Monday, August 29, 2011

Garmin Vector - Power Meter Review

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--Garmin has rolled out its new power meter called the Garmin Vector. Some of you may remember it acquired MetriGear last year in an effort to stay in front of the curve on power--instead of just being the computer for Quarqs and Powertaps. I spoke to people at the time who said MetriGear was nothing more than a few very insignificant prototypes, but it looks like Garmin has been able to pump out a product:


Here are the top-level PROs and cons as I see it:

-Non-wheel-based power (ie PowerTap) so you don't have to have race and training versions

-You have to ride their pedals (Look Keo-like pedal)--there goes all Speedplay loyalists (myself included)
-Price - it costs as much as a high end PowerTap or a Quarq (~$1500, not including the computer)
-New pedal fit required (for those not already on those pedals)

So yes, it's better than one of the worst solutions on the market, PowerTap. But that still doesn't make it good. Maybe if it were at a high, pedal price point, say $300, this would be a solid deal.

Overall, this seems like another sub-par solution to a real problem. This is a mandatory piece of equipment for any competitive cyclist, yet it's still dominated by a product (SRM) which requires it to be sent in (ie you take the crankset off your bike, rendering your bike unusable) to have the battery changed. Given this, the market is ripe for improvement. But the pedal is such a sticky thing people will be reluctant to switch for a power meter. (The current model is built as a Look Keo but Garmin says it will expand to feature Time and Shimano options.) I think people are more likely to switch wheels (PowerTap) than switch pedals, unless of course they are already riding Look Keos.

Garmin's new offering will merely round out its suite of cycling products, but will never be a leader in the space. I don't even think the product will ever get into the black for Garmin, for that matter. Also, coming out with different models to match every rider’s pedal wants seems to be a a very costly development move but that’s another issue.

What I think happened is that Garmin was looking for a cheap entry to the power market and couldn't afford Quarq (recently bought by Sram). Given Quarq already had a solid product and real customers, versus MetriGear's real drawings, it probably was sold for upwards of $50m. MetriGear likely was at the absolute best a 10th of that. (iBike, obviously wasn't an option either because: a) well, it's laughable, and b) it's based in the computer, Garmin's area of expertise.) Although Garmin's a $6bn company (late 2007 it was triple that), it's not a bike company, it’s a tech company. For it to spend $50m on a power company like Quarq would have been fiscally irresponsible and most likely not an option that was ever on the table.

Sram, on the other hand, is absolutely a bike company at heart. Buying Quarq, even at a high price, was an extremely smart move. While Shimano and Campagnolo are off chasing the red herring that is electronic shifting--the best it will ever be is a high end product for PROs and elites--Sram is going after the power market head on.

With power becoming a mainstream cycling concept, and every cat 5 phenom insisting on measuring it, the market for power products will continue to grow and the technology improve. But real change won’t come from half baked solutions like the Garmin Vector. Real change will come from Sram as it perfects Quarq and eagerly gobbles up market share. In turn, this will raise the bar for SRM to improve its solution. (To be clear, both require the crankset to be sent in but I predict they will move away from this as the competition increases. Quarq has been firing on half as many cylinders as it will now that it’s with Sram and SRM will have to up its game to keep pace.)

For those of you seriously interested in power (and know a power meter is just going to show how little power you’re producing) go with a Quarq or an SRM, anything else is just Fred.

UPDATE: A source close to the Quarq transaction has informed me it was nowhere near my top end estimate of $50m, and more likely in the low to mid-seven digits. MetriGear likely didn't clear 6 figures as it tried and failed to raise additional funding.

1 comment:

  1. Not much of a product review, is it?


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