Fortunately, Garmin uses a common file to store your data, known as a .fit file. These files can normally be uploaded to the site of your choosing, Strava included. Here’s the high level overview of what you need to do:
Coming from an on-wheel smart trainer in the Saris M2, the direct-drive H3 was a much welcomed upgrade.
After over 1700 miles of riding (over 2,000 Zwift miles), the Saris H3 Smart Trainer is still performing as well as the day I set it up. No more worrying about putting a trainer tire on my bike or getting flats in the middle of my ride. I set it up in under 5 minutes and have been sailing ever since.
Like you probably are now, I hesitated to buy this trainer. In fact, I didn’t just hesitate – I bought an on-wheel trainer instead. That worked great for a while. Then my tire failed, and I got flats, and my wheel started slipping on big climbs. Money and frustration added up to the point that my wife told me to get the direct-drive trainer. So I did, and my life changed forever.
Are you teetering on the edge of spending the extra couple hundred dollars on the direct-drive trainer? My advice: if you can wait a couple of weeks or months for the extra money, do it. It’s worth it. 100% it’s worth it.
- No more tire switching to ride inside.
- No more flats from the tire getting too hot.
- Calibration is only recommended monthly; not daily.
- Handles up to 2000W and 20% gradient simulation – more than most of us mere mortals will ever need.
- Saris claims a +/- 2% power reading accuracy, which seems true, but with a catch (see cons).
- Whisper quiet (though my drive train is not). Still, quieter than an on- wheel trainer by a mile.
- No tire slippage when climbing big hills or standing up for big sprints.
- The price. Obviously, direct-drive trainers cost more than on-wheel trainers. However, I think this balances out. You might save 300-400 by getting an on-wheel trainer, but you’re going to need to buy new tires as they wear out. Getting a trainer tire? $40. Tube pops? $5-10. It all adds up. Plus you have to spend more time calibrating, more time setting up the bike, etc. etc., so what’s your time worth?
- The power accuracy caveat – the calibration has to be correct. A short story: After getting myself a pair of Garmin Vector 3’s, I was able to confirm that the power reading does seem super accurate. HOWEVER, that’s only assuming that your calibration works properly. Before getting the pedals I had done a calibration using the Rouvy app (as is suggested by Saris). It seemed to work fine (how would I know different). I did, however, see a bit of a power boost from my last trainer – about 20-30W. I figured it was the old trainer. Once I got the pedals, I noticed the difference. I re-ran the calibration and my power numbers flopped back down 20-30W. But after that, the average wattage for my next ride was within 2W of what the Vectors had (206W on the Vectors, 204W on the H3). As much as my ego suffered, I was happy to have consistent numbers. They’ve been perfect ever since!
- The cadence sensor seems a bit slow to me. This got better after the re-calibration mentioned above, but it still doesn’t seem as smooth as a speed/cadence sensor set up on the crank arms and frame. It also appears to be the most likely to drop out of all the numbers – not that anything else drops out often.
The Smart Trainer Experience / Climbing Experience
Like Saris’ M2, the H3 provides a smooth performance with it’s Bluetooth-controlled resistance. Unlike the M2, the H3 can simulate up to a 20% gradient – more than I ever want to do on my tri-rig drivetrain. I did play around with 100% trainer resistance for a while, but I quickly got tired of grinding out 20-30 rpm up the big hills in Zwift and Rouvy. I found that 30-50% is a sweet spot for me when I want to feel the pain. Overall, I’m confident that the H3 is effectively simulating this resistance, and I couldn’t ask for more.
Like most trainers, what you’re not going to get out of the H3 is the ability to rock your bike left and right. However, what it lacks in left-right motion, it makes up for in stability. Unlike other trainers I’ve tried in the past, the H3’s wide base and weight left me with confidence that I wasn’t going to fall over when I stood up and laid down the watts. On my old on-wheel trainers, I’d sometimes lift them up when I really laid into the sprints.
As far as the flywheel goes, admittedly, I kind of liked the feel of the on-wheel trainers better. But that makes sense. With an on-wheel trainer, you feel and hear the wheel spinning. You even get a little vibration as you spin away. In contrast, the flywheel on the H3 is smooth. Getting it going is just like getting a bike going – you have to overcome inertia. However, that thing can spin. And keep on spinning. But, that considered, it still feels a lot like riding out on the road. And for the money and frustration saved on tires and calibration, I’ll take a slick flywheel each and every day.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely! Go get it. Now.
Feedback for me
This is one of my first product reviews. Let me know what you think! What could be better? What more do you want to know? Thanks for reading!
It wasn’t without bumps, but it wasn’t hard either. Overall, upgrading the single-sided Garmin Vector 3S to the dual-sided Vector 3 was totally worth it. So much data, it’s almost too much to handle.
I had two little bumps in the road when trying to upgrade my pedal-based power meter from the single-sided Garmin Vector 3S system to a dual-sided Vector 3 pair: software (on my Android) and the batteries (a common talking point in the online forums). Still, these were relatively easily overcome, and the upgrade was definitely worth it. With the dual-sided system, I got more data than I could possibly need in a single ride. It also brought my pedal-based power to consistently within 1-3 watts (that’s right, watts – not percentage) of the power reading from my Saris H3 direct-drive smart trainer.
- Dual-sided power means more data. A lot more data. With the 3S, all you get is power. Single-sided power. Some examples (more pictures down below, as well)
- L/R Balance: For me, since I slightly favor my right leg but the pedal was on the left, that meant the power reading slipped slightly lower whenever my right leg pushed/pulled harder than my left. With dual-sided power, I was able to tell that my right leg was doing more, and get a more accurate reading throughout the right.
- L/R Pedal Offset: This let me see that there was a difference in where I was putting power through the pedal. For me, my right pedal power was being pushed through significantly to the left of the center of the pedal. After looking at my cleats, I realized I had set my right cleat out slightly farther to the right.
- Sit/Stand Time and Power: This was an interesting metric. Not so much the time – I was mostly able to see that with the major drop in cadence in my power graphs from before. But the power really helped me understand how efficient I am in the saddle vs. out of the saddle.
- Power Phase and Balance: This is what a lot of people come for, and one of the biggest advantages of the Garmin Vector 3 pedals over some of its competitors. How much of the pedal stroke are you effectively using? What is your peak power phase? Behold the data:
- Torque Effectiveness: How much of the power you’re putting into the pedals is effectively moving the bike? This was really interesting. I noticed, for example, that I’m significantly more efficient at a higher cadence and higher power than during my recovery/endurance intervals (not shocking to many).
- Easy installation.
- Just like other pedal-based systems, a big draw of these is that their installation is as straightforward as installing any other pedal. One catch – you need a 15mm wrench to install these – there’s no Allen key slot on the back-end to tighten through.
- Software/Upgrade Issues.
- In order to upgrade from a single-sided Vector 3S system to a dual-sided setup, you need either a compatible Garmin Edge device or a mobile device that run the Garmin Connect Mobile app. I don’t have an Edge computer, so I was hoping I could use my phone. Nottttttttt so easy. I have a Samsung Galaxy S9 running on the latest version of Android with the latest version of Garmin Connect. I couldn’t (and still can’t) connect my Vector pedals directly to my phone. Every time I tried, I got a weird message about a virtual activity and the app would freeze and timeout. Fortunately, my wife has an iPhone so I was able to use that with no problem.
- Plus side – with my wife’s iPhone, the upgrade was quick and painless. Super quick and painless. I just connected the Vector 3S, navigated to its settings, and put the serial number of the upgrade pedal into the app. It was that easy. That’s all I had to do and I was rockin’ with dual-sided power.
- Battery power over re-chargeable power.
- People complain about this more than I do. My biggest issue with this was not preparing for it in advance. When I bought the Vector 3S, it came with a nice new battery already installed with baby oil already on it (I’ll link to Garmin’s recommended battery replacement instructions later). It worked great. When the upgrade pedal came in, the batteries were dead. I couldn’t find new batteries in store, so I ordered them on Amazon. They took two days to get here. I needed baby oil and a toothpick – not hard to find, but something else to buy (like $5 total, don’t get me wrong).
- An advantage to battery power over rechargeable power? Imagine this: you’re about to go out for a big ride and you realized you forgot to charge your power pedals. Oh well. You won’t have them charged in time. UNLESS they’re battery powered! You have a couple of extra batteries with you. You change them out in 30 seconds and you’re good to go! Bang!
- Here’s the other thing: The battery replacement isn’t hard. Yes, they recommend baby oil or mineral oil to prevent corrosion and increase connection, but that’s cheap and easy. The batteries are $5 or less a piece (cheaper the more you buy). They’ve got new battery covers that I’ve had no issue with. Overall, I don’t think that the pedals being battery powered is that big an issue.
- They’re more expensive than the Favero Assioma Duos, but they give you more data, too. If you think the battery power is a pro (like me), then that’s worth it, too. They also seem to be more available (at least to me right now, during the coronavirus bike boom). Also, thanks to a bunch of discounts right now, I was able to get them for a comparable price (a little under $900 for a single-sided then the upgrade pedal. I’ve seen the Vector 3 dual-sided system for as low as $825).
A solid way to track your power as you ride, though I quickly found myself wanting to upgrade to the dual-sided option.
The Garmin Vector 3S single-sided pedal power meter is an affordable (comparatively) way to bring power to your training. While the numbers might not be as accurate as a dual-sided meter or smart trainer, they are still consistent and prove are an effective way to bring power to your training. On top of that, they give you the option to upgrade to a dual-sided power meter later on.
- You’ve got the power! Power pedals are considered the best reading, because they’re closest to the power transfer (your foot), so I feel confident that they’re accurate.
- It’s more affordable than dual-sided options, but for obvious reasons. It wasn’t soon after I felt the urge of upgrading the pedal (and I did – another post coming soon).
- Easy installation.
- Pretty quick plug-and-play.
- Includes built in cadence sensor.
- Transmits via Ant+ or Bluetooth.
- All you get is power. You don’t get any sort of stroke analysis, standing vs. sitting stats, efficiency stats, or anything else. All you get is power.
- You only get power for your left leg. In my case, this led to slightly lower readings because I have about a 52/48% right-to-left leg split. I was able to close the gap with the readings on my smart trainer by focusing on spinning my left leg, or by spinning only my left leg. It was further confirmed when I upgraded the pedals to dual-sided power, which started to read almost exactly the same as the smart trainer.
- Battery powered. Power lasts approximately 120 hours, according to Garmin, but it’s also susceptible to battery corrosion and power drops. I haven’t had this issue, but Garmin has come out with some guidelines on replacing the batteries. I use a single, double-thick battery with baby oil like is recommended, and I haven’t had any problems to this point. I also like the fact that it’s battery powered. There’s no forgetting to charge the pedals before a big ride – if I see that the batteries are low, I just replace them! Boom! Thirty seconds later and you’re good to go.
- I had issues connecting the pedal to my phone (Samsung Galaxy / Android). Looking at the forums, this seems to not be the first time people have had trouble connecting Vector pedals to Android. Hopefully that gets resolved soon and permanently. In the meantime, I was able to connect through my wife’s iPhone with no problem.
- The battery covers on the Vector 3’s have gotten a bad reputation for stripping/breaking. Apparently, Garmin has gone through a few generations by the time of the publishing of this review. I don’t know if I’ve got the latest version, or if I’m just super careful with covers (because I’ve stripped so many screws…) but I’ve had no problem with these.
- Another piece of the puzzle that gets questionable reviews are the cleats that come with the pedals. The cleats are Exustar, Look Keo-compatible, 6-degree float cleats. They seem fine to me. They seem like they might be a bit greater than 6-degrees to me, but I soon replaced them with 0-degree floats anyways.
Comparison to Power Readings from Saris H3 Smart Trainer
At first, the pedal reading was far lower than the power measurements coming from my smart trainer. That was because my smart trainer wasn’t calibrated correctly. After re-calibrating, it was soon within a few watts of the trainer reading, most of the time. The higher the wattage, the greater the difference. It wasn’t too far off, but it was noticeable. After upgrading to the dual-sided power meter, I realized it’s because I slightly favor my right leg – especially when I’m cranking high power at a low cadence. I was able to bring the Vector 3S reading to within a couple watts of the Saris H3 smart trainer by focusing on my left leg or spinning my left leg only. Still, it was better to have power than not to have it at all. Theoretically, as long as it’s consistent, you can still use it as a super effective training tool.
Coming Soon: A Review on the Upgrade Pedal and Process of Upgrading It To Dual-Sided Power
Considering my last smart training watch was the Garmin Fenix 2, the Garmin Forerunner 935 was a welcome upgrade and has not let me down.
The Garmin Forerunner 935 has everything you need in a multi-sport training watch! Except for music? Do you need music from your watch?
A couple of screens from the Garmin Forerunner 935.
- Easy to setup and start using.
- Loads of data available and customizable screens to show it. You can make multiple custom screens in every workout mode (as far I know), with data available such as 3-second wattage, average heart rate, average heart rate for the current lap, average pace, average speed, current speed, etc. etc. It’s a pretty long list.
- One of my favorite customizable features is a metronome you can set when you run. You can set it to beep, buzz, or both, and choose the pace at which it beats (in beats per minute).
- Another great feature is the heart rate zone warnings you can set. These will warn you when you hit the bottom or top of a heart rate zone – via beep or buzz. This has been great to keep me low during recovery workouts and high during interval sets.
- Customizable faces through the Garmin ConnectIQ app.
- Daily tracking – steps, sleep, and stairs. Not everyone loves this, but I do (“Serious athletes that get a watch like the Forerunner 935 don’t want to waste battery and screen space on something like steps” – I saw in a review one time). I disagree – I think these numbers serve as a good reminder for how much stress your encountering throughout the rest of your day.
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and daily stress scores – HRV can be used as a good metric to determine your recovery level every morning. To use it with the Forerunner 935, you need a compatible chest-strap heart rate monitor. Even if you don’t have a heart rate strap, the watch will give you a daily stress score, which lets you know if you’re giving yourself enough time to recover throughout the day. I’ve found the latter to be especially useful during tough days at work. If it’s a real bad day, it even offers a breathing exercise to help you ease off.
- Long battery life – I might charge it once a week? Maybe every two weeks? And that’s with the smart notifications turned on! I typically have it in training mode, connected to a trainer, heart rate monitor or more for 14-17 hours a week.
- Wrist-based heart rate, not just with Garmin but in every watch I’ve seen, seems to be iffy at best. I trust it when I’m resting, when I’m sleep, or when I’m just walking around from here to there. It seems to be pretty consistent. But when I start working hard, it’ll spike way too high too fast, or drop off by 70-80 beats per minute out of nowhere. Fortunately, Garmin sells compatible chest-based heart rate monitors which are remarkably more consistent.
- No music? I don’t mind this. You can’t listen to music while you race anyways. If I need music, I’ll use my phone. People also complain that watches playing music drains battery faster, strange…
Daily Activity Tracker: Steps, Stairs, and Sleep
I’m not going to get into this too much, because the title says it all. The Forerunner 935, on top of everything else, is also a daily activity tracker. For your night, it tracks your sleep cycles (light, deep, REM). For steps, it automatically adjusts your daily goals for you. For stairs, well it’s far more consistent than other trackers I’ve used. I’ve used trackers in the past that would say I’ve gone 2 flights of stairs when I had done 40, but on other days would count a flight for me getting out of my chair. While the measurement might not be perfect, I certainly don’t see the leaps I used to with other products.
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely. The Garmin Forerunner is thin, lightweight, and incredibly powerful. Not to mention is last generation’s model, so you can probably get a pretty good deal on one…