Heads up – Apr 11th, 2019 – Garmin Vector 3 deal! The Garmin Vector 3 power meter pedals are currently on sale for $100 off the dual-sensing pedals, and $50 the single-sided Vector 3S pedal.
I don’t see this as a sign of any new Vector product line, but rather more of a proactive effort on Garmin’s part tied to the annual Sea Otter cycling show that started the same day as this sale (where other companies oft make power meter announcements). If you’re in the market for Vector 3 – then this is definitely a super-rare deal on them. Full in-depth review here.
It’s been nearly 3 years since Pioneer seemingly stumbled onto the bike power meter scene. The move by what is primarily an audio/visual company to break into the high end cycling scene was looked at by many as…well…odd. But Pioneer stuck with it.
Their first generation unit required more complexity to install by a certified technician than launching a rocket. But they learned from that and introduced a second generation unit about a year ago. That unit simplified things greatly and made it much easier and more obtainable.
Then, last month the company dropped the hammer on prices – introducing what is quite arguably the best value in the power meter market today. Finally, today they’ve announced that certain markets will also now get a left-only option at a reduced price. Plus, they’ve also detailed future plans for the lineup (see my later section on that).
Which, brings us all full circle to my review here. I initially used the 1st generation unit, and then last summer moved to the 2nd generation unit – which is what this review is about. It’s the same unit that’s now $999USD. Pioneer provided me a complete bike to test, with the power meter pre-installed on the bike. That’s because they expect most consumers will order via their local bike shop, which will complete installation for them.
Once I wrap up this review, I’ll ride back across town and drop the bike off at their offices just outside the city limits here in Paris.
Pioneer Power Meter Overview:
Now as noted in the previous section I had an entire bike loaned to me with the system pre-installed. As such, I can’t really speak to the installation aspects as well. Though, having installed many power meters over the years the biggest factor you’ll need to consider is frame compatibility. This is especially true for crank based power meters that have electronics on the inside of the crank arm, which can sometimes be a factor when it comes to clearance with your bike frame.
In the case of the Pioneer system, they also use magnets on both sides of the bike frame. While magnets are start to go out of style slightly (in lieu of using accelerometers), there are some benefits to magnets in that they tend to produce slightly more accurate cadence measurements in certain edge cases (such as very high RPM pedaling – i.e. 170RPM+). Additionally, in some (rare) cases magnets can get around issues with vibrations that can impact accuracy. But again, these days those downsides are pretty darn rare to run into, as most of the companies have put in place algorithms to address that.
In any case, starting with the magnets, which you can see below as a little bump on the frame.
Next, if you look just beyond the magnets on the crank arms themselves you’ll see the actual power meter portion. This is where the unit measures the forces you exert on the crank arm and in conjunction with the cadence sensor will ultimately give you power. Because the Pioneer power meter system is dual-leg, it means that you’ll see this on both sides. This allows it to measure both legs independently, and then combine that data to ultimately give you total power.
In addition to that, you’ll find on the drive side (that’s the side with your chainrings) that you’ve also got a pod nestled in there.
If you let the pod get all ‘Girls Gone Wild’ and take its top off, you’ll find a battery inside, along with a nifty little button that controls a variety of functions including manually recalibrating the magnets as well as the transmission mode:
This button is what toggles between the private ANT and ANT+ mode, which I’ll talk about in more detail later. Next month, with a firmware update for the head unit you’ll no longer need to take the top off to toggle the functionality.
When it comes to riding with it, you’ve got two options – using the Pioneer head unit, or a 3rd party head unit. I’ll cover the differences in the following two sections – but no matter which option you choose you can still calibrate the unit from either type. Like most power meters the term ‘calibration’ really has two meanings. The first is the more common zero offset, which the head unit supports. And the second is via a force screen, which shows you the current force exerted. This allows validation of a given load onto the unit.
If doing it from the Pioneer head unit, you’ll go into the power sensor option (separate ones for each half of the power meter), where you’ll see both options available to you:
Interestingly, the unit will actually save these manual calibrations along with a given temperature point for each one. These are actually accessible online via the portal. Which, is kinda cool. That’s only available via the Pioneer head unit though. Which is probably a good time to talk about that now.
Pioneer Bike Computer (Head Unit):
While Pioneer has released a power meter, they’ve also released themselves a head unit to go along with it. Actually, at this point it’s now a small family of head units. In my case I was testing the most recent one – the SGX-CA500. This squared off looking bike computer is roughly the same depth as the Edge 500, but just a bit wider. Like those ‘wide load’ trucks you see on the highway.
Weight wise, the unit comes in at 74g:
For comparison, a few other units on the market have weights of:
Unlike the Edge 500 though, it contains components such as WiFi uploads and a touchscreen display (and a larger display at that). Most importantly though, it has the ability to record precision torque analysis data from the Pioneer power meter lineup. This data is not being transmitted to other head units, but rather a private ANT channel for just Pioneer. You can see an example of this torque display below. This shows where in the pedal cycle you’re generating the power from:
In the above photo what you see is two display variants of graphs – but one showing the left leg and another the right. Within the settings you can change the display options, including which legs. In the above photo I’m just pedaling normally, which is showing that the majority of my power comes from the downstroke.
However, in the next photo I’ve changed my stroke such that I’m pedaling with just one leg, and now it’s showing more force on the upstroke side because I’m forced to pull up in the stroke to get it all the way around. Meanwhile, my left leg is almost 0w (usually I’d like to see that exactly 0w however).
This of course is just a simplistic example. The functionality here is very similar to Garmin’s Cycling Dynamics piece, within the power phase component. Except that Pioneer was doing it 2-3 years before Garmin was.
The idea behind this data is that you can work on improving the ‘dead spots’ in your stroke – in theory increasing overall power. However, one has to be careful to not reduce power in the process by thinking too much (a common problem when people try to do the same with left/right balance). The unit records every 30 degrees in the stroke, so at just 60RPM you’re already measuring 12 times per second (to the Pioneer head unit only).
Now the head unit has all the fundamentals in it. For example there’s a gazillion data metrics to choose from, as well as numerous ways you can display it on a single page. Here’s a small gallery of just some of the data pages I configured:
Similarly, the GPS component also works reasonably well on the head unit – I’m seeing accuracy on par with other units I have.
Here’s a few examples of rides overlaid on top of each other if you’d like to play around with the maps. Each of these has links to the GPSFiles site which will show you the exact tracks taken, allowing you to zoom around the route as you see fit. By using the MyGPSFiles site, I let you decide exactly how accurate the tracks are.
Note that in some cases I had to use the converted .TCX files since the MyGPSFiles site appears to be stumbling on some of the more recent .FIT files with Garmin Vector data due to a parsing error in the site. Same goes for some files it tried to open from the Pioneer exports.
Ride 1: Longchamp Loops
A semi-typical weekend ride for me when I’m looking for simplicity. A city ride to Longchamp, then loops around there before heading back. Click the image to open the interactive maps viewer.
This starts off as a city ride for the first 20-25 minutes, before climbing up through some parks and heading through the woods nearing the city of Versailles. Just click on the map to get the detailed page to zoom around.
As with any GPS track, you’ll see variances from unit to unit – but the above maps give you a rough idea of where things stand. In general the Pioneer tracks quite well, though every once in a while it wanders just a tiny bit more than the other units I was using.
Just to give you a brief tour, here’s a quick video I put together showing the user interface and a quick hop on the trainer as I demonstrate some of the functionality:
As for uploading, the unit has WiFi capabilities within it, so when completed with a ride if a paired WiFi network is in range, it’ll go ahead and upload your activity straight to Pioneer’s Cyclo-Sphere site, which in turn can push to popular sites like Strava and Training Peaks. Alternatively, you can just plug it into your computer via standard micro-USB cable. From there the device agent software will upload it to their site. You will need this software, as the unit doesn’t create the .FIT files natively on the head unit itself. However, after you upload to the Cyclo-Sphere website you can go ahead and export out all of your files in standard .FIT format.
Again – all of the fundamentals work. But, it’s the polish aspect that’s rough. The screen lags when it comes to touch screen response, which is annoying because you aren’t sure if you pressed something – so you press again, hosing things up when the first press registers. Next, while the display is crisp, the user interface isn’t terribly intuitive. There are many times where I can’t figure out where a setting or option is – only to find it in a place I didn’t expect.
Additionally, the unit doesn’t have any structured workout capabilities (such as creating a workout online), nor does it have the ability to pair with your phone. It also lacks any on-device mapping, course following, or routing capabilities.
Oh, for those curious – I’ve been using the head unit on K-Edge’s mount for it, which is rock solid. I initially used it on the plastic mount that came, which was fine and dandy, but I find the K-Edge mount a slightly cleaner solution when it comes to being locked on. Pioneer seems to somewhat admit that their mount might not be ideal, given they give you a small tether for your handlebars for the bike unit. Though, I didn’t have any issues myself with it falling off.
Ultimately, while the head unit is interesting – I just don’t see the appeal of it unless you really want the torque analysis data. If you don’t care about that, then there’s little reason to get this unit and instead get something far more functional at a much cheaper price.
Compatibility with 3rd party head units:
The Pioneer Power Meter transmits in two modes: ANT+ and private-ANT. When transmitting in ANT+ mode, you can receive the data on any ANT+ head unit that supports power meters. Whereas when transmitting in private-ANT (basically a private ANT variant that Pioneer utilizes) then non-Pioneer units cannot see anything from the power meter. It’s in this private-ANT mode that you get the additional data however.
These two modes are changed by pressing the little button just below the battery (directly below the ‘don’ in ‘Indonesia’ on the battery).
In the next firmware update coming in June, you’ll be able to change this from the head unit instead, which is handy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like dual transmission is on the radar. Dual transmission would be ideal in cases where you wanted the higher data rates of the Pioneer head unit, but also wanted to broadcast to non-Pioneer systems (such as during TdF coverage of Pioneer’s multiple pro teams riding the units).
As for regular ANT+ transmission, you’ll get the following power metrics:
– Total Power – Left/Right Power Balance (measured per leg) – Cadence
However, in my testing I did not receive the ANT+ standard metrics of:
– Torque Effectiveness – Pedal Smoothing (Update: May 2017 – These have been added in a firmware update, and now show up on all ANT+ head units)
Within my testing, roughly the first half of my use of the Pioneer power meter was with various ANT+ head units (mostly Garmin), whereas the second half of my testing period was with the Pioneer head unit. As an example, here is the unit paired to a Garmin Edge 1000:
However, the data is roughly the same across all ANT+ units, be it a Garmin Edge 500 or PowerTap Joule GPS+.
Note, no matter which mode you’re in, you will NOT get any of the newer Garmin Cycling Dynamics data to appear on a Garmin product. The reason is that Garmin makes that data channel private, in much the same way that Pioneer’s virtually identical metrics are private as captured in their head unit. So while you’ll get similar metrics on the Pioneer head units, they won’t show up on any Garmin device.
Power Meter Accuracy Test Results:
Next up is the all-important power meter accuracy testing. For these I randomly pick a handful of files from all my rides and combine them together. In these test I’m looking at a minimum of 3 power meters for most rides. In the case of the Pioneer bike, I added both a PowerTap G3 of mine, as well as a pair of Garmin Vector pedals of mine.
Now for most of my power meter testing I do on the site here I’m able to feed that ANT+ power meter stream into the North Pole Engineering WASP system in real-time. However, with the Pioneer in private-ANT mode, I’m unable to do that. Instead, I used the exports from the Pioneer website (which are thankfully in .FIT file format). It added a few extra steps, but nothing too horrible.
In this case I’ve included two outdoor rides and one indoor ride. I’ve also included a quick cadence sweep tests as well, just for the heck of it. I have far more raw data, but the manual process to produce these comparison sections is such a pain in the butt (combining/normalizing/charts/graphs/etc…) that I just pick a few at random. Oh what I’d do for a simple web app that I could drag and drop these files onto and have it auto-generate the specific charts I’d want and give me shareable links.
Ride 1: Loops around Longchamp
This is a city ride followed by steady loops around a nearby park that has boatloads of cyclists. Most of the time I’m doing pretty consistent power loops, but occasionally you’ll get some sprints from packs coming through.
Looking at the simplest bar, the average and then max power for each unit. The challenge with these is that it’s easy to be correct on average – but really difficult to across an entire ride. Similarly, max power is difficult in a sprint scenario because of the capturing differences.
Next, the 10-second smoothed version. Looking at the 1s version is pretty much useless due to the variation, so the 10s version helps tell the story a little bit:
Then the 30s smoothed:
If we look at this we see very good correlation between the PowerTap and Pioneer, with the Vector being a bit higher than the rest. Typically you’ll see PowerTap lowest, with Vector highest. Given the position of the Pioneer head unit I would have expected it to align slightly closer to Vector – but this could just be Vector being high. A bit tricky to tell (one of the many challenges with power meter testing).
Ride 2: Ride to Versailles and and Back
This was a ride along the river, up through the woods climbing a bit, and out to Versailles and back.
Starting again at the easiest bar, the average and then max power for each unit:
And then the 30-second smoothed. You see really nice correlation here across the board, with all three units tracking very closely throughout the effort.
As with any power meter test, you see small areas of disagreement between units – usually around start/stopping. This is primarily due to data collection and how quickly each unit both reports and then correspondingly records those changes.
Ride 3: Trainer Ride
This was a trainer ride I did across a variety of power ranges and cadence ranges. These are interesting because the power is statically controlled – meaning that it reduces much of the outdoor variance. On one hand that makes it ‘easier’ for the power meters, but it also makes it harder in that it’s much easier to spot variances.
Starting again at the easiest bar, the average and then max power for each unit:
Next up, the 10-second power graph. After a bit of a warm-up I did some random drills (including one-leg drills, 150RPM cadence portions, and other things), before an increase in wattage. Then I finished with a slew of 30×30’s.
And then the 30-second power graph:
Ultimately, in looking at this data here, and the rest of the data I have – there’s nothing from a raw power meter accuracy standpoint that I see that causes concern. Accuracy seems to be spot on with the other power meters I have (consistent with what I normally see between units). Given the unit contains magnets for cadence, there’s also little to be concerned about there (and I’ve never seen any variation there either).
Before we wrap things up I want to briefly talk about the Pioneer CycloSphere website. In many ways, the website is indicative of the challenges companies face around presenting complex data in a simplified interface. At the same time, it’s just an example of a horribly dated design using web site development techniques from the age of AOL dial-up (Random tidbit: did you know that 2 million people still subscribe to AOL dial-up?). But…the advanced data is still there, it’s just messy to dig through.
The Cyclo-Sphere site is where your data is uploaded to from the Pioneer head unit. It doesn’t matter whether you use USB or WiFi to complete the transfer, all data goes here. It must go here. You cannot advance to the next round without going to Cyclo-Sphere. Once you login, this is your dashboard:
From here, you can click a given workout to analyze it. Well actually, no, you have to click the checkbox next to it and then click “Analysis” to analyze it. The web based ‘hyperlink’ system has not yet arrived at Cyclo-Sphere. Once you’ve done that, the workout will be shown:
It’s here that you can dig into various stats from the workout. For example, in the top graph you can specify which laps to look at, as well as actually change the number of seconds that the graph is smoothed (default is 1s). That’s pretty cool, as most other sites don’t have any fine-grained functionality there (some allow you to zoom in, but that’s quite different).
Similarly, you can zoom into the various widgets (which you can re-arrange) and look at per-lap stats for any of the metrics. Some of the widgets allow you to change the metrics, for example this scatter chart where I can change the axis on them – again, a nifty little feature.
You can further add widgets to the panel as well, making it fairly customizable:
At the top you’ve got a few options, which include (left to right): Going back to all your workouts, adding a widget, resetting to the default layout, uploading a workout, downloading a workout, settings, and exit.
Within the settings, you can tweak what I’d consider pretty universal options – like display formats:
But there are also some interesting little nuggets, like power recalculation. This gets really complex really quick, but essentially it allows you to correct a workout if there’s a wrong offset (among other scenarios). Their FAQ goes into quite a bit of depth on this, as well as how the exact algorithm works.
You can also setup direct sync with most of the major training log programs. This works by automatically syncing the file to that service.
But there are some caveats to this. First is the privacy settings. While Pioneer gets credit for having privacy settings, they lose points for making it one of the most convoluted setups I’ve seen in a while. Instead of just having a link to a given workout with a simple private/public option like all other services, you have to enable a given workout, which takes about 6+ clicks and windows to get to. Eventually you get a link, such as this.
Additionally, even if I sync to a service such as TrainingPeaks, it just puts in the description a generic link to the Cyclo-Sphere site, not my workout. So you can’t click on that link to see the additional Pioneer data. Which means that ultimately I just give up and give my coach my Pioneer site username/password so he can look at the additional detail there (since TrainingPeaks doesn’t support it natively, and because Pioneer didn’t send over a unique/shared link).
Now despite an endless list of workflow, user interface, and language quirks – the foundation for a good service is there. It just needs some love (ok, a lot of love). And they need it to load faster – everything is slow on the site. The good news is that in discussing it with them, they are working on that. The timelines are more near term than far, but the exact details and dates are still outstanding. However they admitted it was an area that needed that Tender Loving Care, which is the first step towards recovery.
The head unit (both newer and older variants) allows firmware updates to be completed, when Pioneer releases new versions of the software. The most recent being in February, with the next planned for next month. These firmware updates can be done via WiFi or USB through your computer. I’ve had mixed results on the WiFi option, but did have success with the USB option.
I will point out though that while I was having some issues with updating via the WiFi, I just assumed it was broken half the time since on the WiFi update it gives you no status bar. Perhaps it was just my WiFi network, though in talking with them it sounds like significant patience (albeit sans status bar) is required. So just leave it alone for a heck of a long time (or, update via USB).
Still, it’s great to see the company is updating units and is doing so with some regularity, approximately every few months or so. Which is a great time to transition into the next section.
Planned Pioneer Updates:
Before publishing this review, I checked in with the Pioneer folks to see what lies ahead for the company. The timing was somewhat fortuitous, as there’s actually a number of things on the docket. Since chatting with them, some were announced last week, while others are still forthcoming.
Now, before we get there it’s important to note that Pioneer handles each geographic region (i.e. Asia, Europe, US, etc…) somewhat individually from a product offering standpoint. Meaning that they will in some cases offer specific products in only one market (i.e. Japan), while having no immediate plans for another market. This is of course somewhat confusing to the consumer, though Pioneer argues it’s done because in some markets there simply isn’t demand for all products.
On the Upcoming Radar:
Going forward, there’s a few things planned, some of it is hardware focused and others software focused. We’ll switch over to bullet-style, simply to keep things easy to follow:
– Slightly changed transmitter mount components on existing power meter to provide more clearance on the drive side, specifically to provide fit options for the Pinerello F8 and Trek Émonda.
– The Left-side battery cap will become ‘flat’, which will provide clearance on the non-drive side for the Wilier Cento 1 SR c.
– Ability to change the ANT/ANT+ transmission mode directly from the SGX-CA500 (that’s the head unit), versus having to do it physically on the power meter.
– Planned updates before end of summer for the website side of things (Cyclo-Sphere), though no specifics on what might be included.
Meanwhile, some new options hit the market over the past two weeks, though you probably didn’t know it since there was no press release outside of one in Japanese:
– Pioneer has announced selling both a right-only and a left-only power meter. This is being offered in various markets, including Australia, Europe, and Taiwan. It will ship starting in early June. – In all markets except Europe, you can send in your crank arms and Pioneer will install the single-sided power meter on it. Whereas in Europe it’ll only be offered pre-installed on a left-side-only Ultegra crank arm.
Here’s an attempt at converting the chart of newly announced units and what units cost what where:
Single or Dual
Send in your cranks
Send in your cranks
Send in your cranks
Note: The above chart is current as of May 21st, 2015. Anything beyond that it could be totally different – so just keep that in mind. Also, in this chart Europe is ‘defined’ as Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Germany. Sorry Switzerland, you don’t count. For Taiwan where it says ‘Yes’, it means that pricing isn’t available.
With the recent price cut down to $999USD, the Pioneer power meter likely edges into the price point of the most comprehensive system at the sub-$1K price point (without head unit). There’s no other dual left/right system out there today that’s anywhere in that range and actually shipping. There are no doubt promises of other near-term competitors that would be in the same price range & functionality (some cheaper, some more expensive), but again, they aren’t shipping yet. And even if they were, they aren’t yet tested and proven. And as any reader here knows, trusting power meter companies with their dates is the last thing I’d ever do. Almost none of them hit their dates.
So given that Pioneer is on their 2nd generation product and already shipping, there’s little (if any?) risk. Similarly, from an accuracy standpoint I’m just not seeing issues with accuracy. It lined up time and again with other power meters I was using, without any futzing to get it ‘happy’.
Now, while I would recommend the power meter system (again, depending on your specific requirements), I would not recommend the head unit. It’s just too clunky and short-featured to make it worth the cost. This does create a bit of a conundrum though because without the head unit you can’t log the more advanced metrics around where in the pedal stroke your power is being generated. While I saw this data as ‘interesting’ (as did my coach), it’s a bit trickier to align that to specific training or racing guidance (just like left/right power). Still, at $999 it’s still an incredible value and offers more than other products at that price point even without the Pioneer head unit.
Obviously, as with any power meter, your specific requirements will drive which product you purchase. For example, if you have multiple bikes – moving around the Pioneer unit might be tricky compared to a pedal or hub based option. Conversely, if you have a single bike with multiple wheels (i.e. training/race/etc…), then a hub based power meter isn’t as ideal. Or, if you have a specific pedal preference (i.e. Speedplay) that isn’t supported by existing on-market pedal options.
With that – thanks for reading!
(Preemptive Question: What about an updated Power Meter recommendations post? Well, in some ways, nothing has actually changed yet. I did my initial testing of the PowerTap P1 & C1 units, but still far too early there. The WattTeam trial has slid at least a few weeks now. And my 4iiii’s testing has reset while they get me a new unit. So effectively, it was just all of the pricing changes noted last month.)
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