Being a keen cyclist, I am always on the look-out for new cycling kit: some new gloves, new sunglasses, you name it! But, one thing that I never really took much notice of was cycling gadgets. I used to just use my watch or mount my mobile phone to my handlebars and go for it. It was only when I was doing a long-distance ride and my friend offered to lend me his cycling computer that it became my next must-have piece of cycling equipment.
At first, I hadn’t realized just what these amazing little bike computers can do! My friend’s cycling computer could do everything: it had a speedometer, an odometer and lots more besides. I had to have one for myself! Unfortunately, the type and model that I had borrowed was not for sale any longer, so I scoured the internet for reviews and recommendations. It was hard to find so I ended up making some purchasing mistakes.
This is how I’ve found myself here, writing these best cycling reviews! I’ve tried and tested so many myself that I’ve take it one step further and, with a team, we’ve hunted and tested the best bike computers out there today to help you in your quest for finding the one that meets your needs and your budget.
How We Picked These Products
With all of my purchasing experience, you may be wondering how we picked out top ten products. Initially, we looked online for the most popular cycling computers on the market today. We looked at around 35 and analyzed their reviews and all their features. After looking at as much information as possible, we decided to test 20 of these bike computers.
Our team of testers included keen cyclists who had not used a bike computer before as well as athletes who have a lot of familiarity with these gadgets. After our team put the computers through their paces, we looked at all their reviews and opinions as well as consulting experts too. Finally, we decided on our top ten cycle computers.
It was tricky! There were so many with excellent features. However, we feel that we have found the best out there for you whether you are a beginner cycler, a hobby cycler, are competitive, cycle to keep fit or a pro cycler. No matter your needs, we have found something for everyone. Read on to find out what we were looking for in the best bicycle computer followed by our top ten list.
Our Top 10 Best Bike Computer List
What Is a Bike Computer and How Does It Work?
Before we begin, let’s break bike computers down a little so that you know what it is that you are looking at. I had no idea when I first used my friend’s, so this will help you in your quest.
A cycling computer is a little gadget that you attach to the handlebars or the step of your bike. The screen shows lots of information in real-time such as your trip time, speed, distance and other things too. The popularity of these pieces of kit has grown hugely in the recent years thanks to accessible sports watches and apps such as Strava that allows people to share their cycling achievements in a global field, should they wish.
With cycling, it’s not as easy to see the marginal gains. If you head out running, you can see that you’ve run further, that you have run the same route faster. At the gym, you know that you’ve increased your weights and reps. If you are cycling, it is harder to know if you are making progress. Being able to see your progress and gains on your cycling computer is a huge plus for the cyclists among us today.
However, if you’re not a full-blown cycling enthusiast or aspiring athlete, will you still benefit from a cycling computer? The answer is resolutely “yes.” Having a computer on your bike can act like a sat nav too, linking it together with your phone. You can look at what the weather will be like during your ride as well as track your route and where you will be going. So, whilst you may initially use it for sat nav and weather, as your cycling grows and you improve, you’ll be able to investigate all the computer’s possibilities!
So, how does it work? The gadget has tiny sensors that you attach to the fork and the wheels. The cadence sensors are attached to the pedal crank and chainstay. The device then records the wheel revolution frequency. Usually, there’s a small magnet on a spoke on your front wheel with the sensor on a fork leg. You do need to calibrate the bike computer to your own bike’s wheel size, otherwise it won’t be accurate in terms of distance or speed travelled for example.
The whole device can be connected to a heart rate monitor, giving the rider the whole 360° analysis of the ride and rider! With all of this, the bike computer records your acceleration, GPS location, speed, cadence (how many rotations each minute), distance, heart rate, elevation, the outside temperature and your heart rate, among other things depending on the model. You can therefore use all of this information to look at your rides in detail. Are you setting off too fast? Is your acceleration not very steady? The computer will show you information during the ride but also offers detailed analysis afterwards too.
Having a computer attached to your bike gives so many advantages that I didn’t even realize. I now spend hours just looking at my recent ride. It also motivates me to push myself further. I’ve broken through so many barriers in my cycling since I’ve been using bike computers. With these reviews, you’ll also see these benefits. We’ll help you find the best cycle computer for you.
Bike Computer - A Comprehensive Buying Guide
You might not know exactly what it is you’re looking for in a cycling computer. I know I didn’t have a clue when I first decided to get one! It was for this reason that I ended up making some early purchasing mistakes. So, let’s have a look at the different aspects of bike computers to help you identify things that you need and things that you want.
Firstly, we need to consider the type of bike computer. There are essentially three types: analogue, basic wired and wireless, and GPS (and ANT+) enabled bike computers. The basic wired computers have simple sensors connected to the computer with a thin cable. Some people find these ones more difficult to fit to the bike but at least the sensor will not need its own battery. These ones are not as popular as wireless ones these days as the world moves from wired gadgets to wireless ones. But they are fab if you want to avoid battery problems and avoid interference.
Wireless bike computers are a popular choice. However, they do have the downside of suffering from interference from other gadgets or electrical equipment at times. However, being wireless, it often can work with other wireless devices such as heart rate monitors, extending your options further.
Analogue bike computers are rather obsolete these days. They are certainly no longer a popular choice what with all the other
2. Other Sensors
Having a heart-rate monitor enables the rider to measure their exertion. If training for a race, having your heart rate in certain ranges means that you can organize our training if you’re a serious racer.
A cadence sensor measures the speed that the pedals turn, which is important if you are a rider that wants to improve or if you are a racer. The sensor for cadence makes all the difference if you want our ride to be a training ride rather than a simple bike ride.
3. Connections and Transference of Data
Transferring data from these devices is usually very simple. The higher-spec bike computers usually have Bluetooth transfer to computers or have wired connections so that you can look at your data in detail as well as so riders can keep a digital record. Of course, many of these now connect with apps such as Strava so you can keep a social media following your rides too.
Any bike computer that you’re looking at is going to have a display. Having one with a backlight means that it is visible easily when you are riding, even in dimly lit conditions. Having a backlight is crucial if you want to ride at night or on trails in forests.
If you have decided that you simply need to know what speed you’re doing, you’ll have an easy time choosing. However, there are loads of options when it comes to display options and interfaces. Some have speed and top speed, how many calories you have burned. There are even ones which show you how much CO2 you have not emitted by cycling instead of driving in a car.
5. Font Size
You need to think about how easy it is to read the data on the screen. Units that are magnetic tend to have a font size that is fixed. Some models may have options to change the size of the font, which is useful. A smaller font is often fine when looking at it whilst stationary, but when riding, smaller fonts are very difficult to see.
Many bike computers have an inbuilt battery that is rechargeable and usually lasts for 20 or so. If you use a smartphone in the same way as a bike computer, it’s battery would last only a quarter the time, for around 5 hours at best. The magnetic parts on the wheels and forks usually take a couple of watch batteries (such as a CR2032) and these typically last 1-2 years, depending on the frequency of their use.
7. Water Resistant
Whether or not your device is water resistant is crucial. To be honest, having one that isn’t resistant to water is problematic. The last thing you want on your ride is for you to be worrying about what the weather is doing!
The price you are willing to pay depends on what kind of cyclist you are. If you’re a commuter or casual scientist, someone who is a keen but amateur cycler, or if you are competitive in your cycling, your budget and the price you are willing to pay will be reflected in that. The cheaper options will get you a basic, wired model showing you your distance, time and speed. Slightly more might get you a wireless on with cadence features. The next bracket up will get you a basic GPS model with extra data such as elevation and the temperature outside. The top of the range bike computers will get you a device where you can customize the screens, see on board mapping with tons of data to boot.
Can Smartphones Be Used Instead?
Are cycling computers really a necessity when most of us have smartphones these days? Also, our smart phones are becoming smarter and smarter with each passing year. In the past, cyclists used to record their rides on a cycling computer because that’s all that was available. Nowadays, there are a lot of cycling apps out there that can record your ride and upload it straight away to an online place, such as Strava. However, would using a cycling computer be better?
What you don’t want in the middle of your 50-mile ride is a pop-up notification saying, “Battery has 10% remaining”. That is often the case with a smartphone’s battery. With a cycling computer, the battery lasts a lot longer. The Garmin Edge 520 has up to 15 hours of battery life. A smartphone would have a lot less than that due things such as the screen’s brightness and other applications being in use at the same time. The cycling computer is designed solely to be just that, so there’s no other apps running in the background using up your battery. You really should only use your phone if your ride is going to be less than a few hours.
You may have already noticed a difference in how accurate your phone is in comparison to other gadgets you own. A cycling computer gives a more accurate view of the distance you have covered due to the sensors on the wheels and forks. You phone would rely only GPS tracking, so the distance and detail won’t be as good.
It’s also important to consider your aerodynamics when riding. Is your smartphone bulky and heavy? It is fair to say that a bike computer would certainly have the edge over the smartphone.
There you have it: everything that you need to know about bike computers! Whether you are a beginner, improver, a competitive cyclist or someone who is cycling for fitness, we have made a top pick for you! Having a cycling computer will mean that you can now look at all of your ride statistics in detail, which will help you to continue to improve your rides. If you’re still not sure, you need to first work out what kind of cyclist are you, or what kind of cyclist you hope to be! Then, it would be a simple case of choosing the pick that best meets your needs. Have fun with your riding!