option of setting the installation angles like with the Edge. That’s fine.
Then, once you’ve told it to calibrate, guess what? It goes ahead and calibrates (This is a special first and only time calibration). Don’t touch the bike while this is happening.
Then, wow, it tells you the RESULT of the calibration. Unexpected or what?! Sometimes you get a torque reading as well, ignore it (well stop fiddling with the pedals as that causes a torque reading, you’re off the bike right?). If it errors out you get (guess what) an error message. If you know how to use a spanner and how to gett off your bike then you won’t get an error message.
So you’re good to ride for ever more with your super Vectors.
IMPORTANT: Except EACH AND EVERY TIME YOU RIDE you have to do the following
Turn the watch on and wait for it to find the Vector (just like with your HRM or one of your bike/run pods). It will tell you it has found the Vector. You might have to repeat the calibration (ie where you are off the bike). Then you ride for 30 seconds and then pedal backwards smoothly until it tells you to stop. It tells you you have calibrated the unit for the ride and you really are now good to go with this following message.
RACE TIP: Do this calibration and then leave your bike in transition, turn off GPS to save your battery while you wander around if needed, don’t turn your watch off.
b. Pairing the Edge 810
Anyway, these nice video show the 810 pairing. It finds your power meter like it would do a new HR strap. BUT then it goes through a calibration wizard. You don’t get that wizard on the 910XT.
So the messages you get are initially:
- Power sensor found (off the bike with horizontal cranks and an upright bike)
- Vector Power Sensor Install Angles Are Set
& then for each ride you get:
- Power Sensor Found (get going and back pedal a bit)
- Power Sensor Calibrated
As shown here
c. Restarting / Rebooting the calibration process
Just take off the plastic caps from the inside of the cranks for 10 seconds. Then install as if from new. Simples.
3. Using the Vector
Configure your watch to show your desired metrics.
I chose Power balance, 3 second power and ‘actual’ cadence as a new screen. There are MANY more to choose from including Power Zones, Power % FTP, NP, IF, TSS, w/kg and several variants of each of those. Seemed to have it all to me.
I foolishly set the 910 to scroll between screens automatically. That’s annoying, I won’t do that again.
In reality I admit that you need more than 4 data fields, something I never thought I’d say. So if, like me, you have a 910 then you will probably go out and buy an Edge 810 for the extra fields and also for 810-specific efficiency metrics that will came out in March 2014.
Special 810 Considerations. With the 810 you get the following metrics on display AS WELL AS the left/right balance and all the usual power metrics.
You will need Firmware 2.80 on the Edge 810 *AND* firmware 2.40 on the Vector pedals to access these metrics (Pedal Smoothness & Torque Efficiency).
They are not on the 910XT at all. They will likely be on the successor, “920xt”?
4. Analysing the Data
My data went straight back into SporTracks. No problems there. The 910 was already set up so I didn’t have to do anything new.
Also automatically went to Garmin Connect with nothing additional required.
Note that even if you use the Edge 810 the efficiency metrics (PS/TE) do not yet (March 2014) show in Garmin Connect.
Here’s a very exciting graph showing right/left balance. I was very proud of myself as I got 50:50 even when one-legged drills were included in the set. Variation was +/-2 so room for improvement in terms of consistency.
Pedaling Smoothness (PS) And Torque Effectiveness (TE)
I found L-R balance is fairly easy to get 50:50 +/-1 or +/-2. One sided weighting can be due to incorrect backwards pedaling calibration, so you need to get that right. However the interpretation and use of PS & TE is trickier.
For Torque Effectiveness I found 70%+ relatively easy to achieve; I could get up to 80% if i tried a bit. I did get it into the high 90s and up to 100 but it was virtually impossible for me to maintain it there for anything but a few minutes. It was really about de-weighting the rising foot. So this is a good metric for me as it quantifies a weakness i know i already have. I found this metric useful at all power levels eg I was able to modify my technique and notice changes at FTP.
With Pedal Smoothness 25%, give or take a bit, was where I was at. But, unlike TE, I found that I could not get that too much higher. From memory i think i got it into the low 40’s %ages. I have ROTOR oval front rings which may have been a factor.
More technical information from Garmin on TE & PS.
The liverecording element of SportTracks can be used to view this data in realtime in a turbo+PC environment.
That’s it really. That’s the REVIEW. Great product: gives your power data. Expensive in some ways, cheap in others & accurate. Interesting new metrics
Here are some more thoughts though.
5. Target Market
At £1300, this is a high-end piece of kit. Not the cheapest power solution on the market by some way. But there are more expensive ones also.
The target market must be for competitive-to-elite cyclists and ‘people who have the money to afford gadgets’.
Perhaps serious AG athletes who think their technique could be honed with the efficiency metrics on offer? I’ve seen people claiming to, relatively quickly, save 20w of wasted power by honing their technique.
Perhaps first time cyclists with no power solution who see the need for power in several different training/racing scenarios.
IE You may be in a specific situation where you want to use a single power based solution on your turbo trainer, on your TT bike with a disc wheel and on your regular road bike with a non-disc wheel. Leading us nicely on to…
6. Why A Pedal Based Solution?
You can get power based data from solutions based on; wheels, cranks, chain rings and pedals. Oh yes and a turbo trainer as well.
Cranks and chain ring based solutions I personally would not consider as they are not readily portable by me from bike to bike.
A wheel-based solution would be fine to switch from bike to bike but I’m not sure how that would cope with a normal wheel and a disc wheel. If you race outside and sometimes use a disc wheel then there are times when that wheel will be banned because of high wind. When you have high wind is one occasion when power will be VERY useful in a race. Just a thought.
So a pedal-based solution seems the logical and only choice (for me). You, of course, may very well have different needs.
Now here comes the rub. Accuracy.
7. Power Reading Accuracy?
The Vector pedals are used by the Garmin-Sharp race team. If you seriously think they would use an inaccurate power meter then I’m not sure I would be able to convince you otherwise! So I won’t try.
For my own sanity check, I borrowed a mate’s powertap, his 810 and I had the Vectors on my bike on my Tacx Trainer. You can imagine the gadget-fest that ensued. I haven’t got any pretty graphs to show you of my unscientific comparison. Sorry.
Visually we watched the powertap and the Vector tracking each other VERY closely with the Vector consistently 2-3w higher over the range 180w to 350w. IE the range that most of us will be cycling in for extended periods. Let’s face it, NO AG triathlete/duathlete is realistically going to blast out 500w without crashing and burning spectacuarly.
The Tacx was a bit more out overestimating against the Vector by 0-16w in the ‘normal range’. Bizarrely, at low watts (60w) and very high watts (500w) then the TACX UNDER estimated against the Vector by much bigger margins.
The TACX is widely said to overestimate power. So my assumption is that the Vector is more than accurate enough for me because it tracked the Powertap.
Of course you won’t take my word on that but here are some other links:
So really I’d ask you to think about what power reading you see as being ‘correct’ and then ‘how correct’ do you need your reading to be? If you want to compare yourself to your mates or some national standard then you need a consistently correct measurement. If you want to track your progress against yourself and use your Power Solution on the road you need consistency. IMHO.
Apparently Garmin delayed the release of the Vector for a year in order to get power reading they were happy with as they realised the importance of accuracy and consistency in taking this product to market. And also of course using it in their race team.
I’m not so sure that any new backward compatibility with older Garmin watches will be introduced. I’d assume that it will remain compatible with the new 910XT and new Edges. I presume it can be paired with any other device that could previously accept a ANT+ power meter eg the 310XT (But I’ve not tested that).
New efficiency metrics have now been introduced for the Edge (March 2014) however these will not find there way onto the 910XT…just like the 620 running efficiency metrics probably won’t find their way there either. Let’s see.
Firmware updates to the pedals and to the watch devices WILL continue.
9. Price & Value-for-money
Amazon’s price is £1300 in Feb 2014. I can’t see it falling below £1000 for several years to come unless better pedal-based competition appears.
I’d say the product was priced highly. But then lots of them are selling and it seems high to me because I can’t afford it :-(. If Garmin are selling all their production then, unfortunately for me, they have the right price or too low a price. Economics & Business 101.
The calibration process IS FACILE IMHO. However many people appear not to be able to follow instructions and do not read manuals. So my suggestion would be to make the calibration messages a bit longer and crystal clear eg “GET OFF THE BIKE AND PRESS ENTER” and “PEDAL BACKWARDS NOW”.
It would be very nice for the efficiency metrics to go into the 910XT. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they do.
Additional metrics must surely be possible: certainly side-to-side wobble but maybe also backwards/forwards?
I would imagine that now the new efficiency data is out there the clever PLUGIN developers at SPORTTRACKS will enable a live display of efficiency data like the WATT BIKE. That will be SUPER COOL. Think about what that will give you, THAT REALLY will be useful. Oh, stop press. They’ve already done that!! The “Live Recording and HRV” plugin already shows TE and PS metrics…the only place you can view that off your 810. https://www.zonefivesoftware.com/sporttracks/plugins/?p=liverecording or just look at the image below (I had to run off the bike to press screen print so I can do more than 72w … honest!)…
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