Cycling Computer Comparison
Cycling Computer Buying Guide
What is a Cycling Computer?
A cycling computer is a small device that is attached to your bike and is designed with the sole purpose of recording data and information from each of your rides. It is a perfect accessory for any serious cyclers who want to use cycling as a training/weight loss avenue. By being able to record this data, they can make adjustments to their training regimen and improve the performance and results of their rides.
The most obvious reason to have a cycling computer is to record numerous important data about your ride. Some may just record this information out of curiosity but others, who are cycling for sport, use it as a training tool. If you want to use your cycling as a means of fitness training or even weight loss, having a good quality cycling computer will help you keep track of the information that can help you have a productive ride.
If you’re not looking for a serious training tool, but just want to track information out of curiosity or you want the social side that is offered with the ability most cycling computers have to engage in social media sharing, these cycling computers will still meet your needs as well.
What are Your Needs?
Before you start shopping for a cycling computer, you must know what kind of information you want to record and other pieces of information as well like what is your budget? What functionalities are important to you? Do you want it to have computer connectivity? Are you the only one who will be using it and do you have just one bike or multiple bikes?
All of these questions are important because it will determine the cycling computer that will best fit those needs. With the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to easily look through the choices and narrow the selections down to just those that fit your needs.
What Type of Rider Are You?
There are three basic types of cyclist that cycling computers can appeal to. It isn’t written in stone but normally the type of information you like to record goes along with the type of rider you are overall.
- Casual – The casual cyclist rides for pleasure and usually just wants to know distance, speed and time. They want to know things like how fast they rode? How far they rode and how long did it take to ride?
- Enthusiast – An enthusiast could be a commuter or touring rider or just someone who likes to ride a lot. They tend to like information such as trip distance, total odometer, average speed and maximum speed in addition to the information that casual riders like to record.
- Competitive – The competitive cyclist wants all of the above information along with cadence, heart rate, elevation gained and power output as well to track how hard they are working during their rides.
What to Look for in a Cycling Computer
There are several different points of interest when it comes to choosing the right cycling computer. We have outlined these points below along with providing details about each of them. These are the points that will narrow the selection field during your search.
There are three common types of connectivity that cycling computers usually offer: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ANT+. Each one has their benefits.
- Wi-Fi – A cycling computer with Wi-Fi connectivity will be able to upload your ride data directly via a third party app such as Garmin Connector, Strava or Social Media. You will be able to do this whenever the bike is in range of any of the networks it has enabled. It is not much use during the ride itself, but it good for after the ride. Most cycling computers that are Wi-Fi enabled will also have either ANT+ or Bluetooth as well.
- ANT+ – This is a low powered wireless communications protocol and is a popular feature of many cycling computers. ANT+ was bought by Garmin. They kept the ANT+ system open access which allowed other companies to incorporate it into their products. One of the huge selling points ANT+ has is that it works with a large selection of providers including Bryton, Quarq, SRM, Wahoo, PowerTap, CatEye and many more.
- Bluetooth – The newest kid on the scene is Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy. Many cycling computer manufacturers are using Bluetooth as their main connectivity option. Many companies including Garmin, Polar, Stages, Lezyne and others have the Bluetooth option along with ANT+. One of the popular features of having Bluetooth is the many smartphones have Bluetooth Low Energy and if the user has a compatible app, the cycling computer can communicate directly with the phone with no adapters needed.
Device Size and Screen
Cycling computers are starting to get bigger just like smartphones have over the years. Although users love the larger size which is easier to read and handle, it does take up more room on the bars or stem of your bike. Another option is to get a bigger out-front mount. Where you want the cycling computer to go is an important question.
Some riders don’t care about having a streamlined look and they will be just fine with the mount and computer right there in front of them. Decide whether you want the space or whether you like having the device right there where you can access it easily and look for the corresponding cycling computer that fits what you want.
Another important consideration is screen size and resolution. If you want the smallest thing you can find, they have mini cycling computers but the screen is seriously tiny and that could make reading the data very difficult. Ideally, you want to be able to just glance down at the screen briefly while riding and see what you want to see. This is one of the reasons the out front mount is becoming so popular.
Another consideration is color versus black and white. The only place that color really has any benefit is in the maps but otherwise black and white is more than sufficient.
Mapping and Navigation
Having on-screen mapping and in some cases, turn by turn navigation can really come in handy during a ride, especially if you are not in a familiar area. Being able to see where you are at any given point during a ride can be a real motivation during training to keep going. It is also helpful in seeing how sharp turns are so you don’t come flying around a corner and end up as someone’s hood ornament.
Turn by turn navigation is generally only offered with the higher end models. This feature is really beneficial if you are in another country riding or even in a new city.
There are several different types of mounts available for cycling computers. The most popular mount is the quarter turn mount. It is very small and out of the way and is easy to mount on your bike. It is a secure mount that most cyclists enjoy using. Most companies have a quarter turn mount. A few of the other companies such as CatEye and PRO use a traditional clip in method. To remove the computer, you’ll need to press in on a tab that is holding it in place.
There are three different places that most cyclists mount their cycling computers: On the handle bars, on the stem of the bike and out front on a special mount that places the computer just in front of the bars. The out front mount tends to be the most popular since this puts the cycling computer in a great place to be seen during the ride with minimal if any issues.
Below we’ve listed some additional features that different models of cycling computers may have. These features can also influence the model you decide to purchase.
- Backlit Display – This is a very useful feature if you ride in the dark, early morning or bad weather. It is much easier to read a back lit screen than trying to shine a light on it.
- Battery Life – You want to choose a model that has a rechargeable battery that has a battery life of 20 hours or so. The more the better. Battery life is important so you don’t miss part of a ride.
- Multiple Screens – There are many different options you have when it comes to screens. Many models offer multiple screens that the rider can customize to fit their specific needs. Other, less expensive models may have fixed screens.
- Data Transfer – If you want the ability to transfer your ride date to your computer, social media site or training software, you want to be certain to get a cycling computer that offers data transfer options.
- Readability – Being able to read your data is very important. Having a cycling computer you can’t read while on a ride defeats the whole purpose of having one. Look for displays that have larger fonts, backlit displays and easy to read fonts as well.
- Multi-bike use – If your cycling computer has multi-bike functionality, this means you can save the data for 2 or 3 different bikes. This is good for the cyclist that may use different cycles during the training or for different races. Multi-bike functionality is usually found on a higher end model.
The key to finding the right cycling computer is to know what features and functionalities are available in the different models. You also want to be certain of what your needs and preferences are so the model you purchase has the features and/or functionality you need.
Having all of this information makes reading the product descriptions and even more importantly, understanding what they mean, much easier. You will know exactly what the devices offer that you are considering and will be able to make an informed decision that you will be pleased with on your rides.