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What you should look for in a bike computer

Metrics, maps, data and more

Garmin 130

Every cyclist has personal reasons for riding. Some ride because they just want to be active outside, many ride for transit and others ride to train for racing. Cycling, for you, could be a mix of these reasons, or another reason entirely. If you’re at a point where you’re considering buying a bike computer, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed looking at the options. Which bike computer matches the type of riding you want to do?

Here are some tips to get you ready to pick out a new the best device to accompany you on rides.

Think about what you want

Why are you looking into a bike computer in the first place? Do you want to use it to connect sensors, measure speed, power, distance, elevation etc.? Do you want it for outdoor workouts? Are you looking for a bike computer that’s more focused on mapping functions? Will you use it just for road cycling or do you want to bring it on some trails?

All these factors should play into your decision.

What will you want in the future?

It’s hard to know how you’ll change your cycling habits as time goes on, but if you’re planning on getting more into touring, or hope to one day start training for a race, consider not just what features you want now but what you might want in the future as well.

Can you get it from your phone?

With cycling, it’s easy to drop hundreds of dollars on items you might not necessarily need. Check out the mapping function and speed/distance features on the Strava phone app ‘Record’ section. The app provides enough information to satisfy your computer needs you can simply buy a phone mount and use your phone to collect data and navigate.

There are downsides to using your phone as a bike computer: shorter battery life, aerodynamics and GPS accuracy are all considerations.

Metrics

Data such as average speed, heart rate, time of day, elevation gain and many more can be configured into personalized screens on most bike computers. If you’re not too bothered with super-accurate maps and don’t need to dig too deeply into the data mid-ride, there are many small price-point computers that will suit your needs. A computer like the Garmin Edge 130 Plus ($290) will give you all the features you need, and probably some you won’t even use. At $210, Lezyne’s Super Pro GPS bike computer is one of the most affordable options and will scratch a number of your bike computer itches without hurting your wallet too much.

RELATED: Review: Garmin Edge 130 Plus

Cyclists with poor eyesight should keep in mind that a smaller bike computer will only be able to display a few data fields, so it might be worth going for the bigger options.

Training

Most bike computers released in the past few years give riders the option to load workouts for outdoor or indoor training. The new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt ($380) can be programmed to signal power data via the LEDs on the top of the unit, which can be useful for maintaining steady power during harder intervals.

Similar in size, the Garmin Edge 530 ($420) will also guide you through your workouts and give you updates on your training status and whether you’re training productively. If you prefer a touch screen (benefit: quicker navigation, downside: bad with gloves or rain), the Garmin Edge 830 ($550) is essentially the same device with a touch screen display instead of buttons.

Mapping features

Breadcrumb mappingĀ 

The level of detail of a bike computers’ GPS navigation can be the difference between spending $300 and $800. If you’re only looking to ride around streets you’re relatively familiar with, a bike computer with ‘breadcrumb’ navigation (simply a line that indicates where you should turn) could meet your needs. More expensive units come with road maps, sometimes pre-loaded onto the unit, though street names might not be visible. The Wahoo Elemnt Roam ($550), for example, will display street names for navigation but not on the map itself.

RELATED: Review: Garmin Edge 1030 Plus

Garmin has a number of computers with detailed maps. The most affordable is the Edge Explore ($340), which has a preloaded map with street names and other features.

The highest-end Garmin computer, the Edge 1030 Plus ($870), is almost the size of a phone and has extremely detailed mapping functions. It also has the option to load TrailForks maps for off-road riding.