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Garmin Vector 2 review – Pedal Based Power Meter

Garmin have completely replaced and re-designed the pedal pods from their generation 1 Vectors. The original system won as many plaudits as it did critics. The question for this Garmin Vector 2 review, with a set of new sleek pods, has Garmin been able to banish the first pedal based power meters generation 1 gremlins? With that in mind, this review can also be considered a comparison between Vector 1 and Vector 2

Garmin Vector 2 Review

Garmin brought the Vector to market originally, in a way not dissimilar to that of their recent acquisition and subsequent release of the Garmin Varia. Whilst the Varia took 6 months to buys and release in consumer friendly package, when Garmin bought Metrigear, it took nearly 2 years to bring the fledging pedal based power meter to market. To say that the original Vector was a major development in power meters,and their technology, massively underplays the engineering challenges overcome in producing the the first ever pedal based power meter.

So let’s have a look at what that development has produced, now that the Vector is in its second generation.

Unboxing

Ok the Vector 2 is not a cheap set of pedals. Coming in currently at round about £1000 depending on which sites you are looking at. This puts the Vector 2’s at about half the price of the Stages power meter. When you unbox the Stages unit, it feels a little bit like you are unboxing a component for a computer, certainly something utilitarian.

Unboxing the Vectors 2, wow, this feels special. The box, and general presentation, probably added very little to the overall price, but makes the product feel exceptionally special from the moment you open it.

Garmin Vector 2 review

Excellent presentation case

This may seem like a superficial nicety, but the case presents the product very well, and gives the immediate perception of quality in the product

Garmin Vector 2 Review

Same pedals and gauges, now pods and circuits

The pedals are EXACTLY the same as the generation one Vector pedals. But this isn’t a bad thing, the pedal body has been designed by Garmin, is manufactured by Exustar and finally uses and is compatible with Look Keo cleats.

Personally I found it slightly disappointing that the original design from Movistar was based around SpeedPlay pedals, but that Garmin decided to change to Look compatible, as I had been using SpeedPlay prior to this review – frankly I shouldn’t have been worried, I’ve found the pedals as good, if not better than my SpeedPlays – sufficiently that I haven’t changed back!

Garmin Vector 2 review

Sleek pedal design

The clip in and out from the pedals is exceptionally easy, certainly egress I’d argue is a little smoother than the SpeedPlays, and are certainly an upgrade from the Ultegra pedals I had used before as well.

A small benefit of the Look Keo system I was unaware of initially that the cleats have black rubber grips to the corners and the centre of the cleat, making them surprisingly easy to walk on!

Garmin Vector 2 Review

Rubber grips on the Look cleats

SpeedPlay have recently released a set of cleats as well, that had a grip designed into the cleat to allow you to walk more easily in them. So the concept that people don’t just magically appear on their bikes seems to be getting through to manufacturers. The grippy Look cleats were certainly the one of the most pleasant surprise of using the Vectors.

Installation

With the original Vectors, you needed to find or buy a crow foot adapter in order to screw on and tighten the pedal to the crank. The lack of this adapter could frequently stop a Vector installation, or result in a potentially scratched crank if you crow foot you did have was a little too think. 

With that in mind, it’s great that Garmin has partnered with Park Tools to include the needed crow foot adapter

Garmin Vector 2 review

Park Tool crow foot adapter, a present from Garmin

In the generation 1, a torque wrench was needed for the correct installation of the pedals at 34Nm. Due to the change in attachment of the Vector pods, there is now no mention of torque wrench in the guidance from Garmin, as the pods are now clipped around the pedal spindle after pedal installation

There are a series of washers included with the pedals in order to used during installation as needed, but you still must ensure that there is enough clearance between the pods and chain. Some particular cranks, in order to ensure that there is the required 5mm gap between the crank and the chain, need to opt for the smaller sized pods – so it’s important to check compatibility before you buy.

As a note the Ultegra 6800 chain set used on this Garmin Vector 2 review had plenty of space between the crank and the chain

Garmin Vector 2 review

Chain space

Pod installation

The pods are the biggest, and only change to the actual power meters itself. The change to plastic was increased with weight from 150g per unit to 156g, which I’d think most people can deal with! This is little surprising as the original pods were made of metal. The origami pods also needed to be slotted directly onto the spindle of the pedal before installation, which could make holding and initially screwing on the pedals a challenge.
Garmin Vector 2 review

Attached pod

The metal pod, and the fact that the whole unit slotted together like a bobbin was one of the engineering issues with the first generation pedals. There were quite a few reports of pods failing, particularly when installing the pedal, and the metal pods getting bent.
The new design of the plastic pods is much sturdier, as well as thicker, so there is much reduced chance of breaking, however the biggest improvement is the easy of installation of their new pods.
Now the pedals are installed first. The pods open, and clamp onto the spindle at the point the crow foot adapter was used to tighten the pedal onto the crank. Finally the pod is secured to the spindle by tightening a screw on the side of the clamp with the included hex tool – yup the only thing not included for a perfect installation is a torque wrench.
Garmin Vector 2 review
Hex screw clamp 

Not only does this make putting the pods on ridiculously simple, but increases the ease, and therefore the likelihood that you will actual be willing to swap the pedals between bikes if you needed – e.g. Between and road and TT bike, thus saving you the nee for two power meters.

After the pod plug connections are then pushed into the end of the crank, and into the electrical connection gubbins within the pedal spindle.
Garmin Vector 2 review

GUBBINS!

More pods!

The pedal spindle contains the strain gauges for the actual power meter, but the pods contain the circuitry, the communication array and the batteries, which are actually very easy to change. It would be worth while noting that I’ve found cheap batteries tend to last a month, whereas good brands, Energiser, Duracell tend to last about two. You can keep an eye on the battery level both from the LED status, but also from a connected Garmin head unit.
Garmin Vector 2 review

Battery housing on inside of pods

There has been another big change to the outside of the pods. A small LED to the outside of the both pods. The fact you can physically see communication with the pods is hugely important. If you are having problems with the Vectors, the flashing of the pods tells you that if nothing else the battery is good, and the devices are trying to communicate.

This was one of the annoyances I found in my Stages crank review, it’s jut a black box. If you can’t connect to the Stages you have no idea if it’s working at all. The original Vector had the same lack of visual features
Garmin Vector 2 review

Communication LED

The LED is able to indicate system on, attempting to connect, successfully connected, completion of setup, paring status

Calibration

After the pedals and pods have been installed, the pod angles need to be set. This involves connecting the pedals to a head unit, and pedalling at approximately 80-90 rpm for about 2 minutes. This will allow the system to work out the position of the pods.

Every time you take the pedals off, even if it’s to swap between bikes you have used before, you need to set the angles after each calibration.

Once this is done, on the Garmin head unit, go into the sensors screen, select Vector 2, and within here input your crank length, in my case that 170mm – as I prefer to spin out.

The final stage of calibration, is to formally calibrate the power meter – as you should with every power meter before any ride.

On the Garmin head unit, this is just a case of unclipping from the pedals, and hitting calibrate. Which is much easier than the need to ensure the crank is pointed down with the Stages crank, or having to do a spin down on the Wahoo KICKR.

The point being here, is I frequently forgotten to calibrate before a ride. With the Vectors, you can simply click out, hit calibrate, and then ride off, there is no faffing around. With the other power meters I have used, it is not quite as simple if you are already in the ride. Plus with the original Vector the pedals had to be positioned at the 3 and 9 O’clock position

Firmware

Most of the other Garmin products update either over WiFi through Garmin Connect. But this isn’t the case with the Vectors. Instead you need to download a separate, device specific piece of software Vector Updater, which will download the update over ANT+ via

Using the Vector 2

A big point to take away from this Garmin Vector 2 review is that these devices are ridiculously easy to use. Both as a set of pedals, but also as power meters.

The pedals as I’ve already mentioned are a great improvement over my previous Shimano Ultregra pair, and I’ve similarly heard very good things when moving from the Look Blade pedals.

It would appear that the main reason to look at the Vectors over PowerTap P1 is the Garmin Cycling Dynamics. Although that said, PowerTap does have an excellent marketing line!

Garmin Vector 2 review

Probably the best tag line yet for a power meter!

Cycling Dynamics

Garmin produced their Running Dynamics, which I discussed in the 920XT review, Cycling Dynamics is pretty much the same. A series of metrics that they have found are measurable, but related to cycling, through the Garmin Vectors, as opposed to the HR-Run meter, that needs a Garmin head unit to display

Garmin Vector 2 review

Cycling Dynamics page

Like the Running Dynamics, cycling dynamics comes with two slight caveats: You need a compatible Garmin head unit in order to display the information, and secondarily, it’s a case of “we can measure it, but we don’t know what it means! Or even if it’s useful for that matter!”

So what does this Cycling Dynamics actually look at? As much as I hate to say it, not much. There are three metrics contained within the Garmin proprietary Cycling Dynamics:

Power phase

A measurement indicating where in the stroke the most power is being produced. The power phase is indicated by the two top circles on the Garmin head unit above. Again, not real function as yet, but it is theorised that this may transpire to be a marker for use in bike fitness, if a conclusion can be drawn about where the optimal position in the pedal stroke people should be aiming to produce the most power

Seated time/Standing time

Does exactly what is says in the tin. Form this way you are putting force through the pedals the Vectors 2 is able to take a stab at when you are either standing or sitting. I say stab because as a consequence of my arm injury, I’m not confident enough yet with balance to get out of the saddle, much. Some riders I don’t at all, but the Vectors do frequently record standing and seated times, even when I’ve not moved.

– for me this is definitely a not sure of the benefit feature

Platform Centre Offset

Again another metric which is likely to have an effect more in the bike fitting world. PCO shows where the force is passing through the pedal itself. From personal experience, initially had a very thorough Guru bike fit, which I threw out by adding and changing bits of the bike. As my knee pain returned, before k swapped onto the Vectors, it was interesting to see my LEFT foot had a -11 offset, compared to the RIGHT of + 9. A further bike fit, put two washers on my RIGHT pedal, this greatly improved the alignment of my knee, and cured the pain. After the bike fit, PCO to the RIGHT leg is now +6. It’s likely that the change, and direction of change in the PCO is going to be more important than the actual numbers themselves in the long term.

Keeping his in mind, there may also be a role in PCO for injury rehabilation, but also crucially injury prevention.

Other measurements

Given that the Vector system is a dual sensing power meter setup, this allows allows for thee other metrics to be looked at. However these are not proprietary measurements for Garmin

Left/Right balance

Looks at the balance between the powers you are putting through each pedal. Most people normally have a 1-2% difference between each leg, so day to day it doesn’t give you much. But L/R balance can be useful in recovering from injury, as it can help focusing power and training through a weaker leg. Similarly it can identify subtle variations between legs, such as after a 2hour ride, has that exposed a strength discrepancy not normally noticeable on lesser rides, which can then be addressed in further training

Torque effectiveness (TE)

How much torque is actually pushing the pedal forwards, measured out of 100%. Now there has been a debate in cycling whether you should also pull UP on the backstroke. The debate does move around, but broadly the answer has been “No”. I don’t know the answe, but it’s interesting that you are more likely to get closer to 100% on the TE by pulling up as well.

Pedal smoothness

How consistently you deliver power to the pedal through the the stroke, which tends to increase in line with increases in power.

Using the Vectors

I have used both the Stages and the Vector 2 pedals for several months now. Previously I wasn’t entirely convinced of the need to have dual sensing power meters.

However I am aware that if I am riding solely with the Stages, I would subconsciously push down harder on the LEFT leg to see the power. Now it might be that, I’m continuing the same power through the RIGHT leg, but it’s nice to KNOW, with the Vectors I’m not actually cheating.

Plus using the data from both pedals on a ride, I’m able to keep an eye on my shared power, and ensure that as my weaker, RIGHT leg tires, I consciously try to keep up the power through that leg, hopefully increasing the training effective, to mitigate the difference with training over time.

That is another effective point for any dual sensing system, you have much more detailed information when it comes to single leg training sessions.

Compared to my use of the Stages power meter, which saw annoying drop outs, and spikes, which was partially improved by a new battery door, I get much more consistent data.

Similarly when using the Vectors on Zwift, I know that again I get much more consistent data than the Wahoo KICKR is able to give me. Although I do believe this is an issue with the Zwift interface with the KICKR, not an intrinsic problems with the KICKR, as I get very comparable results from the KICKR using Trainer road, or Wahoo’s own Segments app

It would be nice if Garmin offered a range of different pedal types – they have certainly been approached by “everyone in the market” but their current next development cycle is towards take the Vectors to the world of mountain bikes, which might result in an even stronger, more durable pedal setup.

I think the biggest comment I’d give the Vector 2 system is I intend to buy a pair, when I can find a set at a suitable price point. I did it difficult to buy components which cost more than the bike it’s attached to, but as they say, I trust in the power of eBay – however one note on eBay power meters – unless it’s sealed, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it.

Garmin offers a 1 year warranty on the factory calibration, if the end user is not able to calibrate properly. The warranty does not cover calibration issues due to end user problems – such as having struck the pedal on the floor in a crash. So ultimately, unless you are 100% sure of the story behind a power meter, I’d weigh up is the saving, really that good if there is a potential for a subtle problem

Ultimately I’d give the Vectors 4/5

The dropped star is only due to the price, and that will follow the market, which I’d expect by Christmas 2015-Early 2016 to have started to see power meter prices start to slide, even at the top end

Any thoughts on the Garmin Vector 2 review drop them in the comments below!

Vector OFFER – New as of 04/08/2015!

Due to the positive response to this review since it was published I have been offered THREE new sets of the Garmin Vector 2 Pedals to extend to readers of TitaniumGeek at £900 under cutting Wiggles current £1079. If you are interested, drop me a line in the comments and I will pass on the supplier details.

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