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Garmin Vector 2 long term review

Garmin Vector 2 power meter
18 Jul 2016

Page 1 of 2Garmin Vector 2 long term review

Verdict:

Six months with the Garmin Vector 2 pedals has shown us the good, the bad and the confusing elements of the power meter.

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£899

Although you might still stumble across the odd new pair still for sale, Garmin has stopped making its Vector 2 pedals. Since superseded by the newer Vector 3 models – you can find our equally exhaustive review of them here – and again by the release of the new Rally power pedals, which you can read about here.

Alternatively, read on to find out how we got on with the earlier version of Garmin’s pedal-based power meter.

Garmin Vector 2 long term review

Garmin landed in the world of power meters like a comet, changing the game substantially. With hardware fluent in the language of ANT+ used by all Garmin computers, the Vectors had all the potential to sweep the market but the pedals have been plagued by a reputation for glitches and inconsistency (as was the case with our initial review).

After 7,000km of use through rain, sun and gravel across different countries and different continents, though, the Vectors have shown themselves to be fundamentally reliable, and in many ways the best option currently on the market.

Installation

The Vector 2 pedals are a big step on from the original Vector pedals in terms of how quickly they can be switched from one bike to another.

Garmin Vector 2 pedal

The new plastic pods simply loop around the pedal axles, where the previous iteration had to be screwed into place. A plug from the pod plugs into the back of the pedal axle, which then activates the pod and enables power data to transfer from the pedals to the head unit.

This is much quicker than the previous generation that needed to be screwed into place, and less susceptible to user error – many horribly mangled the previous pods by positioning them incorrectly during installation.

The pedals themselves need to be installed with a spanner rather than allen key, on account of the electronics at the back of the axle.

That brings with it the task of torquing the pedals to the required degree, an astounding 40Nm, a force that requires an exceptionally long pedal spanner, and ideally a torque wrench with a ‘crow’s foot’ adapter. This seriously hinders quick use on the move and general versatility, as it can be tough to travel with a pedal wrench long enough to secure the sufficient torque. We’ll return to this later.

Once put in place, the calibration and general setup are extremely straightforward, especially on a Garmin.

Resilience

Our first dabbling with the Vector 2 was not entirely successful. We had an unlucky streak of failures, something endemic with an early batch of the Vector 2 models. We had lost a little faith until receiving this current set, which has proved extremely resilient. That is by the standards of pedals, though.

There’s no question that the pedal is a very vulnerable spot to house a power meter, not to mention two separate meters that need to work together. The PowerTap P1s, which are the main rivals to the Vectors, demonstrate the point with a military appearance, being much more beefed out and reinforced than the Vectors. That said, the Vectors do look a little more exposed than they actually are in practice.

The exposed pods, which transmit ANT+ power data, may look susceptible to a ground slam, but that is somewhat unfounded. Lean the bike over to emulate a ground strike and it’s quickly evident that unless the pods are positioned inline with the crank itself to extend outward (something not recommended by anyone) there is no chance whatsoever of the pod striking before the pedal. In fact the pod sits about 4cm clear of the ground. We rode the pedals in races, time trials, and even on gravel trails through thick mud, and the pods were never damaged during a ride.

That said, we were happy that Garmin offers replacement pods at a reasonable price (£50) as the pods are easily damaged if dropped during travel or switching between bikes. For our part, changing the pedals extremely regularly (several times every week, sometimes multiple times per day) did start to take a toll on the pods for one reason or another, and we needed to order two replacement pods to keep the system up and running. Indeed, it seemed to be switches and travel that took more toll on the pedals than the actual use of them ever did, but the pedals themselves lasted throughout without issue.

Despite a little fragility, though, having power at the pedals renders significant advantages. 

Data density

From the outset, the level of information on offer from the Vectors was overwhelming, quite literally. The pedals generate too much information to immediately understand. That information includes pedal offset, seated balance, standing balance, power phase, power arc length and numerous other metrics to boot.

Crucially, with a Garmin 520 and upwards, riders can use the ‘Cycling Dynamics’ screen, which generates live graphics on power generation from each leg, and the efficiency of the drive. It’s the sort of information best analysed inside on the turbo rather than on the road.

Garmin Vector 2 pod

Interestingly, one metric not featured is the drag on the upstroke of a pedal – the one feature many claim to be the main advantage of a pedal based power meter. For this, third party software like WKO4 is necessary. This puzzled us a little, and indeed we ended up putting the question to Garmin itself. Andrew Silver, product manager at Garmin explains the reasoning: ‘Our focus is on the positive aspect – where the power is applied. We’re not trying to present the user with “this is how you should pedal”. Our aim is to provide them with the information from which they can make their own assessments.’

It’s an important distinction, as it makes clear that the Vectors measure and record but don’t attempt to influence. On balance we consider that approach a plus point for the pedals, as its easier (and less likely to spark injury) to work on improving the drive phase than trying to reduce technical failures without proper guidance. It’s important to remember that the Vector 2s remain one of the few power meters that can track drag on the pedal during the upstroke, though, even if it does require third party software.

After 6 months of use, some of the data presented has still failed to be of enormous use to me. I paid close attention to the cycling dynamics data when I first took to the pedals, and adjusted my stroke substantially, but since then have had little use to continue using it. That’s not to suggest, though, that it doesn’t have very good potential. In the world of bike fitting, pedal centre offset and arc length will both be highly informative to tweaking setup. Garmin is also constantly devising new metrics such as FTP tracking – a data field that will simply tell you how long you can carry on at a given pace. Some of the more obvious metrics presented by the Vectors have been of substantial use, though. 

Dual-sided power

While I’ve used single-sided systems and found them highly informative, the most basic step up offered by the Vector 2s, measuring from both sides, is also one of the most important, as it quickly flags up issues of fatigue and distortions of power figures from imbalances that previously drove me mad. Indeed, many of the metrics created by cycling dynamics almost act as more re-focusing prompts that data for its own sake. When my balance and PCO tips I tend to re-centre myself and refocus on maintaining some form, which has gone a long way to preventing injury and improving my general technique during fatigue.

The functionality of the Vectors with the Garmin computers is an enormous advantage to the whole system, as calibration and general feedback from the unit is very well done. It’s worth noting, incidentally, that regular calibration is a good idea, as my power meter would often drift up by up to 50 watts owing to temperature differences. Thankfully this is straightforward and is something I now do every ride without it ever becoming a hassle – I would simply use the first red light I stop at as a chance to zero the system.

While calibration is very slick, installation remains a hassle despite substantially improving since the first generation. While switching the P1 pedals between bikes was a five-minute job with an allen key, the Vectors realistically take closer to 20 minutes to fully switch. The pods take care to position and the pedal has to be tightened to the required torque, something that increasingly irritated me in my time with the pedals.

Garmin Vector

Torque was an issue that really played on my mind with the Vectors, as ‘undertorquing’ could easily render a false reading of 20 watts or more, along with a skewed balance figure. As a rider that often needs to switch pedals three or four times a week between test bikes, this did become a little irritating, and was one factor that endeared me to other systems. On balance, though, I’m left thinking that it’s a worthy sacrifice in light of the system’s advantages.

Costing up

Price may seem a little less relevant when spending a grand on a set of pedals, but for the Vectors the recent reduction in price really has swung the market to its favour. At an RRP of £899 the Vectors are easily the cheapest power meter to offer a true balance reading. When considering that retailers are already dropping the price to near the £750 mark, this really does undercut the competition. Worst affected is probably the P1 pedals, which have gained £50 on their original RRP of £1,000 from poor exchange rates on the dollar. Yet the price also starts to touch on the Stages range at £599, a serious threat considering the added level of information from dual-measurement and ability to switch between bikes. With the recent addition of Shimano pedal compatibility (a conversion kit costs £99), this versatility will be further broadened. We’ll be walking through the conversion process ourselves in the coming weeks.

The Vectors certainly have problems and setbacks, and if I were to ride a single bike consistently, a chainset-based system would certainly be appealing. For anyone switching regularly, though, or eager to immerse themselves in a deeper level of data than most power meters currently offer, the Vectors represent exceptional value and usability.

Madison.co.uk

Page 1 of 2Garmin Vector 2 long term review

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