A good bike computer can be a great way for you to improve your training.
Competitive cyclists, triathletes, weekend athletes, and bike commuters alike are continuously looking for getting more out of their rides, adding to the training quality and precision and finding great routes. There are a few ways of tracking your cycling, ranging from a multipurpose cycling or tri watch to using an app like May my Ride. If you really want to go all-out in terms of workout precision, you can invest in a cycling power meter, but then you are talking a significant cash outlay — usually $600 or more.
For most cyclists, one of the best devices to track progress is with a top-notch cycling computer which will mainly keep a record of your speed, distance, and location. Because bike computers are purpose-built for cycling, they really hit the mark for someone who wants to be more informed about their ride stats. They are more waterproof (and have better battery life) than trying to mount a phone, and the safety factor of not fiddling with you watch is significant.
The good news is that you can find a good bike computer at an affordable price, and there are numerous nice cycling computers to choose from. Expect to pay anywhere from $350 for a fully-functioning, wireless computer that is compatible with apps and smart trainers, to $35 for something incredibly basic. To help you with deciding which product to get, we’re presenting you the best items that offer you plenty of awesome functions and come with useful features.
Here are our 5 favorite bike computers right now
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
Best for people who want a tried-and-true, functional computer. Wahoo has been making excellent bike computers for a long time, and the Elemnt Bolt is a mainstay in the lineup. It the current mainstay of the Wahoo computer lineup, a product that you can tell is made by cyclists and for cyclists.
The Elemnt Bolt has a nice, sleek body and flawlessly integrates with a special smartphone app. It’s a very user-friendly product with screens can be set up through your phone. By syncing with your phone, you’ll be always up to date with your speed, time, distance, and elevation without having to constantly remove the computer from your bike — which is easily done with unit’s bluetooth functionality. One thing we love about the Wahoo brand is that it is also the maker of one of our favorite smart trainers, creating a fully-compatible system for indoor training as well. This helps them be really dial-in when it comes to understanding the precision behind smart bike training, and establishes Wahoo’s reputation as a trusted maker of advanced bike technology and components.
With a pressure-based altimeter, you can get good elevation readouts — although that functionality is now just as good by using GPS. The 15 hours of battery life is pretty good among the units we looked at in this review. Our experience is that setup is a breeze in terms of mounting and starting to use it. You will probably spend the most time customizing it so your in-ride feed is exactly how you want it. This might mean setting up an app like Strava, which it integrates well with, or focusing on being able to very quickly see your pace and mileage. It also has nice integration when you move indoors on the trainer and a Zwift app or other similar app.
The bundle that comes with the optional Elemnt Bolt package is an impressive one, and includes a cadence sensor, hub speed sensor, and heart rate monitor. For people looking for training precision, that gives you pretty much everything you need.
The Bluetooth communication for getting call & text alerts, as well as the turn by turn navigation are also integrated, which is extremely useful as long as you are careful with it on the road. Find it here on Amazon.
Karoo Cycling Computer
Raising the bar on bike computers. This is the product we are watching most closely. The Karoo, made by Hammerhead, is upping the game on bike computers in many ways. It is exciting to see an exciting product in market that had previously been improving in increments.
The Karoo boasts some incredible and practical functionality: A higher-resolution screen than had previously been available on bike computers, vivid screen color, more robust internal mapping capabilities, which can work offline as well, and snappy GPS re-routing that picks up your new bearing in just 5 seconds. The touchscreen navigation is something that had made its way to other technology, but until now had been lacking in bike computers.
In addition to bells and whistles, what perhaps impresses us most is the pure functionality of the device. The map doesn’t just show routes, but shoes things like water stops and restrooms — those things that it is actually helpful to know about on our long rides. What we are perhaps most enamored with is the way the map shows different types of roads — comparing good cycling routes such as bike lanes with bad ones, such as heavily-traveled highways. Above all else, we are all about bike safety, and that is a gamechanger. It is a little like Waze for bikes.
While the Karoo is not cheap ($399 as of this writing), it has enough advanced features and practical breakthrough functionality that we think it is worth the investment for those whose budget it fits. One thing we respect about Hammerhead is that they are not trying to roll out a head-spinning lineup of product variations. Rather, they have just one, and it is the Karoo. We are very excited to see the future advancements and are watching it closely. So far, the Karoo has been steadily checking-off that mental “wish list” we have had for our bike computers.
There is just one problem — you can’t buy the Karoo right now! Unless you find one used, that is. Karoo 1 is out-of-production, and the company is currently working on Karoo 2. All the company is saying is that it will be ready sometime in 2020. Learn more here.
Lezyne Mini GPS
Best if you are really trying to save space, and don’t need or want as many features. For some cyclists, having advanced functionality and a trove of data is overkill. If you want something small and simple, the Lezyne Mini might be a great choice might be a great choice for you. With a compact, neat design, this lovely cycling computer is perfect for those of you searching for a device that’s easy peasy to use and covers off the majority of the basic functions. It’s small, thin, lightweight, and features a customizable display. We are talking small…. the screen size is a mere inch by an inch, approximately.
In terms of metrics, The Lezyne can display the time of the day, temperature, speed, distance, time, and everything you’d want from a basic, yet very handy product. The display, being as small as it is, is best used if set to just one key piece of data. This is not the choice for people who want to glance down at their computer and see a multi-variable readout on everything from their VO2 max to Strava segment status, but is ideal if you just want simplicity with reliable GPS.
Battery life has been reported to be shorter-than-expected in some cases (unverified by us). The company advertises that the battery can do over 20 hours, but it conks out for some after about 10. You can recharge it using a USB cable.
The only other mini bike computer that we would consider is the Wahoo Elemnt Mini (here on Amazon), another space-saver. We like that Lezyne is able to fit just a bit more on the screen, and we prefer its more tactile buttons for when you are on the move.
The Lezyne mini is an easy, small and simple computer if you are on a budget but still want good smart, wireless features. Find here on Amazon.
CatEye Velo 7 Cyclocomputer
For those on a tight budget. Lacking some of the features and wireless technology, we know that some people just want a basic computer that won’t break the bank. The CatEye Velo 7 Cyclocomputer amazes with its battery that lasts up to three years. Moreover, it features a wired speed sensor and displays all the stats you need: clock, current, maximum & average speed, pace arrow, total & trip distance, as well as elapsed time. This device knows exactly when you stopped, thus it will automatically stop averaging speed and counting time whenever you’re caught at a red light or take a coffee break.
We don’t want to create any kind of illusion that you are going to get a product that rivals the Elemnt or Karoo at this price point, though. It is not in a the same category.
If you can spend more for wireless, do it. If you need to save money, this is a great choice if your budget is under $50. Find here on Amazon.
Garmin Edge 520
For the Garmin loyalist. Garmin has definitely won cyclists’ admiration with its Edge 520 computer. This product is able to track your ride through GPS and even estimate your recovery by indicating when you’re ready to go back training. How cool is that? One of the best features, though it that it is highly-compatible with Strava. You can easily see Strava segments and the computer can basically turn into a navigation system as you are following a specific ride. It will alert you when you are on various segments, too. While the evolution of Garmin is more incremental than some of the others, we respect the company for never sitting still and constantly improving its products.
The 520 features a bunch of data screen segments, and offers a rich metrics choice. You can sync it to your smartphone, as well. As an added bonus, we love the ability to sync with weather apps and tell you when the rain is going to start! This is a good all-around computer from a maker we have trusted for years, and depending on where you find it, it may be a little less expensive than other options. We would not hesitate to get one, but think you should also check out the Elemnt and Karoo and then decide. Find here on Amazon.
So Is a Bike Computer Worth It?
We sure think so. Here is the bottom line: If you are at all serious about your training, you need to add precision to it. Some will say that you should simply go out and ride, and enjoy the day. We get it. But for people who would like to get faster, science has shown that you need to be able to track your effort and dial-in your workouts with some level of precision.
In our mind, there are only four ways to measure your ride and speed on the bike, and a computer is one of the best and most economical.
You could always opt for a multisport watch such as one from Garmin or Polar. These have the advantage of being used in the run and swim too, but the downside is that it is less safe and convenient to glance as your wrist than to peek down at a well-placed computer. The layout of a bike computer is designed to give you everything you need, at-a-glance, without fiddling with anything. You don’t need to even take your hand off the handlebar. A watch is better than no data at all, but a bike computer is great for people who do lots of regular rides.
Another option is to simply use your phone with the right app, but there are some downsides there too. A phone isn’t very waterproof in the rain, and the battery life of a phone just isn’t what it is with a good computer. We also prefer products that are built-for-purpose. Your phone is your communication device, music and podcast machine, GPS, and so much else. We like the simplicity of having a separate device that is just a bike computer, but that’s just us.
Finally, you an always go the route of a power meter, but a power meter only provides the hardware for measuring your power, you still need to have a readout somewhere. There is where the combination of a computer and power meter can be really potent. It should be noted that a power meter and bike computer is not an either/or decision. They can actually be incredibly complementary devices, and if you think you will want to get real precise with your training and take your cycling to the next level, it is a combination you should definitely consider.
How to mount a cycling computer on your bike
Mounting the computer on to your bike ultimately varies by product. We will provide some steps here, just so you know what you might be getting in to, but ultimately you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on how to mount and use the computer.
- Once you’ve taken your computer out of its packaging and installed the batteries, you’ll have some components to work with, such as the computer itself, the handlebar mount, the transmitter, the magnet, and the zip (cable) ties.
- If you do not already have one, install the mount to your handlebars. This is pretty simple and intuitive, and can be done with an allen wrench or bike wrench. Be careful not to crack your handlebars, and use a torque wrench if you have one with the recommended level of torque! Once the mount is on your handlebars, you are ready to attach the computer to it. Note that with a little elbow grease, computers often work with mounts made by other manufacturers.
- It’s highly recommended that you train yourself on and program the computer prior to installation. It is just easier to work with this way, and it is good to get a feel for the different features of the computer before it is fixed somewhere on your bike. After you’ve done that, the first part you need to install on your bike is the computer mount on the handlebar.
- Start by getting it oriented the right way. Take the bottom clip and face it towards you. Grab the ties, feed them through the mount’s bottom slots, and then attach it to the handlebar. Don’t attach it very tightly; slide it up and down the bar until you figure out exactly where you want to place your computer. Once you’re satisfied with the position, tighten the ties.
- Next, grab your computer and slide it into place.
- The next steps only apply for non-GPS, wheel-based computers
- Continue by placing the transmitter onto the fork. Mount it on the front part of the fork rather than the back. This way, if the transmitter gets knocked into the spokes, the wheel will push it away, not suck it into the spokes. Put the ties through the holes and attach the transmitter to the fork. Let it a bit loose until you make some final adjustments.
- Loosen the magnet up until there’s enough space to fit the spoke into its smallest gap. Slide it onto the spoke, line it up with the transmitter, and tighten it back down onto the spoke.
- Make the final adjustments to the transmitter; make sure it’s even with the magnet, spin the wheel to see if you’re getting a speed reading and if everything’s fine, tighten the ties down.
- Cut all the excess ties and you’re ready to go.
- For wired computers, wrap the wire around either the brake or the derailleur cable in order to take up any kind of excess. You want to be sure that when you have the transmitter connected, there’ll be no slack in the cable anywhere near the wheel. Wrap it tight enough around the cable to get rid of any slack, yet don’t limit your ability to turn the handlebars.
- Test it in a few different postures, and make sure you absolutely have full range-of-motion in your steering. If the cable is too tight, loosen it.
- After you’ve got it all mounted up, spin the wheel to make sure you have an accurate reading on your cycling computer screen and tighten everything down.
- Note that every wired bike computer is a little different, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
These days, cycling computers have become a big part of the cycling landscape. And, with so many wonderful products to choose from, all you need to do is pick the one that best suits your needs and enjoy your rides. We think that wireless is definitely the way to go, but understand that there are still some who prefer the wired versions for budget or other reasons.
About the Author
Von Collins is an avid triathlete, cyclists, runner, and fitness enthusiast. He is the author of the popular Your First Triathlon Guide, and several other fitness-related books. Perpetually in training mode, he is constantly testing new gear and talking with other athletes about their observations.