In today’s data-driven world, a cycling computer or speedometer is almost a necessity for any cyclist. They not only display your current speed, trip distance, and duration, but there’s much more to it nowadays especially if you’re a data geek.
The features can be anything from turn by turn navigation to structured training or even controlling the smart trainers at home.
Some of the most common questions cyclists have are;
Are bike computers worth it?
Which one should I get?
My answer is, it depends on your needs. There are those basic ones that cost less than $100, mid-level and premium ones that go as high as $500+.
On this page, I’ll go through the things to look out for in a bike computer and also share some of my favorite models with you.
A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Bike Computers
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Types of Cycling Computers
Cycling computers can be divided into 3 categories, with prices for each category increasing as the amount and level of features rise.
Basic and Budget
These computers are great for not only beginners but also those who know in advance that they don’t need complicated features.
They only have basic displays with speed, distance, ride duration, and time. It’s unlikely they’ll feature much connectivity beyond USB support. But again, it shouldn’t be much of an issue if you just need basic data.
A good basic one, to begin with, would be one like the Cateye Padrone.
Those who desire a wider range of features will opt for a mid-range one.
You’ll get a bigger display, a customizable color screen, navigation, connectivity options (BT, ANT+, WiFi), and instant upload to your favorite online applications such as Strava.
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Created for those who want the full suite of features akin to those found on a smartphone.
Premium models take the features of mid-level models and amplify them with advanced navigation, training modes, increased storage options, longer-lasting batteries, sharper displays, bigger screens, and much more.
The Garmin Edge 1030 is probably one of the most feature-packed bike computers available today.
What Should You Look for in A Bike Computer?
Okay, so how you know the different price points of bike computers, which range should you get?
These days, there are so many features that make the buying decision even harder.
You’ll probably be thinking:
- What features do I need?
- ANT+ or Bluetooth, perhaps both?
- How long will the battery last?
- Can it sync to my smartphone?
- Do I need the extra sensors like speed and cadence?
I know there’s a lot going through your mind. So let me break it down for you.
Here’s what you should look for in a cycling computer.
Use Friendly Interface
Whichever model that you ultimately decide to buy will come down in large part to the type of interface you prefer and more importantly, how easy to read the data fields and use.
Some come with fully customizable screens with various data fields while some aren’t. They also range from full touchscreen to button operated, with some having a hybrid of both.
It all boils down to your personal preference and how comfortable you’re with it.
Battery Capable Enough for Your Longest Rides
If most of your rides are never more than 4 to 5 hours long, you probably won’t need a large battery to begin with. You can always charge them post-ride.
Most bike computers today have a battery lifespan between 8 to 15 hours. You’d probably get 2 to 3 rides done before the battery runs flat.
In general, the more features, the more battery it will consume.
If you opt for one with a large, dynamic, and color screen with tons of connectivity options like the Garmin Edge 1030, then you can bet that it will run through its battery life faster than a basic model.
Basic ones with small monochrome displays may not look beautiful, but they get the job done when it comes to longer-lasting battery life.
On the other hand, the Lezyne Mega XL is a high-end bike computer that has the longest battery life, but without a touch and color screen.
Connectivity Options for Transferring Training Data Online
Here is where your individual needs will really come into play. Wireless connectivity will either be a make or break feature depending on what you want to do with your ride data.
The lower down you go price-wise, the fewer connectivity options you’ll get. The least being USB-connection only.
However, not everyone needs to share their ride data with friends, coaches, or on social media. If that’s you, you probably don’t need WiFi, Bluetooth, or ANT+ connectivity, and will do just fine with a basic cycling computer.
In recent years, a far more popular and sleek option is the aftermarket mounting systems such as K-Edge that place your cycling computer ahead of your stem.
They’re generally referred to as out-front mount.
These mounts are popular in large part because of their adjustability as they can be tilted up or down depending on your viewing preference.
Alternatively, you can also mount it on your stem. Besides the out-front mount, most mid to high-end bike computers also come with a stem mount. It’s just a rubber piece tied to the stem via a cable tie.
Bundled Accessories (Speed, Cadence, HRM)
Mid to high-end ones tend to come bundled with various accessories such as the heart rate monitor, speed sensor, and cadence sensors. Having said that, the bundle is optional. You can always get just the bike computer without the bundled accessories.
These are optional extras. But if you’re a data geek, you might want to seriously consider getting them.
These are usually ANT+ and/or Bluetooth compatible and will work with other brands since the ANT+/Bluetooth is an industry standardized technology.
Turn by Turn Navigation
Ask yourself, do you ever need the navigation functions?
If you’re intending to stay put on roads you know like the back of your hands, then you probably don’t need much, if any, navigation.
But, if you’d like to discover new roads, or like to create routes at home on RideWithGPS and upload them to the cycling computer so that it can guide you along the route, then choosing one with advanced navigation would be a no-brainer.
A larger screen is always beneficial when it comes to navigation.
You might want to consider the Garmin Edge 830 is navigation is an important feature you’ll use often.
Value for Money Bike Computers
Here are bike computers that we think gives the best bang for your buck in terms of pricing vs features that you’ll actually use.
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
Our Favorite Computer Pick
Screen Size : 2.2″ (56mm) | Weight : 62g
With the Elemnt Bolt, Wahoo focused heavily on delivering a cycling computer with a simple, elegant screen.
Notably, it’s one of the first to be designed with aerodynamics in mind. Older Wahoo models were a bit on the boxy side until Wahoo began to streamline their designs using wind tunnels.
Featuring both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt seamlessly pairs with your devices, creating a frictionless experience from ride to home to upload. Best of all, you can set up your displays directly from your smartphone in under 2 minutes.
As an added bonus, it also comes with a free 60-day trial of the Strava subscription. You get to try out the Strava live segments feature on the Elemnt Bolt for free!
Garmin Edge 130
Small Yet Powerful
Screen Size : 1.8” (46 mm) | Weight : 33g
Some cyclists don’t like a massive cycling computer resting on their handlebars. They’d rather have something more low profile, but with the same functions as a larger unit.
Enter the Garmin Edge 130 Plus.
This cycling computer is decidedly small with a 1.8″ display and weight of just 33g. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size.
This computer offers plenty of features, including wireless pair capability for Bluetooth and ANT+ devices, allowing you to connect with power meters, smartphones, and smart trainers.
For Navigation and Exploration
If you’re the type of cyclist that likes to explore new and less-traveled roads, you’ll need a bike computer with good navigational features such as these below.
Garmin Edge 830
Best in Class for Turn by Turn Nagivation
Screen Size : 2.6″ (66mm) | Weight : 79g
Say GPS and you think Garmin. Say Garmin and you think GPS.
The company has long been the first name in GPS navigation technology and the Edge is perhaps the most widely used GPS device on a bike. The Edge 830 offers a long list of features, but the highlight of this unit is navigation through it proprietary Garmin Cycle Map.
This feature grants you access to all the popular local cycling routes. The mountain biking model even offers trail data. Compatibility with ANT+ and bluetooth make transferring data a breeze.
You’ll also get a lot of life out of this unit before having to plug it in. Garmin’s rechargeable battery last up to 20 hours.
Wahoo Elemnt Roam
A Beautifully Designed Bike Computer for Serious Cyclists
Screen Size : 2.7″ (69mm) | Weight : 94g
Wahoo goes all out with the Elemnt Roam, with improvements over the ever-popular Elemnt Bolt and Elemnt.
One of the most notable features of this new offering from Wahoo is its color screen, a rarity among cycling computers. In addition to a color interface, this computer features a host of nice add-ons including a Back on Track feature that will reroute you to your destination if you happen to get off course.
This unit also features an ambient light sensor that will alter the brightness of the screen based on light conditions and a 17 hours battery life before you need a recharge.
It’s ANT+ compatible and also offers the ease of Bluetooth syncing with your smartphone for features such as the Strava live segments.
Bike Computers Under $100
Have a tight budget?
Here are some bike computers that won’t break the bank. While they might lack advanced features such as ANT+, maps, and navigation, they are very reliable when it comes to providing accurate speed and distance data.
Cateye Padrone Digital
The Best Non-GPS Enabled Bike Computer
Weight : 32g
With the release of the Padrone Digital, Cateye pushes its beginner cycling computer into a fairly luxe territory.
Cateye is the brand that started it all when it comes to cycling computers. In fact, there’s a chance that your first bike 20 to 30 years ago came with a Cateye attached to the handlebars.
Featuring a large screen that makes your ride stats really pop out, the 3-row display can show four different data fields, allowing you to toggle various bits of your ride information or keep them all onscreen at the same time.
Cateye Velo 7
The 90's Bike Computers Making A Comeback
Weight : 30g
The Cateye Velo 7 brings you back to the early 90’s where wired cycling computers are a common thing.
It comes with a wired, fork mounted speed sensor and magnet for the front wheel spokes. Functionality wise, it’s probably as basic as you can go. It displays all the important ride data fields such as current speed, trip distance, elapsed time and time of the day.
If you’re looking for a cheap one to mount on your commuter bike, give the Cateye Velo 7 a serious consideration.
Large Screen Bike Computers
For starters, these bike computers below certainly don’t come cheap. And for a reason.
They come with a large, beautiful display; similar to your smartphones. If you’re a data geek who likes a lot of data fields on the screen, then check these out.
Garmin Edge 1030
A Massive 3.5" Screen for the Data Geeks
Screen Size : 3.5″ (89mm)| Weight : 123g
The Garmin Edge 1030 can only be described as among the best bike computer money can buy.
Featuring a massive 3.5″ screen that rivals your smartphone for display capability, the Edge 1030 delivers a sharp viewing experience that excels in rain or shine.
Using the Garmin Connect and Garmin companion apps, you can pull data from billions of miles of user data or get turn by turn directions. Alternatively, you can create your own routes, upload them to the Edge 1030, and get lost without actually getting lost.
The Garmin Edge 1030 comes bundled with all the extra accessories such as speed and cadence sensors, and a Garmin heart rate monitor.
Lezyne Mega XL
The Longest Battery Life (48 Hours) for Long Rides
Screen Size : 2.7″ (69mm) | Weight : 83g
The Lezyne Mega XL is a bike computer that will do it all and provide you with plenty of battery life.
It offers turn-by-turn navigation, phone notifications, live tracking, and wireless pairing for power meters, speed/cadence sensors, and heart rate monitors.
You also don’t have to worry about it dying on you when you’re out on long rides. The Mega XL boasts up to 48 hours of battery life. Ride data can be auto-synced with Strava, TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan.
The Mega XL is one of the larger bike computers on the market at a 57.5mm x 78.3mm x 26.6mm dimension. The larger profile gives you a nice sized 2.7” screen. The Mega XL can be mounted on top of the stem or out in front of the handlebars for better aerodynamics.
Sleek Looks and Stunning Graphical Displays
Screen Size : 3.5″ (89mm) | Weight : 168g
Hammerhead, a relative newcomer to the cycling computer market has quickly made a name for itself by eschewing the idea that bike computers must be small and instead focusing on making them more readable.
The visual display on the Karoo is stunning, to say the least, with full-color high resolution and a huge 3.5” screen. You won’t be squinting or shielding the screen from the sun in order to read it. The Karoo makes full use of this big display with easy to read mapping and beautiful graphs of your ride data.
This Android-based computer’s sensors can be connected via ANT+ and Bluetooth for heart rate, cadence, and power output. If you don’t mind the Karoo’s larger profile, it’s 98 x 72 x 28 mm and weighs 168g, then this is an excellent ride partner to have.
Bike Computers FAQ
Bike computers can be a very complicated piece of gadget as they become more feature-rich and advanced. We’ll try to address some of the most commonly asked questions among cyclists below.
Is there a cheaper option?
Yes there is.
In fact, you can use your smartphone to function as a bike computer. Most cyclists today bring their smartphone with them while riding and using the smartphone is a very popular choice among commuters.
Just install apps like Strava and it can track your current speed, riding distance and time.
You’ll also need to get a secure and reliable phone mount to mount the smartphone on the handlebars.
Do I need to buy cadence and speed sensors?
You’ll need speed sensors if your bike computer doesn’t use GPS. Cadence sensors are optional.
Speed sensors. If you look around, most premium ones come bundled with cadence and speed sensors. These are nice to have especially the speed sensors.
Your speed is computed using the GPS signals. The only time the speed sensor comes into play is when you’re riding in areas without GPS signals such as through tunnels.
However, if you’re using one without GPS capabilities such as the Cateye Padrone, then the speed sensor is critical to measuring your speed.
Cadence sensors. The only time you’ll really need a cadence sensor is if you’re training to a specific cadence. Otherwise, it’s a nice to have to be able to see how fast your legs are spinning, and that’s just about it.
Can I sync the bike computer to my smartphone to view my training data?
You can sync to your phone as long as they support Bluetooth (or WiFi for newer, more advanced models).
Once synced, it can display things like incoming calls (useful to know who’s calling you mid-ride without taking your phone from the back pocket) and messages during your rides.
How do I sync my rides to Strava?
These days, synching to Strava is almost seamless if the bike computer has Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity built-in. You’ll need to link the it to Strava during the initial set up phase and voila.
Each time you finish your ride, it will automatically upload the ride data when it’s connected to your home wifi or via your smartphone’s Bluetooth connection.
If you’re using a basic one, you’ll probably need to download it to your computer via USB, and then manually upload the .fit or .gpx file.
Can I use a bike computer on an indoor trainer?
FE-C stands for Fitness Equipment – Controller, which is a communication protocol developed for bike computers/apps to talk to fitness equipments, such as a trainer.
You can use your bike computer to do several things on a smart trainer :
- Ride a virtual course. You can create the course on apps like MapMyRide or RidewithGPS, load it onto the bike computer. It’ll then adjust the resistance on the trainer to mimic the gradient of the route.
- Ride a previous workout. You can re-ride a course you’ve ridden previously.
- Ride a structured workout. Once you’ve loaded the workout, it’ll sync with the trainer to adjust the resistance accordingly. This is sometimes referred to as ERG mode.
- Ride a manual workout. You can use the it as a controller to manually set the trainer’s power/resistance levels up/down.
Which is better - Garmin or Wahoo?
Both Garmin and Wahoo are the leading brands in bike computers. Garmin was the pioneer and Wahoo is the newer kid on the block and they’ve made very significant progress in the past few years.
Generally, Garmin has a broader range of computers ranging from low to high-end while Wahoo is more from mid to high-end. One important thing to note is that all Wahoo bike computers are non-touchscreen, even for their top-tiered model, the Wahoo Elemnt Roam.