The Best Bike Computer Review
Which bike computer is the best? We took 11 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 to find the bike computer worthy of our prestigious Editors' Choice award, and ultimately to 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, set-up, 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, 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 many 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
GPS Enabled Computers
Why Not Just Use My iPhone?Strava and Wahoo Fitness. So the main reason to use your Smartphone is simple: you already have one! Unfortunately that is, in our opinion, about the only reason to consider this as an option.
First of all, in order to use your phone you will need to purchase some sort of case and mount to put it in a usable position on your handlebars. These cases can be expensive, and are not a minor investment.
Second, though your iPhone has GPS capabilities, is not a dedicated GPS device. Cell phones typically use what is called A-GPS, which stands for Assisted GPS. They use both cell triangulation and GPS signals to pinpoint location. In general, they can be faster at pinpointing than a GPS alone, such as a Garmin, because they use both systems. However, if you have no cell service or WiFi, while your phone will still use GPS to track position, you may not have a detailed map, because detailed maps are not stored on phones. Phones use cellular data or WiFi data to populate the information on the map. You can purchase maps that are downloadable to your phone, and then it would function essentially the same as a Garmin GPS with maps, such as the Edge 810 or 520. However, after purchasing a mount, a case, and downloadable maps, you probably would save money by just buying a separate bike computer.
Another issue (and the biggest one in our view) is battery life. We have drained the battery on an iPhone 5s on a 2hr ride using the Strava application. If you are just starting out as a cyclist and think that 2 hours seems like a long time, just wait. Before you know it, you will be hammering out century rides with your local club, and your phone will be dead long before the end of your ride. Accessory compatibility is also an issue you will likely run into as well. Most phones are not compatible with ANT+ sensors. Most of the heart rate, cadence, and speed sensors on the market use the ANT+ protocol and will not work with the majority of smart phones (unless you purchase an ANT+ receiver for your phone.) More manufacturers are getting in the game with Bluetooth 4.0 accessories, but ANT+ is still the gorilla in the room when it comes to third party sensor standards.
We recommend you purchase a stand alone cycling computer for tracking your data. Yes, we ride with our cell phones, but they stay in the jersey pocket for communication purposes in case of an emergency. A dedicated computer sits on the handlebars in easy reach and view throughout the entirety of our rides.
Criteria For Evaluation
Ease of Use and Interface
Using a cycling computer when riding and training adds another step to your ride preparation, but should not be a hindrance to you 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 810, 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: start-up time, charging and battery life, touch screen or button interface, screen type, and ease of uploading workouts to your personal computer. Here is a breakdown of how all of our contenders fare below.
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, 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 3 Garmin units in our review, the Edge 810, Edge 520, and the Edge 200 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. It is worth noting that the, Edge 520 and the Lezyne Super GPS pick up satellites a bit quicker, between 5-10 seconds on average, due to the ability to use both GPS and GLONAS Satellites. The other Garmin units we tested utilize GPS only. In summary, start-up 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 utilize some sort of battery for power. The Cateye Strada Slim, Cateye Velo 7, and the Planet Bike Protégé both 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 utilize built in rechargeable batteries. Which option is better? Well, we prefer rechargeable batteries for a few reasons. Less waste, and if we kill the battery, a trip to the store to purchase a new battery is not required. That being 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 1 year or more. We got 4 months of use out of the Cateye Strada Slim, and about the same out of the Cateye Velo 7, but 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 via included USB to Micro USB cables that come with the units. Charge times from a complete discharge are around 2 hrs for all of the units. Battery life ranges from 20 hrs for the Edge 510 to 14 hrs for the Edge 200. The Edge 520 is the newest unit in the Garmin line up and uses a mini USB cable rather than the micro USB cable utilized by all previous Garmin models.
The Lezyne Super GPS has an impressive 22 hr 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.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Magellan Cyclo 505 has a relatively short battery life; we were only able to get around 10hrs 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 towards the touring crowd than any other user group.
All of the computers we tested require some set-up. Set-up 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 set-up is largely dependent on how many features and accessories the unit has or is capable of utilizing. So you may notice that the units that score high in our features metric conversely score a bit lower on set-up. Additional factors to consider include whether the computer is wired or wireless. The Garmin Edge 200 is our highest scoring product in this category. Set-up is as simple as attaching the ¼ turn mounts to the handlebars and turning the unit on. The more feature rich Garmin 510, 520, and 810 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 set up 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 set-up, see our in depth individual product reviews.
Bike computers range from simple to 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 810, winner of our Editors' Choice Award, is also the most feature rich computer we tested. The Edge 810 is GPS enabled, ANT+ accessory compatible, blue tooth compatible, has a touch screen, and is one of only two computers we tested with turn-by-turn navigation capabilities. The Edge 520 is a close competitors in the features competition with all of the features of the Edge 810, minus the mapping capabilities. The Edge 810 and the is Bluetooth 2.1 enabled and can communicate with your Smartphone via the Garmin Connect Application. The Magellan 505, Garmin Edge 520, and the Lezyne Super GPS are Bluetooth Smart enabled and can 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. This connectivity also allows for instant wireless uploads of ride data to Garmin Connect. These features, and a multitude of others, place the Garmin Edge 810 and the Edge 520 at the top of the food chain when it comes to features. We have a full breakdown of all of the class leading features the Garmin Edge 810 employs in our full product review.
In contrast to the tech heavy, feature laden Garmin, Lezyne, and Magellan 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 allow 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 2hr 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 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 3 things: a Strava Premium account, a compatible device, and a Garmin Connect 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.
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 1 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 OutdoorGearLab 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 810 receives high marks here, followed closely by the Edge 520. The Edge 810 takes the top spot due to it's 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 Edge 810, 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 ¼ 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 mapping functions.
The Edge 810, and 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, with the exception of the Edge 200 are also compatible with a multitude of ANT+ accessories that allows 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.
For more information on all of the products we tested see our Ratings Chart, Buying Advice, and How we Tested Articles.
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 detailed advice on making your purchase decision, see our Buying Advice article.
— Curtis Smith
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