Garmin has only just launched its long awaited Vector power meter pedals, and while the system looks to be a legitimate contender in the high-end segment, it doesn't take too much to see where the technology might go. Mountain bike pedals, budget options, extra data – it's all possible in the near future.
Vector for SPD, SPD-SL, and Speedplay?
The Vector places its eight piezoresistive strain gauges on a tiny stainless steel 'dogbone' that's then inserted into a high precision cylindrical bore inside a pedal spindle. Other electronics, such as the batteries and wireless hardware, are housed in a separate 'pedal pod', the shape and size of which can easily be reworked as needed. As such, this modular design lends itself to being adapted for other cleat interfaces and pedal designs.
The modular spindle and separate 'pedal pod' of the Garmin Vector power meter pedal lend themselves to adaptation for other applications
The original Vector – then under the MetriGear label – was designed to use a Speedplay spindle, the dimensions of which would have made it easy to insert into Speedplay's Zero road pedals or SYZR mountain bike pedals, as they share very similar axle designs.
Garmin has since switched to Exustar as a pedal partner for the production Vector. The meter is currently only available in road pedal form but we still expect a mountain bike version to appear on the market some time next year. While in theory you could swap the entire axle cartridge assembly with that of another Exustar pedal that uses the same bearing system, Exustar's mountain bike pedals use a different layout to their road models.
Garmin Vector product manager Clark Foy wouldn't guess at a projected release date for a mountain bike version of the system, but he did confirm that it would probably be the next application.
"What we're mostly likely to do is go mountain for the next pedal," he said. "It's fairly trivial from a technology standpoint, now that the sensor design is so well understood. We can migrate that to a mountain bike spindle with very little development effort. Exustar has a full line of really solid SPD mountain bike pedals, too."
Vector-curious consumers shouldn't rule out Speedplay entirely, nor Shimano, nor any other pedal interface for that matter. While Exustar is the official manufacturing partner at the moment, Foy says Garmin has already been approached by other companies looking to add power to their lineup. "Virtually every pedal manufacturer has come to us and said, 'Hey, we'd love to put this in our pedal.' We've had discussions with virtually everybody out there."
Foy says such expansion isn't likely, though, given the extreme tolerances required in machining the spindle, and business-related issues such as supply chain management, shared margins, and so on. "If there's a part of the market that absolutely demands it, we'd consider it."
Garmin justifies the Vector's premium pricing (US$1,699/£1,349) in two ways – the system offers more capabilities than most meters (more on that in a minute) and, in effect, is actually two power meters instead of one.
That said, it's entirely possible that Garmin could go the Stages Cycling route and release a lower-cost version that includes sensors in just one pedal for a calculated total. Garmin wouldn't have to make any changes to the spindle design for this, either, and should only need to introduce fairly minor changes in software/firmware.
Given our experiences with the production Vector's left/right balance (see our Garmin Vector review) – few people are perfectly symmetrical, particularly below threshold – such a scenario would likely yield a less accurate number.
Garmin would likely still sell such a 'Vector Lite' setup as a complete pair of pedals, with one merely a production Exustar unit, so it wouldn't be entirely reasonable to expect the price to drop in half.
We would certainly expect such a setup to drop below the critical US$1,000/£650 threshold, though, the price point that's probably needed to bring new buyers into the power meter fold.
Even with the addition of left/right balance, the data presented by the current production Vector barely scratches the surface of what's possible with the hardware. As the name suggests, Garmin's new power meter doesn't just measure a scalar value of your pedalling forces – it also knows the direction in which those forces are applied.
The Garmin Vector's four-sided sensor array has changed quite a bit since this early prototype, but the idea behind it hasn't. By measuring both the intensity and direction of forces, a lot more information can be gained than from a simple scalar setup
"It's not just a product, it's a platform," said Foy. "This is 1.0, and everything we've done on this product has not limited us from additional data opportunities in the future. Because we are at this man-machine interface, because we are at that first point of contact, we see unique things on the bike. We see how you're applying force [and] where in the pedal stroke."
The implications are tremendous, and physiologists, coaches, scientists, biomechanists, and fitters are likely to have a field day in terms of cooking up new applications for the recorded data.
For example, how much energy is wasted exerting a radial force on the cranks instead of a more purely tangential one? How does varus/valgus foot position affect power output in real time? Is there anything about your pedal stroke – other than an obvious reduction in power – that's indicative of fatigue?
The possibilities are immense, and are probably more limited by how quickly the company can develop software to visualize and calculate the desired figures – both in real time on a Garmin Edge display, for example, or on a laptop screen for post-ride analysis. Foy said the system's four-sided sensor array can even detect where on a pedal body a rider is applying power.
"Watts will always be interesting to people who want a power-based training program, but we can start to look at things like fatigue, fit, and efficiency; we can start to show you things on a head unit for real-time and post-ride analysis; we can dial things up a whole other level of interest … in something that is force based." ['Force based' meaning how your power is produced and whether you can improve that through changes to your technique rather than just training harder or more – ed.]
Garmin is only just scratching the surface of what's possible with the new Vector power meter pedals. The challenge at this point is prioritizing what comes first and figuring out the best way to present the extracted data
Impressively, Foy contended that such a broad catalog of data wouldn't require any updates to the hardware that's already in production, as it already captures all the information required for the calculations. In other words, consumers who buy into the Garmin Vector now shouldn't have to update their pedals as new features become available.
Just a few days ago, Garmin released a software update for the Edge series that included pedal smoothness and torque efficiency data fields, although we've yet to see them in action. What these will tell you and how useful they will be is still being researched, but at least the data is now available.
"There are two road maps – there's a hardware road map, which is all about the pedal bodies and different pedal pod designs, and then there's a parallel software road map, which is where we'll release the features," said Foy. "It's a two-, three-, four-year vision.
"All this is completely capable based on the way we measure. The intent is that those features would be available across the hardware platforms, so if we release a fatigue metric nine months from now, six months from now, you can update your pedals [with firmware]."
In other words, the Vector has been a long time coming – and is long overdue – but it sounds as though Garmin is only just getting started. Things are about to get interesting.