A bunch of years ago I bought a pair of Garmin Vector 3 power meter pedals. It seemed like for their design team, the third time was the charm. Gone were the awkward ‘earlobes’ that held the batteries. The pedals were Look-compatible, dual-sided. And since they were pedals, they were the easiest way to move power measurement between bikes.
But they were beset with problems. The feeling I got was that the company was in too much of a rush to get them to market and they shipped something that worked well in the lab but fell apart on the road.
Throughout all this, though, they have stood by their product. Rapidly and competently answering support requests, replacing bits and pieces for free and — in this latest chapter — replacing the pedals entirely even with the warranty a distant memory.
A while ago, despite all the upgrades, my pedals stopped talking to each other. I had the latest battery doors (the third version) so it wasn’t that. They were still intact and the o-rings (which keep dirt and water from getting inside the battery assembly) were fine. The only thing I could see wrong was that the battery in the right pedal — the one that went missing — were dead where the left pedal’s battery was fine.
I replaced the right pedal battery and the pedals would work as expected (both reading power, no errors, normal numbers). But only for a couple of rides — maybe six hours total use. Then the right sensor would go missing again. When I would test the right battery, it was squarely in the ‘Replace’ zone.
I burned through a few more batteries before giving up. When the right sensor goes missing, the left sensor switches into some sort of single-sided mode and gives you ‘whole body’ numbers based on left side-only power. Basically it doubles what it reads on the left side. Which is fine if your legs are symmetrical. Mine aren’t. My left leg routinely puts out between three and six per cent less power than my right.
I figured I’d just have to put up with that. The pedals were now several years old, well past warranty and it seemed extravagant to me to buy new ones just because they weren’t working perfectly. They still gave me some numbers and they’re not on my go-to bike any more. I figured by the time they completely failed and I truly needed to replace them, something better would be available.
But when my other bike’s power meter (a left-right crank-based unit built by 4iiii) started reading one-sided only after a firmware upgrade, it got me to thinking. 4iiii’s excellent tech support asked me if I had re-linked the left and right sensors on my cranks after I had done the upgrade. “I didn’t know that was a thing,” I replied. I did the procedure to link left with right and the meter started working two-sided again.
Which made me wonder if the Garmin pedals might work the same way. In years of owning them and talking to Garmin support about them, they’d never mentioned and I’d never seen any reference to a procedure to pair or link left and right sensors.
But a fresh Googling of the subject revealed the instructions. And sure enough, my head unit (also a Garmin product) had the capability.
Only the instructions called for me to enter the right side pedal’s ID number, which apparently is etched on the spindle. But on my pedal, there was no number visible on the pedal. Now normally, the spindle on a Look-compatible pedal isn’t actually visible. You have to remove the pedal body. Which seemed a bit much for something like this. And the screen captures of the re-pairing process didn’t look like what I saw at all.
So I got back with Garmin tech support to figure this out. My head unit still couldn’t ‘see’ the right sensor so it couldn’t tell me the ID. The support rep didn’t ask me to take my pedal apart (maybe my version of the Vector 3 didn’t actually have the number engraved on it). Instead he arranged to have me ship the pedals to Garmin Canada in Toronto. For replacement.
I could either ship the pedals to them and wait, pedal-less until they sent a new pair, or they could put a deposit on my credit card for the full amount, ship a replacement immediately, then reverse the charge when I sent them my defective pedals.
I chose the latter. They charged my card for the full cost of a pair of pedals. I figured when I sent them mine they would rebate me some money but I would be paying — a lot — to repair my malfunctioning pedals, depending, I imagined, on what they could salvage from them and how much of the problem was my doing vs their engineering.
I figured this was better than consuming a whole new set of pedals and it would banish the uneasy feeling I get riding around on broken things. To say nothing of having to work two to three per cent harder to hit my power targets in whatever workout I’m doing.
The replacements arrived quickly. I sent mine back to Garmin and when they arrived, the company reversed the entire charge.
I couldn’t believe it. Planned obsolescence isn’t even a thing any more. It’s a given. Treating anything with a circuit board and a battery as disposable is pretty much standard practice these days. Companies rely on selling the same products to the same people over and over, with only the promise of ‘better, cheaper’ to get customers to play along.
And here was Garmin saying “Naw naw, we don’t care how old these are or how they broke. They’re good gear. We’ll make them work for you. No charge.”