Cycling has evolved into many different groups and categories, which prompted bike manufacturers to come up with models to cater to virtually all types of users. The sport has attracted a lot of people for various reasons. These include transportation, competition, fitness, and fun. Regardless of your purpose for picking up the sport, you achieve a certain level of satisfaction that is commensurate to the effort you put in. There are different kinds of cyclists today – the experienced professionals, the weekend hobbyist, and everything else that comes in-between. The sports enthusiasts engage in various cycling disciplines. Some simply enjoy the pavement and the dirt associated with the sport.
Regardless of the kind of bike you have, after each ride, you always want to know how far you have pedaled. This is where cycling computers come in. They provide a means for people to quantify their hard work in terms of speed, time, distance, watts, elevation gains, and kilojoules (kJ), among many other metrics that most people are not aware of and do not care about.
While it is possible to simply enjoy the ride without having to monitor any data, even for dyed-in-the-wool bikers, it is imperative for those who are bent on improving their fitness levels or losing unwanted pounds. Likewise, even if your purpose is simply to have fun, it would be a nice bonus to know your stats for future reference. Simply put, cycling computers provide quantifiable data that will help you achieve fitness targets.
In the past, bike computers were only used by pro cyclists. A lot has changed since the Avocet 30 was launched in 1985, and became a standard fixture in the bikes of pro cyclists in no time. Avocet gave cyclists a way to monitor their distance, speed, and time for each ride. For a professional, monitoring of training data is important, and cycling computers offered new perspectives in analyzing users’ data. If you are new to cycling, you will immediately notice that almost all bikes now are equipped with a cycling computer on the handlebars.
Best Bike Computer Complete Guide
Garmin Edge 810 GPS Unit with Heart Rate Monitor and Speed/Cadence Sensor
Garmin Edge 520 Bike GPS
Lezyne Super GPS Bike Computer
CatEye Strada Slim Wireless Bike Computer
Try performing a search on Google for the best bicycle computer, and the results will consist of a wide variety of information from various manufacturers. For purposes of this review, we have classified the various kinds of cycling computers into two main categories: non-GPS enabled, and GPS enabled units.
Non-GPS Enabled Cycling Computers
This type of bicycle computers measure distance and speed with the use of wheel rotation-tracking sensors. There are units that and track cadence using additional sensors. Most models are able to track temperature, and compute the average of the gathered data. There are also wired and wireless sensor models. Generally, a non-GPS enabled model is cheaper than its GPS enabled counterpart, and provide less detailed tracking of data.
Most non-GPS units are likewise are not designed to download data to PCs or third party data tracking systems like Training Peaks and Strava. They are, however, capable of tracking your total mileage over a given period of time. However, whatever data these computers have collected, will be lost if the battery runs out and needs replacement.
Cyclometers or Cyclocomputers (bicycle computers w/out GPS) are the simplest version of the technology you can find on the market, and the cheapest as well. Most cyclometers are equipped with only the basic, but nevertheless useful features that include total ride time, current speed, maximum speed, average speed, total distance, and ride distance. Some models come with a clock, and some are capable of comparing the average and current speed. Higher (and more expensive) models are able to measure your heart rate or cadence.
GPS Enabled Cycling Computers
You can find several GPS enabled models on the market today that utilize GPS signals for tracking distance, speed, time, elevation loss and gain, and other metrics through proprietary as well as third party sensors. A typical model is capable of saving rides or workouts, and allows direct downloading of collected data into your PC or a third party system like Training Peaks, Strava, and Garmin Connect. All GPS enabled cycling computers tested in this review use the wireless protocol ANT+ that makes them compatible with ANT+ accessories like speed sensors, power meters, and cadence sensors.
Can An iPhone Be Used Instead?
Most likely, you’ve seen cyclists who attach Smartphones or iPhones to their handlebars. Today, you can find a lot of free apps that make it possible to use your iPhone or Android smartphone as cycling computers, such as Wahoo Fitness and Strava. The main logic behind using your phone is because it is already there. However, that is probably the only acceptable reason to use your phone as an option.
For one, if you want to use your smartphone for the purpose, you have to buy a suitable case and mounting device so you can install it properly on your handlebars; and these can cost you a decent amount of money. Likewise, while your phone may be GPS-capable, it isn’t a dedicated GPS device. Phones usually use what’s known as Assisted GPS (A-GPS) that utilize both GPS signals and cell triangulation to zero in on a particular location. This is usually faster than using GPS alone since they use two systems. The downside is if no Wi-Fi or cell service is available. Sure, your phone will be able to use GPS for position tracking, but you wouldn’t have the benefit of detailed maps since these aren’t typically stored on phones. Phones use Wi-Fi or cellular data to populate the map with information. You can buy downloadable maps, and essentially, it will function similar to a map-equipped Garmin GPS like Edge 520 or 810. Now considering the cost of a case, mount, and downloadable maps, you can clearly save some money by just purchasing a separate cycling computer.
Probably the biggest concern is battery life. During testing on a 2-hour ride, the iPhone 5s battery was completely drained using the Strava app. If you’re a beginner thinking that 2 hours is a long time, think again. As you log more riding experience with your local biking club, you’ll be negotiating century rides on a regular basis. Your smartphone will be long dead by the time you finish the ride. You will also most likely encounter accessory compatibility issues as most smartphones don’t work well with ANT+ sensors. Many speed, cadence, and heat rate sensors available on the market utilize ANT+ protocol, and are not compatible with most smartphones, unless you buy an ANT+ receiver specifically for your smartphone. Although a lot of manufacturers are joining the fray with their Bluetooth 4.0 accessories, ANT+ remains the big dog as far as 3rd party sensor standards are concerned.
It is best that you buy a standalone biking computer to track your riding date. There’s no problem riding with your phone, but it is best you keep it in your jersey pocket for easy communication during emergencies, but there should be a dedicated computer on the handlebars within view and easy reach for the duration of your ride.
Best Bike Computer Reviews
1. Garmin Edge 810 Review
Among the models tested in this review, the Edge 810 is packed with the most features, and it clearly comes out on top of the heap. Equipped with GPS, Bluetooth, ANT+ Shimano Di2 integration, Maps, and with a few recent firmware updates, there isn’t much that this computer cannot do. Its wide color touchscreen allows you to scroll through pages of data with a simple finger swipe. If you are on a riding trip and have no idea on which direction to take, just download or create a pre-set course via your phone, and just follow the instructions turn-by-turn. At first, we thought that the routable maps feature was something that would be seldom used. However, we soon discovered its importance for many ride types.
Despite its plethora of awesome features, the Garmin 810 is surprisingly intuitive and provides ease of use. If you think you’re not getting enough data from your rides, then clearly, this is the bicycle computer for you. The Edge 810 is easy to attach to your bike. It comes with two ¼ turn mounts that easily attach to the bicycle through the heavy duty rubber bands that are likewise included. The mount can be attached either to the handlebars or the stern (for stems long enough to accommodate the Edge 810.) Quarter turn mounts have some downsides. They tend to rotate around the handlebars when the lap button is pushed, and all Garmin models tested in this review come with the same mount. The larger Edge 810, because of its size, makes the mount more prone to rotating.
Out-front mounts that position the cycling computers in the stern’s front side are probably better, such as the SRM Powercontrol 7 mount. Garmin also offers out-front mounts, though these weren’t tested for this review, and there are 3rd party options from K-Edge and Barfly. Garmin likewise has two speed/cadence sensor models that were used in our testing. When it is first turned on, the Garmin Edge 810 prompts the user to input some information. If you have a free Garmin Connect Account, you can key in the info into Garmin Connect using a computer. Sync your Garmin to automatically upload to the device. You will also be able to get your device’s firmware updates through Garmin Connect. To make sure that you are always on the latest version of the software, it is recommended to update your device’s firmware prior to using the device for the first time. You must pair all ANT+ sensors to the computer once. After that, they’ll be recognized automatically.
You can input as much as 10 bike profiles in the Edge 10. You can provide a name, input the bike’s weight, as well as associate ANT+ sensors to the bicycle. In the activity profiles, you can choose the number of screens or pages you want, and the number and type of data fields for each screen, then associate your selections with activity names like “Racing” or “Training.” Bike profiles and activity profiles need to be set up. To gain maximum benefits from your Edge 810, you must have a Garmin Connect Account which is free. After setting up an account, download the app to your phone and pair the Edge 810 with your phone. This will give you access to the Live Track feature, upload workout info to Garmin Connect wirelessly, and receive weather updates while on the road. One big feature of the Edge 810 that separates it from the rest of the competition is its ability to track your rides with GPS. It can likewise provide you with turn-by-turn directions if you have maps loaded in a micro-SD card. The device is also Bluetooth 2.0 enabled, and this allows you to connect your smartphone, although not Bluetooth accessories like speed sensors and power meters.
If the device is connected to your smartphone, you can access Live Track through Garmin Connect App. Live Track then send notifications to pre-selected email addresses about your ride, with links to a live view page. This is an exciting feature, with a lot of potential to improve solo riding safety. The downside is that the feature is constrained by the fact that you need to have cellular phone connection. If cell service is cut, the live track goes down as well, leaving the people who may be monitoring your ride such as your friends and relatives, wondering what happened. Simply put, you cannot use the feature in areas with poor cellular service. The auto wireless uploads are fine, and the weather update feature is somewhat useful.
With ANT+ wireless, you can connect to other ANT+ sensors like cadence, speed, heart rate monitors, power meters, as well as smart scales. Except for the scales, all the other sensors were tested for this review. It is important to note that the base price does not include the various sensors and come at an additional cost. Edge 810 has no problems calibrating or pairing with any of the ANT+ devices. Being IPX7 rated, the Garmin Edge 810 should go through half an hour of being immersed in 1 meter deep water unscathed. The tests included some muddy cyclocross testing, and riding for hours under the rain. The cycling computer’s versatility is further enhanced by the routable maps function as it makes Edge 810 suitable for both touring and recreational road riders. It is also a great tool for the racer because of its ANT+ compatibility coupled with a host of data fields. It may be a little heavier than comparable models, but the weight difference is minimal and should not be a deal breaker. The Edge 810, even when not paired with sensors, is functional for distance, elevation and speed data. Users who own multiple bikes and who don’t need detailed data for some of their bikes, but need power meters on others, would appreciate this feature. Versatility is also improved because of the activity profiles.
The Garmin Edge 810, to put it simply, is a great cycling computer. It offers experienced pros everything they want and need, and allows newbies to the sport a lot of room for growth as well. While the user interface and flow of Garmin Connect is useful as it is, it would be better if these are improved in the future. Likewise, compatibility with Bluetooth Smart accessories would be nice to have, but not going to this direction is understandable because Garmin already has the ANT+ protocol. To sum everything up, the Edge 810 is appropriate for practically all types of riders – from the beginners to experienced racers.
2. Garmin Edge 520 Review
The latest, and hailed as probably the “greatest” bike computer from Garmin, the Garmin Edge 520 overflows with features. While it is equipped with numerous parallel functions to the Edge 810, it doesn’t have the routable maps and touchscreen that distinguishes the Edge 810 from the rest.
As mentioned, the Edge 520 is packed with features such as the Strava Live that provides real-time data. Just like its predecessor (510) and the 810, data can be uploaded through the Garmin Connect App. The 520, however, takes connectivity to new heights because of its Bluetooth 4.0 capability that makes it possible to send texts, calls, and emails to the Edge 520 from your smartphone. If you want cutting-edge technology-equipped training tools, you might want to consider the Garmin Edge 520.
The Edge 520 is equipped with a great contrast, sharp color screen, instead of the Edge 810’s touchscreen. Thus, it requires external buttons (7 in all) to control all the functions. Initially, you may think that the interface is less user-friendly than a touchscreen. Garmin solved the problem by adding more buttons from the original 4 on the Edge 500. The start and lap buttons were also moved to easier to access locations at the edge. The up/down arrow buttons for scrolling through the menu are found at the left side, together with the power button. On the right side, you can find the other navigation buttons including select and back. The pages are vertically aligned that allows you to view more items while scrolling up or down. This is unlike older Garmin models where you scroll through pages laterally with finger sweeps.
You may think that adding more buttons make things more confusing, but on the contrary, having fewer functions assigned to each button makes navigation more convenient. Navigation is intuitive and simple, even as changes were made to page and screen layouts. Garmin really did a sterling job with the layout and menu navigation of the Edge 520. Setup is the same with other Garmin models tested in this review. The GPS enabled models can function even without being paired with sensors. Basically, once you have attached the computer to any bike, you can simply use the barometer and GPS to track distance, speed, and elevation gain. This works if you have several bikes. You may, for instance, find no need to track the cadence and power output on your mountain bike; however, you may want to get some basic information like time and distance.
The Edge 520 is mounted using the Garmin standard ¼ turn mount with rubber bands. A Garmin out-front mount is also included. This is similar to the mounts from Bar Fly. Because of the location of the lap and start buttons at the lower edge of the device, the Edge 520 is ideally paired with Garmin’s out-front mount or any of the latter Bar Fly mounts as older versions tend to position the cycling computer in a way that the bottom edge is too proximate to the stern which makes the buttons difficult to reach. To make Edge 520 programming easier, set up a Garmin Connect account to transfer data, then link the unit to the account. You will then be able to enjoy Strava Live and Live Track features. After setting up Garmin Connect, your next step will be to program and set up in Activity profiles, where you will be prompted to provide personal information like your age and weight.
Older Garmin models used to have Bike Profiles, but this option is no longer available on the new Edge 520. Anyway, the Activity Profile is better because it allows you to set up a profile for mountain biking where you can use several bikes under that profile with different sets of data screens. During our testing, various activity profiles were set up with separate data screens from various activities like racing, indoor training, and outdoor training. The Edge 520 makes use of both GLONASS and GPS satellite systems, just like the Edge 510 as well as the Lezyne Super GPS. During the testing phase for this review, we discovered that cycling computers that access both systems are capable of faster satellite acquisition, though the speed difference is only slight. Unlike the Edge 810, there are no routable maps on the Edge 520, but detailed maps can be downloaded from Open Street Maps.
Just like all other Garmin models, the Edge 520 exclusively supports ANT+ sensors. The open wireless communication protocol, after all, was developed by Garmin, and it remains to be the most prevalent wireless protocol used for fitness gadgets. Thus, you can expect compatibility with a wide variety of power meters and sensors. The Edge 520 has no trouble communicating with Garmin, Quarq, and Magellan ANT+ sensors, as well as ANT+ smart scales. It can likewise support indoor trainers equipped with ANT+ Smart Trainer protocol without experiencing any connection issues. The cycling computer is IPX7 rated. Thus, it has no issues with water contact, and it can be used even in foul weather conditions. The button interface addresses the issues usually associated with wet touchscreens. Among the computers in this review line-up, the Edge 520 is among the most versatile. While the 520 is smaller than the 810 and 510 models, it is loaded with more functions than the 510.
If it is important for you to have turn-by-turn directions, the Edge 810 is your best bet. Other than that, there is probably no other model on the market that can claim to be more versatile than the Garmin Edge 520. The computer could use some improvements such as WI-FI connectivity and Bluetooth Smart sensor support. Except for that, most cyclists will find everything they need in the device.
The Garmin Edge 520 is geared for serious cyclists under organized training. It is ideal for people who need to monitor their track ride data. While it is equipped with myriads of advanced features, it can also offer basic ride tracking features even without sensors attached. The unit is small enough for weight conscious racers, but it is able to store detailed maps as well in case you need them.
3. Lezyne Super GPS Review
A high-end bike computer equipped with both Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity, the Lezyne Super GPS offers a lot of superior features bundled in one affordably-priced unit. It doesn’t have a color touchscreen, and simply provides function and data. While the screen and layout for ride display are similar to that of the Edge 500, the device’s overall aesthetic is different.
The Lezyne computer isn’t equipped with any kind of map display, but it boasts of impressive sensor compatibility, and utilizes both GPS and GLONASS satellite systems. If what you need is a simple computer for tracking data from any commercially available sensor, then you have found what you are looking for in the Lezyne Super GPS. For user interface, the computer has 4 external buttons. Just like the Garmin Edge 500, two buttons are located on each side. It offers intuitive and simple navigation, but if you are accustomed to using Garmin units, you need to relearn everything; otherwise, you might end up pressing the wrong button at the wrong time! Only the layouts are similar as the functions of the individual buttons are different. The data screens can be set up any way you want. The wide range of metrics available is at par with Garmin models.
Sensors and accessories can be paired easily, and ANT+ and Bluetooth can be used simultaneously. Ride data downloading is convenient and can be done through the Lezyne Ally Application installed on your iPhone or Android. You can also use the micro-USB cable that comes with the unit. The cable can likewise be used for charging. Ride data can be easily synchronized with Training Peaks and Strava. This can be done using the Lezyne Ally Application. The battery is said to last 22 hours, which is impressive by any standards. Based on our testing, this is pretty accurate as we were able to get somewhere between 20 to 24 hours on a full charge.
The computer is easy to attach onto your bike. It uses an X-Lock mount that looks like the ¼ turn mounts of Garmin units. The Lezyne Super GPS can be attached to the handlebars or the stern using rubber bands. The mount is secure and even during rides, you will rarely have issues of having the computer get loose. Lezyne out-front mounts are also available as aftermarket options. The computer is compatible with any Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ sensor, and setup is brand and sensor type-specific. The process of setting up the data screen is easier compared to Garmin devices as you can only alter one page of data with the Super GPS. With Garmin computers, you can set up many pages having specific data fields. On the other hand, you only get 2 to 4 lines of on-screen data. One data line will always be for speed, and another for scroll. If you opt for 3 or 4 data lines, you can designate 1 or 2 data fields to be displayed all the time, in addition to speed and scroll.
You can choose which field to appear in the scroll section first. This can be a bit disorienting if you have been a Garmin user for a long time, and you are used to viewing pages and data fields with a specific layout. While some users would prefer the plethora of screen set-up options offered by Garmin, there is no doubt that what Lezyne provides is a design that is quick and easy to set up, and there are users who would appreciate that. It is also recommended to install the Lezyne Ally app on your smartphone to pair with the Super GPS. This way, you can receive emails, texts, as well as call updates onscreen while you are riding on the road.
This particular Lezyne model is just one of a few bike computers on the market that are able to support both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart sensors. More and more Bluetooth Smart sensors are coming out these days, so being able to use both platforms, whether simultaneously or individually, is great. The Super GPS can communicate with smartphones via Bluetooth, but you need to load the Lezyne Ally app on your phone before you can enjoy this feature. Once you are connected, you can set your bike computer to receive calls, texts, and email updates as you ride. You also have the option to wirelessly upload wire data to the Ally app, from where you can upload to Training Peaks and Strava.
According to the manufacturer, the unit is “extremely water resistant,” although it isn’t IPX7 rated, unlike some of the competing models. Based on our testing, the unit fared well when used in inclement weather. It was also tested in muddy and wet cyclocross races, and no leakages were observed. You have to make sure, however, that the micro-USB port’s rubber seal must be properly inserted; otherwise, water may seep into the device. The Lezyne Super GPS, overall, is a versatile bike computer. It can meet the demands of a good number of riders. Compact and small, the unit is attractive to casual riders and racers alike. However, if you have the tendency to always look for a map when riding, or if you tour a lot, this unit may not be suitable for you as it doesn’t have maps. It also doesn’t support Strava Live and lacks a number of the advanced performance data fields you commonly find in Garmin models.
To sum it all up, the Lezyne Super GPS is easy to use, intuitive, and offers features that most cyclists need. Using both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors, a lot of riders will find it useful. The computer is best suited for mountain biking, road riding, and cyclocross use. It has sufficient metrics available and a durable compact design that makes the unit a good addition to your cycling gear. However, if maps are indispensable to you, consider using the Garmin 810 or 520 instead.
4. Cateye Strada Slim Review
For the casual cyclist, the lightweight, small, and reasonably-priced Cateye Strada slim may be a suitable bike computer. A non-GPS enabled model, it is specifically designed for road biking. It gathers data on time, speed, and distance using a wireless sensor mounted on the fork leg. If you don’t need to have your ride data uploaded for analysis, and if you want as small-sized, sleek bike computer, then this model is probably right for you.
The Strada Slim does not have visible buttons on the front side of the device. To scroll through data points, you need to push on the lower part of the computer’s body to activate a hidden button that is pushed back against the mounting bracket. The look is quite clean. A positive click can be felt once you push on the device. It automatically boots up upon detection of movement, and records a running total of the distance covered just like what your car’s odometer does. There is nothing fancy about the computer, but its simplicity never fails to work. Initial set up is a breeze. All you have to do is to key in your bike’s wheel size and input the current time. The unit comes with a tire size chart including the circumference to assist you in getting the accurate size measurement. The small buttons at the back of the device are also used for the initial set up. You will need a paper clip just to push the buttons, and this can sometimes be unnerving. Luckily, you will only have to experience this once.
The head unit can be attached using the rubber straps that comes with the unit. You can mount the bracket on the stem or handlebars, but the speed sensor should be installed on the fork leg. The sensor must be mounted to the fork leg, with a gap of at least 5 mm with the magnet attached to a spoke. Doing the steps on a road bike is a breeze, but on other bike types, and even on a road bike equipped with disc brakes, this is not as easy. This is because of the varying distances between the fork leg and the spokes. Battery life is just as the manufacturer claims – 100 km for the sensor and a full year for the head unit, both of which use a different type of battery. Thus, you may need to have CR1616 and CR2032 batteries on standby. This may be an inconvenience, but these batteries are readily available in most electronics supplies stores.
The Cateye Strada Slim offers basic features: speed, maximum speed, average speed, distance, time, time elapsed, and a lifetime odometer. Speed and distance data proved to be accurate when tested side by side with other biking computers. The unit likewise offers an auto on function that is enabled whenever there is movement. It automatically goes on power saving mode after ten minutes of inactivity. Data cannot be downloaded to any tracking service like Training Peaks and Strava. There is no reference to water resistance standards, but the Strada Slim is, as the manufacturer claims, water resistant. True enough, the unit did not show any problems when tested under inclement weather. In one really wet ride, some moisture seeped into the compartment housing the battery, but there was no apparent effect on the unit’s sensor.
The Cateye computer is not versatile. Period. It is specifically-designed for road bikes, and it lacks compatibility with other bike types. It also isn’t ANT+ compatible that will enable it to be used with third party sensors for cadence, power, or heart rate. Another downside is the sensor’s limited range that will prevent you from putting it on the rear wheel. Thus, the computer is useless when installed on a stationary bike as the device is only able to track movements of the front wheel.
In summary, the Cateye Strada Slim is ideal for the casual and road cyclists who have no use for tracking their ride data through Strava and other similar apps. If your only concern is your current speed and the distance you have so far covered, then this cycling computer is for you. The Strada Slim may also prove to be suitable if you’re a road or casual cyclist in need of a basic computer. Bear in mind however, that it is not possible to transfer, share, or download data using this device. Thus, it would be difficult to work with a coach or if you need to track long-term fitness trends. For the basics, however, like speed, distance, and time, the Strada Slim will deliver – in an easy to set up and hassle-free way. The batteries will last for at least a year in most cases, and you can even forget about turning the unit on.
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