Bike computers are an essential part of any cyclist’s equipment list and we have put together a guide to the best cycling and bike computers and GPS tracker devices available.
As commuting, traveling, and competing by bike has gained popularity, technology has kept up to match demand. Cycling gadgets like GPS trackers, apps and bike computers have become ubiquitous among all kinds of cyclists, from the leisurely Sunday rider to the ultra-endurance racer.
While some computers are designed to help you track your mileage, speed, and cadence, others focus on mapping your distance and helping you discover new routes. Some devices connect to your smartphone, others operate on their own, but whichever type you choose they’re adding a new dimension to the way you understand your daily ride.
Using a bike computer or GPS unit to track your progress over a few weeks can point to how you can improve your bike, gear, or pace with a bit of data and dedication. Trackers can help you stay situated while cycling away from home, communicate your location, or even locate a stolen bike.
Here’s our guide to products will make sure you’re plugged in and connected without having to rely solely on your cell phone on any type of ride.
When choosing a wired or wireless bike computer, you should pay attention to its installation to your bike as this is not universal. Generally, a wired computer will include a sensor that send information to the computer mount via a wire you attach to your frame. The sensor, usually attached on or near the fork, will pick up rotation signals from a separate magnet that is attached to your front wheel. That information will travel through the wire and to the computer, which will be mounted on your handlebars.
A wireless computer eliminates (you guessed it!) the wire, meaning the computer mount, magnet and speed sensor are affixed to the bike separately, usually with zip ties or a similar attachment included with the product. Your wheel diameter will affect the computer’s readings, so read product specs carefully to make sure your wheels will work with the device in question. Both the speed and magnet sensors will usually need lithium batteries to work.
Cateye’s Velo 7 (or 9) wired computer can make a great addition to your cycling starter kit thanks to its designated entry level status.
A wired bestseller, the Velo 7 is straightforward, featuring basic information like current and average speed, trip distance and elapsed time, with the added benefit of compatibility with the FlexTight universal bracket (another Cateye product that mounts to all handlebars). The Velo’s price tag adds to its appeal- its a low stakes option for those who want to give cycling computers a casual try.
Cateye’s Padrone Stealth wows with its simplicity, efficiency and function, all packed into one sleek design. A slight improvement on the original Padrone model, the Stealth comes with the versatile OF-100 bracket for easy attachment.
A large display screen, auto start and stop functions, an an easy to program odometer are a few of the features that make the user- friendly Padrone Stealth an affordable option for a daily commuter and/or weekend day tipper. The device includes current and average speed, distance, elapsed time, and a stopwatch tool. For all the same features and a backlit screen for night rides, consider the Padrone Plus Black, which comes in at the same price as the stealth.
The Garmin range features products from ultra- accurate performance computers for daily use to highly portable smartwatches that keep you secure when out on a long distance tour. Their higher price point accounts for the variety of syncing abilities, GPS functions and built in features like inReach compatibility. Garmin products’ LiveTrack feature allows loved ones to track your location live, so that you know you’re covered even when feeling completely alone while traveling.
Thanks to meticulously collected performance data, the Edge 1030 Plus goes beyond the basics, zeroing in on details like training load, recovery time and VO2 Max. By noting your training history and trends, the Edge provides you with daily ride suggestions to improve your performance at a steady pace. Viewing your performance indicators after every ride help you decide what changes to make, and the Edge’s customized suggestions are a helpful tool (an outside perspective is always a plus)! The edge syncs to Garmin’s Connect App, along with other training apps like TrainerRoad. The Garmin Connect App allows you to access more health stats, measurements, downloadable courses, and compare and share your progress.
A cycling-specific “Dynamics” feature lets you enter details like your bike setup and see how you fare when those factors change. Mountain biking specific performance evaluation, heat and altitude acclimation information and hydration notifications are just some of the features that make the edge a trainer, digital companion and calculator all in one.
Recommended specifically for bike touring, the Edge Explore GPS cycling computer’s defining feature is its pre-loaded Cycle Map. Garmin’s Cycle Maps allows you to search for nearby services, indicate preferred bike routes (tour cycling, mountain biking, etc.) and look up detailed, bike specific directions to wherever you’re going. The crucial “Cycling Awareness” element of the Edge Explore is its compatibility with Garmin’s Varia series of smart bike lights and other products, meant to keep you visible even when you get distracted or are extra focused on what’s in front of you.
The computer’s assistance and incident detection features give you the peace of mind of knowing that your location will be sent to a designated emergency contact if you need immediate assistance. Rider- to rider- messaging lets you communicate quickly with riding partners in case of a change of plans; you can save pre-written messages and send them with the tap of your finger.
Have your routes saved on a separate cycling app? You can import information from outside apps directly directly to the Edge, meaning there’s no loss in translation from one device to another. Designed to be highly visible in full sunlight and functional in the rain, the Edge Explore is as rugged as you will hopefully become on your next long distance tour. Multiple pairing options and a focus on GPS mapping mean that you can get pedaling knowing you have plenty of options in case you have to improvise on the spot.
The Instinct Solar GPS Smartwatch by Garmin is a highly durable wearable that runs on a solar battery, meaning it’s an ideal choice for touring cyclists or more casual riders who plan to spend most of the day out in the sun. The Instinct is also more of an all- around athlete’s choice- it includes activity profiles for not only cycling, but hiking, running, swimming, and others.
Your watch can map variables from heart rate to stored energy and stress levels, reminding you when it’s time to take a break or just take a deep breath and relax. GPS functions include satellite systems beyond just GPS, in case you venture into remote areas and need extra support. The Instinct pairs with inReach products (you’ll need to purchase a satellite subscription for these as well), which allow you to read and send messages, track the weather, and send an SOS signal when you can’t use your Smartphone. Coming in at the lower end of the price range for a quality Garmin product, the Instinct Solar is a great choice if you plan to do more than bike, and are concerned more with tools to navigate remote areas than you are with extremely specific cycling specs.
Though the Wahoo Fitness name may not be as well known as Garmin or Cateye, Wahoo products undoubtedly keep up in terms of quality and user-friendly interfaces. The Elemnt Bolt, perfect for racers or anyone looking to up their speed and agility, stands out thanks an original design that combines the computer and the mount into one sleek device. Working with apps like TrainingPeaks and TrainerRoad, the Elemnt records and shares your performance stats, which are then used to create custom plans to help you achieve goals.
The Elemnt’s storage capacity allows you to access 16 GB of maps, routing, and race navigation when you need it. The Elemnt app lets you further customize your computer based on the areas you want to improve. The Bolt is highly versatile, meaning it’ll remain useful while you evolve as a cyclist and try new modes of training.
If you’re considering investing in a performance- focused cycling computer but aren’t sure whether you really need one or whether you’ll even end up using it, remember that a perspective separate from your own can always help you see things more clearly. Though no computer will provide you with advice, just seeing your own progress laid out in
numbers and imagery can help you understand where you are physically, as well as where you’d like to be.
Though you may think your Smartphone is enough, touring- specific GPS computers have your back when you are out of service range or battery. For experienced cyclists looking to ride in more remote areas, a GPS device will still help you feel connected while allowing you to take your eyes away from the screen and enjoy your surroundings.
Choosing a device that incorporates both performance measurements and detailed GPS tracking keeps your options limitless; even if you’re just riding to work for now, your relationship to cycling might change, especially if you start paying attention to just what you’re capable of.