Best Bike Computer: Staying on Track

Best bike computers
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

With the advent of GPS and running watches that have made it easier to track one’s progress while they exercise, there hasn’t been much in the way of devices for cyclists to use.

Biking isn’t the same as running, so it’s not possible for the same devices to accurately predict how many calories you’re burning while you exercise. However, the market has finally started to fill this void with the latest technology by developing the best bike computer for consumers.

Forget pulling out your smart phone to try and collect all of the data you need to ensure you’re getting the right workout and actually improving.

You run the risk of not only dropping your phone, but you can wear out the battery even faster, and if your phone dies in the middle of your ride, then you’re missing a lot of valuable data. Instead, having the best bicycle computer on your side can gather all of the data for you and ensure that you’ll have the means to gauge just how well you’re doing on each ride.

Your bike computer

But before you can go out and just buy the first one you see, there are a few important questions that you should be asking yourself:

  • What kind of information do you want from your biking computer?
  • How are you going to use this information?
  • What is your current budget?
  • What features are most important to you?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re on a better start to finding the right device that you need.

Your Biking Style

Believe it or not, the kind of cycling that you do will determine the device that you get. There’s no reason to spend more than you need to if there are functions on the device that you’re not going to use.

For casual cyclists, they probably won’t need more information than how far they’ve gone, how fast they’re going, and the time it took to complete their ride. Enthusiasts, on the other hand, want information that’s a bit more detailed.

Biking style

Devices for this kind of cyclist provide information such as their average overall speed, what their maximum speed was, and the total odometer. Lastly, there are competitive cyclists who want everything that these devices have to offer, such as their heart rate, if there were any changes in elevation, and the cadence of their ride.

Keep in mind, however, that the more information that you want from your cycling device, the more money you’ll have to pay.

How They Work

When it comes to finding the best cycling computer, you may think they all work the same, but they don’t. Each manufacturer uses a different kind of sensor to record and provide you with the information that you’re looking for.

Computer fo bike

They all work in different ways, with benefits and drawbacks that make some more suitable over others.

  • Magnetic: a magnet is attached to a wheel spoke, which is rotated past a sensor on the front fork. The faster you go, the more this spins. In cases where cadence sensors are used, the magnet is attached to a crank arm while the sensor is attached to the rear stay.
    One great advantage of this is that it’s cheaper, so it’s perfect for those who are shopping on a budget.
    Magnet sensors also have a longer battery life, so there’s no need to replace the batteries often or to recharge them on a regular basis. One drawback, however, is that there is no GPS functionality, so you can’t see where you’ve been.
  • GPS: a satellite receiver is attached to the back in order to convert GPS signals into data. This allows for more data options, as it’s a more sophisticated piece of technology, and the information can be transferred over and saved to your computer.
    That way, you have a way you can record and compare all of your rides in one place. Another great benefit is that it can be placed on any bicycle, so you can always have a record, no matter what vehicle you’re using.
    In terms of disadvantages, GPS units tend to be a bit pricier, a little heavier, and they need charging on a regular basis so that the batteries don’t die in the middle of your ride.

Magnetic sensors transmit data through a wire, which adds how cost-efficient they are, as well as making them much lighter. However, having a wire in the way means that there’s more to break, and they can sometimes get in the way while you ride.

Wired transmission also means that you can’t swap the sensor between different bikes. GPS sensors use wireless data, making them easier to install and have a cleaner look about them. They will add more weight to your bike, however.

Bike computer in action

There’s also the consideration of ANT+. This is only necessary if you intend to track your data through Strava, Training Peaks, or you’re working under a training coach.

This is because devices with ANT+ capabilities can track and record individual rides so that you can see just how well you’re doing and what areas you need to improve on. It’s really only beneficial for those who are interested in getting into competitive cycling.

Other Features

Recording your riding data is all well and good, but there are some extra features that can make all the difference for certain riders, especially those who want more versatility as they use their biking computers.

Here are a few of the additional features you may also want to consider when shopping for your cycling computer.

  • Battery life: look for rechargeable batteries with the longest runtime.
    GPS units have a runtime of about twenty hours, while magnetic units can last for a couple of years. These are both comparable to using a cycling app on your smartphone, which may only last about five to eight hours.
  • Data transfer: how do you want to get your data off of your cycling computer? Where do you want to store your data? The more sophisticated models make it easy for you to transfer the information that you need, either to their own software program or to any social fitness site you’re using to store your data.
  • Data screens: all of your data may be displayed on one screen, or you may have several screen you have to scroll through in order to see all your data.
    There may even be the option to customize your screens so that you’re only getting the data that you want to see.
  • Backlight: cycling isn’t always done during the daytime, and you need some way of seeing your data without having to carry an extra flashlight with you. Backlit screens can make this possible when you’re riding in the evenings.
  • Additional mounts: the ability to be used with different mounts allows riders to focus their attention on the path before them instead of being distracted with the screens on their bikes.
  • Use on multiple bicycles: because bikes come in various models, it’s handy to have a variety of mounts that the unit can be attached to in order to record your data.

These should only be considered as an afterthought for your purchase, and shouldn’t really be deal breakers if the device you’re interested in doesn’t have all of these features.

Bike computer

Now that you know what to look for, here are a few products on the market that customers consider to be the best.

This list may include some brands you’re not familiar with, or they don’t have all of the functionality that you’re looking for, but this list is designed to be a guide to help you find the right one that you’re looking for.

Top Products for 2017

Garmin Edge 520 Bike Computer

Garmin Edge 520 Bike Computer

Cost: $271.87

Weight: 11.2 ounces

Product Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 2 inches

Specific Features: provides in-ride challenges through the use of Strava life segments, tracks Functional Threshold Power, cycling dynamics, and watts/kg, live tracking, automatic uploads, notifications, sharing through social media, weather notifications, indoor and ANT+.

Description: With the purchase of this cycling Garmin Edge 520 Bike Computer, you’ll get the first two months of Strava Premium for free, and it’s the first cycling computer that’s compatible with their live segments.

Once you complete each segment, you’ll be presented with the current leaderboard so you can see where you rank against everyone else.

It can also be paired with a power meter or the Garmin app on your smart phone to provide you with even more data you can use to keep track of your times and distances. And the handy weather notifications keep you informed on the changes in the climate so that you’re not caught out in the rain.

Garmin Edge 810 GPS Bike Computer

Garmin Edge 810 GPS Bike Computer

Cost: $265.97

Weight: 3.5 ounces

Product Dimensions: 3.7 x 1 x 2 inches

Specific Features: live tracking, instant uploading, ride-sharing capabilities, social sharing networks, weather updates, comprehensive data (that includes speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, elevation and location), customization color screen, connection through the Garmin mobile app, topographic maps, provides bike-friendly routes, Bluetooth.

Description: With the added features to this cycling Garmin Edge 810 GPS Bike Computer , it’s a bit of a step up from the previous model. The screen is clear and easy to read, and the ability to customize it makes it a unique tool for each individual rider.

You can pore through and compare all your data, or you can focus only on the information that you want. It’s also one of the lighter models out there, so you won’t feel like your handlebars are being weighed down.

This cycling computer also allows you to pre-define up to ten different bikes so that you’re always getting accurate information, no matter what you’re riding ow how you’re riding. Some of these categories include cross country, trail, race or road, just to name a few.

Lezyne Super GPS Bike Computer

Lezyne Super GPS Bike Computer

Cost: N/A

Weight: 5.12 ounces

Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9 inches

Specific Features: altimeter, heart rate monitor, Bluetooth, ANT+, measures cadence, lightweight, compact.

Description: If you’re looking for something that fits within your budget and is still lightweight, then Lezyne Super GPS Bike Computer, Polish/Hi Gloss is the device for you. It’s simple enough for anyone to use, and it can transfer data easily onto your computer.

It does have some drawbacks, such as the lack of maps, there is no color screen, and it doesn’t record a wider spectrum of data, but it’s a good first biking computer for the casual cyclist.

Although it lacks a lot of the features that many of the other products on this list have, that can be seen as a bonus, as it’s easier to use and won’t confuse the cyclists with fancy data they don’t need. Users can even customize the screens and data that they see.

Magellan 505 GPS Cycle Computer

Magellan 505 GPS Cycle Computer

Cost: $386.02

Weight: 4 ounces

Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.4 x 2.6 inches

Specific Features: provides info on cycling places of interest, provides complete USA road network, suggests different routes when entering distance and time criteria, Bluetooth, ANT+, data recording (speed, cadence, heart rate), virtual sharing with other device users, large touch screen, connects to smartphone, calling notifications

Description: This handy Magellan 505 GPS Cycle Computer is more colorful than you probably ever bargained for. The GPS maps are easy to read, showing clear details of where you’ve been, as well as providing color-coded graphs so you can track your progress.

When selecting a destination and inputting a time, the device will prove you with three different route options, along with information on their difficulty, amount of elevation, and the amount of unpaved road.

That way, you can take the best route that suits your riding style. It’s compatible with both Android smartphones and iPhones, allowing more users to benefit from this handy device.

CatEye Strada Slim Wireless Computer

CatEye Strada Slim Wireless Computer

Cost: $45.00

Weight: 7.05 ounces

Product Dimensions: 1 x 3 x 4 inches

Specific Features: lightweight, small, inexpensive, bright color

Description: This is another non-GPS cycling CatEye Strada Slim Wireless Computer that has quite a large display for anyone to read. It’s a very affordable unit for those shopping on a budget, and provides the essential data that any casual cyclist would need.

It’s small, very lightweight, and has a wireless speed sensor so you won’t get tangled in any wires or suffer the risk of tearing the wire out. It records your speed, how long you’ve been biking for, and your total distance.

It doesn’t have any GPS functionality or much versatility, but for the price, it still has a lot of functionality.

Planet Bike Protege 9.0 9-Function Bike Computer

Planet Bike Protege 9.0 9-Function Bike Computer

Cost: $44.99

Weight: 4.8 ounces

Product Dimensions: 5.91 x 1.97 x 3.94 inches

Specific Features: provides essential data (speed, speed comparator, ride time, distance, average speed, max speed, clock, temperature, odometer), universal bracket for any bicycle, displays 5 pieces of data at once on an LCD screen.

Description: Another affordable device, this cycling Planet Bike Protege 9.0 9-Function Bike Computer has a lot of functionality for its price. It has a large LED screen that allows you to see up to five pieces of data at once, so you can see just how well you’re doing.

It’s light and small, so it won’t weigh down or take over the space on your handlebars.

Despite it’s ease of use, it’s not very easy to set up initially. You’ll require something small to set up all the different features, such as your wheel size and miles, and that could be too much of a hassle for some people.

On the plus side, it is wireless, so you don’t have to fiddle with the hassle of a wire getting in the way. It mounts very easily to handlebars, but does require a little bit of force to remove, so it’s advise that you be careful.

CatEye Velo 7 Bicycle Computer CC-VL520

CatEye Velo 7 Bicycle Computer CC-VL520

Cost: $18.37

Weight: 4.16 ounces

Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 3.2 x 4.3 inches

Specific Features: speedometer, easy installation, elapsed time, clock, large LED screen, affordable, very easy to use.

Description: If minimalist is your style, CatEye Velo 7 Bicycle Computer CC-VL520 is the cycling computer for you. It’s super cheap, so if something happens to it the first time, it won’t cost too much to replace. You won’t have to worry about that, however, as this tiny device is quite durable.

It’s easy to set up on your handle bars, and you won’t have a hard time reading the large display screen. It has no GPS capabilities, and it does have a wired sensor, so you have to take special care of it while you ride.

However, it does it’s best to save on power: it turns on automatically when it sense movement, and then goes into power saving mode after ten minutes of inactivity. Installation is made a little more tedious with the use of the wired sensor, but you’ll get reliable data once you’re all done.

Final Words

Having your own cycling computer can keep you abreast of your progress and show you just how well you’re doing. Going out for a casual ride? You can see just how far you’ve gone and compare it to your previous ride. Training for a race?

Choose your bike computer

These handy devices can help you with that too, so you can ensure that you’re always improving. Even if you’re not itching to get that best time or go the farthest distance, it’s still interesting to see just what you’re capable of.

If you’ve purchased any of these products before and have a story to share with us, please leave a comment below. Alternatively, if there’s a product not on this list that you’ve had great experiences with, please share those with us too. We’d love to hear from you and see what other great cycling computers we’ve missed out on.

Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Lee Williamson

    Couldn’t be happier with my Magellan 505. It has all the features and stats you could possibly need and displays them all on a vivid colour screen. I particularly like the ‘Surprise Me’ feature. Just put in the distance you want to cycle – or for how long – and the GPS throws out three ‘surprise’ routes for you to choose from. It’s a nice fun way to discover new rides. Convinced my brother and cousin to get one too. They’re both big Garmin fans, so it was a hard sell, but I think I’ve converted them!

  • Daniel Carraway

    When you talk of GPS, then that’s also synonymous with Garmin. I love this brand and no wonder there’s a lot of people who are also taken with it. The interface is clear and overall, it’s so user-friendly and easy to use.

  • Richard Taylor

    Can’t be doing with the complexities of Garmin and the like. I prefer a simpler, minimalistic bike computer, hence why I went for the Cateye Velo 7. It’s both easy to mount on the bike and easy to set up once mounted. It has all the statistics I’d like to see (distance, average speed, clock, speedometer and an odometer) without having to cycle through endless others to reach them. Whilst the other computers are no doubt impressive and would appeal to a lot of cyclists, I’m very happy with the one-button simplicity of the Cateye.

  • Daniel Carraway

    Good choice! As long as it fits your requirements, then that’s the best gadget for you. Glad to be of help since you’ve found out what you needed. The Cateye has a simple interface, but it gets the job done.