The Best Bike Computer Review
Which bike computer is the best? We took eight of the top bike computers worthy of holding a position on your handlebars and put them through months of head-to-head testing and miles of riding. This was all part of our effort to find the bike computer worthy of our prestigious Editors' Choice Award, and to ultimately help you pick the bike computer that is right for your needs. With the constant advancements in GPS technology, wireless communication protocols, power meters, and electronic drive trains, the only constant in the world of bicycle electronics is change. We evaluated all the computers for ease of use, ease of setup, features, versatility, and water resistance. Regardless of how you enjoy cycling, we have recommendations that will meet your needs.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Cycling has diverged into a multitude of subset groups, and now bike manufacturers produce models for nearly every type of user. People get into the sport for many reasons: fitness, competition, transportation, and fun. Whatever level you pursue in your cycling endeavors, being able to quantify the ride can bring satisfaction to your efforts.
Cyclists come in many different varieties, from the seasoned pro to the weekend warrior, and everything in between. Some of us enjoy the dirt, some the pavement, and many participate in several different cycling disciplines. Regardless of the type of bike you choose, one thing we all want to know is "How far did I ride?" Cycling computers give us a means to quantify our efforts in terms of distance, time, speed, elevation gain, watts, and kilojoules as well of a long list of other metrics we never knew we cared about.
What Does This Mean to You? Do You Even Need a Cycling Computer?
The short answer is no. It is certainly possible to enjoy riding a bike without tracking any data, and sometimes it is nice to skip the computer even for the die-hard data junkie. However, most of us cycle to improve our fitness, or shed a few accumulated winter pounds, and even if that is not why we ride bikes it is certainly a nice side effect of having fun on the bike. A cycling computer can give you quantifiable information to help you reach your fitness goals.
Once the tool of only the pro cyclist, the bike computer has come a long way in the last 30 years. The Avocet 30 was released in 1985 and quickly found its way onto the bars of many professional cyclists' bikes. Avocet provided a way for cyclists to accurately track speed, distance, and time of a ride. Tracking training data was of particular importance to the professional cyclist, but cycling computers have found their way onto a much broader range of users' rides. If you just started cycling, you will quickly notice that nearly every rider you see will have some sort of cycling computer on his or her handlebars.
Types of Cycling Computers
If you do a Google search for bicycle computer, you will get pages of results from a range of manufacturers. There are many different types of bicycle computers, but we have broken them down into two primary types: GPS-enabled units, and non-GPS-enabled.
Non-GPS-Enabled Bicycle Computers
There are a number of different GPS-enabled bicycle computers on the market. These computers use GPS signals to track speed, distance, time, elevation gain and loss, as well as a host of other metrics using both proprietary and third party sensors. Most offer the ability to save workouts or rides, and allow you to download the data to your PC or directly to third party data tracking systems such as Strava, Training Peaks, and Garmin Connect. All of the GPS-enabled computers we tested use the ANT+ wireless protocol, making them compatible with any accessory that uses ANT+, such as power meters, speed sensors, and cadence sensors. Bluetooth Smart sensors are also available and becoming more popular. The Lezyne Super GPS Enhanced is compatible with both sensor types.
Criteria For Evaluation
Ease of Use
Using a cycling computer when riding and training adds another step to your ride preparation, but should not be a hindrance to enjoying your ride. This is our most heavily weighted rating metric because it is the one that will affect you the most. The two highest scoring products are the Garmin Edge 820, winner of our Editors' Choice Award, and the Garmin Edge 520, winner of our Top Pick Award.
We took into account a multitude of factors, including startup time, charging and battery life, touch screen or button interface, screen navigation, and ease of uploading workouts to web-based tracking services, and smart phone integration. Of all of these factors, we most heavily weight the user interface and ease of navigation. Below is a breakdown of each area, and analysis of product performance.
By interface we mean the method by which the user interacts with the device. Is it easy to navigate through menus and functions? Are buttons used or a touch screen? Our highest scoring product is the Garmin Edge 820. The 820 is controlled with a combination of buttons and a touch screen. Buttons are used for the most frequently used functions: power on and off, start/stop workout, and lap. The lap and start/stop buttons are located on the lower portion of the case, putting them closest to the rider, for easy access when doing intervals or other training.
The touch screen is used to navigate between pages of preselected data points during a workout, and for all setup, menu functions, and navigation. The Garmin Edge 820 has a capacitive touch display, similar to what is used on most smart phones, so most users will be right at home. In contrast, the Garmin Edge 520 uses only buttons, but the quantity, function, and layout of the buttons is excellent, making navigation simple and intuitive.
External buttons, if executed well, can be a very effective means of navigation. However the touch screen of the Garmin Edge 820 is superior to the button interface. The Lezyne Super GPS Enhanced also has a button-only interface, but the buttons are a bit less user friendly than those on the competing Garmin Edge 520. The Cateye Velo 7 and the Cateye Strada Slim both require a paperclip or other implement to press small reset/program buttons located on the back of computer to access setup menus, making them the least user friendly models we tested.
Menu layout differs between the Garmin Egde 820 and Garmin Edge 520. Both have color touch screens with an intuitive flow, but the navigation flow of each unit is designed appropriately around the button or touch screen interface. Overall, navigation is faster on the 820 due to faster scrolling by using finger swipe motions rather than tapping buttons to move through data screens.
The Lezyne Super GPS does not have a color screen and is a bit harder to see, particularly in low light. Navigation of the Lezyne Super GPS is simple, but not as intuitive as the Garmin Edge 520. The Super GPS has only four buttons compared to the seven on the Garmin Edge 520, so some of the buttons on the Super GPS perform dual functions, making it a bit harder to use. Navigation is fairly quick to master on the Super GPS, because it has fewer features to navigate through than either the 820 or 520.
The faster, the better right? We think so. Less time waiting for the computer to start up equals more time to ride. The non-GPS enabled Cateye Strada Slim and Cateye Velo 7 start up automatically when movement is detected. This is a nice feature – there is nothing worse than realizing you forgot to turn your computer on when you are half way through a ride… kind of makes you feel like it never even happened. The two Garmin units in our review, the Garmin Edge 820 and Garmin Edge 520, all must be turned on by pressing the power button. Once they are powered on, the user may select from Activity Profiles, and Bikes and the unit needs to acquire satellite signal. Sounds like a lot, but with frequent use this only takes 30 seconds or so.
The Garmin Edge 520, Garmin Edge 820, and the Lezyne Super GPS are both GPS and GLONAS satellite-enabled, so satellite acquisition is quick and painless. The Edge 820 is the fastest to load the home screen, followed by the Super GPS and the Edge 520, both of which take the same amount of time. In summary, startup of the GPS-enabled computers takes a bit longer than those without GPS, but it is fairly negligible and the wait is worth the benefits.
Charging and Battery Life
All of the computers we tested use some sort of battery for power. The Cateye Strada Slim, Cateye Velo 7, and the Planet Bike Protégé all utilize 2032 disposable coin cell batteries. The Cateye Strada Slim actually employs two, one in the computer head unit and one in the wireless speed sensor. In contrast, the Garmin units, Magellan Cyclo 505, and the Lezyne Super GPS all use built-in rechargeable batteries.
Which option is better? We prefer rechargeable batteries for a few reasons. There is less waste and if we kill the battery, a trip to the store to purchase a new battery is not required. That said, 2032 lithium batteries are not that expensive and can be purchased for less than $1 each online or will run you $2-$3 at most retail stores.
The Cateye Strada Slim, Cateye Velo 7 and the Planet Bike Protégé claim battery life to be one year or more. We got four months of use out of the Cateye Strada Slim, and about the same out of the Cateye Velo 7; this was with an average of 10-14 hours a week of ride time, so it is entirely feasible that many users would get a year or more with moderate use. The Garmin units we tested all utilize rechargeable lithium Ion batteries and come with wall chargers, but can also be charged with included USB to Micro USB cables that come with the units. Charge times from a complete discharge are around two hours for all of the units. Battery life for the Edge 820 and Edge 520 is claimed at 15 hours, which we found to be fairly accurate.
The Edge 820 has a Battery Save mode that can help extend battery life by shutting the screen down but still recording data. Using the Battery Wave mode intermittently we were able to get 20 hours out of the 820. The Lezyne Super GPS has an impressive 24-hour run time, using a rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery that can be recharged with the included micro USB cable using a computer or USB wall adaptor. The Super GPS is the clear winner when it comes to battery life. On the other end of the spectrum, the Magellan Cyclo 505 has a relatively short battery life; we were only able to get around 10 hours of use on average from a fully charged battery. We were surprised by the poor battery life from a computer that is clearly aimed more toward the touring crowd than any other user group.
Data Transfers and Smart Phone Integration
Transferring data from a cycling computer to a data tracking website is one of the core functions of a cycling computer. The Garmin Edge 820, Garmin Edge 520, and the Lezyne Super GPS Enhanced all have the ability to store on the device and then transfer ride files to web based applications. Garmin uses the Garmin Connect platform, and Lezyne the GPS Root platform. Data transfer can be done via the included Micro USB cable to a computer with an Internet connection using both Garmin and Lezyne computers.
More commonly, data is transferred via smart phone applications, either Garmin Connect or Lezyne Ally. The devices can be set to auto upload ride data following completion of a ride via Bluetooth to their respective web based services. The Garmin Edge 820 is Wi-Fi enabled and can transfer ride files via Wi-Fi connection. All three devices can be set up to auto sync with Strava as well, via Smart Phone Applications. When it comes to data transfers the Edge 820 has a leg up on the Edge 520 and Super GPS with Wi-Fi connectivity, but all three devices are easy to set up for wireless data transfer.
The Garmin Edge 820, and Garmin Edge 520 both use Garmin Connect to pair with a smart phone. The Garmin Connect application is slightly more cumbersome to use than the Lezyne Ally application used by the Super GPS. Strava segments are easier to set and more customizable with Lezyne Ally than Garmin Connect. Both platforms have their idiosyncrasies, but we prefer Lezyne Ally to Garmin Connect.
All of the computers we tested require some setup. Setup should factor into your purchase decision, but keep in mind that more complex computers require a bit more time investment up front, but for the most part this is a one-time or occasional hassle. How difficult a computer is to setup is largely dependent on how many features and accessories the unit has or is capable of using. So you may notice that the units that score high in our features metric conversely score a bit lower on setup.
Additional factors to consider include whether the computer is wired or wireless. Setup is as simple as attaching the one-quarter turn mounts to the handlebars and turning the unit on. The more feature rich Garmin Edge 520, Garmin Edge 820, and the Lezyne Super GPS score slightly lower due to the increased time required to configure additional features and to pair compatible accessories. In contrast, the Cateye Velo 7 and the Planet Bike Protégé 9.0 received lower scores due to the hassle of routing and securing wires and issues with setup screen navigation. The Cateye Velo 7 and the Planet Bike Protégé 9.0 also both require the use of multiple zip ties. For detailed information on product setup, see our in-depth individual product reviews.
Bike computers range from simple too extremely complex. When it comes to features, we focus on features that you can actually use. It should come as no surprise that the Garmin Edge 820, winner of our Editors' Choice Award, is also the most feature rich computer we tested. The Edge 820 is GPS enabled, ANT+ accessory compatible, Bluetooth compatible, has a touch screen, and is one of only two computers we tested with turn-by-turn navigation capabilities. It also has a range of performance metric functions such as functional threshold power, recovery time indicator, and stress score. In addition it has a unique incident detection function that senses a crash using accelerometer and GPS data.
The Garmin Edge 520 is a close competitor in the features competition with many of the features of the Edge 820 minus the mapping and a few other things. The Garmin Edge 820, Garmin Edge 520, and Lezyne Super GPS are Bluetooth-enabled and can communicate with your smartphone to receive text, email, and phone call notifications when paired with a compatible IOS or Android device. With Garmin computers, smartphone integration allows unique features such as Live Tracker, which allows people whom you invite to view your ride as it occurs on the Garmin website.
Lezyne also offers a similar feature called Live Track. This connectivity also allows for instant wireless uploads of ride data to Garmin Connect, or Lezyne Ally. These features, and a multitude of others, place the Garmin Edge 820 at the top of the food chain when it comes to features. The Edge 520 follows close behind, with the Lezyne Super GPS coming in third. We have a full breakdown of all of the class leading features the Garmin Edge 820 employs in our full product review.
In contrast to the tech heavy, feature laden Garmin and Lezyne units, we tested the Cateye Velo 7, Cateye Strada Slim, and the Planet Bike Protégé. These units offer more basic data collection, without the help of GPS and ANT+ accessory compatibility. Although these units are lower scoring, they still provide reliable data collection for time, distance, and speed.
Social Data Tracking: Strava
Strava is a web-based service that allows users to upload workout and ride data from a host of different devices, including Garmin, Magellan, and Lezyne. Strava also offers free applications for most smart phones, which allows you to use your phone as a ride-tracking device. Strava is equal parts social forum and workout tracking software, with the heart of the experience being competition with other users on specific segment times. Segments are user created and selected portions of a ride, and include anything from a two-hour climb to a 10-second sprint.
The start and end of a segment are GPS coordinates, and your time on a given segment is calculated by Strava using the GPS ride files you upload to the site. In July of 2015 Strava began offering a new service called Strava Live to Premium Members (Premium Membership costs $6 per month or $59 for a year). Strava Live was released in conjunction with the new Garmin Edge 520, and is also now available on the Garmin Edge 820, and 1000, with a free firmware update from Garmin. The Lezyne Super GPS is also compatible.
Strava Live loads segments of your choice, or ones selected for you by Strava, onto your Garmin device, via Garmin Connect. So in order to utilize Strava Live, you need three things: a Strava Premium account, a compatible device, and a Garmin Connect account or Lezyne Ally account. The chosen segments can be uploaded to the device by connecting to Garmin Connect via your smart phone, or by a USB cable connection to your computer. If you are using the Lezyne Super GPS the segments can be individually selected and loaded via the Lezyne Ally smart phone application.
Once the segments are loaded to your device, you will also have information about each segment including the KOM (fastest time), as well as your PR (personal record time). While out riding, as you approach the beginning of a segment, your device will prompt you with distance alerts such as (500ft) to the start of the segment.
Once you cross the starting point the device will display a large "GO!" on the screen. The screen will then display your PR time for the segment as well as "distance to go," and either "time ahead" or "time behind." At the conclusion of the segment you will be notified if you achieved a new KOM or PR for the segment. While you in no way need Strava Live in order to enjoy a ride or get a good workout in, it can be a great training tool.
It might just give you that extra needed motivation to push a bit harder and achieve your goal. We also acknowledge that it can be annoying, particularly if you are out doing a recovery ride and the goal is actually to ride slow. The good news is you can easily disable Strava Live in settings, even while you are riding. Some people will love it some will not, but it is certainly a nice option to have if you own a Garmin Edge 820, Garmin Edge 520, or Lezyne Super GPS.
Even if you do not intend to ever venture out on your bike in the rain, sooner or later you will find yourself caught in an unexpected shower. For those of you on a serious training program, you will almost certainly be training or racing in inclement weather at some point. So what is going to happen to your expensive cycling computer when it gets wet? Well, hopefully nothing. We feel that water resistance is a critical feature of a quality bike computer.
All of the Garmin Edge cycling computers, the Lezyne Super GPS, and the Magellan Cyclo 505 are rated IPX7 for water resistance, making them our highest rated products in this category. The IPX rating system is a European standard that assigns rating protection numbers for electronics. IPX7 rated devices can withstand 30 minutes of accidental submersion in one meter of water.
We had no issues with water damage on any Garmin units we tested, despite riding in the rain and snow, and some less than accidental immersions in the name of science. All of the other cycling computers we tested claim to be "water resistant", but do not conform to any universal standard. Lower scoring products such as the Cateye Velo 7 and the Planet Bike Protégé 9.0 allowed some water to permeate the battery compartment during testing.
Many of us at Outdoor Gear Lab participate in multiple different styles of cycling. A road ride today can easily lead into a long backcountry epic on the mountain bike tomorrow. So, versatility is important to us and likely to you as well. Ideally we want to purchase one cycling computer that can be used on all of our bikes.
The Garmin Edge 820 receives high marks here, followed closely by the Garmin Edge 520. The Edge 820 takes the top spot due to its unique mapping functions, making it ideal for riders embarking on a long touring ride, or adventure on unknown roads. The Garmin Edge 520 slides in a close second to the Garmin Edge 820. The 520 does not have routable maps, but it is possible to download detailed maps to the unit and zoom in to see your exact location on a map. All of the Garmin models are easily swapped between multiple bikes with the excellent Garmin quarter-turn mounts, and they all can be programmed with unique profiles for different bikes.
The Lezyne Super GPS is also a very versatile computer, with a compact profile and easy to use "x-lock" mounts. It can be swapped between bikes and used to track data for any type of riding. Its versatility is only hampered by the lack of detailed maps, but it will provide turn-by-turn directions in conjunction with a smartphone.
The Garmin Edge 820, and Garmin Edge 520 also have Activity Profiles allowing you to customize data fields, pages, and alerts for different types of rides, such as training vs. racing. All of the Garmin computers in our test group are also compatible with a multitude of ANT+ accessories that allow you to have speed and cadence sensors mounted on multiple bikes, and only move the computer head unit between bikes. These features make using the same device for different bikes and types of riding much easier. In contrast, the Cateye Velo 7 has a wired speed sensor, making it difficult to move between bikes.
The Lezyne Super GPS and the Magellan Cyclo 505 also deserve a nod for their compatibility with both ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart Sensors. This allows you to pick and choose sensors from a variety of manufacturers. Versatility is important; it not only makes life easier, but can also save you some money. For details on how each product stacks up see our individual product reviews.
The type of computer you buy for your bike may vary, depending on your cycling endeavors. Recording the distance of your ride and obtaining quantifiable information for fitness reasons is possible on most every computer in this category, and advance from there. GPS technology, wireless communication, and social data tracking are just a few things to take into consideration while on the hunt for the best computer for you bike. From simple to complex, your options are numerous. We hope this review helped you find the product that best fits your needs. For more information on all of the products we tested, see our Ratings Chart, Buying Advice, and How we Tested Articles.
— Curtis Smith
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