A cycle computer will enrich your ride by keeping a record of where you have been, when and how fast. We round up the best cycle computers on the market.
It’s rare to see a cyclist riding without a cycle computer on their handlebars these days, they’re almost a part of the cycling landscape. However, all units are not created equal – so which are the best cycle computers?
At bargain basement level, cycle computers start from below £20, but they can cost up to £450. At the higher end of the pricing scale, you get GPS mapping, connectivity with fitness tracking apparatus and clever performance features such as alerts to tell you how you’re performing, and what you need to do to better tailor your training.
What sort of cycling computer is right for you?
If you just want to know how far you cycled and how fast, a basic unit may be appropriate. It will be smaller, lighter and usually have a longer battery life than a pricier option.
Mapping and navigation functionality usually means you will need a larger and more expensive unit, with a much more sophisticated display. And those interested in collecting other data – heart rate, pedalling cadence and power – will need connectivity to peripheral data collection devices. Cadence sensors and heart rate straps can be bought as extras or are often sold bundled with the GPS unit, though power meters are a much more expensive proposition.
Gone are the days of cables and wires to connect all your sensors to your data collection device. Even for the more modestly priced GPS unit wireless capabilities generally come as standard. The majority of new GPS units – but not all – provide an ANT+ interface.
More and more data collection devices using Bluetooth Smart are becoming available. Not all GPS units support this, as it is more geared towards smartphone users. Likewise most smartphones do not support ANT+, although adapters are available for some phones.
If you want to track your activity across other sports too, a wrist-mounted multisports watch may suit you better and there’s always the option to use your smartphone to log activity too, though without a bar mount you won’t be able to see data on the move.
Here’s our pick of the best cycle computers…
Cateye Strada Wireless cycle computer
For a penny under 50 quid, the Cateye Strada ticks all the boxes that you’d expect for a basic cycle computer, and all in a slim, light package.
This is also a good computer if you’re looking to go between road and mountain bikes, as there is the option to have more than one bike with different wheel sizes pre-programmed into the device.
Cateye Velo Wireless cycle computer
The Cateye Velo Wireless computer is one of the most no-nonsense cycling computers on the market.
It won’t do anything special, but pair it with the supplied speed sensor and it will cover off the basics like distance covered and average speed, and even give an estimate of your calorie consumption.
Garmin Edge 25 GPS cycling computer
The Garmin Edge 25 is one up from the bottom of Garmin’s GPS range, but is probably the best basic option for new riders as it will connect with a heart rate monitor, meaning you can do more serious training further down the line if you want.
It’s also incredibly small (in fact, it’s the smallest GPS computer in the world) and astonishingly easy to use even if you’ve never used a Garmin before.
Lezyne Mini GPS GPS cycling computer
Lezyne might be best known for its pumps and multi-tools, but the America company is now looking to become a big player in the GPS market with its three device range.
The Mini GPS is the most basic option, with a seriously compact design that is really easy to use and covers off most of the basics.
Garmin Edge 520 GPS cycling computer
The Garmin Edge 520 tracks your ride via GPS, and can also asses your recovery – giving you an indication of when you’re ready to train again. It works alongside Strava segments, too – so you can get live updates as you attack that hotly contested KOM/QOM too.
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
A fairly new competitor for Garmin, the Elemnt Bolt’s USP is its aerodynamic body – which claims to be 50% more slippery than others on the market. The screens are all set up via a Smartphone, so you can’t be without one if you plan to invest in this unit. We found this really user friendly – though the readability of the mapping left a little to be desired.
Lezyne Super Cycle GPS with Mapping HRCS Loaded
Provides GPS tracking and turn by turn navigation, with maps ready loaded. Pairs up with Strava to provide live segment information, and in this fully loaded bundle you also get a heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor to provide even richer data.
Garmin Edge 1000 GPS cycling computer
You can’t help but raise your eyebrows at the price of the Garmin Edge 1000, but this price tag certainly gets you the best cycle computer currently on the market.
You name it and the Edge 1000 can do it, offering everything from comprehensive mapping, to data analysis, all the way through to the ability to see communicate with electronic groupsets.
Cycle computers: how much do you need to spend?
The answer to this question depends upon what you want to use the computer for. To give you an idea what to expect at key price points, here are some unit examples compared:
|CatEye Strada Wireless||£49.99||Tracks time, distance, and speed using a wireless sensor (no GPS)|
|Garmin Edge 20||£109.99||GPS. Tracks distance, speed, elevation and time|
|Garmin Edge 25||£139.99||GPS. Tracks distance, speed, time, elevation and heart rate and cadence with ANT+ sensors|
|Garmin Edge 520||£279.99||All of above, tracks FTP with power meter, smart phone connectivity, basic courses/routes|
|Garmin Edge 820||£369.99||All of above, gives Vo2 max reading, incident detection, group tracking, smart turbo trainer connectivity, turn by turn navigation, live tracking|
|Garmin Edge 1000||£499.99||All of above, plus on or off-road navigation and points of interest|
|Lezyne Mini GPS||£94.99||GPS. Tracks distance, speed, elevation and time, pairs with smartphone to allow Strava live segments, pairs with ANT+ heart rate, cadence and power sensors, mapping and turbo by turn navigation using Lezyne GPS Root website|
|Lezyne Micro GPS||£119.99||All of above, works alongside electronic drivetrain|
|Lezyne Super GPS||£129.99||All of above, customisable screen option|
What to expect from cycling computers under £100
The most basic cycle computers are generally available from about £15 (or even cheaper if you do a bit of shopping around). Of course, for this sort of money your cycle computer isn’t going to be packed full of functionality.
The very cheapest cycle computers will measure the basics such as your speed and cadence (and from these calculate things like your averages speed and average cadence), taking these figures from speed and cadence sensors located on the bike frame, to which they are connected using wires.
Pay a little bit more (from about £30) and you can upgrade to a wireless cycle computer, which will connect to your speed and cadence sensors without the need for having unsightly wires running all over your frame. These sorts of computers are probably the best option if you’re on a budget and aren’t worried about uploading your rides to Strava or doing any serious, structured training.
Between £50-£100 there are a lot of different cycle computers that begin to offer a bit more functionality, but still can’t quite go as far as being a true cycling GPS unit.
Watch: what are training zones?
In general you’ve got two different types of cycle computer that sit in this price range. First off you’ve got units that are similar to cheaper models, but offer a little more functionality, such as the ability to connect with a heart rate strap using Bluetooth or another wireless protocol, which will allow you to do more serious training and to calculate the calories that you’ve burned.
The other option is a so-called “smart” cycle computer. These computers not only connect with bike sensors using Bluetooth, but can also connect with your smartphone to use your phone’s GPS function. This means that you can use them as GPS computers, tracking your ride to upload it to Strava when you get home. Just make sure your phone is fully charged when you leave the house.
What to expect from cycling computers GPS cycling computers around £100
An entry-level GPS unit will typically be priced just over £100, although if it is bundled with a heart rate monitor and/or cadence sensor the price will be higher. At this price point, manufacturers prioritise ease of use, small size and low weight – usually well below 100g.
The GPS unit will typically track your ride statistics such as distance, time, speed and lap times but will not provide navigation. Most units will pause automatically when you stop moving and resume when you restart and provide ANT+ peripheral connectivity.
Ride data is typically displayed in two or three rows of monochrome text. There may be the option to specify which data items and how many rows are displayed, but one of the selling points of these devices is that you turn them on and start cycling without needing to delve into complex configuration options, so personalisation tends not to be a priority.
The GPS may also allow you to set alerts when you have reached a target value such as having ridden for a pre-specified time. You may get virtual competitor functions, so that you can see how well you are doing compared to previous rides of the same route.
What to expect from cycling computers GPS cycling computers around £200
Spend a bit more and you will start to get additional functionality in your GPS. Mid-level units typically come in around the £200 range and above – again increased if bundled with a heart rate monitor or cadence sensor.
A mid-range unit will usually be larger with a larger screen which can display more data, often in colour. Data storage capacity will probably also increase. The unit may be controlled by buttons or a touchscreen. Many mid-range units add mapping and navigation functionality. You can buy GPSs which major on this functionality, although others still just support breadcrumb trails.
Because of the way in which GPS satellite triangulation works, altitude data calculated from GPS is less accurate than positional data. Thus higher spec GPSs will often add a barometric altimeter to increase recording accuracy for height and rate of ascent.
Many mid-range units now include Bluetooth synchronisation to a smartphone. This allows alerts to be displayed on the GPS when an incoming call, text or e-mail is received. Other data from the phone, such as weather conditions, may also be displayed on the GPS. Some cycle computers send data back to the phone, so it can transmit ride progress data to the internet, where people you allow can view it, and let you upload your rides without needing to connect to a computer.
What to expect from cycling computers GPS cycling computers over £300
The arms race in high-end cycle computers continues and manufacturers seem to be announcing new top of the range features every few months. These halo products come in at £400 or more and weigh around 100 – 120 grams. Most will come packaged with a heart rate monitor strap and a cadence sensor.
At this price point, you should expect a colour touchscreen, mapping, turn-by-turn navigation and many connectivity features. This may include WiFi connectivity for data transfer, route suggestions and ability to share a route with your ride companions. Some are adding Strava-like segment functionality. There’s often a microSD slot to allow you to store data on your GPS beyond that which can be held by the internal storage.
Expect more integration with other devices and applications in future such as Shimano’s Di2 to allow control of the unit without taking your hands off the bars and Strava to give you segment information.
With their large displays and rich functionality, battery life can be an issue with some top-end units. Once the EU’s Galileo GPS satellites are commissioned, it is likely that devices will become available which use this GPS system too, potentially putting further strain on the battery.
Cycling computer connectivity and analysis
Even basic cycling GPS units allow you to download data post-ride to the manufacturer’s ride recording site. These sites support ride analysis, training plans and social interaction, as well as upload to Strava, Training Peaks or other third party sites.
Manufacturers’ sites vary in sophistication and user friendliness. Analysis options will be richer, of course, if you have used peripheral devices such as a cadence sensor to capture extra data.
The alternatives to cycle computers
If you don’t want to buy a cycling-specific GPS, other options are available. Modern smartphones will have a GPS chip built into them. This may not be as accurate as the chip in a dedicated cycling GPS but should still allow you to track your position with reasonable accuracy. You can download free activity tracking apps from the Apple Store or Google Play to log your rides. There are many of these such as MapMyRide and Endomondo, although the most popular of the lot is Strava
You can either put your phone in a pocket or buy a mount which attaches to your bars or stem. These normally have a clear plastic zip up sleeve on top, so that you can see your data as you ride. If you use your phone beware of water, as most are not water-resistant. Battery life may be an issue too, especially if you want to use your phone’s display to see your data while you ride.
If you are going to carry your phone, another option is to use its GPS capability to collect ride data, which is transmitted via Bluetooth to a bar-mounted display unit. This allows you to keep your phone out of the way and turn off the screen whilst still being able to see ride statistics. Display units will usually also show data collected from peripheral devices via ANT or Bluetooth.
For those triathletes among you, a GPS enabled sports watch may be a better option. These allow you to track activity across different sports and may allow ANT+ connection to peripheral devices too. Most come with a bar mount, so that you can use the watch attached to the bike or on your wrist.
Our latest GPS watch reviews
With a price tag north of £400 you should expect a lot from the Garmin Epix watch, and that’s what it delivers, offering all the conceivable data that any multi-sport athlete could ever want.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer level of functionality on offer, but once you get the hang of it, the touchscreen is easy to use and the amount of data at your disposal should help to make you a better athlete.
The Polar V800 is more than just a sports watch, it is also designed to double as an activity tracker, meaning that it send you reminders when you’ve been sat behind your desk for too long.
It’s also great for really serious athletes training day after day as it will track your recovery to help you know when it’s time for a day off.
Cycle computers in summary
However much you want to spend and however much data you decide to record, a GPS unit will enhance your ride by leaving you a permanent record of where you have ridden, when and how fast. It will give you the option to delve further into your performance and the tools to improve and broaden your cycling experience. You will be able to share ride data with friends, compete against others and improve on your personal bests.