In the modern technological era, it is becoming increasingly rare to spot a cyclist without a bike computer. The main reason to purchase one of these gadgets is to keep track of data from your rides. For some riders, taking note of their speed and distance is a necessity while others do so out of curiosity.
For those looking for extra motivation while training on their bike, a cycle computer falls into the ‘essential’ category. If you’re serious about improving your cycling performance, data tracking can help you ensure you’re doing the correct type of training at the right time.
The range of devices on the market is vast. There are basic units on the market for as little as $20 while the best bike computers on the market usually retail in the three figure range. High-level computers include features such as GPS tracking and Smartphone integration which allow you to connect with social outlets. Let’s take a look at the best 3 bike computers on the market followed by useful information about these innovative pieces of technology.
Comparison: Best Bike Computers
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Top 3 Cycle Computers
1 – Garmin Edge 820
The Garmin Edge 820 is the ultimate cycle computer as it offers practically everything a device of this nature should. It is unquestionably pricey at $399 but what do you expect from arguably the best bike computer around? We are amazed at the sheer level of features that Garmin has managed to cram into such a small unit.
Highlights include 16GB of internal memory, a colour touchscreen, Wi-Fi, excellent Smartphone connectivity and detail maps. Other features include Vo2, recovery advisor, and Group Track which allows you to keep in touch with the pack if you are riding with other cyclists.
The 15-hour battery life is a very impressive feature which ensures you can go on an adventure without the Garmin Edge 820 failing you. You can enhance battery life by a further 50 percent with battery save mode and lose little in the way of tracking detail. The touchscreen is very sensitive, and the intuitive menu layout makes it easy to use. The main downside is the price, but it probably isn’t too expensive when you consider it is the best Garmin unit available.
2 – Lezyne Enhanced Super GPS
The Lezyne Enhanced Super GPS is arguably the best mid-range bike computer available right now. It offers excellent navigation thanks to its turn-by-turn directions. Its X-Lock Mount is even better than what is on the Garmin 520, and it offers a wide range of data. You can analyze up to five pages of information with four fields on each, so there is no danger of missing out on any key data.
It measures the usual training data along with cadence, heart rate, sunset time, temperature and more. This bike computer from Lezyne is compatible with ANT+ sensors and Bluetooth Smart which ensures unbeatable versatility for the price. Although the gadget does not offer maps, it is an excellent training tool offering riders all the information they need.
If you’re in the market for a high-quality bike computer but can’t afford the sophisticated Garmin Edge 820, the Lezyne Enhanced Super GPS is a worthy alternative. As a bonus, the battery has a runtime of up to 24 hours which is among the best in the industry.
3 – Cateye Strada Slim
The Cateye Strada Slim is ideal for the casual cyclist who wants to track certain data but is not preparing for a race. Although its screen is 35% bigger than the Cateye Strada Wireless, it is 35% lighter and thinner and still uses a wireless speed sensor. As it is designed with the recreational rider in mind, this device does not have GPS capability nor does it allow you to connect with ANT+ or Bluetooth.
It measures speed, distance and time along with a couple of other metrics. It stands out from other models because it weighs just 12 grams. Although you can’t download your ride data, you can still track it the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper!
We really like the fact that it automatically starts recording when it senses movement, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn it on or off. It is easy to use, and while its lack of versatility may be a problem for some, it is exactly what you need in the event you’re not bothered about advanced features. At under $50, it represents a value for money cycle computer but please note; it is only suitable for use with road bikes.
What Types of Bike Computer Are Available?
If you’re on a tight budget and don’t need a bike computer that does more than record speed, distance and time, a basic model is the best option. You can get a gadget like this for under $20, and it retrieves the data from a speed sensor located on the front fork of the bike. There is a magnet attached to the front wheel’s spoke and the sensor gets the information by recording each time this magnet passes through. After the computer ascertains the wheel and tire circumference, it can provide you with accurate data relating to the speed you ride, and the distance travelled as it records the number of times the magnet passes the sensor.
You’ll probably notice that most budget models have a wired sensor; you’ll have to pay more if you want a cycle computer with a wireless sensor. As most of these gadgets don’t record individual ride data, you’ll need a pen and paper to track everything over time. They also don’t allow you to upload information online. While most basic bike computers have a running odometer akin to what you would see in a car, the data is lost when you change the battery. Basic models use disposable batteries by the way.
ANT+ Enabled With Built-In GPS Receiver
High-end models use ANT+ sensors to track important data such as time, distance, speed, power, heart rate and cadence. Even more impressively, they let you know where you are at all times due to their GPS system. The most practical purpose of GPS is to ensure you don’t get lost! Also, you can see a map of your ride when you transfer the data to your computer, and you can even compare your time to other riders on social outlets.
If you’re a real stickler for performance, use a high-level bike computer to analyze your performance on individual segments of your ride. For example, is there a steep hill that always gives you trouble? If so, you can work on improving your speed as you ride up it. Such cycle computers are extremely powerful and customizable. You can use them with a combination of sensors and transfer them to other bikes.
A Bluetooth enabled bike computer allows you to communicate with your Smartphone when you use specific apps. Top rated companies such as Garmin (Connect) and Lezyne (Ally) have popular apps for this purpose. This connection enables you to stream your ride data to anyone you like and provides your existing location, speed and a variety of other cool metrics. If you enjoy analyzing your rides, use Bluetooth to load to one of the aforementioned apps without having to worry about using a cable transfer.
What is the Right Cycle Computer For Me?
Do I Need ANT+?
If you’re a casual cyclist, you probably don’t need a bike computer that is ANT+ enabled. It is primarily for riders serious about improving performance because it allows you to track your data and upload it to a computer. ANT+ enabled bike computers are a must for cyclists training for a race; especially those with a coach. Never purchase a model that doesn’t also have Bluetooth. Top ANT+ models include the Garmin Edge 520, Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and the Lezyne Enhanced Super GPS.
One of the great things about ANT+ enabled cycle computers is that you can purchase additional sensors as and when you need them. A perfect example is if you ever decide to race in proper cycling events. In this case, you would need a power meter. Your best bet is to choose a bike computer that has room for added ANT+ sensors.
What About GPS?
If you’re looking to use a social outlet such as Strava to share information, you must purchase a bike computer with GPS capability. High-quality models include the Mio Cyclo505HC, Garmin Edge 25 and the CatEye Stealth 10 which is on the lower end of the price spectrum. Aside from the social aspect, having access to the data of your ride is excellent news if you need some motivation to smash a Personal Best.
How About Maps?
A bike computer that stores maps is essential if you wish to explore new territories on your bike. From a practical perspective, maps prevent you from becoming the hapless lost cyclist! You need to decide if you want a cycle computer that offers navigation but no maps, routable maps, or one that offers turn-by-turn directions.
Is Bluetooth Necessary?
To be honest, the answer is ‘no’ unless you plan on sharing your data with others or if you want friends and family to track you as you cycle. A Bluetooth enabled device also allows you to perform wireless downloads as long as you’re connected to an iPhone or Smartphone.
Why Can’t I Just Use My Smartphone/iPhone Instead?
If you already own a Smartphone or iPhone, it is tempting to rely on it instead of a cycle computer. If you go down this route, you’ll have to purchase a case and mount so you can position your device on the handlebars. Although your iPhone has (Assisted) GPS capabilities which is sometimes faster at finding an exact location, it needs Wi-Fi, and it must be in a service area for it to work.
One option is to purchase maps you can download to your phone, but by the time you’ve paid for all the accessories, it will probably be cheaper to buy a bike computer! Another issue is the small matter of battery life. Riders report that their iPhone’s battery is drained within two hours of use. While you’ll get away with it in short city rides, it will pose a problem on your jaunts to the countryside. Finally, most phones are not compatible with ANT+. We recommend that you keep your phone in your pocket where it belongs and buy a separate cycle computer.
Best Cycle Computer Accessories
Heart Rate Sensor
If you’re a serious cyclist, a heart rate sensor is a must have. Experienced riders know that operating within a certain heart rate zone for a specific period of time helps maximise performance. Companies such as Wahoo, Garmin and Mio offer the best heart rate sensors on the market.
The best bike computers already come with a mounting system but not all of them allow you to place the gadget in the out-front position. This is the best location for your cycle computer because it allows for the best visibility. The last thing you want is a situation where you have to look down to see the data.
Speed & Cadence Sensors
If you’re looking for a more accurate measurement of your speed than what is available with a GPS, consider a speed & cadence sensor. It does a better job in tracking rapid increases and decreases in speed than a GPS. A cadence sensor measures the number of rotations per minute. It is an essential purchase if you’re training for a race and already know your best cadence relative to your power output.
This meter measures your power output in watts. It is a better way to analyze your effort than heart rate or speed as there are no external factors that can influence the reading. Although the price has decreased in recent years, power meters are still the preserve of serious athletes.
Regardless of whether you want an in-depth analysis of your performance or else you simply want to track your speed or location, the best bike computers on the market are at your disposal. They are very handy tools and offer so much more than a few numbers on a screen.