Garmin Vector 3 initial power comparison review

Detailed left/right data without pods dangling off the spindles

This article first appeared on Bikeradar

It may be foolish to judge a power meter by appearances, but the new Garmin Vector 3 looks good, as Garmin finally eliminated the pods dangling off the pedal spindles. After getting the Vector 3 pedals Monday, I have done a few comparative tests with meters from Pioneer, Stages and three smart trainers.

Garmin Vector 3 highlights 

  • LR44/SR44 batteries, with claimed life up to 120 hours
  • 316g claimed, 320g measured for the pair
  • No more pods!
  • +/- 1.0% claimed accuracy
  • Look Keo cleats
  • 53mm Q factor (or 55 mm with supplied washers)
  • 12.2mm stack height
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth
  • Need a Garmin Edge 520, 820, 1000 or 1030 to access all the Cycling Dynamics measurements

LED indicators are tucked inside the spindle, instead of on the Vector 2's dangling pods

Changes from the Vector 2 pedals

Ditching the pods improved more than just the looks of the Vectors. First, some rotational weight was removed (roughly 20g per side).

Next, compatibility issues improved. Vector 2 had two width versions depending on which cranks you had, as a plastic strap wrapped around from the back of the spindle to the pod.

For riders who left the pedals on one bike this wasn't an issue, but riders who were attracted to the pedals for their portability from one bike to another faced frustration occasionally. (Years ago I was stumped about why my test Vectors weren't working on a Specialized demo bike until I realized the width issue.)

Now, the Vector 3s can be popped onto any bike, regardless of crank-arm width.

Goodbye and good riddance, pods!

Battery life has decreased compared to the Vector 2 system, which used 2032 coin cell batteries in the pods. The Vector 3s have LR44/SR44 batteries, with a claimed 120hr battery life.

Cleats are still Look Kéo-compatible models. And, as before, you can get detailed left/right features (like Power Phase, which shows where in the stroke you generate power) if you have a newer Garmin Edge computer. With any computer recording a .fit file, you still get left/right power data, just not the same real-time info-graphics on screen.

Initial comparison of power data to Pioneer, Stages and smart trainers

I have been riding with power meters for about 15 years — since a wired PowerTap was the only non-SRM option — and I have yet to find a fault-proof method of field testing them. What I have settled on is comparing three or four meters at once and looking for trends. If all three track in parallel within a few watts of each other, I'm happy. What I don't want to see is data from one drifting up or down (like heart rate) when compared to the others.

A few of my friends are coaches, and they all confirm that different meters have slightly different readings. The important thing is repeatability; like a bathroom scale, you want your meter's measurement to be the same one day to the next.

I am using Stages Link (powered by Today's Plan) to compare data. Here, Vector 3 power in boldface green is compared to that of Pioneer and Wahoo Kickr Snap

Some of the early Garmin Vector models had some consistency issues. While some pedals would be consistent, others would occasionally deliver suspect data. The Garmin pro team very publicly abandoned the Vector meters for SRMs for racing and training. Personally, I've had decent luck with the Vectors. I tested the single-sided S against a Stages, and I have used them for power testing when on the road because of their portability. My former colleague Jamie Wilkins experienced some failures with a set he had.

For my initial testing, I ran the Vector 3s against new Stages 9100 and two-sided Pioneer power meters, plus Tacx Neo, Elite Direto and Wahoo Kickr Snap smart trainers. (I'm in the thick of smart-trainer testing now, conveniently.)

The Vector 3 power tracks in parallel with that of other meters, but lower. At steady state it is usually just a few watts, but the delta grows on the front end of hard accelerations

In all of these tests, the Vector 3 power data tracked consistently along with the others, and consistently a few watts below everything but the Neo, which aligned closely with the pedals. That is not to say the Vector 3 (or Neo) reading is incorrectly low, as I can't assume the others are perfect. But it was gratifying to see each meter perform consistently. You can look at the graphs in the gallery above for a few examples over micro and macro views.

Early verdict

At first blush, the Vector 3 pedals seem like a sound power, tracking consistently alongside measurements from other meters. Comparatively, the Vector 3 data aligns with that of the high-end Tacx Neo, and just a few watts under the rest. Most importantly, the measurement in these initial tests has been consistent.

Eliminating those dang pods is a huge step forward. I'll happily change the batteries a little more often in exchange for wide-open compatibility, less fiddling around with installation and a less-dorky aesthetic.

Using a newer Garmin Edge allows full visual access to the Vector 3's measuring power

When used with a new Garmin Edge computer, the abundance of left/right data and infographics are cool, but I am still uncertain as to how actionable the data is. But as with the raw wattage numbers, I suppose it is important to keep in mind the nature of a left/right measurement tool — it's job is to measure; it is up to riders (and coaches and physiologists and others) to determine how to improve.

For me, I am hopeful that the data will continue to track consistently against other meters. Because if it proves reliable, the convenience of being able to install a left/right power meter in the same action as installing a normal pair of pedals would be a win, both at home and especially when traveling.

I will update this initial review after more testing. 

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